Have you ever wondered what it’s like to get your food for free… from the woods? How about your medicine?
Meet my friend, Arthur.
Arthur Haines is an expert in wild foods, plant medicine, and living like our ancestors. I had the pleasure of hosting a panel with Arthur at the Paleo f(x) conference, and let me say that we can all learn a thing or two from the way he lives his life—off the grid in the wilderness.
Pay attention, this episode might just change your life.
You’re about to learn:
- What happened when his daughter ate wild bear (hint: growling is involved)
- The surprising benefits of eating wild foods
- What it’s like to live off the grid in the wilderness
- Why domestication has damaged the health of plants, animals, and humans alike
- How to liberate your thinking from the status quo
- How to raise a wild child, and much more…
ARTHUR HAINES: WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE WILD
Abel: Arthur Haines grew up in the western mountains of Maine, a rural area home to swift streams known for epic trout fishing. He spent most of his childhood in the Sandy River Valley hiking, tracking, and foraging. Arthur now runs the Delta Institute of Natural History in Canton, Maine, where he teaches people the value of foraging, wildcrafting medicine, and primitive living skills. How are you, Arthur?
I’m great, and I really appreciate you inviting me to be a part of your program.
Abel: I grew up in the backwoods of New Hampshire, now we’re living in the middle of nowhere in the Smoky Mountains. It’s a totally different world from the suburbs, and certainly urban living. If you follow the the rat race, it seems that it’s easy to become disconnected from nature. How does living in the boonies change your approach to how you live and view the world?
There is a lot of opportunity to practice foraging, wildcrafting medicine or even hunting. A lot of people have a great deal of interest, but about 80% of the population lives in an urban setting. We don’t always get the chance to follow through on some of these things that I think a lot of people would really enjoy.
Abel: What’s it like to be a wild man? How do you spend your day?
My day has some very wild components and some not so wild components. I try to demonstrate to people that regardless of your lifestyle, you can participate in it, even in suburban and urban areas.
Modern day living involves property ownership. As we try to purchase more land, there’s property tax that goes along with it. So, we need a job to pay for those things.
I wish you could see it — right now, we’re in the middle of over a thousand acres of forest, and we make sure a lot of our spare time is dedicated to being outdoors gathering things that we use in our home.
Even though we live in a relatively modern home—it’s a solar powered and off the grid home—it’s what we do outside the home and the things we bring back that allow us to touch base to the hunter gatherer lifestyles.
Abel: What have city folks lost touch with?
I essentially let the research I’ve done into hunter gatherer lifestyles guide what I do. I’m not someone who thinks they have everything perfect, and everyone else is screwed up.
But if you dig into the medical anthropological research, you can identify a number of features about hunter gatherers that surpass the quality of life we have now.
For example, hunter gatherers had very little chronic disease and a higher level of happiness and contentedness. We’re trying to pull all of those elements into this modern life. There are some things we may not want to follow, but we’re going to do what we can: diet, water, medicine, and clothing.
The way we raise our child is based on a lot of principles that anthropologists have recorded. It means giving sovereignty to the young child instead of considering them somebody to just rule over. Those are the great things I love about it. It’s possible for everyone to do this stuff to some extent.
PLANTS AS MEDICINE
Abel: There’s value in exploring the way people used to live. I became allergic to nearly every antibiotic there is as a sick infant, so my mom became an herbalist because it was her last resort to try to heal me. So, I was raised around all these stinky balms and tonics, and I credit much of my health today to alternative medicine.
Can you talk about the value of using wild plants as medicine?
In the U.S., people have a fear of wild things. This is huge obstacle to get over because we’re convinced we’re going to poison ourselves using wild plants.
If people realize they can poison themselves with wild plants then they’re admitting that they believe in phytochemistry, the potency of wild plants.
Just here in New England, we have 3500 species of plants. Isn’t it possible that some of those have beneficial actions and not all detrimental actions? Yes.
You mentioned antibiotics. The great thing about plant medicines using the typical preparation that herbalists use is that they don’t actually extract a single chemical into the alcohol or water as people brew teas or tinctures, but they extract a whole suite of chemicals that all act on the bacterium, the virus, the fungus or whatever the pathogenic species is that people are interested in treating.
And given that you have all these chemicals operating on this organism, they don’t have an ability to develop a resistance in the same way they do with pharmaceutical drugs that are typically a single chemical.
I’ve had friends ask for help with MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus is a bacteria resistant to many antibiotics). And where the pharmaceutical drug was failing we were able to treat the problem with plants we gathered from the landscape.
When we take a medicine, a portion of that enters the waste stream. In some urban centers that wastewater is then recycled for use in the home again. The methods used to cleanse city water is not sufficient for removing the pharmaceutical compounds.
So when you’re using these kinds of prescription medications, all of that is going out into the environment. The antidepressants, antibiotics, anti-fertility drugs. Everything, wildlife and people, are getting dosed daily with subtherapeutic amounts of these drugs every time they use their water.
When these plants drop their leaves, the compounds go into the soil and water, and when they pass through your body, it’s the same thing. You’re not adding low level pharmaceutical pollution to the landscape.
One way to protect the cleanliness of our water is by using herbal medicine rather than pharm drugs.
A lot of these herbal medicines are massively effective, especially for certain conditions.
I don’t think people realize how much science there is behind herbal medicine. There are literally tens of peer reviewed journals where ethnobotanical medicines are discussed… research is there and available. We don’t see that here in the U.S. because the cost of bringing a new drug into market is between $2.5 and $5 billion.
What pharmaceutical company is going to conduct research on the antimicrobial potential of staghorn sumac when people can just walk outside and gather it?
Much of the research is done in Europe and Asia, and if people aren’t going after journals in that part of the world, they won’t see how much research there is regarding the use of plant and fungal medicine.
Abel: What about the meditative, spiritual side of things? Whenever I was angsty growing up, going for a walk in the woods did something to me that going for a walk in the city doesn’t. On behalf of nature, what is the power of that?
One of the most important things to remember is that our species did nothing but live on wild landscapes through it’s entire evolution until recently. Agriculture only began 10,000 years ago, and for many parts of the world it’s newer than that. It’s not been that long that we’ve been dealing with structures that break up our landscapes.
Now we have a very different focus. It’s a completely different contextual framework of how we view the landscape. It’s boundary focused. You can go here, but you can’t go there. It changes the way we think about everything.
In the U.S., if there isn’t a study documenting something then we aren’t going to believe it. Many of us don’t have the ability to intuitively say, “Yes, the sun is beneficial to me.”
As little as a five minutes spent walking in the forest or a field has been shown to have a suite of health effects: lowering blood pressure, calming nerves, and dropping stress levels. People who took a 5 minute walk in the parking lot or supermarket had elevated levels of those markers.
We are natural beings. We hail from that setting. The more time we are able to spend in nature the better off we will be. There’s a spiritual sense and it affects our physical health.
Abel: One of the fascinating things is how habituated we’ve become to the constant stimulus of bright colors and blasting sounds. Where I come from, you got used to hearing birds, the wind against the trees, and the babbling brook. It puts you into a different brain state.
When you consider the contrast of city living, it’s no wonder we’re freaked out all the time. There’s a fire engine blaring in the background, and you might feel hungry simply because there’s a giant picture of a hamburger in front of the a bright red billboard in your field of view.
Is there anything you can do to bridge that gap between the way humans are designed to live and the noisy, busy, polluted modern world?
I love to share concepts as opposed to recipes. Instead of saying, “Go find a park and spend ten minutes there each day,” I say, “Here are the concepts we need to think about…” Our urban landscapes have tremendous noise pollution and light pollution. The noise pollution actually makes us turn off from stimuli.
The other thing about an urban setting is that it lacks complexity. Everything is a rectangle or square. You can imagine the infinite complexity of a forest with leaves and branches going at every angle and at every depth of strata. We’re supposed to see that as our minds are developing as children. We are supposed to build an awareness of that high complexity.
Here’s what to do: Find settings that are highly complex and do not have all the sounds that a city has. These are places you can ground yourself and relax. They are available in a short walk or a bus ride—find a place where you can tone down the sound and light of the cityscape.
Abel: It takes discipline to build that habit. A lot of the listeners know my wife and I spent the last year going around the country living out of state parks in our trailer. It was a big culture shock to go from Austin, Texas to living in the wilderness. We created a habit of going on Google maps and looking for the big patches of green wherever we were, then taking the dog there.
The fact is that almost everywhere we went we could find some body of water, some tiny little park, or some abandoned spot where you could have a little picnic and take a break from the stress of urban life.
How else do you encourage people to get out of their comfort zone?
The more time people spend in these areas, the more they start to learn and recognize the other life we share with the planet. They’ll recognize—that’s an oak, that’s a pine, that’s a maple. There’s a familiarity that increases, too: “That’s the tree I love to be under when it’s really sunny and I need shade, and that’s a plant I tasted and that memory is still in there.”
If you think in terms of familiarity, you can have those experiences and it will help to get you out of the human zoo setting.
Abel: And also going to look for the food that might be closer than you think, even in your backyard. In New Hampshire, we didn’t realize we had cranberries in our backyard for years. We had wild strawberries and huckleberries. The food you find in the wild is so different from the food you find in the supermarket. But how precisely is it different?
This is, of course, on average. There are always exceptions. The wild fruits we’re talking about gathering form the landscape have a few primary differences:
- They tend to be more nutrient dense. This is especially true when we talk about leafy greens. They are richer phytochemically because breeding hasn’t reduced the chemistry the plant uses to defend itself against sun, insects, and uropathogens. This has been looked at in a number of studies of very common fruits (berries). These studies show that wild versions contain significantly more phenolic compounds that contribute to a higher antioxidant capacity than cultivated foods, nearly double. Greater phenolic compounds is one reason indigenous people who relied on these foods experienced no cancer.
- Their foods overall had a slightly better Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids ratio.
- Their food had more fiber and fewer calories per unit mass and that extra fiber would have contributed in a variety of ways to gastrointestinal health. One of the great things about using foods in this world is that the fiber is able to help mop up toxins that we’re eating on our foods—just to keep us protected from some of the environmental pollution.
Abel: When we traveled to Thailand for the first time, we were stunned by the diversity of the bananas.
In America, there’s basically one kind, the Cavindish. Overseas, they have huge ones, tiny ones, and some have distinguishing factors like a delicious creaminess or huge seeds. You see incredible variety when you’re foraging, as well. I’ve found foraged fruits tend to be a lot less sweet.
Most people living in the United States eat only 30 species of plants per year. If you were to make a list of plants you’d say you eat more, but remember many of things we consume are the same species. An example is broccoli and cauliflower, and kohlrabi and kale—these are the same species called brassica.
We actually eat less plant diversity than we think, so we have less phytochemical diversity in our body to modulate the immune system, fight infection, and deal with systemic inflammation.
When we look at hunter gatherers around the world, even though the information was collected in the 60s, 70s, and 80s when the indigenous people had begun to lose some of their ethnobotanical knowledge, even in the deserts of Africa, they consumed 86 species of plants. In Northwestern Alaska the Inupiat were eating 40 species. The Cherokee had over 100 species being consumed.
Even though we can import food from all over the world, we still tend to eat less diversity than the hunter gatherers ate from their own landscape.
The more diverse you eat, the more likely you are to pull in the nutrition you need. It’s not just the amounts, it’s the ratios to make sure you are properly utilizing vitamins and minerals.
RAISING A “WILD” CHILD
Abel: You mentioned you are raising a child. How do you bridge the gap between ancestral and modern child rearing?
Just about everything that differs between hunter gatherers who were child rearing, and raising children in the United States, can be boiled down to one word: sovereignty.
Hunter gatherers considered the young child to be their own person. They were not property. They were not there to be ruled and told what to do. They were not struck because they wouldn’t do that to an adult. They were treated like an adult except there needed to be allowance for their size and they were dependant on the people in their group for food, medicine, and caregiving.
In the United States, children are practically considered like property. We can do all manners of things to them that we would not be allowed to do to another adult in our community.
Spanking and physical punishment—if I did to someone in my community what some people do to children, I could be arrested for assault. We simply take all of that into account. Instead of saying no, you can’t do that, there’s an explanation of why.
Even long before our daughter, Samara, could understand vocabulary, she could certainly understand the tone of what we were trying to provide. So, we really try to always treat her like she is her own person. How would we interact with an adult if she were doing something dangerous or were about to break something we didn’t want her to touch. We consider her to be a sovereign human.
Abel: What does she eat?
She eats what we eat. Except in her first 10 months, she was strictly breastfed. But she eats what we eat, it could have been beef or venison or bear, but at first we might have had to pre-chew it for her because she didn’t have dentition and skill to use what teeth she had.
She really loves bear and makes all these growling noises when she eats it. We always tell her where the food comes from. Eating pork comes from a pig. Poultry from a chicken. We want there to be awareness that we’re taking life to live and it’s something we should be grateful for.
Now she is able to remove seeds from fruits and eat the flesh. So, now things like black cherry and chokecherry are available to her. She’s eaten wild food since the first time she started eating solid food. She likes pincherry over blueberry—she likes the astringency and sourness of the wild foods because that’s what she’s grown up on.
A lot of young children migrate to sour flavors. We have species of plants that grow on our lawn that she recognizes and she’s allowed to forage on. These are things like sheep sorrel and wood sorrel that have sour leaves and flowers, and she gathers them the entire time she’s out. They’re super sour and she really digs them.
Abel: Perhaps there are specific nutrients, like Vitamin C, that her body needs and she intuitively craves them?
Sheep sorrel is one of the main constituents of essiac, a cancer treatment developed by an Ojibwa Native American. Who knows!
We are trying to make sure she cultivates or maintains a palate for that. So many of us had to overcome our American palates. Organs like liver—you might not be excited about it, but you understand that it’s one of the most nutrient dense foods available to us. So we mask them with paté and meatloaf until our taste buds get used to them.
Samara has had them early on, some of her first foods were poultry liver and so forth. It will be really wonderful to watch somebody who doesn’t have to unlearn and reformulate their palate like many of us did as adults once we learned that traditional diets are much better for us.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE SELF-RELIANT?
Abel: You’re a strong advocate for self-reliance. What does that mean in the modern world?
A lot of people have a misconception of self-reliance. They think of this lone person going out into the the wilderness and building everything. There’s like nobody alive that has ever been able to do that.
Humans have always been born into communities where people could share clothing and stone tools, baskets and containers, and learn how to make fire.
For me, self reliance isn’t about just man vs. nature. It’s about me and my community being able to do as much as we possibly can.
There are some things we rely on. I’m not a mechanic, I’m not a carpenter. I tend to focus my self-reliant skills in the ancestral life-ways arena. I’m learning how to make fire, purify water, feed myself, heal myself, and build hunting weapons.
It’s an amazing, comforting position to know that if there’s an interruption of services that we use—whether it be electricity or the distribution of food—I know that we will get through any brief period like that with flying colors because we’re capable of feeding ourselves and doing a lot of the things that many humans are not able to do anymore.
Abel: I found this terrific quote on your website:
It’s such a powerful illustration of the world we live in, and how much we take it for granted.
We have externalized all of the costs. The cost of making that plasticware, the cost is not only that we create all of this pollution in manufacturing and even in recycling, there’s a cost to our not being self-reliant. We don’t even know how to make utensils anymore—it takes five minutes to learn how to do this.
We are maxing out the world’s ability to absorb pollution, which will come back to haunt us in the long run.
Abel: Let’s leave people with some hope. We can make a change. What can people do to get closer to the world we need to get to?
You and I could have an entire series of these talks and do nothing but talk about what’s wrong with the world. But I don’t do that. I’m a hopeful person. There are answers to everything. We need to develop awareness about what’s happening around us. That might cause some grief at first, but if you’re a motivated individual there’s literally an answer to every single thing we face.
It isn’t hopeless. Families and communities can do something about all of this, whether you’re trying to deal with a specific health problem or navigate the purchasing world that find products that aren’t going to harm you and your family.
There are ways to get movement that doesn’t necessarily involve a gym membership. There’s answers to everything—you just need to connect with the right people to find out what those answer are.
WHERE TO FIND ARTHUR HAINES
Be sure to check out ArthurHaines.com, where Arthur has upcoming classes on foraging and wildcrafting herbal medicine. You can also like Arthur on Facebook—that’s where he posts if there’s a message he wants people to hear.
Arthur is working on a foraging book called Ancestral Plants where he looks at food and herbal medicine, as well as dyes, basketry and hunting weapons.
He’s also been contracted to write two books. One is a large book on rewilding. The paleo movement helped people to understand that it’s not just what you eat, it’s how you move. But there’s more. People need community, they need loving relationships, and to know that they are appreciated and have gifts to offer.
The second book will cover the topic of ancestral childrearing. Coming soon!
Abel: Thanks again for coming on Fat-Burning Man, Arthur!
BEFORE YOU GO…
When I first overhauled my nutrition plan with a primitive version of The Wild Diet, I dropped 20 pounds in just over a month. Now – I’m very happy to say – you readers and listeners are making me look like a slacker. Last month, we kicked off a 30-day challenge in our online community, the Fat-Burning Tribe.
We had over 2,000 people join us as members in the Tribe to participate in The Wild Diet 30-Day Challenge!
Congrats to all of you who joined us… Your stories always make me smile.
Here’s one of my favorite success stories from Joshua who just beat sugar addiction:
20 lbs down in 30 days! I’m feeling really great. I am a recovering sugar addict, and I’ve fallen off the paleo wagon so many times over the past few years. The Wild Diet has been different. The meal plans, the tribe support, the guilt-free desserts, and especially the green smoothies (where have these been all my life??) have made the Wild Diet stick, where basic paleo didn’t.
I’m a long time listener to the podcast, but getting the book and meal plans made a huge difference. I can’t recommend it strongly enough.
During the challenge, Tribe members said that The Wild Diet 30-Day Meal Plans are the best nutrition and shopping resources they’d ever used. Because the feedback was so overwhelmingly positive, we’re giving members a new meal plan every month when you join the Tribe.
And the best part? We just shared our brand new 30-Day Meal Plan in the Tribe a few days ago. Grab it now by trying out the Tribe for just $1 for your first month.
You’ll never have to worry about what you’re cooking for dinner again. These monthly Wild Meal Plans (a $47 value) are totally included as a part of your Tribe membership.
The Wild Diet is about changing your attitude toward food, eating the most nutritious food you can find and afford, and changing your habits for a lifetime of health.
If you’re ready to start eating delicious food and shedding stubborn fat, check out the Fat-Burning Tribe. You can change your life right now, and we are here to help you.
What small changes can we start making now to improve our lives and the planet for future generations? Share your ideas with us in the comments below.