In most of the world, wheat is a staple of almost everyone’s diet. Bread, pasta, cakes, cookies, cereal, and even beer all have wheat in them. Because of this, many off gridders are trying to grow their own wheat, but unfortunately, wheat can be difficult to grow depending on the land and climate.
Thankfully there’s a plethora of other plants both wild and domesticated that can be made into flour. Some of these plants are gluten free which can be great for those with sensitivities, but keep in mind they can be quite different to bake with. Gluten is what gives dough made from wheat flour its characteristic stretchiness.
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1. Almonds – Depending on your location, almonds can be trickier to grow than many other options. They require a warm climate, bountiful water, and take quite awhile to reach maturity and produce. Still, they’re a favorite for those looking to eat more gluten free and raw foods. They’re full of protein and healthy fats and fairly easy to process into flour.
2. Oats – Growing oats is surprisingly easy and they are one of the few grains that can withstand rather cold climates. Today there are also hull-less varieties which produce less but have a clear advantage in processing time. Oat flour is also relatively high in protein and fiber.
3. Cattails – Cattails are awesome for a lot of reasons but many people love them for their high protein pollen which can be easily harvested and used just like flour. All you have to do is shake the pollen off into a bag and it makes excellent yellow pancakes. Cattails are also typically very easy to find, though it’s important to note that they’re bioaccumulators, so they take up environmental toxins. Avoid harvesting cattails in polluted or sprayed areas.
4. Acorns – Acorns may be touted as an emergency survival food, but they make a surprisingly delicious flour for everyday use. They’re easy to recognize and forage, plus they’re abundant in many forests. However, they do take a while to process. Because of their high tannin content, acorns must be leached in water before they can be eaten. It may be worth the trouble, though, for their good flavor and abundance of protein and healthy fats.
5. Coconuts – Growing coconuts is only practical in a warm climate, but if you don’t live in a warm climate and really want coconut flour, you can still make it using unsweetened coconut flakes which are very affordable. Coconut flour is generally made from the pulp leftover from making coconut milk, giving you two useful products. It’s high in fiber and many micronutrients.
6. Rice – Rice flour is becoming more popular at stores with the rise of gluten-free diets, but it’s also easy to make from home. Rice can be purchased in bulk, grown at home, or wild harvested and then ground. Unfortunately, wild rice, which used to be abundant throughout the eastern U.S., is now limited to the great lakes region and remote areas of New England because of habitat loss. However, rice is surprisingly easy to grow at home even if you live in a northern climate. And contrary to popular belief, rice does not need to be flooded.
7. Amaranth – This is one of the easiest to grow. Amaranth is heat and drought resistant and grows so well it’s often thought of as a weed. In fact, many people actually call wild varieties pigweed. It’s high in protein and was bred and grown for flour by the Inca and Aztec people of south America. Like many other grains, it does need to be winnowed to remove any chaff (plant material & hulls) after harvesting.
8. Sorghum – Sorghum is mostly well-known for molasses production, but there’s also varieties that have high grain production. It’s much like growing corn and does well in hot, dry climates. Unlike corn, however, the seeds have to be processed and winnowed. Sorghum flour is surprisingly healthy and offers plenty of protein, iron, B vitamins, and fiber.
9. Buckwheat – Though not related to wheat, buckwheat still makes a tasty flour. It’s also one of the fastest growing grains and grows so fast it will smother weeds. It does well in extremely poor soil and is loved by honeybees and other pollinators. It does require threshing and winnowing, just like wheat. Nutritionally, buckwheat is high in protein and great for hungry homesteaders.
10. Rye – Growing rye is very much like growing wheat, which is easier than you’d think. As with many grains, the tough part is harvesting and processing if you don’t have the equipment to do it with. It is more nutrient dense than many modern wheat varieties though.
11. Spelt – Spelt is actually just a sub-species of the common hard red winter wheat. It’s not too difficult to grow, though you’ll spend quite a bit of time threshing and winnowing the grain. Spelt is high in nutrients, but if you’re looking for a gluten free option, it only has slightly less gluten than wheat.
12. Plantain – While the name plantain may evoke images of a fried starchy banana plantain, is also a common weed. In the U.S. both broadleaf and narrow leaf plantain are fairly common in lawns, gardens, and fields. Their leaves are often used in herbal remedies, but they also grow long stalks covered with seeds which can easily be collected and ground into flour. While they’re easy to harvest, the seeds are small so you’ll need a fairly large patch.
13. Curly Dock – Curly dock is an easy to find wild plant that’s often foraged for its leaves. Much like plantain, curly dock also offers an abundance of seeds which grow on tall spikes that can be ground into flour. Also like plantain, they don’t require winnowing and are high in protein, making them a great option.
14. Millet – Millet has long been a staple crop and is notorious for its ability to withstand drought conditions. It’s easy to grow but does require threshing and winnowing. Millet is high in protein and magnesium, and it acts as a prebiotic, feeding gut flora. It’s also gluten free.
15. Flint/Dent Corn – Today we don’t think of cornmeal as a flour, but it can be an excellent substitute. Flint and dent varieties of corn often thrive where wheat struggles and some are extremely drought resistant. They’re also easier to harvest and process than many other grains, though their flour doesn’t offer the protein that many seed and nut flours do.
16. Chestnuts – Despite the devastating loss of American chestnuts in eastern forests, you can still forage or grow chestnuts. You may find or plant sweet chestnuts, Chinese chestnuts, or Chinese-American hybrids which are being reintroduced. While chestnuts are easy to grow, forage, and harvest they can be difficult to peel but they do make an excellent high protein flour.
17. Soy – While soy often gets a bad rap, it’s actually very healthy. Soybeans are easy to grow, and growing your own allows you to choose heirloom varieties over “round-up ready” strains. They’re actually nitrogen fixing legumes perfect for adding fertility to your garden. Soy flour is high in protein and relatively easy to make.
18. Quinoa – Quinoa is the cool weather loving cousin of amaranth. Just like amaranth, it’s very easy to grow and offers a good high protein flour.
19. Crabgrass – Many people think crabgrass is an annoying species to be exterminated, but at one time it was actually a prized, cultivated grain. Its seeds can be easily harvested and ground into flour which is high in protein.
20. Chickpea – Also called garbanzo beans, chickpeas are another easy to grow nitrogen-fixing legumes. They’re quite productive and easy to make flour from, but prefer warm climates. Chickpea flour is a good source of vitamin B6, folate, magnesium, iron, and protein.
This list is by no means comprehensive but should provide you with some ideas about how to live on a diet right from the land. It’s absolutely possible to make healthy, tasty flours without growing acres of wheat.