Identification and use of wild plants requires particular care and attention. Never eat any plant unless you are absolutely sure that it is edible! It is a good idea to cross-reference your knowledge with a book written by an expert. The information in this program is for educational purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The author, publisher, and any of their counter parts, assume no responsibility whatsoever for any adverse effects encountered by the individual. Please harvest wild edibles at your own risk!
Harvesting Safety Tips!
While there are countless benefits associated with eating wild foods such as, breathing fresh air, exercise, premium nutrition, and more food diversity, there are also some inherent risks. When you harvest wild plants for food, there is a high guarantee that edible plants will be sharing their living space with non-edibles. These non-edibles may range in toxicity from mild to extreme. If you are anything like me, then you too prefer to avoid any form of poisoning whether it is mild or severe. For this reason it is a good idea to first learn how to positively identify wild plants and then exercise caution when gathering them for food.
Over the last five years that I have traveled around the globe giving presentations about edible plants, I learned two things: first, people are eagerly seeking knowledge about wild edibles and secondly, there is a lot of confusion about which plants are safe to harvest. I found that the term “poisonous” is very loosely defined and is easily swayed by ones personal bias and educational background. For example, experts coming from backgrounds of toxicology, botany, and medicine claim exponentially larger amounts of poisonous plants, whereas, experts coming from Native American teachings observe the opposite. Unfortunately, these inconsistencies of professional opinion mixed with ill-fated Hollywood movies such as, “Into The Wild,” breed unnecessary fear, preventing the mass populous from venturing into the world of free food.
Thus far, my research has lead me to believe that out of thousands of healthful, edible plants growing in North America, there are only a handful of poisonous ones. There are approximately 150 poisonous plants that are not recommended for consumption by the American Association of Poison Control. Out of the 150 plants classified as poisonous, only about 50 are considered highly poisonous. The rest, are classified as mildly poisonous. 100 of the 150 plants may cause nausea, headache, and / or stomach upset, but will not kill the eater, and only 50 plants have the potential to cause serious harm.
I think such statistics are encouraging because it is relatively easy to learn to identify, and stay away from, 50 plants. This task can be accomplished in less than one month if you were to learn to identify two plants per day. Once you have learned to identify the 50 most poisonous plants, your chances of getting poisoned are severely decreased if not get eradicated completely. Keep in mind that many of the so-called “mildly poisonous” plants, are considered edible depending on which book you reference. For example, I recently found common mint categorized as mildly poisonous in a book called “Common Poisonous Plants and Mushrooms of North America.” Does this mean we should no longer drink mint tea? What do you think? I urge the reader to do his or her own research to figure out which plants to steer clear off.
Fear is an important ingredient in the recipe for personal wellbeing. When channeled correctly, fear can force us to question our judgment and make the most educated guess. I think that harvesting wild edibles is like crossing the street in a cross walk; it is safe, but you still want to look both ways prior to stepping out into the street! I prefer to avoid any sort of poisoning be it mild or severe. Please consider the following tips, prior to harvesting wild edibles:
First, knowledge is power! The best way to stay safe is through good old-fashioned education! The internet is a valuable tool for this. Using the internet, you can track down a wild crafter in your area and take an informative class! I recommend any hands-on workshop because it enables you to retain information longer. During one edible foods workshop I was taught that taking a few minutes to study each wild edible would help me remember it forever. I sat down with a dandelion and began to notice how many leaves it had, what shape the leaves were, and if it had any marking or discolorations. After this exercise, I will never have any doubts about what a dandelion looks like!
Another way to educate yourself about wild edibles is to purchase a good book on the subject. I have purchased many books published on this topic and have been disappointed with most of them due to the poor quality of their photos and confusing descriptions. When buying a book, make sure the one you settle on has clear, color photographs. It is also wise to think about book size because ideally, you want a book compact enough to take with you when you go hiking.
Lastly, you can use the internet to help you identify plants. If I find a plant I am unfamiliar with, I will take a picture so that I can do an internet search when I get home. Because the plants’ name is still unknown, I describe what it looks like to the internet search engine (five purple petals, two green leaves, etc). As an added precaution, I might mention the geographical area in which I found the plant (mountains, desert, by a lake, Northern California, Southern Oregon, etc). When I hit the “search” button it generates thousands of possible matches. I look through the images until I find one that resembles my picture. From this search I get a name, “wild violet.” Now I can look up “wild violet” in one of my favorite wild edible books to determine if it is safe to eat!
1.) Start small – While many common wild edibles will benefit your health, they will be foreign to you at first. I recommend you approach new food cautiously. Start by eating a small amount until you know how your body will react. Once you have confirmed that a certain plant makes you feel good, you can then eat it to your hearts content.
2.) Don’t Mix Your Weeds – In the spirit of avoiding any sort of reaction, it is a good idea not to mix wild edibles the first time you encounter them. If you mix edibles in a salad and have a reaction, it will be difficult to determine which plant caused this reaction. Instead, try eating a wild edible mono diet-one edible at a time until you are absolutely sure your body will not have any adverse affects.
Harvesting free food can be fun and exciting. Please take the time to educate yourself correctly. I hope that these tips help you stay safe in all of your wild food endeavors!
Recommended Readings And Dvds:
- Fresh: The Ultimate Live-Food Cookbook by Sergei and Valya Boutenko
- The Miracle Of Greens Dvd by Sergei Boutenko
- The Desktop Guide To Herbal Medicine by Brigitte Mars, A.H.G
- Edible & Medicinal Plants Of The Rockies by Linda Kershaw
- Nature’s Garden: A Guide To Identifying, Harvesting, And Preparing Edible Wild Plants by Samuel Thayer
- Discovering Wild Plants by Janice Schofield
- Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods From Dirt To Plate by John Kallas, PHD
- Plants Of The Pacific Northwest Coast by Jim Pojar and Andy Mackinnon
- Any on edibles by Lone Pine Press