Foraging for Wild Edible Plants

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Dandelion

You know what’s funny.  When you begin foraging for wild foods, spring time becomes a very difficult time to pay attention.  Once warm weather begins to dissipate the wisps of fall from the air, all sorts of delicious things spring out from the ground.  I guess that’s why they call it Spring.  I find that my eye will wander to a particularly succulent plant while someone is talking to me, or I catch myself checking out some familiar looking rosette on my drive to or from work.  This is probably the way that people behaved hundreds or thousands of years ago (minus the driving part), but most people would think I’m crazy if I told them that I picked plants from wild places, and then ate them.

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Wild Garlic

Well, if you really stop and think about it, all plants were once picked from wild places, and eaten.  Once mankind began saving seeds, and intentionally growing a reoccurring crop of a particular wild species for the purpose of eating it, then we moved from hunter/gatherers to agrarian peoples.  And likewise those “wild plants” became “crops” once they were commonly cultivated.  Even so, until a few decades ago, most peoples’ diets were at a minimum supplemented by some wild plants, and mushrooms.  In many parts of the United States, and other parts of the world, wild plants still make up a large part of people’s diet.  Now that I’m able to identify several edible plants, I love the feeling that the world is my garden.  It’s a freeing feeling when you can catch a fish, or harvest a game animal, and pick enough plants to make a meal any time that I want.

When I first began looking into wild edible plants, it was just a hobby.  I wanted to learn something while I was out in the field scouting, hunting, fishing, or hiking.  At first, I thought, “Man, I don’t think I’ll ever have enough confidence in what I’m attempting to identify to actually eat any of this stuff!” And I didn’t have the confidence.  And it was for good reason.  I was new to it, and it could be dangerous, or even deadly.  Despite the fact that I had 3 different written plant guides open in front of me, and all are telling me that the plant that I was looking at was the intended plant, it still took me quite a while to develop the confidence to pick it and eat it.  As stated in other articles on this site, if you are not 100% certain of what plant you have, then DO NOT eat it!

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Young Sow Thistle

I still have that not-so-certain feeling at times, and I never ignore it.  If you are not absolutely certain that the plant that you are about to eat is what you think it is, then don’t even think of putting it inside of your body.  However, after you’ve been able to positively identify a few plants, then those plants will stand out to you like seeing a familiar face in a huge crowd.  The first time that you identify it, it will take a while as you go through all of the identifying characteristics, check, and re-check every aspect in order to ensure that it is not a poisonous look alike, etc.  But, after a few years with that plant, you will see it from your car window while driving 60 mph on your way home from work! As your knowledge of wild plants grows (mine is still growing every year), and you begin to build up a few that you like, and can always identify with ease, you will begin to see many, many more “faces in the crowd.”

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Oyster Mushrooms

You will look at what most people would consider to be a “patch of weeds” on the side of the road, and pick out sow thistle, bull thistle, dandelion, sorrels, dock, and purslane all in the same small patch of ground.  They will jump out at you as you walk to a fishing spot, or will even beckon to you from cracks in a sidewalk.  Just be careful of what you eat, as well as from where you eat it.  Many of the places that these plants grow have been sprayed with pesticides, or are growing in contaminated ground, etc.  I only pick things that I’m eating from an area that I know well enough to know was not contaminated in some way.

The fact that you’re reading this means that you are at least intrigued by the idea of collecting and consuming wild plants.  The most difficult part of beginning the process of becoming a forager, is the psychological block that people have from childhood to not eat anything that wasn’t purchased in a supermarket.  It comes from hearing their mother say countless times “Get that out of your mouth.  It could be poisonous!”

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Blackberries, the gateway wild edible!

She may have been right, but then again… The easiest way of looking at your first experience eating “something wild” is picking blackberries.  When you were a kid, and picked a few blackberries, and popped them in your mouth, or took them home to put over your ice-cream, you ate wild edibles.  You’ve never thought about a blackberry as a “wild edible plant” have you?  Nope, because it’s just a blackberry, right?  Did you ever confuse some poisonous plant for those blackberries?  Have you ever heard of someone getting poisoned after eating poke-weed berries after mistaking them for a blackberry?

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Sauteed Greenbiar Shoots & Mushrooms

Of course not!  Because we all know what blackberry brambles look like. We also know what a freaking blackberry looks like.  If it doesn’t look like a blackberry, or if something about the plant from which you were picking looked strange or different, then you wouldn’t eat them.  The same is true for other wild edible plants, and even mushrooms.  They become as easy to identify with a little practice and a lot of research as any blackberry.  They can also be just as tasty as well.

AS WITH ANY OF THE INFORMATION CONTAINED ON THIS WEBSITE, DO NOT USE THE INFORMATION CONTAINED HEREIN FOR IDENTIFICATION OF ANY WILD PLANT OR OTHER MATERIAL.  IT IS FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY, AND YOU SHOULD CONSULT WITH A QUALIFIED EXPERT BEFORE YOU CONSUME ANY PART OF A WILD PLANT.  A MISTAKE CAN BE FATAL.  DON’T BE A MORON.

DON’T CONSUME ANYTHING TO TREAT THE BODY IN ANY WAY WITHOUT FIRST CONSULTING WITH A PHYSICIAN.  AGAIN, DON’T BE A MORON.

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Categories: Food, Foraging, Nature

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 replies

  1. Really cool article! The “don’t be a moron” made me laugh too!
    Small questions: are there any more contamination sources (other than pesticide) you’d have to be careful about? I was thinking side of roads, or I remember being told as a child to never pick berries at the bottom of a bush because foxes would pee on those for example. Do you pay attention to those details? (sorry if my question is a bit naive, I’d be the most outdoor person in my family and friends, hard to find answers ^^”)

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    • I’m glad you liked the article. Any contaminant that you think may have interacted with whatever you are collecting should be taken seriously, and avoided. The sides of roads are often contaminated with all sorts of things. Find a spot somewhere that you know has not been contaminated (usually away from travel corridors, people, etc. like in the woods somewhere). Fox pee, bird poop & things like that can be washed off (which I’d suggest doing with anything you eat regardless if it is picked from the wild or purchased at a super market). The main contaminates that I’d be concerned with would be things that are absorbed by the plant itself, because that can not be washed away. (i.e. pesticides, herbicides, chemical run off from farm fields, petro-chemicals from oil field, etc.) Cat tails for instance are natures cleansers, and are sometimes intentionally planted in areas that are known to be contaminated in an effort to clean the area of whatever contaminate. So use some common sense about where you collect from, and when in doubt collect from somewhere else. Best of luck!

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