There has been a good deal of talk lately on the survival boards about wild edible and medicinal plants. This is good in that people should be
interested but also dangerous in that plants are easily misidentified, often contaminated with pollutants and sometimes dangerous to use medicinally.
Having taught many classes in wild edible plants I thought this would be a good time to share the rules for collecting and consuming wild edibles.
While I would love to be able to show how to identify plants by using botanical keys that is beyond the scope of what can be done in a thread here.
Learning plants may seem daunting but I can assure you it is not. Nearly everyone knows at least a few common plants and you can build from that base
learning one species at a time. Regardless of where you live the most common and useful plants number not more than a few dozen and if you learn just
one plant a week by the end of a year you will know 52 species that can help feed you and your family.
As a co-host of the All Things Survival Radio show
I have a regular segment called the Plant of the Week
. We discuss in detail just one
plant - how to identify it, what parts are edible, how to prepare them and historical usage. Tune in Thursday nights at 8pm EST at -
So far I have covered these plants:
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Oak / acorns (Quercus ssp.)
I am posting these each week in the announcement for the All Things Survival Radio show
thread. I am hoping that by showing the most common and
useful plants I will be saving others the trouble of having to learn dozens of different plants that they may never use nor even see.
There is only one field guide which I trust completely and that is Peterson's Field Guide to Wild Edible Plants
. The only example of where I
have found contradictory information is in regards to side effects from consuming Day Lillies (Hemerocallis fulva). This plant requires further
Rules for Harvesting Wild Edible Plants -
Never harvest rare plants except in a life-or death situation.
1) Always positively identify any plant you plan on eating. One wrong I.D. can kill you!
2) Don't harvest plants where there may be pollution: near roads, railways, timbered areas, mine runoff or agricultural spraying of any kind. Check
nearby for signs of pollution. Monoculture timber stands (tree farms) are often sprayed with insecticides - avoid them altogether.
3) Don't over harvest or take plants where there are few of them. Practice wild plant conservation by thinning plants where they grow in abundance and
planting seeds of the same when opportunity permits. With most plants it is possible to take a few leaves, shoots or fruit without killing it.
4) Only use the specific plant parts listed as safe. i.e.- some plants have edible roots but poisonous leaves or edible seeds but poisonous fruit and
vice versa. The story of Christopher McCandless by Jon Krakauer Into the Wild
climaxes with the death of McCandless by eating the wrong plant
5) Don't pick anything that looks discolored or diseased. Only harvest from plants that look healthy.
6) Use the specific cooking or drying methods suggested. Some edible plants are mildly poisonous or produce severe irritation of the mouth unless
dried first. Failure to follow the recommended methods can make you severely ill.
7) Make sure you have gathered only the plants and parts you have intended to. It is very easy to mistakenly grab neighboring vegetation by
8) Wash all plants before eating.
9) If in doubt - throw it out.
10) Plant guides can be your best friend and
your worst enemy. It is very common for authors to simply plagiarize the work of others, often
perpetuating mistakes. No book is 100% correct - own several different guides and cross-reference when studying.
Individual physiology also differs and some people may have allergies or reactions to plants they are unfamiliar with.
Whenever trying any new plant it is wise to eat only a very small quantity to ascertain your tolerance and wait 24 hours before consuming
Wild plant nutrition
: Wild edible plants commonly have higher nutritional values than comparable commercially grown produce. They also tend to
have stronger tastes and textures that require some adjusting to.
Understanding plant life cycles is key to getting the most nutrition from them. In Spring the leaves and shoot contain the most nutrients, in Fall it
resides in the Fruits or nuts and begins to move nutrients back to the root system where it remains during the winter.
Finally, I would be remiss without discussing mushrooms. After more research I learned that they have vitamin B, selenium, copper and potassium though
they are otherwise short on nutritional value.
I would NOT recommend anyone trying wild mushrooms - the odds of misidentifying them are quite high. Far too many species are deadly poisonous and it
is said that death by mushroom poisoning is one of the most painful ways there is to die.
Put simply, they are NOT WORTH THE RISK!
This week's plant will be Plantain (Plantago ssp.), a common yard weed that not only tastes good but helps heal wounds and repels ticks!
I hope this covers the essentials. If anyone has any questions I will be happy to do my best to answer them. I have a HUGE library of reference books
edit on 12-4-2011 by Asktheanimals because: added link
edit on 12-4-2011 by Asktheanimals because: corrections