Welcome to the Wildcrafting Area
Hey, you can run up to the local grocery store...why go to all this fuss mucking around in the mud? I'll tell you why: wild foods have more vitamins, minerals, and fiber than anything else does. Wild foods also have enzymes and cofactors. (Look it up) The complex carbohydrates of whole grains and root vegetables take hours longer to break down, so you stay full longer and get an even flow of energy. The food industry has made its product more appealing by "processing". The food may look better and seem to taste better (added salt & sugar), but it's *not* better for you. I'll wager that while you sit there sipping your Coke (remind me to tell you what *that* is used for in cleaning engines...) and munching on your pizza: you've never even considered using wild cattail as an additive to wheat products. Am I right? Society as a whole has become an unhealthy, overweight, unhappy lot. Cancer is running amuck, heart attacks are as common as the cold, and most of you can't even conceive of running the mile.
Do's and Dont's:
Poisonous plants, some of which are deadly, sometimes grow right alongside edible plants, so you must identify every plant with 100% certainty before consuming it. The best way to accomplish this is purchasing reliable books containing both photos, plant anatomy, and identification characteristics. It is best to cross reference the plant you are seeking against the characteristics of the poisonous look alike. If you are new to wildcrafting: check a variety of plants *before* taking the next step. Make sure you have accurate material. Sadly, there are books out there I wouldn't trust. Look at the bottom of this web page for a list of books I use. Start learning using a few easy-to-identify plants before moving on to plants that can get you in trouble. Learn the poisonous plants in your region.
Always get permission before wildcrafting on private property. Some people shoot first and ask questions later, or they prosecute trespassers. Find out if any chemical spraying has been going on in the area you wish to gather. In most states it's safe to assume roadway right-of-way is regularly sprayed with toxic chemicals. (For that matter: some exhaust fumes contain Lead, and it will settle within 50 feet of the road) Find out what plants are protected in your area...don't add to the decline of an endangered species! Try to respect the area you are treading upon. Don't trample other species to get the one you're after. Leave some mature plants to insure future crops. I go as far as spreading seeds I find of any species I encounter. Collect no more than 10 percent of any plant, less if you are gathering with others. If you're gathering roots be careful to collect only a tiny portion of the most common root plants because you are destroying them.
Collect the right part of the plant in the appropriate season. Never collect water plants unless you are sure the water they are growing in is safe. (Example: Watercress) Besides dangerous toxins water can contain dangerous microorganisms that can infect you. (Most local EPA agencies will test water free of charge for microorganisms)
Equipment and Preparation:
It's best to place each plant in it's own container with a label. Carry resealable plastic for vegetables or delicate berries. Unless it's too hot it's best to wear long sleeves, long pants, and socks for protection against thorns, brambles, bugs, etc. etc. Wearing white deters bees, and makes ticks readily visible. Red, blue, and black attracts insects. Tuck your pants into your socks. Always check yourself for ticks if you live in a tick infested area. In the USA we have the Deer Tick which can cause Lyme Disease. Deer Ticks are *much* smaller than the Dog Tick, so they often go unnoticed. If a tick has embedded itself in your skin apply steady, light, even pressure pulling on it. Allow it to remove it's head in this manner, otherwise the head will stay in you and become inflammed. The old wives tales of: holding a lighter under it, applying alcohol to it, suffocating it with oil, and various other tales *don't work*.
I carry two jewelers loupes (magnifying glasses) for examination of plant parts. They are 15x and 20x power. (Not those useless 5x reading power glasses) They are very handy when I need to see plant hairs and such. Why do I want to see plant hairs you ask? Edible Milkweed has hairs on it's stem, but poisonous Dogbane stem is bald. You can't see that with the naked eye. *wink*
Learn a little about terrain. There are two general types of trees, angiosperms and gymnosperms. Angiosperms: are flowering plants in which the ovule, or seed, is encased in a protective ovary. This family is divided into dicots, plants with two cotyledons (seed leaf structures), that include the familiar broadleaf trees such as Maple and Oak; and the monocots, plants with one cotyledon that include the Palms and Lily trees. Most of these broadleaf trees are deciduous, meaning that they shed their foliage each year. Some nontropical broadleaf trees, however, such as certain Magnolias and Hollies, are "Evergreen" that is, they retain foliage throughout the year. Gymnosperms: (Greek for "naked seed") do not bear flowers. Their seeds lie exposed in structures such as cones or fleshy cups called arils. This group includes about 500 tree species including three major types: needle-leaf trees, Ginkgos, and Cycads. The needle-leaf trees, or conifers, include such trees as the Pine, Spruce, Fir, Yew, Redwood, and Cypress.
What type of terrain you are exploring affects wildcrafting immensley. Where there are thick trees there will be less vegetation. Where there is swamp you'll find plants that love damp conditions. Likewise for desert, marsh, mountainous, etc.
Where/When to Look?
As a rule, heavily forested areas have fewer edibles with exception of: nuts, acorns, ferns, and a few berries. Recently bulldozed or plowed areas are sometimes paydirt, as aggressive species such as Dock, Primrose, Pokeweed, Milkweed, Salsify, and Nettle will spring up within perhaps a year or less. Had a garden? Check in and around it at year's end for chickweed, amaranth, lamb's quarter's, and purslane. Is it Spring or Fall? In Spring you'll gather plants you won't touch in Fall: fiddle heads of fern, for example. Getting the picture? You need to consider the *environmental surrounding*s.
Edible Wild Plants by Thomas S. Elias & Peter A. Dykeman
Indian Herbalogy by Alma R. Hutchens
Sacred Plant Medicine by Stephen Harrod Buhner
Coyote Medicine by Lewis Mehl-Madrona, M.D.
Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants by "Wildman" Steve Brill
The Complete Illustrated Holistic Herbal by David Hoffman
The Complete Medicinal Herbal by Penelope Ody
Magic and Medicine of Plants by Inge N. Dobelis
How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine, & Crafts by Frances Densmore
Information given on this site is not intended to be taken as a replacement for medical advice. Any person with a condition requiring medical attention should consult a medical doctor. This information is given as reference only.