Foraging is one of the most empowering skills a person can have. Not only does it connect you to your environment, it enables you to utilize what is already around you, for free. Along with learning what to eat and how to eat it, one also learns how to use the plant for other things. It is also interesting to learn about our ancient past and the myths surrounding the plants that grow all around us. These myths help us remember the plant's uses.
In the ancient past, knowlege, was knowlege of plants. The shaman or elder of the tribe was mostly wise in his understanding of which plants were medicinal, and how they effected the body.
To start foraging, always start by learning the plants in your area. Don't start by learning plants that you'll never encounter, you'll learn about those when you are ready to visit those places. That doesn't mean to avoid learning exotic plants, but just to prioritize the local ones first.
This site is an excellent place to rapidly learn and organize all of your plants.
The first plants that you want to learn are the most dangerous. It is better to mistake a plant to be toxic when it's edible, than it is to mistake a plant to be edible when it's toxic.
Don't eat wild mushrooms, especially those with gills. Like Grandma used to say "Gills Kill". However Boletes can be relatively easy to identify, as long as one knows the 2-3 mimics that can cause toxic reactions.
Euphorbs, Nightshades, and a few Apiaciae (Carrot Family) like Hemlock, are among the most dangerous plants in America.
In the case of the Euphorbs, and Nightshades, these are entire familes that you can easily learn to identify by their flowers, berries, or sap. Nightshades have many edible members, and many poisonous members. Learn the general design of the Nightshade, then when you are foraging, never eat one until you are 100% certain that you know it's edible.
- Nightshade flowers have five way symmetry, and the fruit always looks like a little tomato, pepper, or eggplant, when you open it up.
The second plants you'll want to learn are the easiest to identify edibles. For example: Dandelions, Miners Lettuce, Salsify, Raspberries, Blueberries, Rosehips, Nettle, Purslane, Wild Lettuce to name a few.
You will be surprised to find out how many weeds that grow in rural areas are edible. Many, like purslane, are even extremely nutritious, given that they are growing on clean soil and recieving clean water.
Working with images makes the process easier than ever before. With the image, you can have others verify that it is what you think it might be. You can examine it at home, any time, and be sure of what you are encountering.
The fastest way to gain mastery of the plants in your area, is to start taking detailed images of plants in your yard or immediate vicinity. You will quickly start understanding the bigger picture of plant identification when you organize them by their families. The family name doesn't tell you everything about the plant, but it will tell you alot. When you are researching look for the family name ending in "aceae", this is the international Greek and Latin name. To identify the plant you will need to find the Genus and Species names, which are also in Greek and Latin. Once you have these names, you can be sure your resources are talking about the same plant as you are.
Knowing these facts can open up a mountain of information. Keeping all your plant info online is an awesome luxury, as you can access it from anywhere, and add to it from anywhere.
Another interesting aspect of foraging is folklore and mythology surrounding each plant. Plants used to be so important in each person's life that they were given names and sometimes considered representatives of Gods or Devils, depending on their effect on people.
Foraging is one of the more dangerous hobbies one can have, if they aren't extremely careful.
In the past, if we found a plant that we didn't recognize, we would slowly test it. First, you would touch it on your skin, then wait for an hour or up to a day depending on the look of the plant (if it looked related to poison ivy for example, you would want to wait a day or so.). The next step would be to touch it to your lips and then wait for an hour or so. Then you would put it on your mouth and then wash your mouth out, then wait half an hour. Then swallow a tiny amount and wait for an hour or so. Only this way, can someone have any safety in trying unidentified foods. But you don't usually have to do it that way. Now we have the internet. If you have a digital camera, you can now positively ID a plant with Google Images, Wikipedia, and sites like this one.
Imagine if one day the food trucks to stopped coming in. People would probably revert to cannibalism, because they wouldn't have any idea of what is edible outside.
For mankind to have survived in such a poisonous environment, we would have had to have a lot of R&D, not Research and Development; Risk and Death. Only about 5% of all mushroom species are known to be edible. Think of how many people had to have died to find this small percentage of edibles. That's why this information cannot be lost. There was too much R&D by our ancestors to learn these things.
Here is a list of commonly found edibles:
There are many plants that we've grown accustomed to pulling out of our gardens because they are too strong and take out too many nutrients. Many of these plants are actually edible and highly nutriti