Become an expert wild plant identifier with this handbook on foraging.
Chapter 3.2 – Becoming A Wild Plant Identifier
You want to keep yourself safe when you forage and use your discernment before you ever decide to pick or eat anything. It is important you learn how to identify what you can and cannot eat when you are foraging.
- Only eat what you know – Any lawn, backyard or sidewalk can have many types of weeds growing at the same time with most being inedible. You should not pick any plant and attempt to identify or consume it. The best alternative would be to look the plant up or locate plants that you've already researched and want to find. If there are any plants in this book that interest you, try and get a sample of them somewhere.
- Begin at farmers’ crops – Visit your local market and search for edible wild plants that you can buy. There are at least two dozen types available for you to choose from during the season. If you are not able to find what you are searching for, ask for assistance and, more than likely, the merchants will understand what you are trying to explain and give it to you. You do not have to worry about the plants being expensive; they are all sold at affordable prices that anyone can get.
- Monitor the presence of flowers and fruits for confirmation – If you believe you successfully located a plant, you should pause for a moment and monitor it until flowers and fruits bud. It is especially serious if you picked just green plants. Plants that may look like a certain species may, in fact, be a look-alike. For example, if you believe you've gathered yourself some dandelions but notice that, as they grow, begin to throw up a leafy flower stalk, they are not true dandelion greens. True dandelions possess leafless flower stalks.
- Make a data book and write the plants you see, as well as when you discovered them – This will prove to be very useful for you and much more valuable than field guides that state blooming times. Your personal datebook can assist you throughout the year once you begin recording so you have something you can look back on where you reside.
- Document what you discover in detail – Describe a pressed plant and insert an entry in a journal. Writing plant details, and adding their photos and the like, will assist you in properly identifying plants and decrease your margin of error.
- Unexpected Discoveries – Plants you identify in the wilderness will not always be available for sale at the store. If you are a true explorer though, you would be able to see interesting greens inside certain markets you possibly never saw before in your area.
- Look at the berries’ shape – There are certain fruits that are impossible to confuse for anything else. For example, bananas have a unique shape that even while they are red and little instead of yellow and large, people are able to correctly identify them. The same thing goes for apples and pineapples. However, it is tougher to be as confident when it comes to berries. Not every red berry you see is going to be a cherry; just like not every blue berry you see is going to be a blueberry. Some fruits can be identified without breaking a sweat while others that exist in the wild might take you a while.
- Examine its texture – Instead of having a round and smooth texture, you will come across some berries that are lumpy. Fruits like strawberries have a naturally bumpy exterior because the seeds live on the outside, rather than the inside, so it will be easier to identify them – at least in markets. It is completely different in the wild. There are such fruits called Duchesnea indica that have earned the title of being a false strawberry because it is also bright red with similar leaves. It can fool most people from a distance into thinking it is a strawberry, however, upon closer examination, the texture is slightly different. The flower of the fruit is also shaded yellow rather than white. Confusing this fruit for a strawberry will not end your life, but it is a tasteless berry.
- Study your market – When you decide to purchase some fruits at a grocery store or a farmers’ market, definitely make sure to include strawberries, grapes, cherries, and blueberries to that list. When gooseberries are in season or currants, you may find those as well as crabapples. Certain exotic fruits like persimmon or ground cherry may also be added for sale. Before you do anything, it would be best to buy and learn the fruits in the markets prior to locating their wild equivalents.
- Look at each fruits' seeds – Can you picture what the inside of a fruit looks like? Do you know how many seeds they would have and where you could locate them? Seeds that are fruitless are a product of a horticultural substance specifically cultured for the market. When you purchase grapes with seeds, dissect them and discover the amount of seeds they normally have, and how they appear. Fruits like plums and cherries have one seed and apples normally have several small seeds within the core. Mayapples also have many little seeds, but they are scattered throughout the berry.
- Know the big picture – It is impossible not to notice that cherries are smooth at the bottom, the opposite of the stem, whereas apples contain little leaves at the base. Blueberries are characteristically different and appear to have an opening at its base. Understanding what characteristics make up a plant can help you. It is helpful to learn the size and color of many fruits, but you do not want to rely completely on it because it can misguide you; you must examine the actual structure of the fruit. In the wild, plants can give you pointers to identify fruits features, like the shape and texture of their leaves or what type of edge it has. It is also nice to know how they are patterned on a stem and if the stem itself is smooth in texture or contains prickles and thorns. To wrap this up, knowing the features of a plant helps you place them into a recognizable group.
- Look up, look down and look all around – If you were to swagger around plants just examining them at eye level, you are bound to miss a lot of things that are going on. Fruits that are ripening are often rested at the top of branches where lower boughs take a bit more time to ripen. If you never look up, you will never see nor could you be able to tell when a certain fruit is nearly complete or already ripe for picking. If you take the time to look below you, there is a good chance berries have fallen. Any of these fruits that fall along the sidewalk will often stain it for you to see which is often how cherries and mulberries are discovered. If you can locate a crushed fruit, or see its juices along the sidewalk, just look around to locate its home. You know what they say, “An apple does not fall far from the tree.”
The Foragers Bible
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