What better way to take yourself back to your roots than to find natural edible’s to make your own medicines or to eat?! Collecting your own herbs can be tricky and very rewarding. Identifying herbs that are safe can be a difficult process if you are not familiar with everything about the plant.
There are herbs all around you, in your yard, on the side of the roads, in the woods, at your nursery. :) Once you educate yourself and become familiar with some of the basic herbs like, dandelion, lemon balm, angelica, alfalfa, chickweed, dead nettle, plantain, wild onion, etc, you will have so much fun collecting them and using them.
For me, the fun part is helping others. A friend of mine recently became very sick and I was able to give her some hyssop and echinacia tinctures to help her feel better. Being able to help your family without paying outrageous prices for medicine is a huge plus.
The first rule of thumb about collecting wild edibles is to identify your plant. Always check your books (preferably color pictures for accurate description) or with local experts before consuming to make sure you know what you have. There are poisonous plants out there as well, and you don’t want to get sick. In my experience, there is usually no cost to contacting an expert, they typically love to share their knowledge. Locating an expert is easily done online or through your phone book. There are many courses you can take that will take you out in the wild to locate wild edibles and teach you about other plants to watch out for. Even after identifying your plant, you will find some that might not agree with your stomach. So take it slow when introducing them to your diet.
The environment is an important factor. Some plants can transition to different environments, but most don’t. This means if you know a plant is supposed to grow by water and you see it growing in dirt with no water nearby, you probably have the wrong, but similar plant. Likewise, if you know the plant your hunting should only grow in summer and you find it in winter or spring, you may have the wrong plant. Knowing where your plant is supposed to be growing and what time of year it should be growing is very important. When finding your plant, look around you. You do not want to consume a plant that could be contaminated with such things as chemicals from cars, or near a friend’s yard that is treated with pesticides. An obvious one would be contaminated soil near a chemical plant. If there is any chance of soil contamination, don’t trust it.
Here are a few things to keep in mind that I have learned.
- If it looks like mint, smells like mint, then it is mint and all mint is edible. Same rule applies to garlic and onion. However it MUST do both, smell and look like mint, not just one or the other.
- ALMOST all things with white sap or white berries are toxic.
Last, but not least is preparation. A lot of wild edibles require certain preparation before eating or you can get sick. There are plants out there you have to boil several times before eating or you will get a bad stomach ache. There are plants you can eat the flower, but not the root because the root is toxic. Again, it boils down to study and education before consumption. The number one rule to eating anything, is safety!
This is a wonderful book called, The Foragers Harvest, but there are many more out there. I would suggest finding one that pertains to your area to begin with. Many local colleges have extension programs that relate to gardening and plants. Check in your area. Good luck in your endeavor to find wild edibles and herbs, but remember safety first!! If you can’t identify it, don’t eat it!!
Keepin It Spicy,
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