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by Diane Spicer
Foraging for food is fun only when you don't HAVE to do it.
For me, food foraging for wild edibles on a hike is a hobby.
So I try to learn a few new wild edibles each hiking season, to add to my repertoire.
Never tried food foraging before? Start with something easy (and delicious)!
Full disclosure: I'm a mushroom wimp, meaning that I don't tend to fool around with sampling Mother Nature's bounty.
She has decided which are edible, which are not, and until I take a class on mushroom identification, I'm sticking with visual admiration, not gustatory admiration, of the ones I see along the trail.
However, berries are a favorite while foraging for food.
In the Pacific Northwest (my stomping grounds), we have
to name just a few.
Some of my favorite hikes are categorized under "berry hikes" in the fall.
What could be better than throwing off the pack, plopping down in the berry patch, and eating my way back to the trail?
After all, that's what the bears do. Much tastier than tree bark, don't you agree?
A few notes of caution:
When you are first learning to identify berries, avoid white or green berries, as they are mostly poisonous.
In a survival situation, eat only a few and see if you react (watch for tingly tongue and shortness of breath) within 30 - 60 minutes.
Here's a free online resource from the U.S. Army on edible and medicinal plants.
I've made sure that I know my berries, using a few beloved field guides.
These books and electronic resources have also helped me out with identifying poisonous plants to avoid.
Here's an example:
I've made really sure that I can pick out water hemlock (also known as spotted cowbane).
Why? Because it carries the most deadly toxin in the Western hemisphere, with no antidote.
The problem with spotting water hemlock?
It looks a lot like common, completely innocuous edible and medicinal plants that share its habitat.
Luckily, it stinks!
If nothing else, learn to identify the top 5 poisonous plants in your area.
For me, that includes:
Avoiding the nasty plants will keep you safe while you enjoy learning the hundreds of medicinal and edible plants in your area.
Soon you'll be on a first name basis with the ones that can pull you through a survival situation.
Mother Nature is the original source for so many of our medicines, including aspirin, digitalis, and antibiotics.
I find it fascinating to identify medicinal plants in their natural settings.
And these are the botany field guides and wildcrafting books I have on my bookshelf, and carry in my backpack:
Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West, by Michael Moore
Field Guide to the Cascades and Olympics, by Rob Sandelin
Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West by Gregory L. Tilford
Edible and Medicinal Wild Plants of the Midwest by Matthew Alfs
Medicinal Plants of North America by Jim Meuninck
You're all set with these solid resources for plant identification.
Be sure to set aside some time on your next spring or summer hike to get to know your plant neighbors.
They're quiet, mostly friendly, and fascinating.
Foraging For Food