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Finding Wild Edible Foods: A Checklist

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Finding Wild Edible Foods: A Checklist Empty Finding Wild Edible Foods: A Checklist

Post by Sonshine on Sat Aug 15, 2009 12:21 am

1. Do your plant homework. Know your Queen Anne’s Lace from your poison hemlock. Positive identification and proper preparation are the forager's primary concerns — especially when hunting mushrooms. Many poisonous mushrooms look very much like the edible kinds. While mushroom poisoning generally results in mild to serious gastric discomfort, it can also cause organ failure and death. Don’t take any chances! (Learn more about mushrooms in Hunt for Wild Mushrooms, Why We Need Mushrooms and Grow Your Own Mushrooms.)

2. Know where to collect wild foods. Obviously, you don't want to eat plants collected from a nuclear landfill, or watercress from a polluted stream. Plants along roadsides, or those that may have been exposed to pesticides — on the margins of conventional farms, for example — must be thoroughly washed, preferably several times, before consumption. And get off the beaten path — areas closest to town usually have the most foraging activity. Venture further afield to less-trafficked areas and reap greater rewards.

3. Know when to gather wild foods. Practiced foragers keep a close eye on the calendar and the weather. Spring is the time for greens, when new leaves and shoots are tender and sweet. Mushrooms, ramps, nettles and other spring ephemerals generally have a short harvest window, usually three weeks or so. Wild fruits harvested in autumn, such as persimmons and pawpaws, must be fully ripened (soft to touch), before they are palatable.

4. Leave healthy plants. When harvesting, “Take half, leave half,” is Kindscher’s rule. Learn about and avoid plants that are threatened or endangered.

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5. Learn how to prepare wild foods properly. Pokeweed (Phytolacca) can cause intestinal disaster if not cooked in several changes of water, and acorns must be leached several times to remove bitter tannins. Heed your senses — learn to taste the difference between awful and unusual.

“Our population is far too big for foraging to make a significant impact on overall diet,” Kindscher says. For the modern forager, wild plants figure primarily as seasonal highlights in the annual diet — in April, morels with cream, and elderberry pie in August. Apart from the hyper-dose of nutrition that wild plants provide, and the physical benefits of outdoor exercise, foraging also feeds the soul, establishing a connection to place and keeping time with the seasons. “The golden rule,” Kindscher says, “is to tread lightly.”

He who cultivates his land will have plenty of food,
but from idle pursuits a man has his fill of poverty
Proverbs 28:19[b]

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