Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Disclaimer - Eat at Your Own Risk

Disclaimer – Eat at your own risk and watch for snakes while you’re foraging. Well, it's not quite that simple but the fact remains there are some wild plants that will kill you and many more that can make you sick growing among the nutritious and delicious edibles but you can virtually eliminate all risk by studying and learning how to identify the thousands of edible wild plants that exist in the wild and absolutely not eating something if you aren't 100% for sure what it is.  Another tip to live by is not to forage too close to main highways or even lesser traveled roads because auto-exhaust gets on the nearby plants and the pollution is not good for you, but likewise it isn't good to plant a garden right next to a well travelled road as well.  On the other hand, there are many wild edible plants that grow along roadways and they are a great place to spot new plants and get to know them, just don't eat them.  Make sure your edible plants have not been sprayed with herbicide. Don't eat raw edible wild plants out of water in case the water's polluted or you could get a good case of upset stomach from a bacteria and that same rule applies to drinking the water. Also, keep in mind that any time you are exposed to a new food, there’s a small chance that you will have an allergic reaction to it. There are some way more prone than others and there are many who aren't allergic to anything. You probably have heard of people being allergic to peanuts, strawberries, or coconuts; many of them didn’t learn about the allergy until they tried to eat the food for the first time. Another thing is don't pick a non-edible by accident along with the edible plants you are gathering.  An example of this is that Queen's Anne Lace and Water Hemlock and even Elderberry have very similar umbels of white flowers and I have seen them all growing together.  With a little knowledge however, they easily stand apart in appearance.

You make the choice. We all know that a man (or woman) has to eat and with every type of baby food your mother fed you early in life, with each of them there was a chance you would have an allergic reaction and today, you are still alive. I suppose if your skin broke out in a rash or you got sick, she wouldn’t feed you that particular food again. Later in life you picked your own foods and you probably did alright. However, odds are someone told you that it was edible so you ate it. But when you forage, books are telling you what is edible and the pictures just aren't always that good and neither are the descriptions always the best. You may get impatient and eat it anyway before you're absolutely positive. That's like playing Russian roulette. Don't do it.  If a bird eats it, is doesn't always mean you can eat it.  If it smells good and tastes good, it doesn't mean that it won't make you sick.  Study your plants and start now.

Truth is there are a lot of books out there on the subject of edible wild plants and those books came from many years and accumulation of knowledge. Before writing was invented knowledge was transferred by word of mouth. On this continent the Native Americans gave us much information about the edibility and medicinal uses of the native growing here. Also, plants that were introduced to our continent from other countries often brought edibility and medicinal knowledge with them. Back before books, word of mouth was used and word got around pretty quickly if someone ate a plant and got sick, and got around even quicker if they died after they ate it.  Likewise word got around if they were healed.  Well, the same thing happened if a plant was found edible, especially if it tasted good, and people were hungry.

So, if you want to experience edible wild foraging, then you have to make that decision all by yourself. I will say that we take risks every time we get in a vehicle and drive down the road. I personally love to forage. I get enjoyment every time I find a new plant that I have read about. However, I know the risk, but that risk is almost eliminated if you check a couple of sources, positively identify the plant in question, and prepare it properly. The most important thing is proper identification. Plant foraging is not a hobby where you can always safely walk up on a plant that is unknown and take a bite because it “looks good” or you saw an animal eat it. It is a very fulfilling hobby if you study pay attention and properly identify the plant.

Simply, if you are not 100% certain it is the plant you think it is, then do not attempt to eat it. Don’t listen to some who say put a little under your tongue to test if you don’t know what it is. Why take the risk with an “unknown” when there are thousands of “known” edible plants; all you have to do is properly identify and prepare them.

Even if you do not eat the plants, identification can be a worthwhile hobby.  Consider two of the most poisonous plants in the country (maybe even the world) grow right here in the south.  A small piece of poison hemlock or water hemlock leaf the size of your pinkie nail can kill an adult dead within hours and there's no turning back.  One of the two plants kills you very quick, while the other takes you through hours of the most tormenting pain a person could ever imagine.  Also, one Rosary Pea which also grows in our area will kill an adult.  Would you want that plant growing in your yard with your young children?  I think you would need to know.  Likewise, why not learn about edible plants as you do not have to water them, fertilize them or pamper them like you do garden plants as they grow on their own with little or zero maintenance. 

Wouldn't it be nice to design and build your own Garden of Eden and walk in from work every day and spend five minutes to gather up supper out in the yard and eat a meal that hasn't been sprayed with herbicides or other chemicals or plants that have not been genetically engineered and are more delicious and nutritious than plants you buy at the store?  If you do, then start learning and designing now because we aren't getting any younger are we?

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