Properly identifying wild plants is important if you plan to eat the foods you find in the wild. Ingesting the wrong foods can cause illness or even death. Reading a guidebook like Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants by Steve Brill is a good place to start. Steve Brill shares his expertise in this expert interview.
Lessons from Steve Brill
In his book, Steve Brill teaches readers about more than 500 edible and medicinal plants and berries. This comprehensive book includes hundreds of drawings as well as recipes for the wild foods you harvest. After you learn a few basics about harvesting wild plants and berries, you might enjoy a more hands on learning experience. If this is the case, Steve Brill also teaches workshops where he educates people on the foods that grow wild around them and how to harvest and use them responsibly.
Why Wild Foods
Steve says that he is so passionate about the harvesting and eating of wild foods because, "They're delicious, healthful, free, and fun to collect and use." He states, " Wild foods are tastier, more healthful, and free, and you don't have to stand in check-out lines." About 10 percent of his diet is comprised of wild foods. He would likely include more wild foods in his diet if he didn't have such a hectic schedule. "I'm so busy leading tours, writing, and running my business by myself," says Steve. These endeavors leave less time for foraging as much as he'd like to.
Learning to Identify Wild Foods
Some people may worry that it's too hard to learn the right plants when they consider eating foods and berries gathered from the wild. "It's no more difficult than learning to drive a car, swim, use Photoshop or learn any other skill that people typically acquire. My books tell you how to do this safely and ecologically, and there's lots of info on my site, WildmanSteveBrill.com, too."
Indeed, his site is a wealth of information on foraging. On his Plants page you'll find a list of numerous edible wild plants. Not all of these plants are just green "weeds" that may be a bit tricky to recognize. There are also many fruits listed. It is a great place to learn to identify wild berries.
Not all fruits will be found in all parts of the country. According to Steve, "Some species grow throughout the country, others are regional." He also says that not all wild berries are safe to eat. "Some are poisonous, and some are unpalatable." He also says that most wild berries are found in thickets while some are on trees or bushes.
Additional Tips to Consider
Steve shares a few additional tips:
- "There are legalities involved in foraging. It's a gray area, so be discreet, and watch out for overzealous officials. The berries are renewable, animals only have trouble finding food in the winter, when their habitats are gone. You're not harming the environment, but increasing your environmental awareness, and that's the bottom line."
- "Learn a small number of easy to recognize species well, follow them through the seasons, and slowly add to your repertoire. Make sure kids have a chance to forage for them, under adult supervision.
Proceed with Caution
Remember, it is essential that you can identify edible wild foods without a doubt if you plan to eat them. In some cases, even one taste of a poisonous variety can mean disaster.