Tips for Harvesting Wild Edibles


  • Be respectful! Consider the relationship that other species have to plants and leave some for other people and wildlife. Get permission if harvesting on other peoples’ property.
  • Acquaint yourself with the poisonous plants in your area, especially those that resemble something you wish to harvest.
  • Positively identify any plant before eating any part of it. Remember that both wild and domestic plants are, among other things, chemical factories.
  • Learn which part of the plant you can eat. Many plants have poisonous and edible parts.
  • Know how to safely prepare your harvest before you eat it. Some plants, like poke, should only be harvested when very young (shoots less than eight inches high), and never eaten raw. In fact, you should cook poke in two changes of water to remove toxins before you eat it.
  • How safe is the area where you are harvesting? Has it been sprayed with herbicides or pesticides? Is the plant growing in contaminated soil or water? Busy roadsides are often contaminated.
  • Beware of wild food allergies. Most allergic reactions are mild, but if you tend to have lots of food allergies, your chances may be greater for an adverse reaction, including a serious one. Even if you don’t have known food allergies, don’t eat too much of any new food.
  • Don’t eat wild edible plants if you are pregnant or taking medications.
  • Don’t rely on one person, one book or a single Web site for your knowledge about wild edible and poisonous plants. The more you read about this subject, the more contradictory information you will find. You’ll soon get a feeling for what gets left out of many otherwise excellent sources of information.
  • Don’t rely on common names when researching plants you plan on harvesting. While you don’t need to start speaking “botaneze” to begin wild harvesting, you will want to make sure that the plants you are researching are the same plants throughout your research. Common names cause common confusion.
  • Be cautious when presenting wild edibles around children. Very young children may not be able to make the important distinctions between similar looking plants.
  • Don’t assume something is safe to eat just because you watch some little animal eat the plant. Many animals can handle toxins that we can’t.

—Wren Smith

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