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What are your criteria for "Positive ID" of wild plants?  RSS feed

 
Dayna Williams
Posts: 79
Location: Zone 8, Western Oregon
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We have nettles and Himalayan blackberries growing wild together on our property, and I'd like to harvest the nettles. However, I want to be absolutely sure of what they are before I eat them. They look just like every nettle picture I've seen online, they grow just like the ones I've seen in videos, and they sting. Is that enough information to be sure they are nettles and they are safe to feed my family?

Do you rely on pictures to positively identify wild plants, or is it necessary to have someone with you in person who can identify it? What do you do, and how cautious would you be when trying something for the first time?
 
Jessica Gorton
Posts: 274
Location: Central Maine - Zone 4b/5a
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I'm pretty cautious with any new plant, but I have a sliding scale now that I'm getting to know my local flora better. If I was a total newbie to wildgathering, I would want a second opinion from someone who knows their stuff before I would consume any of it, not just a book. Plants can look awfully different in real life...

But now, I have a few things I go by. One, I like to know what toxic plants could be confused for the plant that I'm studying. I'm extra-careful with umbelliferae and solanaceae, two genera with truly poisonous members in my area. Mint-family (Mentha) plants I worry less about, because the only toxicity I know of is pennyroyal, and that's for the essential oil more than the plant itself (and I'm not pregnant at the moment - if I was I might forgo trying any new wild plant!). The more comfortable you get with plant families, the better you will be at identifying.

It does sound like you've got a nettle...there are several species of nettles, but they all have similar characteristics and all would be safe to eat after dealing with the stingyness. I often will google things like "nettle look alikes" when dealing with a plant that I'm unfamiliar with, just to see if there are other plants that could be confused for it, but nettles have a pretty distinct look (and feel ).
 
Jessica Gorton
Posts: 274
Location: Central Maine - Zone 4b/5a
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And of course, you should post some clear pictures of the plants in question here on permies and let the experts help! I find that 3 good crisp photos - one of the plants from farther back, a close-up of the leaves and stem (showing how they intersect if possible), and a close-up of the flowers/seed heads - are just about right for getting a good ID.
 
Dayna Williams
Posts: 79
Location: Zone 8, Western Oregon
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Thanks for the advice, Jessica. Not sure why I didn't think to post a photo the first time!
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Mike Cantrell
Posts: 555
Location: Mid-Michigan
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bee books duck food preservation forest garden hunting solar trees
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Me, I'd feel 100% confident if it stung me more than once. I don't know of any other stinging plants at ALL, with the possible exception of some fine-haired cactus. Maybe those would feel similar, but they don't look similar at all.

Don't you know the old saying, If you feel the sting, it's the right thing? Ok, i made that up, but it works, right?
 
Chris Badgett
pollinator
Posts: 289
Location: Whitefish, Montana
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I personally like to learn plants from another human being then reinforce that knowledge with plant guide books.

I am also a web developer and just built this website for a client who takes a unique spin on how to identify wild edible plants: http://wildediblecards.com/

 
Jay C. White Cloud
Posts: 2413
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Could be nettle ssp...most likely is...could be half dozen other sp of plant as well. Get a good botanical key, and go through the steps of proper taxonomic I.D.. If you have a good "wild harvesting group," check in with them.

Enjoy the good eating!

Regards,

j
 
Landon Sunrich
pollinator
Posts: 1703
Location: Western Washington
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100 % Nettle. I have never said that on a photo ID before - and I probably rarely will in the future. But those are nettles and nice looking ones at that. Clear as day.
 
Landon Sunrich
pollinator
Posts: 1703
Location: Western Washington
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As to criteria - For me its a sliding scale based on a few factors. Primarily what the risk is if I'm wrong. If there is a well know poisonous analog in the region I'm going to need to be much more certain (confirmed with multiple knowledgeable sources or having previously collected it several times with a knowledgeable source) Generally if I'm seriously questioning if I have a positive ID with something I have no experience in I avoid it even if there was nothing truly dangerous in the area. I'm more likely to try a small bit of some new leaf or root than berries. I tend to try tips and newer growth first and only in small amounts. Worst 'to hell with it, lets see if its edible' I've seen was when a friend tried Skunk cabbage leaf. Very unpleasant for the person involved but not truly dangerous. But this was with a positive ID but mistaken concept of what was edible. I do make a distinction between dangerous and unpleasant when I'm weighing whether or not to take a stab at whatever it is.
 
Elissa Teal
Posts: 128
Location: Detroit, Michigan
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Landon Sunrich wrote:As to criteria - For me its a sliding scale based on a few factors. Primarily what the risk is if I'm wrong. If there is a well know poisonous analog in the region I'm going to need to be much more certain (confirmed with multiple knowledgeable sources or having previously collected it several times with a knowledgeable source) Generally if I'm seriously questioning if I have a positive ID with something I have no experience in I avoid it even if there was nothing truly dangerous in the area. I'm more likely to try a small bit of some new leaf or root than berries. I tend to try tips and newer growth first and only in small amounts. Worst 'to hell with it, lets see if its edible' I've seen was when a friend tried Skunk cabbage leaf. Very unpleasant for the person involved but not truly dangerous. But this was with a positive ID but mistaken concept of what was edible. I do make a distinction between dangerous and unpleasant when I'm weighing whether or not to take a stab at whatever it is.


Exactly how I feel (esp. about weighing the risk of being wrong)! I have learned all of the wild edibles that I now eat from videos (Green Deane of eatheweeds.com; he has a youtube channel) and from 3 AMAZING books with crisp, color up-close photos of plants in all stage of their life cycle: Edible Wild Plants by John Kallas and 2 by Samuel Thayer: Nature's Garden and Forager's Harvest. The reason why these books are so AMAZING is because they are NOT field guides (which have just a paragraph and a sh***y b/w photo of hundreds of plants). These 3 books only tackle about 2 or 3 dozen plants and give 6-10 pages on each plant. But not only that, the authors have lots of personal experience eating each of the profiled plants. AND both authors give an amazing and helpful understanding about harvesting wild plants in general. For example, you need to know at what stage of the plant's life cycle is best for harvesting a particular part of the plant for the best taste and nutrition. Pick an old dandelion leaf and eat it and you will have an unpleasant experience. But pick the tender young leaves before the plant flowers and put it as 10% of your salad greens and you will have a much better experience with this particular wild food.

Anyway, these books are worth a 100 times more than the $13-15 price tag. One time I commented to a friend (in the presence of my husband) that "these books rocked my foraging world!" and he will never let me live that down. Yes, I am a wild food enthusiast

Here are links to the books on Amazon:
EWP: http://smile.amazon.com/Edible-Wild-Plants-Foods-Adventure/dp/1423601505/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1401377322&sr=1-2&keywords=edible+wild+plants
FH: http://smile.amazon.com/The-Foragers-Harvest-Identifying-Harvesting/dp/0976626608/ref=pd_bxgy_b_img_y
NG: http://smile.amazon.com/Natures-Garden-Identifying-Harvesting-Preparing/dp/0976626616/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1401377358&sr=1-1&keywords=nature%27s+garden+by+samuel+thayer
 
Isabelle Gendron
Posts: 173
Location: Montmagny, Québec, Canada (zone 4b)
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Good morning,

I am amaze this morning after almost two years on this forum to discover this tread. I think I always did't go further than ¨rabbitt¨ :p

Well, I am following an herboralist course right now with the entend of becoming a naturoptahe. But to be honest, I knew a bit about EO and tisane before entering the course, but as far as the natural plant itself and wild plants, except for dandalion, I didn't know a lot. SO it is a year now that I read and try to identify the plants on my proporty and it is awsome to see the amount of wild plant that are edible and that I didn't know...starting with dandalion :p

Here, the nettle are starting to grow, but can't wait to eat it.

To identify the plants, I found a great book in a second hand library, with great pictures in it starting with the first leaves and the different stages of the plant, so it is great. The book is in French, but you have 3 index, the French name, the English one and the latin root. Easy to follow. If you can find it I recommended it: Guide d'identification des ¨mauvaises herbes¨du Québec. Édited by Le conseil des productions végétales du QUébec Inc. 1998. Since QUébec is a bilingual province, I wouldn't be suprise that the book has been also writen in French. The plants are very commun ones (maybe some exceptions) That you will find averywhere at least in North America.

Isabelle
 
It's in the permaculture playing cards. Here's the link: http://richsoil.com/cards
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