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Bad Experience Foraging-Lessons Learned?  RSS feed

 
N Thomas
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Hi everybody,
I went foraging a couple weeks ago & had a bad experience. I am wondering what lessons I (and others) might draw from the experience. I went on a group nature walk with a very experienced herbalist. She identified some Mugwort & spoke glowingly of it. After the walk ended, I went back & confirmed her identification of the plants with a couple field guides. I then harvested the plants. They came from an area I have reason to believe isn't sprayed with fertilizer, herbicide, etc. I have mutliple food allergies so I was trying to be cautious. I took home the Mugwort & washed it thoroughly in water. I made a small salad with it. I ate it & it went down fine. In fact, it tasted great & I couldn't wait to try it again. The next day I woke up with a swollen lip. While I was being watchful of adverse reactions, at the time, I assumed the swollen lip to be from biting my lip & thought little of it. I had a couple medium sized salads composed of Mugwort (only) that day. The first salad went down fine. The second salad went down fine at first but I noticed it wasn't tasting so great after awhile. Being hungry I finished the salad. I had some ginger candies afterwards. They mixed really poorly with the Mugwort in my gut & I became a bit concerned. I woke up about 2:30 with major nausea. I never threw up but wished I had for the next 24 hours. Worse than that, whatever happened in my gut seems to have set off my autoimmune disorder. I ended up with a very achy knee the following day, which is still very painful at this point. So what did I do wrong? How can I have a better experience next time? (By way of background, I've foraged dandelion, chicory, berries, and other fruits successfully in the past.)
 
Zach Muller
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Hey N thomas,

I can relate to that experience, since I have made a few wrong plant identifications and eaten the plant. Lucky for me I never had poisonous reactions like you are describing. I am a lover of mugwort and cultivate a 9 foot tall plant outside my kitchen.
I have actually never heard of mugwort being used as a primary salad green, so it is hard to say if your ID was incorrect or if you had mugwort and ate too much of it. Traditionally it was used as a poultry herb, medicinal smoke, dried smudge, ceremonial etc. How did you get the idea to make it a whole salad?

My theory of the stomach and health include a diverse diet that includes things that can poison and kill. In other words I dont subscribe to the thinking behind avoiding all active alkaloid plants because they can do damage to the body. It sounds like what you did went a little beyond what your bodily system can handle. Swelling of any kind is always a caution since airways are so precious.

Just as an example of stupidity, I ate an unknown nightshade one time thinking it was lovage. Thats a serious laugh in retrospect, but could have cost me my guts, or life.
 
N Thomas
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Zach Muller wrote:Hey N thomas,

I can relate to that experience, since I have made a few wrong plant identifications and eaten the plant. Lucky for me I never had poisonous reactions like you are describing. I am a lover of mugwort and cultivate a 9 foot tall plant outside my kitchen.
I have actually never heard of mugwort being used as a primary salad green, so it is hard to say if your ID was incorrect or if you had mugwort and ate too much of it. Traditionally it was used as a poultry herb, medicinal smoke, dried smudge, ceremonial etc. How did you get the idea to make it a whole salad?

My theory of the stomach and health include a diverse diet that includes things that can poison and kill. In other words I dont subscribe to the thinking behind avoiding all active alkaloid plants because they can do damage to the body. It sounds like what you did went a little beyond what your bodily system can handle. Swelling of any kind is always a caution since airways are so precious.

Just as an example of stupidity, I ate an unknown nightshade one time thinking it was lovage. Thats a serious laugh in retrospect, but could have cost me my guts, or life.

Hi Zach,
Thanks for your reply. In regard to why I ate Mugwort as a salad green, I just liked the taste. Sigh.

Can you explain a bit about why Mugwort is an alkaloid plant?
 
Tyler Ludens
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"While Mugwort is not as powerful as its genus sibling it has its own chemical calling card: Cinceole, or wormwood oil, thujone, flavonoids, triterpenes and everyone’s favorite rat killer Warfarin aka courmarin also known in medical circles as coumadin."  http://www.eattheweeds.com/mugwort/
 
N Thomas
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Going back to one of my questions, any tips on general harvesting procedures? Things that I did wrong? I want to be able to forage in the future but want to be safe doing it.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
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My recommendation is to do as much research as possible, to make sure you have the right plant, and that it is indeed edible and healthful.  Many plants deemed edible may have toxic compounds, such as the example Mugwort.  This might not mean you have to avoid them entirely, but maybe not eat much at a time, or very often.  I don't know that it's a good idea to make toxic plants a large part of one's diet.  And in future, maybe don't eat a lot of a new thing at once.  Just eat a little of it - after careful investigation into its healthfulness.

 
Zach Muller
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NT, I mean it contains more diversity of compounds than a usual salad green. I found a brief explanation of mugworts uses in different traditions. On this blog

For safety I would suggest finding a good mentor if possible, definitely learning the botanical names of plants and plant families, learn all the leaf types etc. It is a lot to learn and it really never is done, but the more you know the safer you can be.

One thing you did that could be improved is maybe taking it slower introducing a plant to your diet, even if your pretty certain on your ID. I think this should be even slower a process if you are dealing with a more powerful herb like mugwort.
 
Lisa Allen
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Location: San Diego, CA USA
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Hello N Thomas - it seems to me that you need to know whether plants are edible, medicinal, or poison.  Some plants can fall in between too.  Mugwort in my work is a medicinal plant, not one to be used for food, so you would use small amounts and only for the conditions it treats (I bet your dreams were off the hook!).  And if you live in the Western USA, the Mugwort species (Artemisia Douglassi) is much stronger than the officinalis species commonly sold dried in stores.   Please do more research and go on the safe side if you are not sure.  I realize it is best to learn with someone - but finding out where a plant falls in that scale (and even parts of the plant vary!), and look into some good foraging books.  I realize some herbs are considered food (example Nettle, Plantain, Red Raspberry, Oatstraw) and still have great medicinal value.  Go easy.  I am guessing you only had a painful cleansing reaction but I hope you can avoid a worse incident.  Take care!
 
Mick Fisch
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Trying new wild plants is a bit of an adventure.  Proceed with moderation.  Try small amounts, wait, monitor, try larger amounts, monitor.  Everyone is different and there are lots of similar looking leaves.  Everyone knows the dangers of misidentified mushrooms.  Not everyone is as aware of the dangers of misidentified greens and tubers.

I have a funny cautionary tale.

Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth (according to my kids) and my wife and I were newly engaged, there was a community garden by the highway.  We got assigned a patch and started weeding and planting.  A friend of ours pointed out that the predominant weed seemed to be some kind of chard.  The greens were quite tender because it was fairly early in the spring.  We picked a bunch, sorted through the leaves to make sure we hadn't mixed in something else and brought the greens back to my place where my fiancee made us each a wilted chard salad.  It was delicious, but after a little while my sweetheart started acting oddly, like she was really drunk or high.  I told her something was wrong and we needed to get her home.  She sprawled back and laughed "Oh, I'll just sleep here!"  It wasn't an amorous statement, more like some kid wanting to sleep over.  She has always been a deeply religious and conservative gal, so this confirmed my suspicions that something was off.  When she tried to get up, she couldn't walk and I had to half carry her to my car.  I brought her into her parents house, told them what happened and we all decided that there must have been something extra special in her salad.  She didn't seem to be having trouble breathing or anything, just  bombed out of her mind.  We decided to let her sleep it off.  When I got up to go she started bawling that she didn't want me to leave.  We eventually compromised that I would sleep in the other room, where one of her brothers normally slept, but he was out of town. 

When she woke up in the morning, she was back to normal but pretty embarrassed.  It probably took 20 years to talk her into trying chard again (no problems).  She has a much more sensitive system than I do, with lots of allergies and some autoimmune problems.  Whatever it was, I seemed unaffected.  We never figured out what she ate or whether it was maybe an adverse reaction to some spray from the nearby highway. 

Reviewing the experience now, I see a couple of things I did wrong.  First off, our friend said the weed looked like some kind of chard so we ate it.  RED FLAG.  I should have verified exactly what it was prior to putting a plant in my precious body, or my fiancees even more precious body.  I was pretty fearless back then (alternate words for fearless might be ignorant, foolish, or possibly, stupid).  Second, I suspect we weren't as careful as we should have been about making sure we didn't get some other plant mixed.  I know a little more now, enough to be more cautious.
 
Jamie Chevalier
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The important point in all this is that herbs are not necessarily foods. Plants strong enough to have curative powers when you drink a little as tea are much, much too strong to use as staple foods. Even the herbs we use in food are seldom the whole dish--think ginger, thyme, rosemary. You wouldn't drink Robitussin instead of lemonade, and you wouldn't eat penicillin pancakes....herbs are medicine.
 
Ted Krug
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Thanks for sharing your story. I live in Korea where a lot of wild herbs are harvested, sometimes even cultivated, and used for food and/or medicine.

I had something similar happen to me with the lacquer tree. It is used here in various ways. The first way I ever had it was in soup. The wood is harvested and dried, then boiled in a soup stock. I was told to be cautious as some people are allergic, but I had no reaction. So later, when I came across a lacquer tree, I was bold enough to try the young leaves in a pancake, which is one of the ways it is eaten here. Luckily, I had done a little more research and was aware of the plant's similarity to poison ivy, which I had been highly allergic to as a child. So I only had one pancake. But that was enough to set off an allergic reaction that left me with itchy rashes on various parts of my body for several days.

Mugwort is also very common in Korea and I have eaten it steamed in rice cakes. I was fine but maybe the steaming changed its properties. Or maybe it wasn't as much as you ate, or maybe I'm just not as sensitive to that particular plant. (As a side note, it works very well as a mosquito repellent when dried and then burned. The smoke smells aromatic to me but mosquitoes don't like it.

I hope your story doesn't discourage people from trying wild herbs, but rather serves as a prudent warning to exercise caution, especially when trying a new plant for the first time - or when trying the same plant from a different geographical area, or prepared in a different way.
 
Lee Gee
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Hello N Thomas (and all those who experienced negative reactions),

I empathize with your suffering and learning by experience.

Mugwort aka Wormwood (and there are many different subspecies) can cause an allergic response in some people. Even the pollen of it on another plant can cause an allergic response. And when you forage it you never know if it has been sprayed as many consider it an invasive species. It can eagerly take over a space, and quickly. Treat all new forage as if you were in the wilderness trying an unknown plant for the first time trying the smallest amount possible and observing for actions/reactions both immediate and over 24 hours. If all is well, then try a little more.

It is a wonderful medicinal plant with many beneficial effects. One of them is anti parasitic. Having eaten so much at once, and experiencing nausea, you may have a parasitic infestation and not known it. 80% of the world's population are harboring some sort of parasite and may have no symptoms. You could have caused a die off effect, hence the nausea.

Eating it raw, at different times in its life cycle and different parts, leaves, roots, flowers, infusing it, tincturing it, drying it and burning it all change its medicinal effects, and your individual constitution, age, health will affect the herb's interaction with you.

Hope this is helpful.

To your health and well being.

Lee



 
Samantha Lewis
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Forgive me, but I would question if you were actually eating Mugwort.  It is a bitter herb.  You said this was a few weeks ago, unless you are at high altitude the tender first greens would be long gone. 
 
N Thomas
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Samantha Lewis wrote:Forgive me, but I would question if you were actually eating Mugwort.  It is a bitter herb.  You said this was a few weeks ago, unless you are at high altitude the tender first greens would be long gone. 

The plants were about 2 feet tall when I stripped leaves from them. I was at sea level next to Boston Mass on July 9 when I harvested the plants. What are your thoughts?
 
N Thomas
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Lee Gee wrote:Hello N Thomas (and all those who experienced negative reactions),

I empathize with your suffering and learning by experience.

Mugwort aka Wormwood (and there are many different subspecies) can cause an allergic response in some people. Even the pollen of it on another plant can cause an allergic response. And when you forage it you never know if it has been sprayed as many consider it an invasive species. It can eagerly take over a space, and quickly. Treat all new forage as if you were in the wilderness trying an unknown plant for the first time trying the smallest amount possible and observing for actions/reactions both immediate and over 24 hours. If all is well, then try a little more.

It is a wonderful medicinal plant with many beneficial effects. One of them is anti parasitic. Having eaten so much at once, and experiencing nausea, you may have a parasitic infestation and not known it. 80% of the world's population are harboring some sort of parasite and may have no symptoms. You could have caused a die off effect, hence the nausea.

Eating it raw, at different times in its life cycle and different parts, leaves, roots, flowers, infusing it, tincturing it, drying it and burning it all change its medicinal effects, and your individual constitution, age, health will affect the herb's interaction with you.

Hope this is helpful.

To your health and well being.

Lee

Judging by the swollen lip I got, I'm at least a candidate for the allergic reaction. I'm allergic to a number of foods.
 
N Thomas
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Jamie Chevalier wrote:The important point in all this is that herbs are not necessarily foods. Plants strong enough to have curative powers when you drink a little as tea are much, much too strong to use as staple foods. Even the herbs we use in food are seldom the whole dish--think ginger, thyme, rosemary. You wouldn't drink Robitussin instead of lemonade, and you wouldn't eat penicillin pancakes....herbs are medicine.

This is really good advice. Would it be fair to say if a food shows up both in a guidebook for wild edibles & for wild medicinal herbs, I should research it very carefully or avoid it altogether to prevent safety issues?
 
Samantha Lewis
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I think it would taste terrible.  Like eating a salad of sagebrush leaves (Artemisia tridentata)  or a bowl full of Yarrow flowers.
 
Samantha Lewis
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Can you post a picture?  Or look online and see if the plant you ate looks like the mugwort pics you find.
 
N Thomas
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Samantha Lewis wrote:Can you post a picture?  Or look online and see if the plant you ate looks like the mugwort pics you find.

Next time I'm in that area I'll snap pictures (assuming the plants are still there).
 
Rebecca Norman
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N Thomas wrote: Would it be fair to say if a food shows up both in a guidebook for wild edibles & for wild medicinal herbs, I should research it very carefully or avoid it altogether to prevent safety issues?

I would think if the plant is well known or in books as edible, that's fine (unless you turn out to have an allergy to it specifically). But I, like others here, have always seen and heard of mugwort (Artemisia) as a medicinal, not as an edible for eating as a salad. Did the wild plant expert that you were with in person say that mugwort was edible as a salad, or as a medicinal?
 
N Thomas
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Rebecca Norman wrote:
N Thomas wrote: Would it be fair to say if a food shows up both in a guidebook for wild edibles & for wild medicinal herbs, I should research it very carefully or avoid it altogether to prevent safety issues?

I would think if the plant is well known or in books as edible, that's fine (unless you turn out to have an allergy to it specifically). But I, like others here, have always seen and heard of mugwort (Artemisia) as a medicinal, not as an edible for eating as a salad. Did the wild plant expert that you were with in person say that mugwort was edible as a salad, or as a medicinal?

Hi Rebecca,
She didn't specifically say it was medicinal vs. a staple. She did speak of overall health benefits from consumption.
 
Jamie Chevalier
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You did say, didn't you, that the walk was with an herbalist?  If I were engaged to lead an herbalism walk, I would talk about the herbs we saw and their benefits, without feeling it necessary to say that they are always used as teas or tinctures, not eaten wholesale. If, on the other hand, it were a wild foods walk, then any wild greens that were discussed could be assumed to be food. Something intended as tea, like pine needles, would be identified as such.

I'm still not sure that even young, mugwort would be palatable as greens, though. a picture would be very interesting.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Something I would point out; I'd never trust a thing unless the person talking about it used the latin name (and seemed to know what they were talking about). Notice the confusion here in the last few posts? I would be willing to bet that there are several plants called "mugwort."
 
Jamie Chevalier
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Good point. There are a few different species I've heard of with that name. However, they were all closely-related: genus Artemesia. I would think that if mugwort was the only name given, and the person was supposed to be expert, it would be one of the artemesias, all of which are strong, bitter herbs. If it were some other genus I'd think that the the person would have mentioned the possibility of confusion, or given some kind of second name, since the artemesias are so very widespread and well-known.
 
Jamie Davis
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Sounds to me like you followed most best practices:

Positive id
Non polluted area
Local expert confirmation

Where you may want to tweak your approach

1) the difference between medicine and poison is dosage
2) preparation notes matter on many plants, for example poke (must be blanched, change of water (or two) )
3) you ramped up your intake pretty quickly, take it slower next time
 
Sharol Tilgner
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It sounds like a dosage issue. I would not recommend mugwort as a food, only as a medicine. If you want a quick look up for herbs in the future, you might check here: http://www.herbaltransitions.com/MateriaMedica.html
An article on wildcrating herbs is available here: http://dreamingabeautifulworld.blogspot.com/2011/12/harvesting-herbs-wildcrafting.html

Arteisia vulgaris - mugwort is used for moxibustion in chinese medicine. This is a safe way to use it. Internal medicinal use is usually safe when dosed correctly.  I would not suggest it as a food item.  I would not give it to a pregnant woman. This is traditionally not given to pregnant women and has been used as an abortifacient. It has some recent research to support that.  It has been shown to have anti-implantation activity in rats:

Chin J Nat Med. 2014 Mar;12(3):180-5. doi: 10.1016/S1875-5364(14)60030-3.
Antifertility activity of Artemisia vulgaris leaves on female Wistar rats.
Shaik A1, Kanhere RS2, Cuddapah R2, Nelson KS2, Vara PR2, Sibyala S2.
Author information
Abstract
AIM:
To evaluate the antifertility activity of Artemisia vulgaris leaves on female Wistar rats.
METHOD:
The plant extract was tested for its effect on implant formation at two dose levels, 300 and 600 mg·kg⁻¹, respectively. The effective methanolic plant extract was further studied for estrogenic potency on ovariectomised immature female Wistar rats.
RESULTS:
The data presented in this study demonstrate the antifertility potential of Artemisia vulgaris methanolic leaf extract, which shows a strong and significant decrease in implant formation (100%), and a strong estrogenic effect resulting in a significant increase in uterine weight in immature ovariectomised rats. These observations suggest that the methanolic extract of Artemisia vulgaris leaves has strong anti-implantation activity and estrogenic activity.
CONCLUSION:
The methanolic plant extract of A. vulgaris has antifertility activity.
Copyright © 2014 China Pharmaceutical University. Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

 
Roberta Wilkinson
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I think it's worth noting that with all foods, wild or not, toxicity is a matter of dosage.  If you ate your weight in apples, you wouldn't be surprised to end up with a belly ache and some interesting stools, but you wouldn't write off apples as "poison" if that happened.  The things we consider edible still contain compounds that can be problematic if overindulged in, though the amount needed to get a toxic effect can vary from a few grams (with spices) to so many pounds that a person would be hard pressed to cram in that much food.

Since wild plants have generally not undergone the generations of selection for human-friendliness that our garden plants have, that maximum dose tends to be lower than in their domesticated counterparts, so a little more care in figuring out your maximum dose is probably warranted.  Like mentioned above, I would suggest starting with a careful taste, then a small serving, slowly increasing your consumption to however much you'd like to be eating (unless you run into an adverse reaction before that point).  When tasting, take some time to really chew the plant and feel the flavors in your mouth.  If anything in it makes you want to spit it back out, take that as a warning and either skip it entirely or proceed with caution.

I hope this experience doesn't turn you off from foraging.  I've been inspired by the wealth of food and medicine waiting for us all around our home as I've learned to recognize it.  You'll get a feel for things as you study and practice and taste, and it should all come to feel a lot less mysterious.
 
Bettina Bernard
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I had a learning experience with stinging nettles. I harvested them growing next to flourishing honeysuckle. Great, I thought, the parks department didn't spray herbicide. Cooked them up, extremely bitter and chemical tasting. Tell take sign: the nettles didn't develop many stinging hairs, they protected themselves with herbicide.
 
N Thomas
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Jamie Davis wrote:Sounds to me like you followed most best practices:

Positive id
Non polluted area
Local expert confirmation

Where you may want to tweak your approach

1) the difference between medicine and poison is dosage
2) preparation notes matter on many plants, for example poke (must be blanched, change of water (or two) )
3) you ramped up your intake pretty quickly, take it slower next time

Hi Jamie,
Thanks very much. This is exactly the kind of advice I need to stay out of trouble.
 
N Thomas
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Bettina Bernard wrote:I had a learning experience with stinging nettles. I harvested them growing next to flourishing honeysuckle. Great, I thought, the parks department didn't spray herbicide. Cooked them up, extremely bitter and chemical tasting. Tell take sign: the nettles didn't develop many stinging hairs, they protected themselves with herbicide.

Yikes. That sounds horrible! Did you get sick?
 
N Thomas
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Sharol Tilgner wrote:It sounds like a dosage issue. I would not recommend mugwort as a food, only as a medicine. If you want a quick look up for herbs in the future, you might check here: http://www.herbaltransitions.com/MateriaMedica.html
An article on wildcrating herbs is available here: http://dreamingabeautifulworld.blogspot.com/2011/12/harvesting-herbs-wildcrafting.html

Arteisia vulgaris - mugwort is used for moxibustion in chinese medicine. This is a safe way to use it. Internal medicinal use is usually safe when dosed correctly.  I would not suggest it as a food item.  I would not give it to a pregnant woman. This is traditionally not given to pregnant women and has been used as an abortifacient. It has some recent research to support that.  It has been shown to have anti-implantation activity in rats:

Chin J Nat Med. 2014 Mar;12(3):180-5. doi: 10.1016/S1875-5364(14)60030-3.
Antifertility activity of Artemisia vulgaris leaves on female Wistar rats.
Shaik A1, Kanhere RS2, Cuddapah R2, Nelson KS2, Vara PR2, Sibyala S2.
Author information
Abstract
AIM:
To evaluate the antifertility activity of Artemisia vulgaris leaves on female Wistar rats.
METHOD:
The plant extract was tested for its effect on implant formation at two dose levels, 300 and 600 mg·kg⁻¹, respectively. The effective methanolic plant extract was further studied for estrogenic potency on ovariectomised immature female Wistar rats.
RESULTS:
The data presented in this study demonstrate the antifertility potential of Artemisia vulgaris methanolic leaf extract, which shows a strong and significant decrease in implant formation (100%), and a strong estrogenic effect resulting in a significant increase in uterine weight in immature ovariectomised rats. These observations suggest that the methanolic extract of Artemisia vulgaris leaves has strong anti-implantation activity and estrogenic activity.
CONCLUSION:
The methanolic plant extract of A. vulgaris has antifertility activity.
Copyright © 2014 China Pharmaceutical University. Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Hi Sharol,
Thanks for pointing me to the database and the article. I will be consulting both going forward. This is helpful!
 
N Thomas
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Roberta Wilkinson wrote:I think it's worth noting that with all foods, wild or not, toxicity is a matter of dosage.  If you ate your weight in apples, you wouldn't be surprised to end up with a belly ache and some interesting stools, but you wouldn't write off apples as "poison" if that happened.  The things we consider edible still contain compounds that can be problematic if overindulged in, though the amount needed to get a toxic effect can vary from a few grams (with spices) to so many pounds that a person would be hard pressed to cram in that much food.

Since wild plants have generally not undergone the generations of selection for human-friendliness that our garden plants have, that maximum dose tends to be lower than in their domesticated counterparts, so a little more care in figuring out your maximum dose is probably warranted.  Like mentioned above, I would suggest starting with a careful taste, then a small serving, slowly increasing your consumption to however much you'd like to be eating (unless you run into an adverse reaction before that point).  When tasting, take some time to really chew the plant and feel the flavors in your mouth.  If anything in it makes you want to spit it back out, take that as a warning and either skip it entirely or proceed with caution.

I hope this experience doesn't turn you off from foraging.  I've been inspired by the wealth of food and medicine waiting for us all around our home as I've learned to recognize it.  You'll get a feel for things as you study and practice and taste, and it should all come to feel a lot less mysterious.

Hi Roberta,
Thanks for the advice and encouragement. I will be challenged to try & taste problems in wild plants. I really like bitter & spicy foods.
 
Lisa McMahon
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I was out walking the dog and was just looking for a snack or tasty morsel and came across some grape vines with berries. Why not give it a taste. They were nice and purple and looked a little sparse but still looked like grapes. They tasted horrible, bitter and pasty dry on the tongue. So, I spit them out. Then I dug a little deeper into the fenceline.... The grape leaves were covering a virginia creeper vine. I was eating creeper berries, not grapes. I am glad they didn't taste good! LOL, they aren't deadly but certainly not good for you.

 
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