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rachael hamblin
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After learning this afternoon that I very nearly sampled some hemlock while digging through the ruins of an old garden on our property, I thought it would be good to find out--what are plants one should be careful to NOT eat that grow wild in the Cascadia region?  Any look-alikes?
 
Kelda Miller
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Hi!

Hemlock, for sure, and I think that's the most dangerous one.

Also watch out for deadly nightshade it's a vine related to potato (similar-ish leaf) that has tempting red berries. Don't eat!

And then the cow parsnip has medicinally properties, if handled with bare skin can cause dermatitis bad enough to send someone to the hospital.

I've also heard of dermatitis happening from euphorbias, (though they're neither native nor medicinal)...I guess on that note too, rhododendron is poisonous. That's especially handy to know because those branches always look so perfect for roasting marshmallows on. Nope!
 
rachael hamblin
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Thanks!  I'll look those up so I don't mix them up.  I've heard hemlock looks really similar to queen anne's lace, any tricks for telling these apart?  Do any of the others you mentioned look similar to other useful plants?
 
Kelda Miller
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hm. the deadly nightshade looks like attractive red berries on a vine. alert! the only other maybe red berry that's okay to eat On A Vine (when unripe) is dewberry, and that has a blackberry shape to it. the nightshade is just smooth orbs in clusters

i guess there's also poison oak, though that's pretty limited in washington. it's in seward park in seattle though. 'leaves of three let them be'. but the biggest prevention with that is just knowing when and when not you're in poison oak country. do i look around before popping a squat to pee next to the trail? nope. that's fine usually around these parts, but when i'm in oregon i have to remind myself all the freaking time to pay more attention.
 
rachael hamblin
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thanks for the info Kelda
 
Dave Boehnlein
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Location: Orcas Island, WA
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If you get into harvesting camas you'll need to be super careful to look out for death camas. As I understand the only way to tell them apart is while they're flowering. However, you harvest them when the flowering is done! Make sure you know a patch well and take great care if you choose to harvest.

Dave
 
          
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Location: la grande, or
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don't eat the digitalis, either!  fox glove.  it's easy to spot in bloom, but not in bloom, well, it can look like mullen or comfery or dog's bane or any number of other things to the untrained eye.  and there are two kinds of hemlock- water hemloc and poison hemlock.  both deadly. 

i asked a guy who has a phd and owns a wild flower preserve about the camas, because i want to harvest some, and he said they don't grow in quite the same habitat or bloom at the same time, and he thought i would be safe to harvest it while not in bloom.  however, i thought it would be prudent to scope out some sites to harvest that i know are free and clear of death camas, and i found a nice big patch or two that is filled with wild onion, so while i'm harvesting the camas, i'll get some onions, too.

only eat/use medicinally things you know for absolutely sure 100% positive you know what they are.  if you really want to learn, take a class on plant taxonomy so that you are sure of your identification.  get a good book that has good visuals of the plants, both edible and poisonous,  (such as Gregory Tillfords book, and i'm sure Arthor's book is most excellent) and double/triple check.  the deadly ones are, well, deadly.
 
Susan Monroe
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Location: Western WA
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The Golden Rule of wild harvesting:  Don't eat anything unless you're SURE you know what it is.

All the berries that have multiples forming a berry (like blackberries and raspberries) are all safe to eat.  Many of the single berries are toxic.

And all parts of cattails are safe.

Never eat anything that looks like an onion but doesn't smell and taste like one.

There, the total sum of my knowledge of the Wild Country Buffet.

Sue
 
                            
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Location: Whidbey Island, Washington
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Hi,
I was at the AHG symposium, on a plant walk. 
We picked some hemlock.  I smelled it.  It was pretty strong.
It was on my hands for the rest of the walk and I had to wash them to get the smell off.
I think you would know if you had it. 
Deadly nightshade doesn't grow on the West Coast.  The plant you probably saw was black nightshade which isn't really poison but could make you sick. 
There is a really good book on Northwest Berries I bought at the Burke Museum .
It list most of them, and tell whether edible, pallatible, poisonous etc.
I agree, don't eat it unless you know for sure. 
It is such a great skill and task to know your wild edible plants. 
I am looking forward to learning more and more for the rest of my life. 
So many plants, so little time.........
 
Steve Nicolini
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Everything that everyone else said is true.  I will add a few more.

Baneberry is deadly poisonous as well as False Hellebore.  Hellebore can be medicinal when treated.  Also, almost all of the buttercups around here (Ranunculus spp) are poisonous.  The Nightshade thing... I've seen a plant in the forest behind our house called European Bittersweet (Solanum dulcamara).  This is a relative to deadly nightshade.  Beautiful flowers and berries.  From what I have read, one berry won't kill you (as with most poisonous plants) but many probably will. 

Another plant to avoid is Snowberry.  Little white snowball fruits are poisonous, though one or two are said to settle the stomach. 

There are more.  I went through each page of Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast, by Jim Pojar and Andy Mackinnon, and wrote down nearly every species (minus grasses).  Time consuming, but now I have an organized list of wild plants and their uses/drawbacks. 
 
Susan Monroe
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Location: Western WA
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One thing that grows in the PNW is the white-flowered Death Camas, and one bulb can kill you, as a man in OR discovered belatedly a few years back.  The edible blue camas was a staple of the Native Americans.

Some things that aren't outright poisonous can be toxic in larger amounts, and the term 'larger amounts' is relative.

I read many years ago that in a real survival situation, if you REALLY need to eat to survive, to taste-test any prospective food by chewing it well, then holding it in your mouth for something like ten or fifteen minutes.  If it burns or has any other negative reaction, spit it out and rinse your mouth and spit that out, too.  If you think it might be edible after that test, eat just a tiny amount and wait a day, then a bit larger amount and wait again. 

However, I don't know if this is still thought to be true.

Note:  there is a very great difference between hunger and starvation.  Getting lost in the hills for three or four days won't cause you to starve.  Yes, you'll be hungry, but you aren't starving.  And if you don't have water to drink, you shouldn't be eating, as food needs water for digestion, and eating plus dehydration is a bad combination.

Sue
 
Steve Nicolini
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The rule of threes.  Now, this is an approximation.  A human can survive 3 minutes without air, 3 hours without temp. regulation, 3 days without water, and 3 weeks without food. 

If I were in a survival situation, that is the order I would go about setting up camp. 

Get away from the city, then build Shelter and fire, then fetch water (fire to purify it), and finally food. 

I've heard of the taste test, and I think it is a great method.  Natives just asked the plants if it were okay to eat them.
 
Kelda Miller
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About the taste test. I have a brother-in-law who did some kind of outback p.o.w. training for the military. What he was taught before being set loose in the wilderness is with plants you don't know, to not even take a bite first. First thing is rub it/some of its juices onto your skin, say the inside of your elbow or something, and see if that has a reaction first.
Then a little taste. Wait hours and hours.
Then a bigger taste. Wait hours and hours.
Then eat.
Especially if we can survive weeks without eating, as posted above, this idea doesn't sound too bad at all.


I think with poison hemlock it would definitely have a reaction on the skin. Definitely the euphorbias! But something like buttercup just doesn't Seem like it would cause any kind of rash. I could be wrong.
 
Steve Nicolini
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When the 16 inches of snow melt I will rub some buttercup on my inner elbow just for you Kelda. 

I have a friend who made a drinking straw from poison water hemlock.  He is a little out there, but in good health today. 

Numerous taste tests, with small increases in amount, I think, is a great method.  A lot of plants won't do any harm unless ingested in a larger quantity.
 
Kelda Miller
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Update: the 'deadly nightshade' I referred to above is a common name mix-up. The name of the nauseating solanum that grows in these parts is 'bittersweet'. But for some reason I don't like that name, like then people will try to eat it to see how bittersweet it is.

Also with hemlock, I've heard of someone else who ate it and survived. Apparantly his heart rate sky-rocketed, but then came down later. (I can't remember if he had to go to the hospital or not. So I should remember these facts a little better before posting about it...)
 
Matt Ferrall
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Location: Western WA,usda zone 6/7,80inches of rain,250feet elevation
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In my own experience,deadly nightshade does not grow around here.Bittersweet nightshade(red berries,vine)is quite common and while not that deadly,still qualifies toxic or at best "medicinal".Black nightshade(solanum nigra?)is found locally abundant as a reseeding annual on barren cultivated ground.Its fruits are black when ripe and when ripe are quite tasty and have a long history of use as an edible.A great one to introduce into your garden.Closely resembles Luther Burbanks "garden huckelberry"and may be related.Often dismissed as toxic unfortunantly!
 
Steve Nicolini
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I have seen what some books call European bitersweet.  I wonder if that is the same thing you are talking about, MT. Goat.  The latin name is Solanum dulcamara. I read that the only part of this plant to use as medicine is the stem, gathered in fall.  Tinctured or in a strong decoction, it acts as an alterative or an autumn tonic.  It is also used topically for dry skin and eczema. 

The books I have read all said to not use it in excess (only a few times a year).
 
Erica Wisner
gardener
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crows daughter wrote:
Hi,
I was at the AHG symposium, on a plant walk. 
We picked some hemlock.  I smelled it.  It was pretty strong.
It was on my hands for the rest of the walk and I had to wash them to get the smell off.
I think you would know if you had it. 
Deadly nightshade doesn't grow on the West Coast.  The plant you probably saw was black nightshade which isn't really poison but could make you sick. 

So many plants, so little time.........


The hemlock you touched and smelled was strong.

The hemlock I saw on a walk led by noted wild food expert John Kallas (www.wildfoodadventures.com) smelled vaguely carroty, not particularly strong, but had all the other warning signs of poison hemlock. 
  John also vouched, from personal (very careful) experience, that hemlock also may not taste unpleasant.  It's not bitter or "gag-me" awful like optimists expect.  The people who've eaten a bite or two and died, obviously didn't gag hard enough to spit it out in time.
  I have a friend who won't even let her kids touch it, to test the smell or stems, because she lost some friends to a "wild carrot stew" accident while hiking.

Signs of hemlock:
0) It's umbrelliferous, like carrot, parsley, fennel, or Queen Anne's Lace.  (Queen Anne's Lace is casually used as a blanket term for plants related to this family, especially those with white blossoms.  I use it as one of the warning signs of hemlock, rather than teaching 'the difference.'
1) Hairless stems
2) Reddish freckles low on the stem - often elongated or patchy
3) Hollow stems, especially the base / root area
4) Tubular stem joints, instead of wrapped-around flat things
5) The nasty smell.

Any 2 of these signs is enough for me to leave it alone.  (Sometimes the stem gets damaged, or the freckles blur, or there's a weird variant or hybrid.  I don't need wild carrots badly enough to die for them.)

Water hemlock and Poison Hemlock are related, but slightly different.  I believe all parts of poison hemlock can be toxic, while water hemlock it's usually just the root but it's even more deadly.

   Deadly nightshade is one of several varieties of nightshade that contain their special toxins, in greater or lesser amounts. 
  I would never advise a newcomer that some nightshades are OK - even if you've eaten something a few times, doesn't mean the next batch will be safe for someone else.  Especially if it depends on a distinction like the berries turning a different color when ripe; all the other signs are easily confused.  I don't eat nightshades, though I do eat tomatoes.

  I sucked nectar from rhododendron flowers as a child; now that I know they're poisonous, I don't feel like I've disproved anything.  I feel like I was a very lucky girl and got distracted before I reached a harmful dose.

  In general, red or white berries are poisonous unless you know different.
This includes baneberry (which has a red and a white variety) and a couple other low-growing berries; snowberry (I think its medicinal use was as a purgative, one berry sometimes taken after a very heavy potlatch meal); and I'm told red elderberry is also toxic.  Yew berry flesh (red) is reportedly the only part of the yew plant that is not toxic, but I don't tend to eat them anyway.

Red huckleberries, strawberries, and raspberries are the exceptions that most people can recognize.
(There are cranberries, crab apples, various cultivated fruits, and there's some debate about wild cherries...)

Poison oak and snowberry are both tricksters; their leaves can be many shapes, colors, and heights.  IMHO poison oak is naster because it catches you unawares and punishes you for days, whereas it's easy not to eat snowberries.  Poison oak in southern Oregon can grow into a small tree, and I've heard of people mistakenly cutting it for firewood.  The smoke is also nasty, and can produce allergic reactions to die for.

You didn't ask about mushrooms, but for general info I'll mention them anyway.  We have several delectable varieties, and several lethal ones.  Some of the poisons are cumulative, or vary wildly from mushroom to mushroom.  Mushrooms are another quick way to die if you don't know what you're doing, or if you trust the wrong friend at the wrong time.

There are plenty of inedible leaves, roots, shoots, and fruits; some are simply not palatable, others have toxins or allergens that can build up in your system over time.

I googled "Pacific Northwest Poisonous Plants" and got some interesting results, but my internet burped and I lost them.  Give it a try - you might find info on decorative introduced plants and weeds as well as natives. 

Many of my favorite plants have toxic parts too, and I'm not advocating paranoia. 
I'm encouraging you to get a good guide book, and have friends introduce you to specific edible plants, instead of nibbling indiscriminately.

Horrible tasting plants are usually not food. 
But sweet tasting plants can still be poisonous.

Glad your lucky escape prompted this thread - it's vital info to have out there for wildcrafters.

We have lots of lovely edible plants, and many more that are edible in small quantities or with careful preparation. 

Good luck,

- Erica Wisner
 
Bill Kearns
Posts: 159
Location: E Washington steppe
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I was told by a forager friend that this is Death Camas.  Grows wild around here out in the prairie.

It's a striking plant when in flower!


 
                          
Posts: 211
Location: Northern California
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To identify Water Hemlock, look at the leaf vein. The leaf veins in all other umbellifers--QA Lace, Angelica, Carrot--go to a TIP of a leaflet. The leaf vein in Water Hemlock runs to a CUT or cleft in the leaflet. There's a little song I like to remember:

Leaf vein to the tip, everything's hip
Leaf vein to the cut, pain in the gut...

...unless you have poison hemlock in which the leaf vein runs to the tip, unlike in water hemlock where the leaf vein runs to the cut, so still don't eat it!


Everything else--smell or not smell, purple or red spots in the stem, as Erica said, can vary depending on the circumstance in which the plant is growing. Unfortunately there's that PESKY second verse.
 
charles c. johnson
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my mom and my grandma make elder and goose berry jelly every year. Poke has berry that looks like goose berry. but i eat poke every year also

The flowers of Sambucus nigra are used to produce elderflower cordial. The French and Central Europeans produce elderflower syrup, commonly made from an extract of elderflower blossoms, which is added to pancake (Palatschinken) mixes instead of blueberries. People throughout much of Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe use a similar method to make a syrup which is diluted with water and used as a drink. Based on this syrup, Fanta marketed a soft drink variety called "Shokata" which was sold in 15 countries worldwide. In the United States, this French elderflower syrup is used to make elderflower marshmallows. Wines, cordials and marmalade have been produced from the berries. In Italy (especially in Piedmont) and Germany the umbels of the elderberry are batter coated, fried and then served as a dessert or a sweet lunch with a sugar and cinnamon topping.


Young pokeweed leaves can be boiled three times to reduce the toxin, discarding the water after each boiling. The result is known as poke salit, or poke salad, and is occasionally available commercially.[1] Many authorities advise against eating pokeweed even after thrice boiling, as traces of the toxin may still remain. It should never be eaten uncooked. For many decades, poke salad has been a staple of southern U.S. cuisine, despite campaigns by doctors who believed pokeweed remained toxic even after being boiled. The lingering cultural significance of Poke salad can be found in the 1969 hit song "Polk Salad Annie," written and performed by Tony Joe White, and famously covered by Elvis Presley, as well as other bands including the El Orbits of Houston, Texas. Pokeberry juice is added to other juices for jelly by those who believe it can relieve the pain of arthritis. There are poke salad festivals held annually in Blanchard, Louisiana; Gainesboro, TN; Harlan, KY; and, Arab, Alabama.


A garden cultivar of P. americana with large fruit
Since pioneer times, pokeweed has been used as a folk remedy to treat many ailments. It can be applied topically or taken internally. Topical treatments have been used for acne and other ailments. Internal treatments include tonsilitis, swollen glands and weight loss. Grated pokeroot was used by Native Americans as a poultice to treat inflammations and rashes of the breast. Independent researchers are investigating phytolacca's use in treating AIDS and cancer patients. Especially to those who have not been properly trained in its use, pokeweed should be considered dangerous and possibly deadly.
All parts of pokeweed are toxic except the aboveground leaves sprouting in the early spring. The poisonous principles are found in highest concentrations in the rootstock, less in the mature leaves and stems, and least in the fruits. Young leaves, if collected before acquiring a red color, are edible if boiled for 5 minutes, rinsed, and reboiled. Berries are toxic when raw but edible when cooked.
Ingestion of poisonous parts of the plant may cause severe stomach cramping, nausea with persistent diarrhea and vomiting, slow and difficult breathing, weakness, spasms, hypotension, severe convulsions, and death. However, consuming fewer than 10 uncooked berries is generally harmless to adults. Several investigators have reported deaths in children following the ingestion of uncooked berries or pokeberry juice. Severe poisonings have been reported in adults who ingested mature pokeweed leaves and following the ingestion of tea brewed from one-half teaspoonful of powdered pokeroot.

Pokeweed berries yield a red ink or dye, which was once used by aboriginal Americans to decorate their horses. The United States Declaration of Independence was written in fermented pokeberry juice (hence the common name 'inkberry'. Many letters written home during the American Civil War were written in pokeberry ink; the writing in these surviving letters appears brown. The red juice has also been used to symbolize blood, as in the anti-slavery protest of Benjamin Lay. A rich brown dye can be made by soaking fabrics in fermenting berries in a hollowed-out pumpkin.
Some pokeweeds are also grown as ornamental plants, mainly for their attractive berries; a number of cultivars have been selected for larger fruit panicles.


Hollowed elderberry twigs have traditionally been used as spiles to tap maple trees for syrup[3].
Ornamental varieties of Sambucus are grown in gardens for their showy flowers, fruits and lacy foliage.
[edit]Toxicity

The leaves, twigs, branches, seeds and roots contain a cyanide producing glycoside. Ingesting any of these parts in sufficient quantity can cause a toxic build up of cyanide in the body. In addition, the unripened berry, flowers and "umbels" contain a toxic alkaloid.
Due to the possibility of cyanide poisoning, children should be discouraged from making whistles, slingshots or other toys from elderberry wood. In addition, "herbal teas" made with elderberry leaves (which contain cyanide inducing glycosides) should be treated with high caution. However, ripe berries (pulp and skin) are safe to eat.[4]
 
Darren Landry
Posts: 12
Location: Baton Rouge & Lettsworth, Louisiana
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what are plants one should be careful to NOT eat that grow wild in the Cascadia region?


I don't know where the Cascadia region is located, or what grows there, but I can name a short few that I have learned to stay away from.

Besides water & poison hemlock here's some other common toxic/poisonous weeds to avoid:

Virginia Creeper. The berries can put you on kidney dialysis for life.

Horse Nettle (Solanum carolinense) A common weed and it makes a pretty orange fruit as a second way to trick you.

Green Elderberries. A lot of people know that elderberries are edible, but they don't know that the green ones can hurt you bad, if not kill you.

Learn but avoid Poke until one is sure of the proper methods of preparation.
 
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