This page contains important information on using plants as food or treatment.
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IdentificationBefore you get all adventurous on foraging or harvesting medicinal herbs, make sure you can identify the plants you wish to gather properly. Do not rely on this website only for that, nor should you rely on one single book, blog or website. Ideally, in your first time with each wild plant, you should have someone around who can absolutely tell you which plant that is. Next to that, keep with yourself a good flora plant guide and at least one book with also pictures of the plants. Learning to identify is really crucial!
Living in Europe, I like a lot the Black's Nature Guides, such as the Medicinal Plants of Britain and Europe. It is portable, full of nice pictures and also has some drawings with details of the plants. Each country has their own local flora books, so take one of those in your backpack when going for a wild plants exploration.
Ethics & safety issuesI wanted to write a set of suggestions concerning the ethical aspect and the safety of harvesting plants in the wild, but I came across a great and well described text from Mark Angelini, on the Eat There Now blog. So I will limit myself to placing the link below so that you can read these useful tips directly from their website:
Guidelines and Practices for Ethical Foraging - eattherenow.org
Herbal MedicineWhen choosing to use herbs for healing, try to keep in mind that herbal healing goes far beyond simply addressing the symptoms, as it is usually done in conventional medicine. Just to give a quick example, there are hundreds of herbs that could help the work of the liver, but there may be only one or two plants that can make a huge difference to someone's health. A good herbal healer should have knowledge on the general properties of the plants, their nature, energies and possible interactions. The healer should also have a background that allows for some level of diagnose, so as to be able to know what herb each person really needs. That knowledge might have come from being trained in Holistic Herbal Medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda, Anthroposophical Medicine or others schools.
The information we offer in this blog is pretty general and it is meant to offer a summary of the main folk uses of each plant. We choose to mention the properties of the plant that have been reported in most trustworthy herbal books. To have an accurate view on what one particular plant can do for you it is a good idea to have a few good herbal books at home. The more we learn about plants, the more we feel we still have so much to learn from them.
The Universal Edibility Test1 - Test only one part of a potential food plant at a time.
2 - Separate the plant into its basic components — leaves, stems, roots, buds and flowers.
3 - Smell the food for strong or acid odors. Remember, smell alone does not indicate a plant is edible or inedible.
4 - Do not eat for eight hours before starting the test.
5 - During the eight hours you abstain from eating, test for contact poisoning by placing a piece of the plant part you are testing on the inside of your elbow or wrist. Usually 15 minutes is enough time to allow for a reaction.
6 - During the test period, take nothing by mouth except purified water and the plant part you are testing.
7 - Select a small portion of a single part and prepare it the way you plan to eat it.
8 - Before placing the prepared plant part in your mouth, touch a small portion (a pinch) to the outer surface of your lip to test for burning or itching.
9 - If after three minutes there is no reaction on your lip, place the plant part on your tongue, holding it there for 15 minutes.
10 - If there is no reaction, thoroughly chew a pinch and hold it in your mouth for 15 minutes. Do not swallow.
11 - If no burning, itching, numbing, stinging or other irritation occurs during the 15 minutes, swallow the food.
12 - Wait eight hours. If any ill effects occur during this period, induce vomiting and drink a lot of water.
13 - If no ill effects occur, eat 0.25 cup of the same plant part prepared the same way. Wait another eight hours. If no ill effects occur, the plant part as prepared is safe for eating.
CAUTION: Test all parts of the plant for edibility, as some plants have both edible and inedible parts. Do not assume that a part that proved edible when cooked is also edible when raw. Test the part raw to ensure edibility before eating raw. The same part or plant may produce varying reactions in different individuals.