Fool-proof Wild Edible/medicinal Plant Id Method

Discussion in 'Edible Plants, Berries, and Roots' started by GrizzlyetteAdams, Jan 30, 2019.

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  1. GrizzlyetteAdams

    GrizzlyetteAdams Crap Creek Survivor

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    In the hands of the inexperienced, guidebooks and videos can be dangerously confusing when it comes to properly identifying wild edible and medicinal plants. (There are so many look-alikes, and some are deadly!)

    So what is a budding wildcrafter to do? Aside from finding a knowledgeable mentor, one sure way to identify certain plants is to grow them from seed. That way you can observe plants in all stages and seasons of life, from seedling to maturity.

    As a bonus you will have on your home turf, a source of naturalized plants that will readily re-seed themselves, or spread from rhizomes (roots), or are perennials (come back every year). Some are beautiful enough to occupy a place in your flower garden, or functional enough to deserve a spot in the corners of your garden.

    There are a few seed companies that sell seeds for wild edible and medicinal plants (and more). Some are generous with sharing lots of free information about how to grow and use them.

    Here are some of my favorites (in North America): (Complete catalog:

    Do you know of any other seed companies you could add to this list (preferably have personal experience with)?

    Another fool-proof way to identify wild edibles and medicinals is to learn from an experienced two-legged guide.

    Some possible ways to find one:

    Facebook has tons of foraging/wildcrafting/plant identification groups in just about every state. Join a few and ask around...but make sure that the person doing the teaching is reputable and not some airy-fairy, blow-smoke-up-your-backside wannabe. I have heard more than a few individuals who have spouted ridiculous and dangerous info. Always double check everything you learn with the Peterson's Guide book (mentioned in the previous post).

    Also, check out Plug in your search terms to find like-minded groups of people in your area. You may be able to find knowledgeable people by networking through local groups.
    Radar, coffee and TMT Tactical like this.
  2. GrizzlyetteAdams

    GrizzlyetteAdams Crap Creek Survivor

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    Friends, please be careful where you get your wild edible & medicinal plant information. The sad thing is, many articles, books, websites, and forum posts are worn-out repetitions of what some authors have read on the internet and in other books...and believe it all to be true.

    The unforgivable thing is that some of the parroted misinformation can be downright dangerous.

    It is extremely important to become familiar with poisonous look-alikes! Sometimes observing the target plant and the look-alike plant over the seasons will reveal the differences between them. The difference may be so slight in some plants that it will take a magnifying glass to discern a minute detail in a flower, for example, and not knowing the difference can be a horrible way to die.

    The following information is primarily oriented towards North American plants, but many listed edible and medicinal North American plants are also in Europe, Australia and other parts of the world. For further exploration of valuable plants in your area, I highly recommend the valuable database at this site:

    I found this encouraging quote on the "Habitat" page ( )

    "Our database groups plants into 12 different habitats. You can search it in the UK, the US or Australia. Or look at our Habitats index page.

    For our North American friends, here are some excellent field books to study. (Sometimes you can save a bundle with Amazon's used books...but be aware of the seller's ratings; if they have poor ratings leave them be, and just get the book new straight from Amazon.)

    Note: These two books were the very first ones I learned plant identification from many years ago, but now they are also available for other regions as well. (Peterson's are the "gold standard" and are best-selling field guides of all time!)

    I prefer the older versions of the first book listed here, which include detailed drawings of critical identification features. But, I also like the newest version for more detailed usage information.

    Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America, Third Edition (Peterson Field Guides) 3rd Edition by Steven Foster and James A. Duke

    From the Amazon description page: "Medicinal plants are increasingly well regarded as supplements and sometimes as alternatives for prescription drugs. Steven Foster and James A. Duke have used recent advances in the study of medicinal plants and their combined experience of over 100 years to completely update the Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants. The clear and concise text identifies the key traits, habitats, uses, and warnings for more than 530 of the most significant medicinal plants in the eastern and central United States and Canada including both native and alien species. Seven hundred plus images, the organization-by-color system, and simplified warnings make identifying medicinal plants fast and easy.
    Sponsored by the National Audubon Society, the National Wildlife Federation, and the Roger Tory Peterson Institute."

    Edible Wild Plants: Eastern/Central North America (Peterson Field Guides) Paperback – September 1, 1999
    by Lee Allen Peterson and Roger Tory Peterson

    "More than 370 edible wild plants, plus 37 poisonous lookalikes, are described here, with 400 drawings and 78 color photographs showing precisely how to recognize each species. Also included are habitat descriptions, lists of plants by season, and preparation instructions for many different food uses."

    As companion books to the critically important Edible Wild Plants book, I recommend any of Samuel Thayer's books for detailed information and uses of selected plants.

    Although I have been a wildcrafter for decades and have TONS of books on the subject, I have learned lots more from Thayer's books. I highly recommend all three! I guarantee that he will make you fall in love with the idea of eating wild edibles.

    Beginners and experienced wildcrafters will like Samuel Thayer's Nature's Garden: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Wild Edible Plants. He covers 41 plants in this edition, including tons of important information about acorns.

    His book, The Forager's Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants, covers 32 plants.

    His latest book, Incredible Wild Edibles, covers 36 plants and is very good, too.

    It took me a long time to commit much of the info that I learned from books into "muscle memory," meaning actual use. I highly recommend that you start slowly with basics such as fool-proof acorns, hickory nuts, mulberry, etc. Learn how to use them in your everyday diet (I love my acorns!).

    Take your time getting to know your wildlings. Observe the plants in all phases of growth. Make SURE that the plants fit the Peterson's Field Guide descriptions EXACTLY. "Close enough" won't cut it, and this kind of thinking can fool you into believing that a poisonous look-alike is safe.

    Do not rush the process but please do get started with learning this new skill ASAP. Don't wait for hard times because, as you can imagine, that will be the worst time to learn survival skills.
    Last edited: Jan 30, 2019
  3. TMT Tactical

    TMT Tactical The Great Lizard ! Staff Member

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    I knew you would provide good, quality info. Thanks for sharing.
    GrizzlyetteAdams likes this.
  4. GateCrasher

    GateCrasher Expert Member

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    Great post GrizzlyetteAdams. We're fans of the Peterson Field Guides too, they're excellent references and how we learned the flora in our area. Haven't read any of Samuel Thayer's books but will take a look. We're more forest nibblers than wilderness foragers, many of the edible plants in our area require additional preparation (like acorns, mosses, and ferns) to be edible and aren't ones we take the time to harvest and process now. Acorns for example, they aren't food - they're what food eats (deer) :) Still, I like knowing how to prepare them case there comes a time when there aren't any other options.


    Probably the greatest thing about these books, for us anyway, after moving from the suburbs to our rural home was that they helped us slow down and begin observing and studying nature as a whole, and getting our senses more in tune with it. We didn't know it when we were just vacationing in the area we now call home, but we were really just blundering around in the woods and missing most of what was going on all around us.
  5. randyt

    randyt Master Survivalist

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    I was going to recommend Sam Thayer's books but you beat me to it. In southern Michigan there is a GTG pertaining to wild foods. Sam Thayer comes every year, I hope to make it this next year.
  6. GrizzlyetteAdams

    GrizzlyetteAdams Crap Creek Survivor

    Blog Posts:
    I highly recommend getting a field guide to poisonous plants and studying it well. Study it as if your life depends upon it because it very well could save you from mistaken IDs. I cannot stress enough how common it is for wild edible and medicinal plants to have poisonous look-alikes. Some are deadly.

    I got a used (but like new) edition of this book from and highly recommend it for North American plants. Got it for $9 (shipping included)

    TMT Tactical and randyt like this.
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