Friday, May 27, 2011

Wild Foraging - what not to eat!

I mentioned last time that dandelions are a good wild food source, and it's true enough.  After my last post, I followed up my adventure with gathering a lunchbox full of dandelion flower buds with the kids.  Per usual, they were brave enough to try them but didn't much care for them.  Wilted with oil, they taste a bit like honey to me but have just a trace of that characteristic dandelion green bitter taste, but far too little to detract from the nice meaty texture.  Good solid food.

Now, as my curiosity has risen in the wild food growing around me, I've become more adventurous.  I found some tan, low and wide (about 2 1/2" wide) mushrooms with short stems and spongy undersides rather than gills.  It was also slippery on top and bruised a bit darker.  After consulting MULTIPLE references, I decided it was OK to eat.  I identified it as a Slippery Jack.  One reference advised peeling the slime off (easy enough to find and remove) as it might cause diarrhea.  Sauteed in oil, quite good standalone or with toast.  And sadly too sparse to make more than a snack of.

Other things I have found innocently look friendly, smell nice and taste wonderful but are poisonous or have powerful effects.  One is the wild parsnip.  I found this growing last night and, not immediately knowing what it was as it was not in flower, took a leaf and examined it.  No spines, no red or white lines, just a thinner-than-spinach, wide leaf.  I took a bite, chewed and spit. And the flavor was very nice, like anise or fennel.  Being cautious and mindful of the Army field guide universal edibility test, I didn't eat any or try to swallow it.

After some time, I found my mouth tingled slightly, which is not uncommon with wild food, but reason enough to learn more.  After looking at online pictures of weeds for more than an hour, I finally identified it and was a bit shocked.  Apparently, when in flower (and that's important) the sap of the wild parsnip is dangerous in that it is photo reactive, binds to the skin and can cause 2nd degree burn-like blisters.  Nasty and dangerous, noxious as a weed in this regard.  I also experienced a mild sedative effect that lasted for several hours.  Strong medicine indeed.

Now, I know that some plants are inedible till a certain stage of development or the reverse, edible till a certain stage.  And some other plants may be totally poisonous save the fruit, like the peach and cherry tree, or the mandrake (may apple).  But there's a strong cautionary tale here.  KNOW WHAT YOU'VE GOT when foraging wild food.  I could have woke up dead this morning, but was blessed with another day.

Recommended Reading;
The Illustrated Guide to Edible Plants - Department of the Army
(full disclosure - the link above is an affiliate link for my wife)

Disturbingly Common Poisonous Plants