Foraging safety guidelines

WARNING! Do not eat any wild plant unless you are 100% certain of its identification.

Today I will be covering wild food safety and a simple Tolerance Test to ensure that your body doesn’t react adversely after you eat wild food plants.

As my old mentor used to say: “Assume nothing, test everything”.

Even though you might have identified a plant with 100% certainty, until you eat a small sample of it, you do not know how your body will react.

This isn’t scaremongering. It’s just a fact that some people have very adverse reactions to particular foodstuff due to an allergy or some such.

You won’t know if you have an allergy to a plant until you try it even if you have no history of food allergies or sensitivities. This is why you must not start consuming large amounts of a specific plant until you know how your body reacts.

Too often, people talk about wild food plants using their common names. This is fine if the participants understand precisely which plant is being discussed.

However, common names are often used when it would be far better to make sure that the plant being discussed is referred to by its binomial name, also known as a scientific or Latin name.

What is referred to by one common name in Devon may differ in another part of the country. Due to the global nature of the internet, common names become confusing once you start communicating across different regions of a country or with people overseas.

Rule 1: Always ensure you are clear on the binomial name when talking about wild food. That way, there is very little room for doubt. For example, the common name for Taraxacum officinale is Dandelion, and the binomial name for Dandelion is Taraxacum officinale.

Rule 2: Make absolutely sure that you have made a 100% positive identification before ever trying out a wild edible plant.

Rule 3: If you are in the slightest bit of doubt about a plant’s identification, do not try it. There are too many other plants you can try out. As the adage goes, ‘If in doubt, leave it out’.

Rule 4: Assuming you are 100% certain you have the right edible plant in front of you, proceed with the Tolerance Test.

  • Take a small piece of the raw edible part of the plant (e.g. the tip of a Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) leaf. Put it in the front of your mouth, bite it a few times, and then spit it out. Wait for 60 minutes. If you experience no bad reaction, proceed. SOME PLANTS YOU SHOULD NEVER EAT RAW. DO YOUR RESEARCH! E.g. Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium), Lesser celandine (Ficaria verna) etc.
  • Now try a larger piece of the plant (edible part only). In our Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) example, try boiling the leaf and eating and swallowing a quarter of it. Wait for 60 minutes and see how you feel. If you don’t experience any adverse reaction, proceed…
  • Try a tablespoon amount mixed into a suitable recipe. If you do not experience any adverse reaction after 60 minutes, your body should be OK consuming that specific wild edible plant in larger quantities. But go slowly.

IMPORTANT! The Tolerance Test is only to be tried on wild edible plants you are 100% certain you have identified correctly. It is not to be used to test unknown, unidentified plants you are attempting to discover whether they are edible.

Only ever eat wild edible plants that you have 100% identified correctly, and never, ever eat large quantities of wild edible plants that you have not performed the Tolerance Test on.


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