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A brief guide to foraging

July 24, 2015

When you are out in the wilderness, one of the important factors in determining whether or not you will survive is your ability to find safe, edible food sources and the easiest way to do this is through foraging for plants. Foraging for edible plants is a lot easier than trying to catch wild animals because they do not always require cooking, you don’t require extra equipment such as knives and material for setting traps and you don’t need many specialist skills, you simply require a bit of background knowledge about what is and isn’t edible. Poisonous plants will at best cause discomfort and vomiting and at worst cause potentially dangerous hallucinations and even death.

Wild mushrooms are plentiful in the UK but the edible and poisonous varieties look extremely similar to each other so are best avoided unless you are very experienced identifying them. Berries also tend to be plentiful towards the end of summer and early autumn but there is no set pattern to determine which ones are safe to eat. This being said, usually white, pale green and red berries, such as mistletoe and yew berries tend to be poisonous whilst dark blue and black ones, for example blackberries and elderberries are edible. It is best to stick to berries that you already recognise and don’t pick them from too low down as they may have been urinated on by small animals. Also, even edible berries can make you ill if they are unripe so make sure that they are not green and come away from their branch easily. If you spot a food source that a mammal is feeding on, this usually means that it is also safe for human consumption.

There are several kinds of edible leaves, such as dandelions and nettles, but a lot more that are unpleasant. You really need to avoid poison oak and poison ivy, both of which can cause skin irritations from contact. Poison oak looks very similar to common oak but grows as a shrub or bush and the leaves tend to be in groups of three to seven. Poison ivy’s leaves also grow in groups of three and are broad and spoon-shaped. This can either be a low-spreading shrub or a climbing vine.

The majority of poisonous plants will have a milky coloured sap when snapped or cut and you can test them to a certain degree by holding them against your lip. If your lip starts to tingle, burn or become irritated in some way within three minutes, the plant is not safe to be consumed. Always try just a small amount of whatever plant or berry you find before eating a larger amount of it in case you have a reaction to it. Even some edible plants need to be heated before consumed so, if possible, try to boil the plants that you have found in clean water. Some diseases can render plants inedible so make sure that what you forage is free from blemishes, growths and discolouration.

Foraging can either keep you alive or kill you, but with due care and caution you can avoid poisonous plants and berries. 

Why not check out our infographic on poisonous fruits and berries?

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