I watch a lot of videos on wild edibles. I read a bit as well. Something that gets my goat is when video “producers” try to reflect themselves as more professional or educated than they actually are.
Sounding very confident in the their presentations and information, they proudly expel their content to eager viewers ready to soak said expelled knowledge. I’ve made a few videos as well. Hopefully I’m not guilty as those I’m irritated with. Also, there are many excellent videos out there.
Let’s get to the issue. Many people watching these videos are novice Foragers. There are 1800 native species of plants in Michigan and 800 non-native species of plants. Pretty much, we are all lacking much of the knowledge available. It’s really a matter of being less ignorant than the next person or more ignorant as the case may be.. Even someone who is brilliant in the subject of plants has much to learn.
When it comes to the dangers of Foraging, humility is a great trait. Even if you are completely wise about a plant, it’s a great idea to encourage your viewer to study further any plant they intend to use. I always tell people to be 100% sure the plant you are about to make use of is safe and what to use it for. I know it sounds like a disclaimer and to some extent it is, but the real intent is to portray the importance of knowing what you are doing when the potential side effects of making an error is death.
The straw that spurred this little rant of mine is a video that I watched this morning. The person was quite informed on the 36 edible and medicinal plants that he educated his audience on, in a sonic boom speed of 15 minutes. His information was accurate…sort of, but extremely inadequate.
Again, the title was concerning edible and medicinal wild plants. In the video he quickly listed Jack in the Pulpit as an edible. No explanation or elaboration. No warnings. Just “here is another wild edible, Jack in the Pulpit”. Nothing was said about the roots being deadly poisonous or the leaves containing silicate crystalline structures that will leave micro cuts in your mouth or throat. Nope, just confidently and knowledgeable sounding, stated, it’s an edible.
Most foragers would not spend time harvesting Jack in the Pulpit for use.
It’s a plant that serves us well being left in the moist creek bottoms where they like to grow. They typically pop in the Spring just after the spring floods recede. Besides, they aren’t the most common plants. Not really enough to be a sustainable source of food.
Then the person showed the audience a Poison Ivy vine. Handling the 3 leaf cluster with bare hands, he stated that he isn’t allergic and therefore isn’t concerned. I’m pretty sure he was just showing his audience what Poison Ivy looks like, but never did he say it wasn’t edible or medicinally useful to your average Forager. Nor did he say handling Poison Ivy, allergic or not, is not advised.
So some of the information is just plain inaccurate. Some of the information, which really confuses people, especially novice foragers, is spurred on by plants that are typically inedible, but can be made to be edible.
There are two basic types of poisons in plants. Water soluble and alcohol or oil soluble. That means the poison is broken down by water or alcohol. Some plants, such as the Jack in the Pulpit, have Crystal structures and aren’t necessarily chemically poisonous in the tradition sense.
Some of those Crystal containing plants would be the Skunk Cabbage, Marsh Marigold and the aforementioned Jack in the Pulpit.
These plants were traditionally consumed by Native Americans as they were amongst the first greens to pop in the Spring. I don’t know who the poor sap was that tried the plant raw, but I bet he or she didn’t get much sleep that night.
Somewhere along the line though, the Native Americans learned to boil the greens. Boiling breaks down the crystal structures which renders the greens edible. Boiling is not a step you want to leave out when educating people.
The plants that contain poison that can be consumed are those that have water soluble poisons in them. Typically these plants are boiled in 2-3 changes of water washing out the poisons.
Note that not all plants that have water soluble poisons can be made safe. Some of the poisons are too potent to risk. Some plants that can be made edible are Pokeweed and Milkweed.
There are some plants that have edible parts and non-edible parts. This must also be explained. Plants such as Ground Cherries have parts that are only safe in particular stages of development. Ground Cherries are a species of Nightshade. Very closely related to Tomatillo, the Ground Cherry plant is poisonous. So is the cherry, except when it turns Yellow and is ripe. At this point, the berry or cherry is safe and delicious.
A domestic example of poison parts and safe parts is Rhubarb. The stalk is good to go as we all know. The leaf on the other hand will make you go. Abruptly and without delay, if you get my drift. Not to mention a myriad of other less than desirable effects.
The fact is, making use of wild plants is not always straightforward. Consuming the wrong plant or not processing it correctly can result in a nasty illness. Some can conclude in a permanent nap. I encourage people to make videos, write blogs and generally attempt to inform people on plants. Just do everyone a favor and make sure the information you supply is accurate and as complete as you can. At least warn people your information is not complete and that they need to do further study prior to making use of the plant.
If you are watching videos and run across one that claims 36 plants in 15 minutes, use common sense and know that less than 30 seconds per plant doesn’t supply enough information to bet your health or life on.