Wild Plant Foraging - Tasty or Toxic?

Wild Plant Foraging Tasty or Toxic?
Donna Lotzer
Poison Education Coordinator
UWHC Poison Education Center
Madison, WI
Before You Decide to
“Live Off the Land”…
• It’s not like you see on TV
– Dual Survival, Survivorman, Man vs. Wild
– Do you notice the disclaimers?
• Be prepared – know your environment
– Are you in your backyard garden?
– Headed to an exotic locale?
• Act like the locals when traveling
– But remember their diet is NOT comparable in most
…Become a Food Prep Expert
• What parts of the
plant are edible?
– Mayapple RIPE fruit
• Is cooking required
to detoxify plants?
– Nettles
– Elderberries
• What about seasonal
– Burdock
Do “Shrooms” Count
as Plants?
• Some are delicious
– Morels, puffballs
• Some can be fatal
– Amanita virosa
• Guidebooks are NOT
reliable for mushrooms
– Never assume wild
‘shrooms are edible raw
– Toxic varieties are in your
yard or woods…
What is “Wildcrafting”?
• Wildcrafting is a term for the age-old practice
of collecting plant materials in their natural
habitat for food, medicine, and craft.
• www.wildcrafting.net can connect you
– Allows for mapping to share locations for edible plants
– Submit pictures for possible ID
• Reasons for wildcrafting
– Gather plants to prepare as medicines or food
– Harvest plants to sell to others
– www.7song.com has an herbalist approach
A “Go-To” Guy for Foraging
• http://www.wildmanstevebrill.com/
He even has an app for that on his
webpage (!)
• http://foragingpictures.com has
pics of edible and other plants and
• http://www.motherearthnews.com/
also has good information by
searching under “foraging”
WikiHow or What the Heck
• Suggests steps to
survive off the land
• Caveat: “If you are
near death…”
– Lots of confidence (!)
– May not survive the
testing steps 
– Remember you can go
weeks with just water
if needed
• Decide what plant
part is to be tested
• Test for dermal
– Which has nothing to
do with being edible!?!
• Test on lips, tongue,
then swallow a bit
– If you are OK 8 hrs
later perhaps you are
Best and Worst Choices for
“Edible Arrangements”
Often due to mistaken ID
Aggregate berries
Chamomile, Dandelion
Gardenia, Garlic mustard
Jasmine, Lilac, Mayapple
Nasturtium, Nettles
Radish, Rose
Squash blossom, Sumac
Violet, Water cress
Wild carrot, garlic, leeks
Berries (all colors) – most
Bulbs (daffodil, tulip)
Castor beans
Hemlock, esp. roots
Horse chestnut
Jimson weed
Foraging Fatalities
• Two people “living off the land” found dead in a
– Opted for a vegan lifestyle
– Turns out they ate oleander leaves which are very toxic
to the heart (contains digoxin)
• Mistaken identity – hemlock vs. wild carrot or
– Easy to confuse, especially in spring
– Seizures and death possible in minutes to hours, and no
• Apricot pits and cyanide
– Very toxic in small numbers, especially in children
Foraging Misadventures
• Jimsonweed stew
– Six people hospitalized with hallucinations and other
– Leaves picked from plants growing in the yard (!)
• Tomatoes and potatoes
– Leaves, sprouts, vines poisonous while tuber/fruit
are edible
• Easter lily toxic – fatal in cats
– Even though safe for humans, plants in Lily family are
toxic to the kidneys in cats and can kill them
Foodborne botulism
• Asparagus, mushrooms, chili, ketchup, beef
stew, beans, (along with fish, beaver tail &
whale blubber {Alaska})
– Not exactly foraging but can come from harvesting/collection in
a contaminated environment
• Due to improper processing
– Must follow strict storage/canning/processing guides
• No signs that food is bad when eaten
– Look, taste, smell all normal
• Prep/preventive steps critical
Where Does Your Poison
Center Come Into the Picture?
• Help to ID plants (or
• Help to determine if
plants are toxic
• Not so helpful with
recipes (!)
• Available 24/7/365 to
handle questions or
Poison Center
Tips for Foragers
• Educate yourself
– Get a GOOD guidebook to help ID plants
– Being “pretty sure” isn’t good enough
• Learn from an expert
– Take classes or forage with an experienced
• Know the environment where you are
– Avoid areas likely to have contamination with
pesticides, and soil that may be contaminated
with pollutants
• Be sure foraging is legal
– National and state parks often do not allow
harvest of plants or mushrooms for
environmental reasons
– I broke the law unknowingly in Alaska by
picking morels in a national forest 
Sources for Edibles, Recipes
• Going online is great
– Be sure source is
– This site also has links
to toxic plants
• County ag. extension
• Historical cookbooks
– I have some recipes
from a 1940’s cookbook
that are delicious