Getting Acquainted with Plants
Getting acquainted with plants is a must for anyone interested in eating them. When trying to identify a plant, remember to use your senses. Rub the leaves or crush them to see if they have a scent. Sniff the flowers for their individual fragrance. Look for unusual features that make it distinct. Learning what types of plants there are, leaf shapes and formations, flower structure, and fruit types are all essential to positive identification of an unknown plant. Once you know what to look for, you can use a botanical key to help you identify a particular plant.
Keys vary with different field guides. The time to gather many of the wild greens is before they bloom. Without flowers or fruits, it is sometimes difficult for even the experts to always know the difference. In this case, you can observe the plant's life cycle as it goes through the blooming and fruiting phase. Once you have identified it and determined its edibility, you can harvest it the next year.
Get familiar with those plants that may look similar to each other and whether they are poisonous or not. Identifying a plant is not enough. You may have it identified correctly, but that doesn't mean it's edible. Be sure to check a field guide for positive identification and an edible plant guide for edibility. A medicinal plant guide is also helpful to see if there are medicinal effects. Find out as much information about the plant as you can before eating it.
Plants often get lost in the jungle of green. They all blend together, until they bloom. Suddenly they stand out. Some field guides have keys that are based on flower parts. Become familiar with the parts of a flower and how to distinguish between the various types of flowers. Matching a flower to a picture is not always accurate. Look for field guides that show all the parts of a plant, including leaves, flowers and fruits for positive identification.
Seeds of plants are contained within different types of fruits. Learn to distinguish between the categories and find out which ones are edible. Many of the wild fruits have a cultivated counterpart. Usually the cultivated fruit looks larger and juicier, but not necessarily sweeter. Shells of wild nuts are generally thicker and harder to remove than the cultivated variety but the nutmeat has a stronger flavor.
There are numerous inedible berries that are best left for the birds. Often they grow right next to one that is edible. Become familiar with the wild fruits in your area, identify which ones are poisonous, and then find out which ones are safe to eat.
Nuts are probably the easiest to identify of wild foods. With the exception of buckeye and horse chestnut, most nuts are edible. Some are sweeter than others. The nutmeat is contained within the shell that must be removed before eating.
Roots can be tricky, especially in the winter when the tops of the plants have died back. Gathering roots in the winter often means scouting out an area in the summer when the leaves, flowers, or fruits are present and remembering where you saw it. If appropriate, you can flag it with surveyor's tape to help you find it when the leaves are dormant.