It’s all rainy days, low slung clouds, and rain on tin-roofs around the Gunnison Valley these days—a much needed, thirst-quenching storm has arrived and settled in. A perfect excuse for warm coffee, bouquets of flowers on the table, and a book, of course.
It’s also a great time to get well-versed in the foraging dos and don’ts. There is plenty to learn in the way of safety, sustainability, legalities, terms, and botany in the world of foraging, and its best to have at least a cursory grasp on these things before heading out, wicker basket and clippers in hand.
Today, a word on foraging safety, considerations, and a note on common poisonous plants to the mountain states. All of which, can be found in Briana’s new book Mountain States Foraging, a guidebook to wild edibles in the mountain west.
Foraging for Briana has been a lifeline to a wild love rooted in her family history, and her book is that love, put to print.
“My hope is not that this book will sit on a shelf or table but rather that it will somehow land, open, in the hands of a bored child or an adult waiting anxiously for time to pass. When they leave that spot, I want them to greet the lamb’s quarters, dandelions, and salsify with an irresistible urge to pick a leaf and taste it. This is how foraging lures you in, takes hold of your whole being, and welcomes you to the wild side.”
It can be an incredible journey, one which we encourage everyone to try. But let’s talk safety, shall we?
Foraging Safety Basics
As Briana states, “before considering any plant for consumption, be aware of possible cousins, contraindications to medicines, and poisonous look-alikes of that plant.” Indeed, her book is chalk-full of incredible information, warnings, and the like regarding wild edible plants, but ultimately it is your responsibility as a person to know what medicines you are taking, what could react to those medications, and what you’re allergic to. If you have serious food-related allergies, it is best to find out if certain plants are in the same family as the foods you’re allergic to.
It is always best to consult multiple guidebooks to assist you in your foraging efforts, thus getting the most information on a plant, multiple photos to compare plants to, and the comforts of making informed harvesting choices.
Contaminants are also an area you must consider when foraging. Contaminants in soils from fertilizers, herbicides, human pollution, animal pollution (like from cattle ranches and farms), mining remnants, etc, are all things to consider when choosing an area to gather from. As Briana states, “the soil in populated cities and rural communities can harbor chemicals from herbicides and pesticides and heavy metals from mining and factories, along with other contaminants.”
It also important to know what your gathering downstream from—runoff from farms, cattle ranches and manure can leach in water systems downstream. “Don’t harvest water-loving plants from the shores of rivers or reservoirs that are contaminated or polluted by mining, factories, or agriculture,” as stated in Briana’s book.
With our varied terrain, the mountain states have a lucky abundance of wild edibles to choose from, that can be found between marshy wet-lands, to dry sagebrush deserts, and more. But there are also a number of poisonous plants, that can also resemble edible ones, that you need to be aware of before plucking and munching.
Briana’s book shares a detailed description and photos of such plants, which is always a good place to start. It’s also recommended that you pick up another guidebook to give you more reference points. From poison ivy to poisonous baneberries, learn your poisonous plants before eating wild edibles.
Don’t let these precautions drive you away from trying out foraging—it’s a rewarding experience that allows you to connect on a deeper level with the natural world. You just have to have a good sense of safety topics, and no-how before heading out, and certainly don’t just start picking plants at random and eating them.
Briana Wiles is a herbalist, author, and wild plants, expert. She teaches classes on foraging and medicinal plants. Briana also runs Rooted Apothecary, in Crested Butte, CO, which offers bulk herbs, herbal remedies, and her own line of body-care products made with foraged botanicals. Visit her online at rooted-apothecary.com.