Browsing the archives for the do not eat tag.


Seasons Change To Summer…

General Posts, Herb, Identification, Look-Alikes, Medicinal, Poisonous or Toxic, Tincture
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I just love watching what happens to the plants around me as the seasons change!

Here in Pittsburgh, it is getting HOT, summer is here.

With it bring a whole new crop of wild edibles, herbal remedies, and poisonous plants to watch:

Here is the St. John’s Wort, (Hypericum perforatum) now if full bloom. In the picture I am demonstrating that if you crush a bud in your fingers, you get a dark red pigment, which is the Hypericin - one of the active ingredients in St. John’s Wort.

st. john's wort

st. john's wort

Now is the time to harvest St. John’s Wort to make oils or tinctures. The oil is great to soothe sore muscles, ease jangled nerves, and treat sunburns. The tincture of St. John’s wort is used as an anti-viral, and also an anti-depressant. In fact, in European countries like Germany, St. John’s wort is used to treat depression more commonly than the prescribed medications like Prosac, which are used more in this country.

Here is Queen Anne’s Lace, or Wild Carrot:

Queen Anne's Lace

Queen Anne's Lace

Even though the greens of carrots are full of nutrition, and the root of this plant has a distinctly carrot-like smell, we do not eat this plant at all! That is because it so closely resembles the deadly poisonous Water Hemlock and Poison Hemlock, that we do not feel it is worth the risk of making a mistake. We tell everyone who comes on our walks that it is our policy NOT TO EAT wild carrot, and we strongly suggest they do the same.

Here is a poison plant: Pokeweed. It’s berries are not fully ripe yet, they will get dark purple/black when ripe. Pokeweed is eaten (mostly down south) when it is just shooting from the ground in early spring. Now it is TOXIC, and the berries are highly poisonous. It is used, however, as a dye:

pokeweed

pokeweed

Here is one of our favorites, yummy plantain (Plantago major). We love to use the green leaves of this plant in smoothies, chopped in salads, and marinated and dehydrated into yummy crisps. Here you see the stalks. In the fall (once they turn brown) we will collect the seeds of plantain and use them just like psyllium seeds (which is from another Plantago: Plantago psyllium and Plantago ovata, both of which grown in the middle east.)

Plantain

Plantain

We’ll use these seeds just as we would use psyllium seeds: as a thickener for puddings and sauces, and also added to oatmeals and breads. In Chinese medicine, the seeds are used to treat urinary tract infections.

We’ll have more on our virtual summer wild edible walk tomorrow…please stay tuned!!

~ Melissa

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Poison: Water Hemlock

General Posts, Identification, Look-Alikes, Poisonous or Toxic
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Or should I say: Extremely Poison: Water Hemlock.

poison: water hemlock

poison: water hemlock

Water Hemlock (Cicuta maculata) literally has me trembling. This (and it’s cousin, Poison Hemlock, or Conium maculatum) are the reason we advise all on our walks (especially children) NOT to eat the edible Wild Carrot, or Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota). Look how much the flower looks like Queen Anne’s Lace:

poison: water hemlock flower

poison: water hemlock flower

Wild Carrot Flower and Leaves, picture from Wiki, Gnu Free Licensing

Wild Carrot Flower and Leaves, picture from Wiki, Gnu Free Licensing


Water Hemlock is DEADLY
and the risk of confusing the two is just not worth it.

We found Water Hemlock (Cicuta maculata) growing all through Schenely Park in Pittsburgh. The leaves are quite different from that of Wild Carrot:

poison: water hemlock leaves

poison: water hemlock leaves

…so they are not impossible to tell apart. Still, if one were just learning, or not paying attention, or didn’t know something deadly so closely resembled something edible, they might make a mistake.

So again, this is why we advise people not to eat Wild Carrots (it’s too risky a mistake), and why we don’t eat them ourselves.

Hemlocks don’t smell like carrots the way wild carrots do, and that is another way to tell them apart. Again, it’s not that they look/are exactly the same, it’s just they are close enough, and grow in overlapping places and the risk is just too high.

According to the book Edible Wild Plants, this plant’s toxic alkaloids can cause nervousness, trembling (it causes me trembling just to look at it!), reduced heartbeat, coma, and respiratory failure/death.

Have fun and please stay safe,
~ Melissa
Food Under Foot

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Poison: Horse Nettles

General Posts, Identification, Poisonous or Toxic
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Here is one POISON plant we find growing all around Pittsburgh: Horse Nettle (Solanus carolinese).

Poison: Horse Nettles

Poison: Horse Nettles

It is actually not related to (wild edible) nettles at all. Horse Nettle is a nightshade, and is quite poisonous. It’s relatives are the poisonous European nightshade, black or deadly nightshade and silverleaf nightshade.

According to the book Edible Wild Plants, the leaves and fruits contain an alkaloid called solanine. If ingested, they can cause vomiting, nausea, abdominal pains and other gastrointestinal complaints.

Poison: Horse Nettle

Poison: Horse Nettle

The flowers are quite beautiful: the 5 petals are white to light purple, and the center is bright yellow. The stems and leaves are hairy and thorny.

Please do not be confused by the word “nettle” in this plant’s common name. Solanum carolinese is a poisonous plant, and should definitely be avoided.

Have fun, stay safe.

~ Melissa
Food Under Foot

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Onion Grass and Non-Edible Look-Alike

General Posts, Identification, Look-Alikes, Poisonous or Toxic
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onion grass growing on a hillside near our house, note the curly ends on some stalks

onion grass growing on a hillside near our house, note the curly ends on some stalks

Onion grass is very plentiful this time of year. In fact, it’s been up since March…it is one of the first things to come up, along with garlic mustard.

Onion grass is distinct: it comes up in patches in lawns and hillsides, it’s darker green and longer than the grass (especially in early spring, when grass has barely come back yet!), has a hollow stalk and a distinct onion smell and taste.

It can be used as you would use chives, and the bulb can even be dug and used like small shallots or scallions.

However, recently we were hiking along a creek bed, and came across a patch of plants that could potentially be confused for onion grass, especially because there was onion grass growing very close by.

NOT onion grass

NOT onion grass


This plant was likely a lily, so when digging it up it had very similar looking bulbs to the onion. However, looking carefully at the greens you’ll see this plant looks more like grass: flat, uniform in height, and very straight. The onion grass, on the other hand, grows rather messily: each stalk is a different height and some curl. Also, as I said before, onion is hollow, which you can tell when you break the stalk.

NOT onion grass: flat, even, looks like grass, no onion smell

NOT onion grass: flat, even, looks like grass, no onion smell

This IS onion grass: curly hollow stalk, smells like onion

This IS onion grass: curly hollow stalk, smells like onion

The final very important distinction is that onion grass smells undeniably like onion, while the imposter does not. If one were to accidently taste a bit of the imposter (which we do not recommend) it would taste awful and bitter: a sure sign the plant is not meant to eat.

Please remember:

  • use multiple senses when identifying a plant, even one you feel very sure of.
  • if you plan to eat a plant, dry it or use it in any other way internally, and feel 100% certain it is what you are after, it is still wise to taste a tiny bit of the plant to make sure it is what you seek. If it the taste is unpleasant or not what you expect, spit it out and discard it.
  • Be absolutely certain when foraging wild edibles. There are plants which are dangerously toxic, even lethal (including death camas…which grows out west and can be confused with wild onion…see below…,poison and water hemlock and foxglove, to name a couple.)

Thanks, be safe and enjoy the spring!

onion grass I harvested today: VERY oniony smell, hollow stalks, curly uneven ends

onion grass I harvested today: VERY oniony smell, hollow stalks, curly uneven ends

~ Melissa

Here is a very important comment added by Jason. (I am adding it in the text because our comment section is still a bit hard to find/understand.):

Everyone should read this post and understand it. Before you eat anything in the wild, make sure you are educated, especially on poisonous look-alikes.

I’ll add and important tie-in. DEATH CAMAS is often confused with Wild Onion and is EXTREMELY POISONOUS
.

It is in the same Order as Lilies, and also has an oval bulb that looks like wild onion. Sometimes they’ll even grow together!

As you point out, an important distinguishing feature is the lack of an “onion-smell”.

When foraging for food, if in doubt, go without.
~ Jason

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