Some of the most common poisonous plants you will need to familiarize yourself with are listed in the table that follows. Please understand, this is NOT a comprehensive list, but just a sampling.
Hyacinth, Narcissus, Daffodil
Rosary Pea, Castor Bean
Water Hemlock and Poison Hemlock
Jimson Weed (Thorn Apple)
According to Wilderness Survival, if you see a wild plant you can’t identify, the characteristics that you should regard as “red flags” for toxicity include:
Milky or discolored sap
Beans, bulbs, or seeds in pods
Bitter or soapy taste
Spines, fine hairs or thorns
Dill, carrot, parsnip, or parsley like foliage
“Almond” scent in woody parts or leaves
Grain heads with pink, purple, or black spurs
Three-leaved growth pattern
The fact that a plant has some of these characteristics doesn’t necessarily mean it’s poisonous, but if you can’t positively identify it, you’re better off not adding it to your salad. And remember to NEVER harvest plants that have been exposed to herbicides or pesticides, road salt, asphalt runoff, paint or pet waste. Here is one helpful site that includes pictures of poisonous look-alikes, side by side with the edibles.
One last word of caution: Introduce new wild foods to your body gradually.
Even a high-quality, nutritious wild plant or herb can cause an unexpected reaction in some people. Try them one at a time and in SMALL amounts to see how your body is going to react. If you feel good, have at it! But don’t consume a big bowl of wild greens all at once that you’ve never eaten before, because if you DO have a bad reaction to one of them, you won’t know WHICH one.
Edible wild plant expert John Kallas recommends that, if you want to begin a foraging lifestyle, you should have a “starting library” that consists of the following:
1Three books about edible wild plants
2Three books about plant identification
3Three books about poisonous plants
He also makes suggestions about what books to choose in each category.
The following are a few book suggestions, to get you started:
• Edible Wild Plants – Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate Volume 1 by John Kallas
•The Wild Table: Seasonal Foraged Food and Recipes by Connie Green and Sarah Scott
If you prefer to learn by video, you might want to take a look at Green Deane’s video series about edible plants. He has 125 videos on YouTube, most of them about foraging.
Lastly, Sergei Boutenko has released an iPhone app called “Wild Edibles” for those of you who want a field guide right inside your smart phone.