Recently I asked Tom what were the ten most important things that people should know about foraging for wild plants here in Maine. Here are his answers.
2. Collect and transport your harvest in baskets (my favorite method), brown paper bags or canvas bags. Never collect in plastic because it causes the harvest to sweat and wilt. They lose flavor and can mold in the wet plastic bag.
3. Be aware of plants that cause irritation to the skin when foraging. Poison ivy, virgin’s bower (wild clematis, a vining plant of edges and woodland trails), often mistakenly called “poison oak” and several other plants can cause mild to severe reactions in people. Know how to identify these plants. There are many great photos on the internet so as to allow you to identify these the first time. Watch out, since some people are affected just by being in the same vicinity. They don't even have to touch the plant to have an extreme allergic reaction.
4. Become familiar with botanical names in addition to the common names to prevent mix-ups in communications. Scientific names for plants are called “binominal nomenclature.” The first name is the genus, or general family and the second name tells something specific about the plant. Don’t be afraid to use these names and don’t worry about proper pronunciation. Others will know what you mean. The danger in only using common names is that some plants often share the same common name. For instance, “pigweed” is the common name for several totally different plants.
6. When a wild edible plant is harvested, harvest extra then freeze, dry or can according to suggestions in Wild Plants of Maine. One example: I love goosetongue, or seaside plantain, Plantago juncoides. When home-canned, these have the same flavor and a similar texture as when fresh. Nothing says “summer in winter” like a jar of seaside plantain.
7. Here in Maine, plants have a short growing season. This means they change size and appearance in a short time. Get to know your favorite wild edible plants in all seasons. That way, you can locate groups of colonies of great, edible plants in the off-season and harvest them later, when they are ready for picking.I
8. When learning a new plant, note carefully every detail of the plant’s description in the book. If a plant matches everything else except for one detail, it is not the plant in the book. Each plant must match every, single thing in the plant description section. Take no chances, since there are some toxic wild plants out there. Don’t let this keep you from trying wild edible plants, though. Instead, know that you are safe when the plant in hand perfectly matches every item in the description.
9. When harvesting wild plants, never pull a plant up by the roots. Most wild plants are perennial, some are biennial and only a few are annual. Uprooting a plant kills it and takes it out of production. On the other hand, don’t worry about taking a good haul by snipping with clippers or cutting with a knife, since these plants come back year after year.
10. Have fun foraging and eating your wilds.
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Nancy E. Randolph operates Just Write Books. With the tagline Maine books, Maine authors, Maine stories, Randolph quickly developed a reputation as a publisher of quality Maine books. An active community member she co-chaired the rehabilitation effort of the Androscoggin Swinging Bridge and guided the planning and creation of two riverside parks at each end. Along with two others she founded and serves as a member of the board of Save Our Swinging Bridge.Org to ensure the maintenance of the historic Roebling designed and built bridge connecting Topsham and Brunswick.