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Fool-proof wild edible/medicinal plant ID method

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  • Fool-proof wild edible/medicinal plant ID method

    In the hands of the inexperienced, guidebooks and videos can be dangerously confusing when it comes to properly identifying wild edible and medicinal plants. (There are so many look-alikes, and some are deadly!)

    So what is a budding wildcrafter to do? Aside from finding a knowledgeable mentor, one sure way to identify certain plants is to grow them from seed. That way you can observe plants in all stages and seasons of life, from seedling to maturity.

    As a bonus you will have on your home turf, a source of naturalized plants that will readily re-seed themselves, or spread from rhizomes (roots), or are perennials (come back every year). Some are beautiful enough to occupy a place in your flower garden, or functional enough to deserve a spot in the corners of your garden.

    There are a few seed companies that sell seeds for wild edible and medicinal plants (and more). Some are generous with sharing lots of free information about how to grow and use them.

    Here are some of my favorites:

    Organic growers of medicinal herb seeds, medicinal herb plants, organic vegetable seeds and organic garden seeds

    Discover a collection of 1000+ pure, natural, and non-GMO heirloom seeds for your garden. Grow a variety of flowers, vegetables, and herbs with ease! (Complete catalog:

    Do you know of any other seed companies you could add to this list (preferably have personal experience with)?

  • #2
    Thanks for the links Grizzy'ette. I don't have links for wild seed sources just more of your everyday heirloom veg seed companies or a few nursery's
    I can explain it to you, but I can't understand it for you!


    • #3
      Friends, please be careful where you get your wild edible & medicinal plant information. The sad thing is, many articles, books, websites, and forum posts are worn-out repetitions of what some authors have read on the internet and in other books...and believe it all to be true.

      The unforgivable thing is that some of the parroted misinformation can be downright dangerous.

      I can help you find sources with good reputations. I will come back later with more in this thread, but for now here are some excellent books to try. (Sometimes you can save a bundle with Amazon's used books...but be aware of the seller's ratings; if they have poor ratings leave them be, and just get the book new straight from Amazon.)

      Note: These two books were the very first ones I learned plant identification from many years ago, but now they are also available for other regions as well. (Peterson's are the "gold standard" and are best-selling field guides of all time!)

      I prefer the older versions of the first book listed here, which include detailed drawings of critical identification features. But, I also like the newest version for more detailed usage information.

      Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America, Third Edition (Peterson Field Guides) 3rd Edition by Steven Foster and James A. Duke

      From the Amazon description page: "Medicinal plants are increasingly well regarded as supplements and sometimes as alternatives for prescription drugs. Steven Foster and James A. Duke have used recent advances in the study of medicinal plants and their combined experience of over 100 years to completely update the Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants. The clear and concise text identifies the key traits, habitats, uses, and warnings for more than 530 of the most significant medicinal plants in the eastern and central United States and Canada including both native and alien species. Seven hundred plus images, the organization-by-color system, and simplified warnings make identifying medicinal plants fast and easy.
      Sponsored by the National Audubon Society, the National Wildlife Federation, and the Roger Tory Peterson Institute."

      Edible Wild Plants: Eastern/Central North America (Peterson Field Guides) Paperback – September 1, 1999
      by Lee Allen Peterson and Roger Tory Peterson

      "More than 370 edible wild plants, plus 37 poisonous lookalikes, are described here, with 400 drawings and 78 color photographs showing precisely how to recognize each species. Also included are habitat descriptions, lists of plants by season, and preparation instructions for many different food uses."

      As companion books to the critically important Edible Wild Plants book, I recommend any of Samuel Thayer's books for detailed information and uses of selected plants.

      Although I have been a wildcrafter for decades and have TONS of books on the subject, I have learned lots more from Thayer's books. I highly recommend all three! I guarantee that he will make you fall in love with the idea of eating wild edibles.

      Beginners and experienced wildcrafters will like Samuel Thayer's Nature's Garden: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Wild Edible Plants. He covers 41 plants in this edition, including tons of important information about acorns.

      His book, The Forager's Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants, covers 32 plants.

      His latest book, Incredible Wild Edibles, covers 36 plants and is very good, too.

      It took me a long time to commit much of the info that I learned from books into "muscle memory," meaning actual use. I highly recommend that you start slowly with basics such as fool-proof acorns, hickory nuts, mulberry, etc. Learn how to use them in your everyday diet (I love my acorns!).

      Take your time getting to know your wildlings. Observe the plants in all phases of growth. Make SURE that the plants fit the Peterson's Field Guide descriptions EXACTLY. "Close enough" won't cut it, and this kind of thinking can fool you into believing that a poisonous look-alike is safe.

      Do not rush the process but please do get started with learning this new skill ASAP. Don't wait for hard times because, as you can imagine, that will be the worst time to learn survival skills.

      I'll be back with more, later...


      • #4
        Great info. Thanks for sharing. I have always been leery of learning by looking at pictures. I would really like to find a Field Guide ( a live person) to walk through the woods and point out every plant. After being shown what is safe, then I feel more comfortable looking at it in a book. Knowing that Peterson's books are reliable is a big help.
        The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary.

        Everything happens for a reason. Sometimes the reason is you are stupid, and make bad decisions.


        • #5
          You're welcome, CG and Morgan!

          Another fool-proof way to identify wild edibles and medicinals is to learn from an experienced two-legged guide.

          Some possible ways to find one:

          Facebook has tons of foraging/wildcrafting/plant identification groups in just about every state. Join a few and ask around...but make sure that the person doing the teaching is reputable and not some airy-fairy, blow-smoke-up-your-backside wannabe. I have heard more than a few individuals who have spouted ridiculous and dangerous info. Always double check everything you learn with the Peterson's Guide book (mentioned in the previous post).

          Also, check out Plug in your search terms to find like-minded groups of people in your area. You may be able to find knowledgeable people by networking through local groups.
          Last edited by GrizzlyetteAdams; 08-13-2018, 08:40 AM.


          • #6
            Youtube is another way of learning how to identify wild edibles and medicinals, but oh maaaannnn, there's a lot of crap and misinformation Out There, and not enough emphasis on deadly look-alikes. Often it's just enough information to get you killed, or very sick.

            Be careful with Youtubers...

            OK, that will be my next project: find reliable Youtubers who do a good job of teaching the right stuff, and share it here in this thread.


            • #7
              The deadly look-a-likes are what scare me. I have read about them, but truthfully, I cannot tell them apart. There is a State Park close to me that is fully staffed. The park Rangers may be a good place to start.
              The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary.

              Everything happens for a reason. Sometimes the reason is you are stupid, and make bad decisions.


              • #8
                Grizzly this is great. I always thought the best way to learn about these is through someone with this kind of experence that can take you out and show you the ropes on wild herbs. I was hoping to find someone around my area that has that knowledge but no luck so far. Those sites will be very informitive.


                • #9
                  a very good yt channel for edible plant stuff is onewildcrafter and somewhat lesser extent but more on trapping/hunting is woodedbeardsman.
                  #SURVIVAL | OUTDOORS | HUNTING | FISHING | TRAPPING | HOMESTEADING | BUSHCRAFT | CAMPING This channel is about the outdoors. Not just about survival, fishing, hunting, trapping, or even bushcraft, but about the whole process of procuring resources, fish and game, wild edibles, and other materials necessary for sustenance - wilderness living. I do not practice ‘catch and release’ or even ‘sport fishing.’ I do not “harvest.” Rather, I catch and keep, and consume what I catch. However, I do not catch and keep more than I plan to consume. I would much prefer utilizing nature on my own accord than to visit a supermarket and have that be sourced out to others (farmer and butchers). This gives me a much deeper respect for the flesh of animals, ‘meat’, than can be had through its nearest cousin, the sterilized plastic wrap and foam packaged variety sold in supermarket. #1027765

                  Woniya is one helluva gal, too. She fasted for 73 days on the alone show, seasn 6, coming in second place. Had Jordan not gotten totally lucky with a moose, she'd have beaten him easily. He just starved for 3 weeks until he got the moose. He set 100 snares in order to average catching 1 hare per day That's 700 calories per hare, so he LOST calories on the deal, walking that much, twice a day, checking those snares.
                  I'm Woniya, and I'm passionate about sharing practices for living a wilder, more abundant, more deeply connected life. I make educational and inspirational videos about wild foods, survival, ancestral, homestead and off-grid living skills (hide tanning, basketry, handcrafts, and more), ecology, travel, and wilderness adventures, to help people feel more capable, engaged and connected. Practicing and teaching these skills has been a lifelong endeavor for me. They matter. We evolved to do these things, to be dependent on and interdependent with the living world around us. Modern life has disconnected many of us from the natural world, but land-based skills help us feel re-connected to our human ancestry & the wilder world around us. My book: Never Alone, A Solo Arctic Survival Journey (on Amazon) Learn more at & Online courses at Join me on Patreon at
                  Last edited by registror; 04-18-2021, 06:29 PM.


                  • #10
                    a good pocket book like "food for free" is a handy thing to have, know what is growing in your own area and identify it properly, some of these things will kill you if you eat the wrong thing so no second guesses or chances.


                    • #11
                      As we lack the internet, I prefer books to websites and with books; I prefer those that apply to where we live and pictures to drawings.