Wild Edibles thread in the main forum

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To all,

I've posted a wild edibles thread in the main forum. Do you think I should be posting those here instead? I was reluctant to because I thought the audience here is nowadays very small.


-- eve (eve_rebekah@yahoo.com), February 14, 2000


Hi eve,

Guess that depend on you target audience. In my estimate TB2000 became too active to follow over a year ago and it's topic are all over the place. I check in here once or twice a week because I see this forum becoming more of self sufficiency forum in the spirit of Country Living and the old Mother Earth.

One option woulld be to try posting in both places and see the response.


-- john hebert (jt_hebert@hotmail.com), February 14, 2000.

eve - I check this forum and TB2K every day! I look for self-sufficiency info on both and news updates. Please don't abandon this forum as it continues to be very helpful. Perhaps more would take advantage of this forum if we make the effort with information?

Great thread on wild edibles BTW, thanks.

-- Sammie (sammiex0@yahoo.com), February 14, 2000.

Hi Eve,

Welcome back! (Haven't seen any postings by you lately). I also check in here at least weekly, and have an interest in edible plants of North America.

I have a question: I have been told that the following is a general rule:

1. ALL blue colored berries are edible.

2. SOME red colored berries are edible.

3. NO white colored berries are edible.

I am most interested in #1. Is this true? What about #2 - which red berries are edible and which are not???

Comments, info.????

Welcome back!

-- No Polly (nopolly@hotmail.com), February 14, 2000.

eve - What you are proposing could be an interesting series. If you really want it to have any lasting value, it belongs here. You could always remind the folks at TB2K if you think that is necessary to bring people over for the discussion.

No Polly - Your rules of thumb are an unfortunate overgeneralization. There is no substitute to knowing whether a particular species is edible. (Oddly, adults are more likely to get into trouble with poisonous plants than kids because adults assume, incorrectly, that they must know what they are doing.) Then there is the issue of what do you mean by "edible". I happen to be very allergic to blueberries and huckleberries. Buckthorn berries (which resemble huckleberries) and arrowwood berries are considered either inedible or poisonous to people, although many birds enjoy them.

-- Brooks (brooksbie@hotmail.com), February 14, 2000.


Thanks for your response. I realize that the three little "rules" I mentioned are overgeneralization. If they are true NEARLY all the time, perhaps it would be easy to memorize the exceptions rather than each individual species. Maybe not.

I would define "edible" in this case to mean that the berries are fit for consumption, capable of providing some nutritional value, and do not cause negative effects in an "average" human being (without special allergies or sensitivities).

Anyone else want to talk about berries???

-- No Polly (nopolly@hotmail.com), February 14, 2000.

Hi, I thought I would come over here to post since the thread is getting burried over on the other board. One of my favorite plants for my flower garden is Jersulem Artichoke - which is not realy an artichoke & not from Jeruslem. You can buy packs of the tubers in the produce dept at the grocery store for about 2$. I just cut them up like potatoes & plant the "eyes". They make great daisy/sunflower type plants about 4' tall. In late fall after the blossoms have faded you dig up the plants & harvest the tubers. Replant a couple tubers for next year & eat the rest. They are basically weeds, spread like crazy, & are indestuctible. Deer don't even eat them! If gophers are a problem just plant some in big pots. They are great mashed or raw in salads. If you need cooking tips let me know & I'll post some. Carolyn

-- Carolyn (artchicks@yahoo.com), February 14, 2000.

No Polly - You might arbitrarily add to your definition of what is "edible" stuff that tastes reasonably decent and can be consumed in at least moderation if not in great quantities without upset. It's a difficult term to deal with.

When I started exploring the world of edible plants years ago, it struck me that probably most plants aren't listed one way or another, simply because they are not perceived to taste good enough to bother with.

Canada thistle stalks are "edible" by your standards, a great source of fiber, and probably your civic responsibility to eat as much of this aggressive thug as possible. But I know from experience that cooking it as though it were creamed celery can't disguise a thoroughly unappetizing dish.

I think your suggestion of just learning the exceptions smacks of the same problem that "most" of the time you might be fine, the other fraction you might just be dead. I'd really caution against any generality that would lead you to assume you could eat something. I'm also now thinking of pokeweed, the berries of which as they mature turn from green to reddish to dark purple. EXTREMELY toxic, although there are ways of cooking the very young leaves (remember the song, "Poke Salad Annie"?). I would consider mature pokeberries to be more blue than red, but perhaps not, so there is that color problem to work out too.

The generalization I understand to be true (but I could be very wrong about this) is that part of anything from the rose family is edible, assuming you can make your way past the thorns.

-- Brooks (brooksbie@hotmail.com), February 14, 2000.

To all ,

Thanks so much for your help and being a part of this. I have to help both my parents through a temporary home help crisis right now, so I can't say much, but I'll get back to you as as soon as I can, tonight or tomorrow. Hang in there!

-- eve (eve_rebekah@yahoo.com), February 14, 2000.

Brooks, Eve, and others!

Thanks for this discussion.

Brooks, in my definition of "edible," I was thinking in terms of survival only, but it may be good to limit the definition to include "apitizing" as well.

I have had limited experience, but have enjoyed wild foods such as stinging nettles (boiled, they taste like spinach), acorns (bland, but OK), wild onions, and of course well-known berries (blackberries, etc.) and wild grapes.

I'll be checking this thread periodically for other new ideas and inspiration.

Does anyone know of a good basic reference book on edible plants of North America?

-- No Polly (nopolly@hotmail.com), February 14, 2000.

Hi, all,

Wow --- you guys have actually opened up vast vistas of topics. To do this right, I'll need to go slowly, so please have patience if I don't get to your question right away. I want to respond to everyone.

Hi, John,

Thanks for your help.

Hi, Sammie,

Thanks for the compliment. And I have no intention of abandoning this forum. In fact, it's gonna be my new "home away from home" -- regarding wild edibles, anyway.

Hi, No Polly,

Thank you for the welcome-back. I have been kind of active in a few threads, though, for the past week or so; mostly in "The Great Deception" theology thread.

Regarding your "general rule" on berries, I have to side with Brooks. Believe me, you'll be embarking on a very risky path here. From my studies, I think these "general rules" can be traced back to some armed forces survival manuals, as a sort of short-cut survival "tool." Don't do it! You have to make the effort to understand each plant and berry individually.

The edibility of berries, if you want to cover them all, is an enormously complex topic. And even if they're generally regarded as edible, as Brooks points out, you have to take into account possible allergic reactions, etc.

Let's just take Brooks' example of Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana). Just getting into detail regarding the poisonous aspects of the plant as a whole would take quite a discussion -- and I'd be glad to talk about it if you'd like. But just to give you a bit on the berry:

The Pokeweed fruits are normally a shiny dark purple and very toxic. Most fatalities actually occur in children who eat the berries. Infants and toddlers can be seriously poisoned from eating only a couple of them. And one 5-year old died from drinking a quantity of crushed pokeberries mixed with sugar and water to simulate grape juice.

And a relatively recent finding revealed a new risk: that the most dangerous property of Pokeweed berries (as well as other parts of the plant) is that it contains a type of protein lectin, a mitogen, that can cause serious and wide-ranging blood cell abnormalities. And it can be absorbed through cuts and skin abrasions, as well as through ingestion.

Some people have apparently eaten the berries after thorough cooking, which removed most of the toxins, and seemed to have emerged relatively unscathed. But even then, the danger of absorbing the cell-altering mitogens during harvesting and preparation of the berries (and even the edible young shoots) is very real, and makes it not worth the risk -- unless you're in a life-or-death survival situation and are able to thoroughly cook them.

Because of the above, as well as other very toxic qualities in all parts of the plant (except for the young shoots), I would completely avoid this plant.

Hi, Brooks and Carolyn,

If you don't mind waiting just a bit, I'll respond to you in my next post. Thanks.

-- eve (eve_rebekah@yahoo.com), February 15, 2000.

No polly,

I noticed that you asked about a good reference work on wild edibles in North America. Well, there jost so happens to be a terrific one that should fit the bill. It's called, "The Encyclopedia of Edible Plants in North America" by Francois Couplan, Ph.D. I think you can get it through amazon.com.

Hi, Brooks,

I can't tell you how wonderful it is to have an old hand at this join in. And I'm sure I could learn a lot from you. By the way, your response to No Polly on the berry issue was excellent.

Regarding your comment on the edibility of the rose family: I don't think you meant thr rose family in the true technical sense (Rosaceae). Because that includes cherries apricots, etc. which, in their leaves, bark, stems and pits are very dangerous.

So, specifically speaking of the rose (genus=Rosa), you're pretty much on target -- no known toxicities.

Hi, Carolyn,

You know, I have to agree with you on the Jerusalem Artichoke (Helianthus tuberosa -- a large perennial sunflower) . I've got a hundred of 'em in the ground! And everything in your post is dead-on, except I did have a problem with deer nibbling on the tops of mine (there's a woods on the edge of my property) -- at least I'm pretty sure they were deer. Fencing fixed that problem, though.

The origin of the name is interesting. The Italian word for the sun (helios is greek for "sun", hence the Helianthus genus) is "girasole", which ended up, in English, as "Jerusalem". The artichoke part of the title came from centuries ago where the flower buds of the edible sunflowers were boiled and eaten with butter, like the artichoke.

And I'd love to see some recipes!

-- eve (eve_rebekah@yahoo.com), February 15, 2000.

eve - thanks for the clarification on roses.

-- Brooks (brooksbie@hotmail.com), February 15, 2000.

Thanks for your input. I was trying to remember where I first heart the "three berry rule" and I think it was either boy scouts or when I worked for the Forest Service.

What is the range of pokeweed? I have never seen it in California.

Eve, thanks for the information on the book. I'll get on Amazon and check it out.

To all, this is great! I've learned so much about a variety of topics on these forums!!

-- No Polly (nopolly@hotmail.com), February 15, 2000.

Greetings and Felicitations!

Another good book is: "Edible Wild Plants, A North American Field Guide" by Thomas Elias.

This book has color photos, and a great deal of good information.

-- NatureNut (naturenut@mail.con), February 15, 2000.

Brooks, (and all)

Early on you made a comment that led me to think you had not seen my earlier threads in this series. Over the past several months I've done four or five others, including how to eat quackgrass and crabgrass and making bread from pure wood (no joke!). They should be in the archives -- either in this forum or in the other.


Welcome! Thanks for the book recommendation. I have it and it really is a great book.

To all,

Let me know if you'd like more book recommendations. Also, does anyone know if there's a way to easily copy the text from my other wild edibles thread to this one? It would be nice if we could keep it all in one place. Thanks.

No Polly,

If you'd like info on specific berries, I'll be glad to help. Also, according to The Encyclopedia of Edible Plants in North America, Pokeweed is found "throughout". But I'll see if I can check this out further.

-- eve (eve_rebekah@yahoo.com), February 15, 2000.

No Polly,

Ok, I've got two authoritative sources in front of me that indicate Pokeweed as not native to California:

"Common Weeds of the United States" by the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, p. 148;

""Weeds" by Walter Conrad Muenscher, p. 197.

These references do not necessarily imply that the Pokeweed will absolutely not be found in California. This is because weeds come and go in a region and detailed information often has not been available.

I hope this helps.

-- eve (eve_rebekah@yahoo.com), February 15, 2000.

eve - Thank you for the information on Pokeweed. Its absence in California explains why I am not familiar with it.

Do you know if pyracantha berries are edible (for humans)?

Nature Nut and eve - Thanks for the info. on the "Field Guide." I think that is more along the lines of what I'm interested in. I plan to spend some time poking around the Sierras this summer, checking out the edible wild plants. Survivalism is fun!!

I have to go now, but will check in here periodically. BTW, my addy works.

-- No Polly (nopolly@hotmail.com), February 16, 2000.

Hey eve,

It is spring time mild here today, the snow is melting, just too nice. And since everyone knows that in spring a young mans'facny turns to thoughts of dandelions, I looked up this recipe. I may have posterd it before on one of these forums but I'm not finding the thread so here you are:

Colorful Crisp Dandelion, Ham, and Fruit Salad with Raspberry-Honey Dressing, from Peter Gail's 6th AnnualDandelion Cookoff, (Interview and recipe aired on May 7, 1999 on Wisconsin Public Radio.)

- 6 c. fresh crisp dandelion leaves, stems removed - 2 c. cooked ham, cubed - 1 c. fresh raspberries - 1 c. seedless red grapes, halved - 1 kiwi, pared and thinly sliced - 1 can (11oz.) of mandarin oranges, drained - 1 c. red onion, thinly sliced - 1 c. pecan halves, toasted - 1 c. feta cheese

Dressing - 3 T. olive oil - 2 t. honey - Breitenbach raspberry wine - dash of salt

In a large bowl, combine all salad ingredients except pecans and Feta cheese; toss. In a separate bowl, mix oil, wine, honey, and salt. Pour over salad and toss to coat. Top salad with pecans and feta cheese. Serves 6

Try it, you'll like it jh

-- john hebert (jt_hebert@hotmail.com), February 16, 2000.

No Polly,

Yes, pyracantha berries are edible (for humans). The sources I used for this are Jerry M. Parsons, Ph.D of the Texas Agricultural Extension Service and the Carolinas Poison Center. I can give you contact info for them if you'd like.

They're from the Rosaceae family, as are apples, which they resemble somewhat -- only much smaller. Pick 'em in the late summer to early fall when they turn bright orange to red. But get 'em before the birds do!

And, I have a recipe for pyracantha jelly if you're interested.

Also, I have access to a great many books on wild edibles. Would you like me to list them?


Thanks so much for the dandelion recipe. I can't wait to try it out. Here in Michigan I'm counting the minutes 'till spring...

-- eve (eve_rebekah@yahoo.com), February 16, 2000.

eve -

Thank you for the pyracantha information. I have seen the birds eat them, and often wondered if they were safe for human consumption. Yes, the recipe would be nice.

I just discovered this resource that I have not yet BEGUN to tap:


Tons of information.

I am especially interested in the indiginous plants and trees of the Sierra Nevadas, but I'm not strictly limited to that. I posted a previous thread about acorns. I'm planning on harvesting some next fall. Also, I understand the California Buckeye is edible, if you leach the meal, similar to acorns. Do you know anything about that?

Take care...

-- No Polly (nopolly@hotmail.com), February 16, 2000.

Hi, No Polly,

Yes, that website is part of a very wide-ranging research base. Isn't it astounding? Thanks for posting it, though.

I'm much more familiar with plants to the extent their distribution extends to the Midwest. But I can research specific ones indigenous to the Sierra Nevada area if you'd like some help.

Can you post a link to your acorn thread? I'm very interested to see it.

Ready for the California Buckeye? (Aesculus californica)

From "Edible Wild Plants of Eastern North America" by Fernald and Kinsey (p. 270):

"Aesculus (5 or 6 species)"

"The Indians roasted the nuts among hot stones, thus loosening the shells, peeled and mashed them, and then leached the meal with water for several days."

From, The Encyclopedia of Edible Plants of North America" by Francois Couplan, Ph.D. (p. 300):

"Aesculus (species)"

"Buckeye seeds are rich in saponin. (more specifically, a saponin glycoside, aesculin -- eve) In large amounts, this substance is toxic as it destroys red blood cells (hemolysis). Fortunately, it is easily eliminated by boiling the seeds in water.

"The seeds are therefore safe to eat after cooking in several changes of water, preferably chopped up or ground. They can be used after processing as a starchy, nutritious base for various dishes.

"The seeds of A. californica, California Buckeye...were eaten by Indians. They were baked in a fire pit until soft, then sliced and immersed in running water for several days."

And in "Common Poisonous Plants and Mushrooms of North America", by Turner and Szczawinski (pp. 74, 266), the authors indicate that some native peoples used the thoroughly leached and roasted seeds as an emergency food. This process reduced the toxic effects.

And remember that under no circumstances should you eat the seeds raw.

Recipe for Pyracantha Jelly:

To extract the juice, boil a pound of berries in 3/4 cup of water for one minute. Strain the juice through clean cloth. To one cup juice, add one teaspoon lemon juice and a package of powdered pectin. Bring it to a hard boil; add 3/4 cup sugar and continue rolling boil one minute, stirring constantly. Pour into hot, sterilized jars.

Have fun!

-- eve (eve_rebekah@yahoo.com), February 17, 2000.

eve -

The "Acorn" thread dropped off of here awhile ago. I'm not sure which category it was placed under, and don't have the time at the moment to ferret it out. I did save a useful piece of information on preparation of acorns. This I saved on my computer, and here it is (of course you probably know this already).



Acorns have very high contents of tannins which makes them very bitter and astringent when eaten raw. They need to be boiled or roasted, or both to make them palatable. The sweetest nuts come from the white, burr and chestnut oaks. The black, pin and red oak acorns are more bitter.

To use:

 Collect the acorns in the fall, when ripe.

 Remove shells and caps. The shells will come off easier if you first slit with a sharp knife.

 Boil the acorns whole for at least two hours, changing the water each time it becomes light brown in color. This boiling removes the bitterness and they become pleasantly sweet. You will find, after this boiling, that they are quite dark brown in color.

 Toast in a 350 degree F oven for another hour. They can then be eaten as they are or ground into a flour.

1993-jf Cooperative Extension Service University of Illinois

< Thanks for the recipe. I'm going to print it and try it when pyracanthas are in season.

Another topic: (mind wandering) Have you cured olives? We have many unharvested olives around here.

-- No Polly (nopolly@hotmail.com), February 17, 2000.

No Polly,

Thanks for posting your acorn information and recipe. Are you familiar with the book, "It will Live Forever"? It's all about traditional Yosemite Indian acorn preparation; very interesting. It's by Beverly R. Ortiz.

Curing olives? Personally, I've had no experience with this. I could get you information, but, for starters, it would come from two websites that you should see for yourself, because there's so much there:



Good luck.


I just realized that you made a comment early on that seemed to indicate you thought that most plants were edible unless designated as poisonous.

Please don't act on this assumption, because it isn't so. There are about 25,000 species of plants in the U.S. Of these, about 4,000 are deemed edible and about 1,000 as poisonous. The jury's out on the remaining 20,000. They simply either haven't been sufficiently analyzed yet, or not analyzed at all. (This info is from "The Encyclopedia of Edible Plants of North America")

-- eve (eve_rebekah@yahoo.com), February 18, 2000.

No eve, my point was that there are a great many plants that are not listed as either poisonous or edible because they are simply too uninteresting to be considered edible yet not quite considered poisonous. I am not saying that unlisted plants are by default safe to eat. I stand by my earlier comments that there is no substitute for knowing for sure about a specific species.

I also have a very strong opinion that, except in hardship conditions or perhaps on your own property (if that excuses you from being a good steward), wild plants should not be harvested unless it is clear the local population is strong enough to withstand the harvesting. I have seen all of these rules of thumb ignored at one of our local state parks where the state rangers did not have the experience to either correctly identify plants used in a public edibles program or to consider the implications on the local biodiversity of harvesting them. (That experience, in fact, propelled me to learn as much as I could about the identification, folklore and uses of the plants in that particular state park and to prepare a guide for future summer rangers.)

-- Brooks (brooksbie@hotmail.com), February 18, 2000.


Re your first paragraph: I'm sorry, apparently I misunderstood what you were trying to get across.

And you make a very good point about the harvesting; I fully agree. Also it's gratifying to hear of your efforts in trying to educate the rangers in helping to preserve our wonderful heritage.

-- eve (eve_rebekah@yahoo.com), February 18, 2000.

eve, Brooks, et.al.,

Yesterday I went to our local bookstore. The only book they had on edible plans was the Field Guide by Elias, which I purchased.

Last night after work I poured myself a nice glass of Chardonnay and flipped through the book. Almost immediately, I saw the section on pokeweed, and some other examples that shoot the berry (blue, red, white) "rule of thumb" that I previously mentioned. I am realizing there is SO MUCH to know about edible plants.

Brooks, good point on not harvesting endangered/limited species. In the case of, say, acorns, I don't think any damage would be done, but your point is well taken regarding some of the more esoteric species.

eve, thanks for the sites on olives. I'm going to check them out when I'm done with this post.

To all, this area of the forum is like a breath of fresh air, compared to the spamming nonsense going on next door. I appreciate that!!

-- No Polly (nopolly@hotmail.com), February 18, 2000.

Re: the generalization on berries. Too general. White mulberries are not only edible but very tasty.

No Polly - I think in California they call pokeweed dock? Check your wildflower books.

-- mommacarestx (mommacarestx@mail.com), February 18, 2000.

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