We’ve all heard stories of hikers who survived on berries or other wild foods while lost in the woods. Though learning the local edibles is a fine subject of study, there’s a lot of nasty and even deadly stuff waiting out there for the overconfident.
If you are actually lost in the woods, remember that the majority of search-and-rescue cases are found within 24 hours. There’s no need to start eating random berries if you’ve been lost for an hour.
The truth is, knowing your edibles is not a matter of memorising an infographic or a rhyme. You really need to know how to identify the specific foods you might encounter, and you have to be aware of what else is around that may look similar. Real life plants and mushrooms often look different from their photos in field guides, so even a good book can never be foolproof. If you want to learn to forage, you need education but also experience.
Some things are easier than others. For example, I’ll eat wild raspberries while I’m hiking because I’ve seen them a million times and I know there are no dangerous lookalikes. But I’ll never touch a wild mushroom, even if I’m pretty sure I know what it is. I just don’t know my mushrooms that well, and mistakes with mushrooms can be deadly.
Everybody on Reddit is moments from death pic.twitter.com/SYeqdk3XIG
— Julia Gfrörer SPX ????-5B (@thorazos) September 8, 2019
The plant in the photo is pokeweed, which I recognised instantly because I’ve seen plenty of it in my backyard. I know what the little sprouts look like when they pop up among my lettuce seedlings.
I know how tall the plant grows, how its berries change colour as they ripen and which birds like to eat them. I don’t fault the original poster for wondering if it’s edible; I wondered that too, at first, so I looked it up. Pokeweed is poisonous.
It’s technically edible, but only if you pick the young shoots and boil the daylights out of them. It’s what you eat when you have no other food available. It’s edible as a survival food and usable as a medicine; it’s not a thing to add to your salad for extra colour or flavour. Just buy a bag of spinach.
Other posts from the subreddit included one asking to confirm mushroom identifications when the mushrooms were already chopped and photographed on a cutting board. Commenters flagged some of them as misidentified and potentially deadly.
Give experienced foragers some credit. Learning what to eat and what not to eat in the woods is a skill that is developed with time, experience, and education. Bottom line: If you need to ask what a plant is, you should not be eating it.