Safety Instructions for Foraging

Welcome to Learn with the Seasons:

Your guide to Foraging for and Using Edible & Therapeutic Herbs.

This lesson contains safety guidelines.

It is the most important lesson!

 

The most important part of foraging is staying safe.

If you are in any doubt about the identity of a plant, then do not consume it.

Please read my safety tips and guidelines and watch my video below.

LESSON VIDEOS & DOCUMENTS 

Click the tabs on the left to view the videos and documents

Foraging Safety Video

Safety Disclaimer (Legal Statement)

I, Vivienne Campbell, the author and teacher of this E-Course have made every effort to be 100% accurate to ensure that I have correctly identified each plant featured in this E-Course (in videos, photographs and documents). It is however solely up to the course participant to ensure that he/she correctly identifies any wild or cultivated plant before consuming it in any way. No liability is accepted by either the author (Vivienne Campbell) or the E-Course publisher (Coursecraft.net) for any consequence that may occur from consuming foraged plants.

 

Practical Safety Tips

I have designed this E-course to introduce you to plants that are common, safe to use and relatively easy to recognise (e.g. nettle, daisy, red clover, plantain etc.). I am confident that by the end of this course you will be able to safely identify and use several edible and therapeutic herbs. However, I must point out how potentially hazardous foraging for wild and cultivated plants can be so please read and carefully follow my safety tips.

  • Remember the first rule of foraging and then you won’t go wrong: don’t consume anything until you see an expert take it first!
  • I cannot stress enough to you how hazardous it can be to misidentify plants. Please take this issue very, very seriously and always follow my guidelines. During this course we will be studying plants that are easy to identify. However, people can often then get carried away with their enthusiasm for this exciting new area and want to begin to search for other plants. Please be very, very cautious about doing this on your own. It is notoriously hard to accurately identify wild plants from photos in books, on apps, or on-line. Above all, avoid internet searches on herbs/plants. These searches frequently bring up totally inaccurate information and photos of plants with the wrong identification. Instead, seek out an expert where you live (e.g. a professional responsible forager, a qualified botanist, an experienced herbalist etc.).
  • If an expert is helping you to identify a plant, always check the Latin name. Common names can be very confusing. They vary from county to county and country to country. This can lead to mis-identification of plants and all the potential hazards that this entails.
  • Don’t be a victim to the misconception that anything natural is ‘harmless’. There are many plants that are extremely poisonous and if you consumed them then they would kill you very quickly indeed.
  • Never, ever guess the identity of a plant. And never, ever ‘will’ a plant to be the one that you want it to be just because you’d really like to find it!
  • Learn to recognise what the plants look like in the area around you but, be cautious when you see plants growing in different areas. Sometimes plants can look quite different if they are growing in a different landscape e.g. they can be much smaller because the layer of soil that they are growing in is very thin.
  • Plants to be particularly wary of: plants with white flowers growing in the wild; plants with yellow flowers growing in the wild. Years of taking guided foraging walks has shown me that novices can find it difficult to distinguish between numerous different wild plants with white flowers. Several common wild plants with white flowers are incredibly poisonous and cause death if consumed. Stay on the safe side and don’t use any of them! It’s also quite a common mistake to muddle up St John’s Wort and Ragwort because they can both grow to a similar height and both have yellow flowers.

What can you do if you’ve found a plant and want to confirm that it is safe to use? :

  • You can take some photos and post them in our private Face Book group. I will look at them and if it is possible to safely identify them, then I will. Please try to stick to photographing the plants that we are studying on the E-Courses. I can’t spend ages trying to identify lots of photos of random plants! Please take photos of all of the parts of the plant (don’t up root it though) i.e. leaves, stems, flowers, overall view. When it comes to plant identification, please do not take the word of people in our group other than me. I am happy to take responsibility for my comments but will not take any responsibility for other peoples’ comments. Remember that they are starting out like you. They may seem very enthusiastic but, this doesn’t mean that they know how to correctly identify plants! If you are in the Face Book group and think that you can confidently identify a plant then please tag me in the posting and I will either confirm the identification or point out why it isn’t the correct plant.
  • If you pick a sample of the plant that you would like to have identified then you should be able to have it correctly identified by a botanist at your nearest botanic garden. Find out where your nearest botanic garden is e.g. Edinburgh, London, Dublin, Glasgow and contact them to find out what their procedures are. There are usually herbarium departments and they should be the most helpful.
  • Be wary of other Face Book foraging groups and foraging websites with plant identification forums. I am a member of some of these groups and sites. While they are very interesting, they do slightly terrify me because they contain a mixture of accurate comments by experienced people who know what they are doing, and other people shouting out random names of plants who clearly do not know what they are doing! In my opinion they are potentially extremely hazardous for people who are new to this and wouldn’t be able to recognise the difference between a true expert and someone who merely sounds confident but is dishing out inaccurate information all over the place. I’ve also seen plants mis-identified on foraging websites that appear to be professional and knowledgeable. Do please heed my warnings! I’ve been foraging for 16 years and am still learning. When it comes to plants that I don’t recognise, I have to follow these safety guidelines too.

What to do if you can’t find a herb growing near you that you want to use or if you are not confident at safely identifying it:

  • Cultivate it in your own garden. Buy the seeds or plants from a reliable organic plant nursery. Farmers’ markets often have excellent herb and plant stalls. You could also try buying seed from organic seed banks and growing them from seed yourself (see the resources section for recommended organic seed banks and organic plant nurseries). Always buy the plants using the Latin name. Never trust common names! Once you’ve planted it in your own garden (or window box if you’re in a flat), then you will know that you have the correct plant growing and that it is safe to use.
  • Buy the dried herbs from a reputable and professional herbalist or herbal supplier. Dried herbs are not suitable to include in all recipes e.g. salads, but are very suitable for making teas and many other therapeutic extracts. This is the safest way to begin to make your own herbal extracts. Don’t feel that you have to do everything from scratch by picking the herbs yourself from the wild or growing them. Doing what is most practical for you will always be much more effective than aiming for an ideal that is unachievable for you just now! The important thing is just to start. I recommend starting simply. [See the Recommended Resources section for a list of reliable suppliers of dried herbs].

Remember, during this course we will be looking at plants that are very easy to recognise. 

In fact, some of them you will already be familiar with but probably just don’t realise are edible and/or therapeutic. 

There will definitely be several plants that you will be able to recognise, find and use safely and with confidence.