Identifying Edible and Medicinal Plants

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Introduction: Identifying Edible and Medicinal Plants

Ever since the Neolithic Revolution, humans have focused mainly on other things than hunting and gathering. This is still true today. With today's high tech world, humans don't have to focus on their very survival. They can just drive to the store and buy everything they would ever need. Back in the Stone Age, the environment was their superstore. During the Paleolithic Age (Stone Age), humans relied solely on hunting and gathering for food. Once one knew what plants to eat and how to hunt game, they could live off the land. They were nomads, meaning they had no permanent home. They followed the animals, every season coming back to the same areas to gather plants they knew grew well in that area (and maybe exclusively). Once agriculture was established, there was no need to follow the animals and travel from place to place gathering food and supplies. Since there was a reliable source of food, they could stay in one place, developing permanent shelters and growing in numbers. Since their survival basics were covered, they could look at other ways to pass the time. Tools and arts were developed because of this. Eventually, they began to rely more heavily on trade from other villages for food and supplies. This has grown into today. Now people rely fully on others to feed and take care of themselves. Every person should know how to take care of themselves.Today I would like to share with you some wild plants that natives relied on for food and supplies. Nature will provide anything you need if you know how to look.

Step 1: Materials

Traditionally, men were the hunters and women were the gatherers but both knew each others' tasks. Step 1: Gather Materials The only materials needed are your two hands and common sense. Sometimes digging sticks were used but today we won't need one. A digging stick is a sturdy branch with a limb sticking out of one end. The stick acts as a foot peg much like on today's shovels. The digging stick is pushed into the ground like a shovel and is used to dig up under roots and break up hard ground, just like today's shovels are used.

Step 2: Violets

Blue Violets: Full plant. Likes shady spots. Leaves taste the best, but the whole plant can be eaten. Note the heart shaped leaf.

Step 3: Burdock

Burdock: Roots. Dig around the plant with your hands, a rock, or digging stick. The root will be about the size of a carrot. Eat raw or cooked.

Step 4: Ragweed

Ragweed is a medicinal plant that when the leaves are applied to bleeding cuts, it stops bleeding. This means it is styptic. If you get a cut, simply smash and roll the leaf in between your fingers and press onto cut. When it gets bloody, change it out.

Step 5: Pine Tree Needles and Inner Bark

The needles of pine trees can be chewed on and spat out, swallowing the vitamin c rich fluids. Also, the white inner bark can gathered by knocking the brown outer bark off and peeling the inner bark off. They both are slightly bitter, but make any easy meal.

Step 6: Sassafras Leaves

Sassafras, a small and usually slender tree can easily be misidentified. There are three types of leaves: single lobed leafs, two lobed leafs that look like mittens, and the classic 3 lobed symmetrical leaf. Leaves can be eaten raw, although slimy. The smaller the tree, the better. I usually look for under 5 feet because they taste the best. A little larger and they can taste bitter. They taste like fruit loops. Also, the root can be boiled to make crude root beer.

Step 7: Passionflower

Passionflower, or Maypop, produces a sweet tasting fruit that can be eaten raw. Consistency of bananas.

Step 8: Plantains

Plantains, such as broadleaf shown here, can be eaten like spinach. Also, the seeds can be added to soup to thicken it. If you are allergic to ant or bee stings, and you get stung or bit, chew up the leaf and apply to bite. It will save you a trip to the hospital.

Step 9: Dandelions

Common dandelion greens can be eaten raw or boiled like mustard greens. They are quite tasty.

Step 10: Yellow Woodsorrel

The whole plant can be eaten raw. Tastes great, has a citrus-lemony taste and freshens breath.

Step 11: Persimmon

Ripe persimmons taste sweeter than sugar. Unripe persimmons dry your mouth out they're so bitter (astringent). They are however, full of large seeds. A few minutes worth of gathering off the ground provides gallons worth.

Step 12: Grapes (muscadine)

Wild muscadine grapes provide a nice treat while gathering.

Step 13: Clover (white/red)

Clover leafs and blooms can be eaten raw and added to salads.

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61 Comments

Wow I bet even Bear Grylls could get information from this! I have some of those plants growing around where I live but I never knew i could actually use them! Great job!

1 reply

Great job for opening up your eyes to the natural world! Make sure you're 100% certain of the plant you're looking at before you eat it though.

Thanks for the instructable! it was very well put together, a while back i read a book on this but had forgotten it since! now that my memory is jogged i can again become my own survival man when im with my friends

Just be careful with the red clover. there is a mold/fungus that can
grow on flower, or on grains that when digested in conjunction with red
clover, can cause micro bleeding and death.

This is really nice information. Thanks!

I actually knew most of the plants and greens before this instructable, but this just made me realize how much I'm not noticing.

I found a good picture by typing lambs quarter image in my browser. Anyone can do that. Even my 5 yo grandkid.

lamb's quarters are very tasty and nutritious. Better than spinach.

1 reply

What does lamb's quarter look like?

Please be careful when stripping inner barks; taking too much can effectively kill a tree. It's generally safer for the tree itself to stick with the needles.

WOW!! Awesome instructable. I've lived around most of these plants all my life and never knew that they were edible. I had some sassafras growing right out my bak door and wondered what in the hell it was for a long time before I cut it down thinking it was a weed. I'd never seen any plant with 3 different leaves before. And the maypops, we just always popped them. And dandelions, I actually knew they were edible but looked at them as a weed. LOL

3 replies

Sassafras leaves taste best the smaller the tree is, and they sort of taste like Fruit Loops when they're ready to eat. Also, the highly aromatic roots can be boiled into natural root beer in the field.

How do I know when they're ready to eat?? I ate one the other day and it didn't taste like anything to me. Wasn't bitter or anything. My daughter tried it and said it kinda tasted like Fruit loops but I think that might have been the power of suggestion. The plants are only about 6 inches tall right now.

They are ready to eat once they develop leaves. Sassafras tastes better in the spring to early summer and also taste best when the plant is under 6-10 feet. Your daughter is right, they do taste like fruit loops.

Uh, I would be careful when eating sassafras becasue it has a bunch of adverse reactions. This was taken from http://www.drugs.com/npp/sassafras.html

"Besides being a cancer-causing agent, sassafras can induce vomiting,
stupor and .... It can also cause abortion, diaphoresis, and
dermatitis."

5 replies

As one of my instructors said, these so called "adverse reactions" are mainly worst-case scenarios and usually just people who are allergic to the plant. If you are unsure, try a little of the plant before eating a whole meal of it.

That's true but some of the adverse reactions can't be undone like miscarriage; perhaps if the safe amounts to take are made availble (on the site) it would be useful. I myself use natural herbs daily, but the intake amounts and even the duration is very important. For example oregeno is excellent for wet coughs, but ingesting too much and for too many days can be unsafe. Anyway, thanks for taking the time to answer back - that was really considerate and all the best!

That's true but some of the adverse reactions can't be undone like miscarriage; perhaps if the safe amounts to take are made availble (on the site) it would be useful. I myself use natural herbs daily, but the intake amounts and even the duration is very important. For example oregeno is excellent for wet coughs, but ingesting too much and for too many days can be unsafe. Anyway, thanks for taking the time to answer back - that was really considerate and all the best!

That's true but some of the adverse reactions can't be undone like miscarriage; perhaps if the safe amounts to take are made availble (on the site) it would be useful. I myself use natural herbs daily, but the intake amounts and even the duration is very important. For example oregeno is excellent for wet coughs, but ingesting too much and for too many days can be unsafe. Anyway, thanks for taking the time to answer back - that was really considerate and all the best!

That's true but some of the adverse reactions can't be undone like miscarriage; perhaps if the safe amounts to take are made availble (on the site) it would be useful. I myself use natural herbs daily, but the intake amounts and even the duration is very important. For example oregeno is excellent for wet coughs, but ingesting too much and for too many days can be unsafe. Anyway, thanks for taking the time to answer back - that was really considerate and all the best!

Thank you!
I live in the more backwater part of central ky and I've been looking for something like this

It might be too much to ask where you are located but a lot of this can be found around here, it's nice to finally find a guide on not only what's safe to eat but also how to eat it