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Fields, Forests & Wetlands Foods of Eastern North America

A Complete Wild Food Guide

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Know what you are picking. Get the right books or study pictures and descriptions of the plants mentioned on this site on the internet and have someone who can show you without doubt. If you are not sure, and you are going to harvest one of the plants mentioned and eat it, follow the links, look at many pictures and know the plants that can look like it. Some plants can make you very ill and some can kill, so, when in doubt: throw it out. Also make sure you know the common poisonous plants so you can avoid them. This can take time, and if you are not willing to put in the effort, I do not suggest just hoping for the best and going out and picking what's around.

Take precautions to avoid ticks. Black-legged ticks (Ixodes scapularis) carry Lyme disease, and it can be nasty. Flu like short term, and serious long term health issues are possible. This is not a small issue. Any walk in the woods or fields can bring you into their territory. Often, the same people who want to eat healthy, clean foods are the same ones who will not use DEET based repellents. I don't personally agree with that. I feel the Lyme disease is a far worse health threat than DEET. I would rather not use DEET myself, but if it comes to having Lyme disease or using DEET, I know which way I go. If there are alternative products you trust to replace DEET, at least use them instead of nothing.

What I suggest, is tucking your pants into your socks and spraying your clothing at the very least. Hopefully, if a tick does land on you, the DEET will make them jump off instead of trying to find a way in to skin. If you are going to go into these areas in shorts because it is hot, I really do suggest putting insect repellents on. Ticks get on you when you rub plants as you walk by. So, open paths with no plants rubbing you are safer that walking through overgrown fields where you are brushing against everything. Laying down in a field exposes you as well. Get to know all the Barberry shrubs. They attract Black-legged ticks, and your chance of getting a tick on you is greatly increased by close contact with this shrub. It is very common in both urban and rural environments, as the Japanese Barberry is a very common border shrub sold at nurseries.

Be careful of "simple rules". One of the worst I've heard is, "If you can peel the skin off the top of a mushroom, it is safe to eat". This is not true, and there are many of these simple rules floating around. You have to know each plant, one by one. Another one of these rules is, "“Leaves of three, let it be”" for Poison Ivy. But if all you know about it is that, and you touch the red hairs on a vine on the trunk of a tree, or rub your face through the leaves of a Poison Sumac tree which doesn't fit the rule, that rule isn't much help to you. If you don't know for sure what it is, and if it is safe, do not eat it, and don't touch it - especially true in areas where the land is damp most of the year. Sometimes the people who use simple rules have been lucky, but don't chance it.

Start by knowing one plant well, then move on to another. Over time you will build a solid understanding. Simple rules just stand in the way of that solid understanding.

Oxalic Acid in Foods

Many common foods contain oxalic acid in varying amounts. Oxalic acid can turn into calcium oxalate in the body, the main constituent of most kidney stones. Some plants are so high in oxalic acid that they are considered poisonous - Rhubarb leaves for example. Many plants have levels that are safe for the average person (if normal amounts are eaten), but a person with kidney function issues, who are prone to kidney stones, or who have certain other health conditions can be negatively affected, in some cases seriously.

Oxalic acid is soluble in water, so if you cook a food in water and pour the water away, the levels of oxalic acid will be reduced - how much seems to be a matter of some controversy. Also a matter of debate is whether cooking reduces the total absorbed oxalates. I have read articles saying yes, for sure, and I have read articles saying no, not at all.

From my own research, after developing kidney stones a few years ago, there is still uncertainty if oxalic acid and oxalates are the sole cause of kidney stones, but at the very least there seems to be a correlation. I provide this information just as a "heads up" so you can look into it further and make informed decisions for yourself.

I've included two links to search engine results for "Foods high in oxalic acid" below. If you have had kidney stones, or have kidney function issues, or have a family history of either, I strongly suggest, at the very least, investigating this issue further. I can tell you, kidney stones are very painful to pass, so I want to help anyone avoid getting them.

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Important Notes when Identifying
Some Cautions
Dangerous Plants to Avoid Touching

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