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To the untrained eye...

Scarlet Pimpernel - poisonousScarlet Pimpernel - poisonous

Can you tell a daisy from a dandelion? What about an Arum from an Allium?

 

Poisonous 'lookalikes' don't even need to look that much alike something edible to be dangerously confused to some well-intentioned foragers. To my husband all horses look alike, and the same could be said for my identification of most motorcycles... I often hear stories of plants that I wouldn't have believed could possibly be confused by someone yet have been, and unfortunately some of those people have died as a result.

Thankfully deaths from eating the wrong plant are very low considering the amount of people who practice foraging, in many cases it requires a very high quantity to cause death so more folks end up with a very sore belly than actually die, yet those that do are sadly often children. Since children are smaller it takes less to be a lethal dose and they're likely to experiment with things they find, and are also unlikely to be able to communicate exactly what it was they ate for the hospital to administer the appropriate treatment. You may have successfully removed all dangerous plants from your home and garden but you don't have the same control over what they may discover in woodland and parks, or even from a neighbouring garden to the school field. If anything this highlights the need to teach children how to properly identify plants from a young age, and especially to know what NOT to touch. The great thing is that in my experience kids catch on pretty quickly, much faster than adults!

 

Chickweed - edibleChickweed - edible

As a good example see the photos on the left, all parts of the Scarlet and Blue Pimpernels are poisonous yet when not yet flowering their foliage looks remarkably like the edible Chickweed which develops White flowers.

 

Who said that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing? It is clearly unwise to attempt to gather any plant you may have briefly read an article about without first checking out what sinister lookalikes exist, many of which may be growing alongside. Of course I want more people to get into foraging and to enjoy the health benefits of nutrient dense wild foods, foraging is an empowering way to connect more closely with nature and with the ancestors that trod these forested Isles before us, but at the same time I'd like people to be safe whilst doing so!

 

The solution is simply to practice caution, if the idea of living the good life and foraging for your own wild food has tickled your fancy then get yourself on a foraging course with a professional forager, buy a good identification book and gather only that which you are 110% sure is friend not foe.

 

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Sarah is an artist and writer with a lifetime interest in camping and survival techniques.

Living the #vanlife since before it was a hashtag and touring on two wheels with her husband Ryan, they have a wealth of camping and motorcycling knowledge to share, and know a thing or two about packing light! read more


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