Foraging Rules: ITEMize

I realized I’ve put up a few posts now that direct y’all to forage plants for food, but I’d entirely forgotten to set down some foraging basics. Many of the people who read have some foraging experience, but I’m sure there are also plenty coming to these pages who have never foraged.

Given that, here are the basic rules in an easy acronym as I learned them many years ago. Hat tip to Green Deane at the YouTube channel EatTheWeeds, who I’m pretty sure was the first to introduce me to these rules in this fashion.

I – identify.

Make sure you absolutely know what it is you’re foraging. I can’t tell you how often on internet forums well-meaning people will jump in to grossly mis-identify something because it shares one or two qualities but ignore every other signifier. No not every fuzzy leaf is mullein or comfrey. As an herbalist I used to work for said, there are no “look alikes”, only “look similars”.

T – timing.

Plants, fungi, and lichens go through seasonal changes. If you think you’re looking at something that usually blossoms in the fall but it’s doing so in the spring, it might not be what you think.

E – environment.

Similar to the above, a plant that’s growing in the wrong spot is probably not the thing you think it is. Someone might confuse the umbels of Queen Anne’s Lace for the umbels of water hemlock. Aside from a number of other differences, the former grows in dry places and the latter in very wet ones.

M – method.

Even plants, lichens, and fungi that are edible some of the time aren’t edible all of the time. Elderberries need to be cooked, and (most) acorns need leaching, for example.

So remember to “ITEMize” when you’re unsure of what you’ve found, and when possible double check with an expert.

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