Foragers Beware and Be Educated - Learn to Recognize the Signs of Sprayed Plants


In foraging, it may be more important to know what plants shouldn't be eaten, than it is to know which plants are edible.  When I was out for my ride today, I saw that a lot of the spring growth in the area had been sprayed with herbicide for the first time.  And it made me glad that I'm out on my bike so often.  Cycling my area on a regular basis gives me an advantage here, because I'm intimately aware of which areas have been "managed" by humans, and which are free of their influence.

But even if unfamiliar to an area, you should know how to recognize plants which have been sprayed.  Plants which have been sprayed with weed killer can be green, yellow, or brown.  They inevitably look wilty, but I've noticed that they wilt in a way which makes them look as if they've melted in a fire.  Their stems are often twisted and curled.  This is quite different from how plants react when they've been burned or dried by the sun.  Sun-baked plants simply look dried out and browned, whereas sprayed plants tend to look tortured and deformed.

If you know or even suspect a plant has been sprayed, don't eat it.  Don't eat any plants that surround it, at any time of year, or any year thereafter.  And even if you don't see any of the browning and wilting associated with weed killer, be wary of plants that have absolutely no bug holes, and no bugs around them, as they may have been sprayed with insecticide.

crusty, dead, brown leaves

curling, withered stems

yellow leaves

And while you are learning to recognize which plants have been sprayed with weed killer, it's also good to learn which poisonous plants are most plentiful in your region.  In my immediate neighborhood, there is poison hemlock everywhere.  It looks green and inviting, even through a good part of the winter, but it is a plant that shouldn't be messed with.  When I take people out foraging with me, it's one of the first plants I teach them to identify.

poison hemlock

poison hemlock


None of this is meant to scare anyone.  Foraging can absolutely be done in both a safe and responsible manner, even within city limits.  The lesson here is to know your area, know your plants, and to be informed and observant.

As an interesting footnote to this post, I'd like to add that all of these pictures were taken at a busy playground near a pediatric outpatient clinic.  I find it mind-boggling that they sprayed the bejeezus out of the dandelion, dock, thistles, and mustards, but left the poison hemlock untouched.

I'm sharing this with Real Food Wednesday.

Comments

  1. Oy. Good to know! And so close to a playground?

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  2. If anyone else out there has telltale signs of sprayed plants that they watch out for, please feel free to add them in the comments.

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  3. not necessarily "sprayed" plants (which most often just don't look right), but I like to look around an area to see that the normal insects are there, dig in the soil to look for worms and other normal critters, listen for frogs and such in ponds, and peruse the area looking for telltale signs of creepy like rusted old barrels, paint cans, buckets. I figure old barn foundations probably had barns painted with ledd paint and don't collect from around them.

    I once, while checking out a field full of mullein, discovered that the entire meadow (maybe 10 acres?) appeared to have at one time been covered up with some kind of synthetic weed barrier that the weeds eventually grew through. But not a trace soil without that weird fiber in it...

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  4. Thank you, Jim. Great tips. So smart to take in the whole of a micro-climate and ask, are things living and dying as they should here?

    I hadn't thought about the problem of paint contamination from older buildings.

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  5. Butter, when I find a plant that is covered in powder, I avoid like mad!

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  6. Lead paint contaminating soil is a HUGE problem where I live. In my area, people aren't even supposed to grow a vegetable garden in their soil without digging down 3 feet and replacing all the soil with uncontaminated soil or doing a raised bed. Needless to say, it's not safe to forge.

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  7. Ack, I posted a whole comment and then google ate it! This is great information and so important. I got some hairy bitter cress from my mother's lawn and then a week later she had it sprayed and now I cant harvest anything! boo hooo. hugs! Alex

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  8. that is just crazy that they left the poisonous plants but sprayed the edible stuff - just another example of how backwards our world is!

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  9. Good point, Penny! They tend to use the liquid stuff around here, so I forget about the powder.

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