Understanding Plant Life Cycles
Annuals reproduce by seed and complete their life cycle in one year. The annual life cycle is further divided into summer annual and winter annual plants. Summer annuals germinate in spring or early summer, grow vegetatively, flower and produce seed and die in late summer or fall. Winter annuals germinate in late summer and fall. They grow vegetatively and go dormant with the arrival of cold weather. In the spring they continue to grow vegetatively early and then switch to a reproductive phrase during which they flower and produce seed. After flowering, they die with the onset of warm weather.
Biennials reproduce by seed and complete their life cycle in two years. Biennials germinate in spring to early summer and grow vegetatively forming a leaf rosette at the end of the first growing season. After over-wintering as a rosette, the biennial plant resumes growth, flowers, produces seed and completes the life cycle in the second growing season.
Perennials live for three or more years and reproduce by seed and vegetative propagules including roots, rhizomes, stolons, tubers, and bulbs.
The General Rules Of Thumb For Gathering Edibles In Season
- Gather leaves in spring and summer
- Gather roots in winter and for some, late fall and winter
- Gather fruits in late summer and fall
- Gather seeds after flowering in late summer and fall
When you gather, bring a container or basket, a tool for cutting the plants or a digging stick, trowel or shovel for gathering roots. The methods are a little different for gathering each plant and its parts simply because each plant is unique. There's nothing quite like sitting down to a meal made from ingredients that you harvested yourself directly from mother nature!
The Universal Edibility Test
There is a way to test plants to find out if they are edible -
- Don't eat for 8 hours before the test.
- Separate the parts of the plant - stems, leaves, roots, ﬂowers and buds, and- ONLY TEST ONE PLANT PART AT A TIME.
- When you try the plant eat nothing except puriﬁed water and the plant part you are testing
When The 8 Hours Is Up -
1. Place only the part you are testing on the
inside of your elbow or wrist for about 15 minutes to see if you get an allergic reaction to it on your skin.
2. Touch a small portion of the plant you are testing to your lip before you eat it - if it burns or itches, do not eat it!
3.If after 3 minutes there is no reaction to it, place the plant part on your tongue and hold it there for 15 minutes. If there's no reaction, thoroughly chew a VERY SMALL AMOUNT and hold there WITHOUT SWALLOWING for 15 minutes. If no burning, itching, numbing, stinging, or other irritation occurs, swallow the plant.
4. Wait 8 More Hours. If any ill effects occur, make yourself vomit and drink a lot of water. If no ill effects occur, eat about a quarter cup of that plant part and wait another 8 hours. If no ill effects occur, the plant is safe for eating
*Never assume that all of a plant’s parts are edible. Test each part separately.
Plants You Should Avoid(In General)
- Ones with milky or discolored sap
- Beans, bulbs, or seeds inside pods
- Ones with bitter or soapy taste
- Anything with spines, ﬁne hairs, or thorns
- LEAVES OF THREE - LET THEM BE, TWO OR FOUR- TEST BEFORE
General Foraging Information
Know where the best food is, depending on where you live.
Keep in mind that if you live in a humid region, the majority of wild food will be in the sun. In a dry region, such as the Southwest, most of the wild food will be near water.
You can start with the number-one habitat for wild edible plants - your lawn.
Any place that is regularly cleared or disturbed is loaded with weeds such as dandelion, chickweed, plantain, wild onion, violets, wood sorrel, henbit, clover, and sow thistle - all of which are 100% edible.
All grass is edible, just make sure that it's indeed grass.
Anything under 6" is easy to chew and digest. The flavor ranges from intensely sweet to mild to bitter - anyone who's tasted a shot of wheatgrass knows just how sweet grass can be. Older grass is harder for our systems to digest, so grass that's over 6" can either be chewed for juice and spit out, or run through a manual wheatgrass juicer for a healthy shot.
Be thoughtful and conservative in your harvesting.
Take no more than 1/3 of a stand of plants so that they may continue to propagate. This is the method that ancient people's used so that the plant could be harvested again year after year. That's pretty smart if you ask me.
If You Are Uncertain On Any Of The Following, Don't Harvest. Get Assistance From A Professional Botanist, Naturalist, Or Herbalist
Know the species and positively identify Use recommended field guides and use only scientific names for proper identification. Many plants have the same common name but one may be radically different than another (Sumac, for example, can be beneficial or poisonous depending on the species). Always know the plant family because it may also be a potential allergen.
Know the environment
Be certain that the area where the plants are growing is clean and free of potential toxins or wastes. For example, never harvest plants from along side a well used trail - people often walk with their dogs, or ant poison might be used there. Also, be cautious along roadsides, as salt, asphalt, and oil might be prevailant. And, be sure you are not in an industrial, conventional farms or livestock area due to runoff.
Know when to harvest
The beneficial properties of a plant may be best at a certain time during the growing cycle. For example, Dandelion greens are best before the plant flowers. Sometimes a plant can become toxic after a certain point (Milkweed, May-apples). Some plants should be harvested in a specific year (particularly true for biennials).
Know the plant's purpose
What effects will the plant have on the physical system? Be sure you know all the potential uses of the plant. Some plants have natural stimulant properties, others depressants, some are diuretic and cathartic, some have multiple uses (often depending on which part is used). Also, do your "due diligence" so that you are aware of any potential interactions with medications or other herbal preparations you are using.
Know which part to use
Some plants are usable in their entirety while others may have poisonous constituents (i.e. rhubarb).
Know how to prepare them
Plants can have a wide range of preparatory requirements. Some plants require preparation before consumption (nettles) while others lose all benefits from being over-processed.
Credit For Content -
California Cadet Corps
Edible Wild Plants - A North American Field Guide To Over 200 Natural Foods
University of Massachusetts - Amherst Extension