Thursday, August 21, 2014

How to identify plants for eating or medical use?

Do you want to start collecting your own herbs for medicine or do you want to try edible weeds? Better find out how to identify plants before you go out picking flowers then. There are many websites and blogs about healing herbs and foraging in the wild but few of them offer you a way to identify the plants. Don't make the mistake to think you know a flower when you have seen a picture of it and don't get your knowledge from one article about it. I have recently seen a blog about herbal medicine which had a picture of white nettle in an article about stinging nettle. While in this case it probably won't harm you, it will not do any good either. So always check double on anything you find on the web. And honestly, I don't understand how someone who doesn't know the difference between white and stinging nettle thinks they are qualified to teach you about herbs. If you get confused by these two, you're not ready to forage in the wild and you certainly shouldn't try to teach others about it!

Now let's find out what you know about these flowers :

Did you just call them daisies? Then you should buy your herbs and not pick any yourself, but you probably knew that. 

Are you sure these are chamomile? Then you shouldn't go out to forage in the wild either.  You are at that dangerous crossroad where you do have some knowledge, but are not aware of what you don't know. 

Did you know the ones on the left are chamomile but thought there was something odd about the ones on the right? Then you can go out to pick some plants that you are sure about, in an environment that you know well, but like all of us, you should stay alert for differences.

Confused? The ones on the right are feverfew. They have wider petals that end flat, while chamomile has pointed petals. The yellow head is also shaped different. The green leaves of chamomile are threadlike, those of feverfew are more leaf-like. And if you where out there in the field you would notice they smell different when crushed.

So how to learn to identify plants? The best way is to go out often with a reliable guide.  But you can also start learning at home by reading about plants. Find out how to look for differences and which specifications matter.  Learn about the plant families. Like Fabaceae and Compositae. The Latin. Without the scientific names of plants you will get lost sooner or later, so better start learning them.  If you can say to which family a plant belongs on sight, you might not know what plant it is yet, but you will have mastered the knowledge to know what to look for in a plant and it well get easier from there.

But can you tell me to which subspecies this chamomile belongs? Then I bow to thee and please take me on a hike with you.

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