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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Plant Identification

When one thinks about all the plants in front of them, it can be a bit overwhelming by the fact they all have a name. And you have to learn those names, plus what the plant use is…Wow, that can be a daunting task if you want to make it so.
1993 is when I first met Christopher Nyerges and it was a wild foods cooking class. I had a ball. However, my goal was to really learn more about plant identification. Oh, I had been to other instructors over the years, but not much stuck, or they knew a little more than I did already. I recall I said something to Christopher along the lines of, it is kind of overwhelming to learn all those plants. He gave the best advice about plants and it applies to many things, and that was, “you learn one plant at a time” and “if you retain or learn two or three new plants a week you are doing well”. My original goal was to really learn about 25 plants, and that, I felt, would be enough. Little did I know that I would get hooked and those 25 plants were just the start of a continuing quest to learn more. Once I knew those plants, it left a whole lot more. Thankfully, Christopher is a natural teacher, just born that way I guess …he makes it very interesting.
In his book ” Guide To Wild Foods, in the footsteps of our ancestors” he details the plants with a lot of line drawings and great comments about each plant. I complained about the line drawings and he set me straight. Once you get to know certain things, the line drawings will help more than many pictures will. Turned out that was true. Trying to learn all the plants with just a book, however, is a hard thing to do. Nothing beats a real live instructor in the field with you.
Once you get to know a lot of plants, the books come into play because you have a foundation to work from. I remember sitting down with Christopher and being able to I.D. every plant included in his book, with the exception of one plant I had never seen in person, “catnip”. Wow I knew over 70 plants and what their uses were. I felt good about that knowledge and no one can take that away from me.
It is about learning one plant at a time, just as you learned plants one at a time as little kid; That is a watermelon, those are carrots, that is a radish, that is a cabbage, that is a tomato and so on.. You learn where many plants will grow, the best conditions they grow under and the difference’s in the same plant when it has more shade or more sun light, what the plant looks like when it is dead and what it looks like as a very young greeny thing just poking out of the ground. This all takes countless hours, days and months that turn into years in the field tramping out and about. Nothing is easy and there are no shortcuts to learning the plants. You need dedication and a get up and do it attitude, most of it is fun and the end result is very rewarding IE: example in that the Halcon, Christopher and I, are speeding down the road at 80mph— Halcon driving —and we are naming plants as we whiz by and then slamming on the brakes. ” is that what we think it is?” backing up at 50 and confirming what we saw at 80. Or knowing what you can add to your wild food salad helped along by Trader Joes dressing , making soups and tea from stinging nettles, owning the knowhow for a sore throat just filling your pot for a wild lunch, foraging as you travel along for that noonday meal.
The point of all of this is you have to start someplace. It won't just happen. The cool thing is that Christopher’s book is being upgraded in a new edition with more info and color pictures, due out very soon.. Also, if I can do it so can you. Where ever you live, track down those with plant knowledge and learn in the field with the help of a great guide, like Christopher’s book. And after all these years I am proud that Christopher is a real friend and partner.
Plant I.D. is or should be a part of your survival knowledge base. After all, it will feed you and help with sickness and injuries.

By Dude McLean


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