Never mind that the Midwest and the eastern portion of the nation has had a miserable winter and that the valleys of the Rockies barely had one. It is edging closer to spring and the time most of us hit the outback. Many will be once again trying to expand our survival skills. That is as it should be - learning how to survive from the land and all the good things nature has to offer - but there are things to be aware of (and to beware of).
There are some great looking plants and herbs, many of which look much like some of those things we have previously learned are good and nutritious. However, some of them can be nearly duplicated by plants that look like them but can make you very sick or even kill you.
Plant toxins such as alkaloids, glycosides, organic acids, alcohols, resins and
resinoids, when ingested either by eating or in teas or tinctures, are very dangerous.
Alkaloids are usually bitter tasting and affect the nervous system.
Glycosides contain cyanide, steroids that affect the heart, mustard oil that irritates the digestive tract and an ingredient that is a strong anti-coagulant. Plants like the water-hemlock contains an unsaturated alcohol that will kill you quickly.
Resins and resinoids can have compounds like those in marijuana that affect your nervous system. Some, like poison ivy, cause blisters and rashes. St. Johnís
wart can give you a bad reaction when you get into sunlight.
Plants just picked and eaten without washing and cleaning can be contaminated with pollutants such as selenium, nitrates,
molybdenum, animal waste, or even residues from the sprays used by ranchers and farmers, or the exhaust from ATVs.
Some of the plants you should study up on before harvesting natureís bounty are: cut-leaved anemone, baneberry (with red berries), yellow columbine, false azalea, common snowberry, all the sumacs like poison ivy, swamp laurel, false azalea, white rhododendron, arrow grass, camas (death camas even killed the Indians who depended on camas for food - they mistook some for edible camas), false hellebore (it can kill you quickly), blue flag (you have to be really hungry to get past the bitterness), water hemlock (two or three bites of the root will kill you - any hemlock will do the job), anemones and buttercups will make you wish youíd left them alone, Iíd stay away from pea vines and vetches too.
There are many other plants that are dangerous, not only to you but to your animals. The seem to really like locoweeds, spurge, and groundsels. Some of the others I have listed will also do in animals. Be sure to stake them out to feed where these plants are not in evidence.
Some of the plants listed may be good for medicinal purposes, but you need to know the differences before using them. It is best to carry one of the books that are out there that identify what is good and what is not, such as "Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Rockies" but Linda Kershaw, "Healing Plants" by Ana Nez
Heatherley, or Edible Wild Plants, A North American Field Guide" by Thomas S. Elias, and Peter A.
Dykeman. It is an Outdoor Life Book. There are numerous others but you should choose those written for the plants growing in the country you will be traveling in.
In the meanwhile, donít forget to have fun!