Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Learning to forage and do other "old time" things with free lessons: TrackersNW

All whining aside, the reason I posted that lovely array of wild plants the other day is two-fold. First, wild plants thrive and reproduce without human intervention, which makes them great for a no-maintenance food forest. Second, native species thrive in the climactic patterns of the areas where they are growing (in my case, wet winters and springs followed by drought in the summer).

The biggest problem is learning how to identify the plants, as one plant may be edible, and another that looks just like it could be deadly. And, once you correctly identify a plant, you have to know how to prepare it. Parts of a plant may be poisonous, or it may need to be cooked to be made edible.

In any case, going out into the wilderness with someone that knows what they're doing is your best bet. If you don't have friends or family members who are familiar with local edibles however, it could get spendy.  Hundreds or even thousands of dollars spendy.

Well, the other day I overheard a comment about the work that Trackers NW is doing. They have seasonal and year-long classes on hunting, tracking, trapping, permaculture, wild plant identification, blacksmithing, and other "old time" skills. It's more than I can afford, to be sure (although I just found single day, single skill classes on the PDX site that are under $50.) But, I got excited when I found out that they offered free days. They're about once a month, and you have to make a reservation, but you get to check out Trackers NW for free, which goes to say something about their confidence in their service.

I'm definitely planning on checking out one of their free days, and since I'm especially interested in learning about wild edibles, I'll probably see if I can scrape up the extra $45 for the edible plants class. I'll probably end up putting off the whole "paying for a class" bit though until I know I'm going to be able to afford my rent. 

I definitely picked the wrong degree for that.

But, I have read two pretty good books on the subject of plant identification. Granted, books on plant identification are more of an appetizer than something you should use to make a definitive identification unless you can be 100% sure that there are no similar looking poisonous species. That disclaimer out of the way though, the two books I've read are Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places by "Wildman" Steve Brill (who also happens to have a pretty informative website) and The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants (which is quite extensive in both scope and breadth). There was also a good one on poisonous plants which was especially good, but I can't remember for the life of me which it was. Possibly Poisonous Plants of the United States by Walter Conrad Muenscher, but that's only a guess based on the books on poisonous plants offered by the university library. The other possibility is Toxic Plants and Other Natural Toxicants. In any case, it would be a good idea to get some book on poisonous plants since, in reality, it's more important to know what will kill you than it is to know what is good eats, as then you'll at least not die even if you do stumble across something less than palatable.

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