Harvesting and Marketing`''
Edible Wild Plants
Many people are familiar with picking sunflower.
and eating huckleberries and blackberries. They used
If you know what to look for, however, more than 250
you'll find forests and fields are veritable species of wild
grocery stores. Across the Pacific North- berries alone.
west, wild edible plants are available during These
most of the year. Leaves, seeds, fruits, people learned
roots, and tubers of many plants are edible. to harvest wild
Wildcrafting (gathering plants from the plants accord-
wild) or forest farming (managing woodlots ing to region,
0 to promote or encourage desired plants) can habitat, and season.
be interesting and tasty pastimes or supple- Through careful observa- l,%
mental income sources. If you're a small tion, Native Americans har-
landowner looking for a source of supple- vested wild crops at very specific stages to
mental income, then wildcrafting, forest minimize losses to wildlife and natural
farming, or herb farming are some ways to shedding (ripening and dropping). In the
use your property for this purpose. Pacific Northwest, regional tribes learned to
0 This publication will introduce you to
wild edible plants. It includes:
beat the birds to the hazelnuts by collecting
the nuts in early fall and allowing them to
An overview of historical and present ripen in storage. Crabapples, too tart to eat
uses freshly picked, were sweeter after winter
Identification of market opportunities storage. The cambium (inner bark) of
Processing and marketing hints several tree species (cottonwood, Douglas-
General cautions fir, and hemlock) served as emergency food
There's a lot to learn about wild edible in the spring. And various parts of a single
plants in order to make your experience plant, such as the young shoots, young seed
0 pleasant and safe. The references included
at the end of this publication will help you
heads, pollen, and roots of cattail, were used
at different times of the year.
Colonists introduced their own edible
learn more about finding, collecting, and
using wild edibles. plants, some of which escaped and natural-
ized. Lamb's quarter, curly dock, and
Uses past and present dandelion were introduced to the east coast
Native Americans throughout North by colonists. These plants are common
America used wild edible plants exten- across the country today, and sometimes are
sively and ultimately cultivated many considered pesky weeds.
vegetables we consider common today, for Today, wild edible plants are used mostly
example, corn, squash, beans, potatoes, and by individuals or in niche markets. Huckle-
berries are picked and made into jam,
OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY
EXTENSION SERVICE Steve Clements, Extension forestry assistant,
Oregon State University.
SPECIAL FOREST PRODUCTS
The market for harvesting and selling
candies, and ice cream for sale in specialty mar-
wildcrafted, fresh greens is limited because these
kets. Some wild greens, such as young nettle and
miner's lettuce, have found their way into upscale greens are delicate and spoil easily. Nevertheless,
wildcrafted greens can be marketed from woodlots.
restaurants and health food cuisine.
The problem doesn't seem to be availability or Miner's lettuce, wild onion, and stinging nettle are
variety of wild edibles, but informing consumers a few of the wild edible greens that grow in the
forests of the Pacific Northwest.
about the characteristics of these plants and getting
Two potential markets for wild greens are
wild produce to market in good condition. The
gourmet restaurants and grocery stores. Both of
majority of today's taste buds are more accustomed
these markets, however, have drawbacks. Restau-
to cultivated vegetables. Venturing into the realm
of wild edibles seems to be for only the adventur- rants are not dependable markets because they sell
wild edibles as fad or novelty foods. Grocery stores
ous connoisseur. There are possibilities, however,
in cultivating wild plants and refining handling and are more dependable than restaurants, but are
processing techniques to deliver tasty, quality affected greatly by general consumer tastes and
preferences. These markets can be enhanced
products to consumers.
through a major educational effort in conjunction
with marketing activities.
Market opportunities Marketing wild edible plants successfully in
Several categories of wild edible plants hold
rural areas depends on developing centralized
marketing opportunities, for example, edible wild
processing facilities. These facilities could handle,
fruits and nuts, cultivated wild herbs and spices for wash, dry, grade, and sift wildcrafted plants in bulk
flavoring or teas, and fresh greens, roots, and
to add value to the products. The facilities also
tubers. Margaret Thomas and David Schumann, in could be used to process and market local and
their publication Income Opportunities in Special regional farm crops and provide educational
Forest Products, suggest strategies for developing opportunities. Harvesting cooperatives, organized
markets in all these categories: like farmers' Grange halls, are a possible strategy
Where forests can be managed for wild fruit
for starting processing and marketing facilities.
trees and shrubs, a recreational U-pick operation
could be established. This strategy could center
Processing wild edible plants
around local festivals, native recipes and cook-
Wild edible plants are processed in several
ing traditions, and local history.
Another strategy for wild fruits and nuts is to stages: they are harvested, stored for fresh use, or
dried and stored. Details for each stage are different
sell cultivated native trees domestically and
for each plant species. In another book, Native
Herbs and spices offer opportunities for Plants of Commercial Importance, Richard Allan
wildcrafting or forest farming through direct Miller gives details for processing 10 plant species
marketing, such as roadside stands, U-pick located in the Pacific Northwest. The guidelines
operations, roadside markets, farmers' markets, that follow are based on Miller's book and on what
gift baskets, and mail order. is known about plants used by Native Americans.
Herbs offer a considerable potential in areas not
suited to more familiar farm crops. Richard Harvesting
Harvesting at the optimum time for each wild
Allan Miller discusses herb farming in his book
The Potential of Herbs as a Cash Crop. crop is the first step in proper handling and pro-
cessing. Two aspects are important: harvesting at
the right stage of maturity, and getting the product
to market as soon as possible after harvest. The
ideal time to harvest is in the cool of the morning
before a market delivery. If harvesting takes place
EDIBLE WILD PLANTS
during the day or evening, keep the wild produce in Cautions in using wild edible plants
cold storage overnight. Cautions about using wild edible plants revolve
Pick and handle wild produce with care. Prob- around the harvesting process. After you locate a
lems such as decay, visual defects, and water loss suitable stand of wild plants, consider the following
result from poor handling at harvest. factors before harvesting.
Storage Permission to harvest
Storage requirements are specific for different Be sure you have the landowner's permission to
types of wild edibles and for different parts of the harvest. If it is private land, obtain written permis-
plant. Some crops and parts need to be kept humid, sion and perhaps a contract to harvest and pay the
and others need to be dry. landowner.
Since very little food handling research has been Commercial harvesting on public lands requires
conducted on wild edible plants, little is known a permit. Check with your local Forest Service,
about specific storage requirements. You might Bureau of Land Management, or State Department
consider using storage guidelines for cultivated of Forestry office before harvesting wild edibles for
plants similar to the wild plant or plant part you're commercial sale. Harvesting wild plants from
harvesting; contact your county office of the OSU public lands for personal use may or may not
Extension Service for specific information. require a permit. Be on the safe side and inquire at
Temperature is the most important factor in the agency's local office.
controlling product quality. In a pinch, cover the
produce with wet newspaper or sheets to keep it Planning for regrowth
cool on short trips to the market. Ideally, use a Consider developing a plan to ensure wild plants
refrigerated truck. will continue to grow and reproduce in
In most cases, produce needs to be cooled the area after you've harvested; let's
rapidly after harvesting. Post-harvest cooling not call this a regrowth plan. At a mini-
only preserves quality, but provides marketing mum, the regrowth plan should
flexibility by eliminating the need to market include considerations for regenerat-
immediately after harvest. ing the plant and for minimizing
Storage areas and packing containers must be site impact. Developing and
free of diseased produce, so it's important to sort following a regrowth plan can
while harvesting or before storage. prevent overharvesting and
To avoid spillage and crushing, don't fill con- possibly endangering certain
tainers too full. wild edible plants. Conservation
and sustainable harvest prac-
Drying tices will ensure a steady
Many wild plants can be dried for flavoring or supply for many years.
teas. The drying process removes enough moisture Regenerating tech-
to prevent spoilage. When plants are dried properly, niques depend on the plant
they retain their color and fragrance, thereby reproduction process.
bringing a better price in the market. Spend some time learning
Drying is relatively easy, but must be done in not only how to use the
such a way that you preserve volatile oils (natural plant, but how and where it
flavors) and cosmetic appearance. Richard Allan grows. Find out whether the
Miller, in The Potential of Herbs as a Cash Crop, plant is perennial or annual,
outlines a procedure for drying that involves and if it reproduces by seed or
careful control of air flow and temperature to sprouts. For example, you might
assure a quality product.
leave scattered individual plants or clumps of For more information
plants standing. Brill, S., and E. Dean. Identifying and Harvesting Edible
Another consideration is how frequently an area and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild)
or parts of plants can be harvested. You might be Places (Hearst Books, 1994).
able to return to a favorite patch of wild edibles Elias, T.S., and P.A. Dykeman. Edible Wild Plants: A
every year, but in other cases, the patch may North American Field Guide (Sterling Publishing
require 2, 3, or more years to recover. Co., Inc, 1990).
Remember never harvest endangered plant Gibson, E. Sell What You Sow: The Grower's Guide to
species! Successful Produce Marketing (New World Publish-
Hall, A. The Wild Food Trail Guide (Henry Holt and
Make sure you have identified the plant cor- Miller, R.A. The Potential of Herbs as a Cash Crop
rectly. Many edible plants resemble poisonous (Acres U.S.A., 1985).
ones. One mistake can make you or your consumer Miller, R.A. Native Plants of Commercial Importance
sick or worse. (OAK, Inc., 1988).
Not only should you be sure of the plant's Both of the Miller hooks are available from OAK,
identity, but you should be sure you're harvesting Inc., 2185 SE Portola Drive, Grants Pass, OR 97526
the right plant part in the right season. Plant (541-476-5588).
Robinson, P. Profiles of Northwest Plants: Food Uses-
chemistry changes as plants develops, sometimes
Medicinal Uses-Legends, 2nd edition (Far West Book
changing plants from palatable and safe to disgust-
ing and sickening, or vice versa.
Thomas, M.G., and D.R Schumann. Income Opportuni-
Avoid harvesting in areas that have been sprayed ties in Special Forest Products (United States
with insecticides or herbicides, or in areas adjacent Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Agricul-
to heavy road traffic. Chemical residues, heavy ture Information Bulletin 666, 1993). Available for
metals, exhaust fumes, and dust reduce the quality, $13.00 from United States Government Bookstore,
taste, and safety of wild plants. 1305 SW First Avenue, Portland, OR 97201-5801.
Summary Additional copies
This publication provides the basics to under- If you would like additional copies of EC 1494,
standing the world of wild edible plants. The uses Harvesting and Marketing Edible Wild Plants, send
$ 1.00 per copy to:
and varieties of these plants are extensive, and
learning about all of these plants can take years. Extension & Station Communications
But the learning process has immediate rewards in Oregon State University
the form of expanded culinary choices, interesting 422 Kerr Administration
tastes, and potential sources of new income. The Corvallis, OR 97331-2119
reference list that follows will give you some good Fax: 541-737-0817
ideas on where to start, how to market your wares,
We offer discounts on orders of 100 or more copies
and where to watch for pitfalls. Whether you're of a single title. Please call 541-737-2513 for price
into wild edible plants for personal reasons or quotes.
profit, happy foraging! You can access our Educational Materials catalog and
many of our publications on the Web at eese.orst.edu
1998 Oregon State University. This publication may he photocopied or reprinted in its entirety for noncommercial purposes.
This publication was produced and distributed in furtherance of the Acts of Congress of May 8 and June 30, 1914. Extension
work is a cooperative program of Oregon State University, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Oregon counties. Oregon
State University Extension Service offers educational programs, activities, and materials-without regard to race, color, religion,
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required by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, and Section 504 of the
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