Edible Wild Plants

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					                                                                                          EC 1494
                                                                                     February 1998

    Harvesting and Marketing`''
    Edible Wild Plants
    S. Clemenis

        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,

           EXTENSION SERVICE                        Steve Clements, Extension forestry assistant,
                                                    Oregon State University.

                                                             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-
                                                                           ing, 1994).
                                                                        Hall, A. The Wild Food Trail Guide (Henry Holt and
                                                                          Company, 1976).
    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-
                                                                            Service, 1979).
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
                                                                           Publication Orders
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

                1998 Oregon State University. This publication may he photocopied or reprinted in its entirety for noncommercial purposes.

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