Knowing your good plants and your bad plants can be a great tool for surviving in the wilderness, or just for maximising the usefulness of your garden. It might be hard to believe but the UK forestland has an abundance of edible plants and leaves and plants that can help you through a tight scrape. However there are also plants that are slightly less helpful, so it is important that you know the difference.
Pig Nut – Good
So called because pigs love to dig them up and eat them. They can be found growing among bluebells but are far more useful to wandering campers than the bluebell. The whole of the pig nut is edible, as the leaves can be used for salads or as a garnish, whereas the root can be stripped of its hard shell and eaten raw or cooked. It is said to have a carrot-like taste and can be quite good.
Watch out! Looks Like
Bluebell Bulb – Bad
While not a very poisonous plant, you certainly wouldn’t want to mistake this for a pig nut! It can also be mistaken for an onion and will cause nausea, diarrhoea and vomiting. It lowers the heart rate and in larger doses it can cause cardiac arrhythmias, so take care and make sure what you are picking is in fact a pig nut, and not the bulb of a bluebell before you eat it!
Agarius Macrosporus – Good
A large white mushroom, the macrosporus grows in pastures, lawns and other grassy areas and can be found in rings or on its own. It has a thick flesh and tastes and smells slightly of aniseed, making it a good choice for adding subtle flavour to your food.
Watch out! Looks Like
Agarius Xanthodermus – Bad
This can often be found in woods, gardens and hedgerows and looks a lot like the Macrosporus, however it has yellow ‘stain like’ markings towards the base of the head of the mushroom. If ingested, this mushroom can cause sweating, flushing and in the worst case extreme gastrointestinal problems. Avoid!
Doc Leaves – Good
These large cool leathery leaves can be found hanging around patches of stinging nettles. In the past they were used for a variety of purposes, including previously called ‘butter leaves’ where they were used to wrap and conserve butter. They are also edible although today they are more widely used as a direct remedy for stinging nettles.
Good to use on
Stinging Nettles – Bad
An extremely widespread weed found all across the UK, stinging nettles will cause immediate discomfort in the form of itchy, stinging skin that will raise and rash slightly. Covered in tiny bristles, these needle like hairs will stick into you when you brush past the needle, triggering the aforementioned side effects. Very nasty.
Hairy Bittercress – Good
Commonly thought of as a weed and often found in the back garden, this poor little plant is often pulled up as a nuisance to well-meaning gardeners. However it makes a great alternative to watercress, there is no possibility of you getting ill from contaminated water. All parts of the flower can be used and eaten in salads and sandwiches, making it a useful little plant to have around.
Leave in the Garden! Instead get rid of
Ivy – Bad
Although often more harmful to other plants than to humans, its sap can be irritating for sensitive skin. It often draws nutrients from the plants around it and for this reason can easily kill other plants from strangulation, leaving trees to die. If you have ivy in your garden and you want to cultivate different plants and trees, cut it down!
Tomatoes – Good
Naturally everyone loves tomatoes! Bright red and slightly squishy when ripe, tomatoes are a staple for many salads, Italian dishes, soups and more. Of course tomatoes are perfectly edible, but you want to make sure that you definitely have a tomato as many other members of the ‘tomato’ family count as poisonous plants.
Watch out! Looks Like
Tropical Soda Apple/Horse Nettle – Bad
Starting out as a mottled green fruit and turning either red or yellow when ripe, these plants look suspiciously like tomatoes. They are all toxic to humans however in some cases the green plants are more toxic whereas in others the red or yellow ‘ripe’ plants are more toxic. Eating these will cause abdominal paint and in some cases make you short of breath or even decrease your heart rate.
Of course it may take a little while to get used to recognising different plants for what they are, but you can always take a few photos if you are planning on trying out your ‘survival skills’ to make sure you don’t mistake one plant for another. It is all very well living off plants and nuts, but if in doubt, don’t eat it!