Posts tagged identification
Identifying Plants in Winter

Wintertime in the north is often seen as barren: birds fly south, animals go into hibernation, plants die or drop their leaves and go dormant. The landscape often looks grey, empty, and bleak. However, for the adventurous naturalist, winter can be as great a time of learning and discovery as other seasons. It is possible to practice plant identification in the winter; in fact, I encourage it! Learning to recognize plants year-round is a valuable skill that helps improve your foraging practice. To that end, I have created a short guide on getting started with winter plant identification! Unfortunately I can’t provide a comprehensive manual to identifying every single plant you’ll find in winter, but I can provide general guidelines and recommend resources to learn more.

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Purslane Identification

Learn more about purslane and other common wild edibles at my upcoming web event, Eat Your Weeds! Registration closes Friday, July 27th at 12pm, so reserve a spot today!

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) is a common plant of open, sunny areas, such as gardens, yards, and roadsides. It’s not picky about its habitat— you can find it growing in gravel, sidewalk cracks, disturbed soil, and other “waste places.” It is commonly found across the lower 48 states, Hawaii, and all the southern Canadian provinces. 

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Yew: The Hedgerow Poisoner

Yew (Taxus spp.) is a good example of why eating samples of unknown plants is not always a safe practice. This shrub is commonly planted in front of houses, apartments, and businesses; however, nearly every part of the plant is extremely toxic. Just a few berries can lead to serious poisoning or even death. But don't let that scare you away from wild edibles! Yew is easy to differentiate from edible evergreens, as long as you pay attention to key identification features.

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Yarrow: An Herb for What Ails Ya

It is no understatement when I say that yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is one of my all-time favorite herbs. Over the years, I've used it for many purposes: healing wounds, fighting infections, breaking fevers, aiding digestion, easing painful menstruation, and more. It's a common plant that's easy to find in rural and urban environments-- a gift of healing that's free for the picking!

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Red Raspberry Leaves

Pretty much everyone knows that red raspberries are edible and choice. But it's not as commonly known that the leaves are medicinal and make a great tea! Some of you have probably seen raspberry leaf sold in co-ops and specialty stores. But why pay $5 for a box of tea when you can pick them for free? Read on to learn how to identify red raspberry bushes before they flower.

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Identifying Lamb's Quarters

Lamb's Quarters (Chenopodium album) is a common plant found across all of North America and in all fifty states. There exist several varieties; the most common being Chenopodium album var. album, which grows all over the United States and much of Canada, and originated from Eurasia. Some varieties, such as Chenopodium album var. missouriense, are considered native to certain areas in the US. Regardless of the variety, they are all edible and choice! Furthermore, the varieties are similar enough that the following characteristics can be used to identify them all. (In fact, there is debate among taxonomists about whether they are actually just the same species with variable traits.)

But enough of the technicalities! Here's what you need to know to accurately identify the plant.

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Stung by the Nettle

My earliest memory of nettles involves blissfully running through an open forest, only to be assaulted by an itchy, stinging sensation all over my bare legs. My Papa informed me it was "Brennnessel," the German word for stinging nettle, which translates literally as "burning nettle." In fact, its name all across Europe alludes to this irritating quality. It has provoked the ire of gardeners, hunters, and outdoor enthusiasts across the world. However, for centuries (at least) it has also captured the love of herbalists and foragers, due to its medicinal properties, strengthening nutrients, and delicious taste. 

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Pineappleweed: A Modest Morsel

Pineappleweed (Matricaria discoidea) is a humble wildflower of roadsides, lawns, and trail edges that can be found across nearly all of North America. (In the US, it is only not reported in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama.) A relative of German chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla), pineappleweed flowers have a sweet, fruity, pineapple-like smell when crushed. Like chamomile, it is used medicinally as a sedative, an antispasmodic, and an anti-inflamatory.

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