MANY KINDS of wild plants (weeds) can be used as food by humans. On the otheer hand, many can be harmful if eaten. The problem is corect identification of those that are good and those that are bad. It is a risky venture for someone with little or no experience.
Pokeweed is an example. The young shoots are delicious as greens, the roots when properly prepared furnish an important drug but when eaten raw are poisonous, and the purple berries are suspected of being dangerous.
On the other hand, the tender young shoots of lamb's-quarters are highly esteemed as greens, considered by some to be superior to spinach.
The roots of the dandelion furnish a useful drug, the leaves are used as greens and the flowers make an acceptable wine. The leaves of rough pigweed and tumbleweed are used as greens, and those of purslane, chicory, mustard and watercress to flavor a salad.
To take some risk out of harvesting wild plants, Dr. Richard A. Howard, of Harvard University's Arnold Arboretum, has prepared some safety rules. Although adults obviously are vulnerable, he said, our primary concern is with the inquisitive child.
Relatively small amounts of potentially toxic material can cause severe or even fatal consequences in a small body, said he, whereas the same volume might have little or no effect on a teen-ager or adult. He also says:
"Avoid eating all plants that have milky or colored juices; exceptions are the young shoots of milkweed and even lettuce, which has a milky juice.
"Avoid all unknown white or red fruits. Poison ivy, poison sumac and some species of baneberry have white fruits and are poisonous. Strawberries, apples and tomatoes are red, but these are known. The majority of unrecognized red fruits are potentially toxic.
"Avoid eating wild seeds, for the seed of the plant usually has the greatest accumulation of chemical which may be toxic.
"Avoid all fruits which are three-angled or three-lobed and thereby eliminate the potential dangers of spurge, soapberry, horse chestnut, amaryllis and lily families.
"Avoid all bulbs that lack the smell of onion or garlic. Some members of the lily and amaryllis and related families with basal bulbs may kill you if eaten in quantity.
"If you must experiment in eating unknown plant materials, it is a rule of safety to cook the plant parts in two changes of water. Then sample a little bit before consuming a lot. If the cooked material tastes unpleasant, don't eat it."