Eating Around the World-- Adventures in Foraging and Wild Edibles in NE Florida

Edible Florida Beauty Berry

If you were to become lost in the woods, would you know enough about the local flora to live off the land until you were found?

Do you know which plants are edible and which are poisonous where you live?

Do you have what it takes to survive?

While I have no plans to forage for survival any time soon, the back-to-the-earth food movement fascinates me and I was excited to learn more about foraging and Florida's wild edibles with St. Johns County Naturalist AyoLane Halusky.  The kids and I started our school day with an introductory wild edibles class at Alpine Groves Park along the St. Johns River in NE Florida.

One doesn't have to trek far into the mountains to forage for food. There are wild edibles all around us.  One must consider pesticides and pollutants before popping a leaf into their mouth though. Our friendly naturalist guide recommended being extremely cautious: "When I find a plant, I look it up in a book, then locate it in another book. Then, ask a naturalist. Always check at least three sources." 

Even among safe plants, some parts may be edible while other parts of the same plant are poisonous. Some edible plants have poisonous look-alikes as well. Our guide talked about becoming a careful observer and learning how to successfully identify plant species.  The kids learned the value of drawing, taking a picture of, pressing, or making a spirit print (rubbing) of a leaf as well as specific characteristics to notice, like leaf shape, stem, roots, buds, flowers, seeds, where it grows, and what time of year it blooms. Becoming a good observer leads to successful and safe foraging.

It's vital to invest in some quality nature guides. AyoLane recommended some great ones:

Respecting nature is also vital when it comes to finding wild edibles. Our guide taught us never to gather more than 1/3 of a resource. If we come across a big patch of blackberries, for example, it would be greedy to take all of them for ourselves. If we take it all for ourselves, what will the animals eat? The kids were reminded that we're part of a complicated and interconnected ecosystem. Moderation is good in all things. We also learned that we should give plants time to recover before returning to harvest from the same spot a second time.

The kids learn about the medicinal uses of the Common Plantains

One need not look far to find plenty of useful plants in Ne Florida. Some are nutritious. Some are medicinal. Others are a combination of the two. We learned about poultices and wound care and discussed uses for a variety of local plants. Some common edible varieties in Ne Florida include: beautyberry, blackberry, blueberry, bull brier, cattail, crabapple, dandelion, daylily, dollar weed, elderberry, grapevine, greenbriar, hickory, acorns, passion vine, pine, plantain, sabal palm, saw palmetto, and swap needle. This list is certainly not extensive.  The natives utilized many of these and appreciated their medicinal and healing powers. It's incredible how science is rediscovering the power of plants. "Science is just starting to prove what the natives knew," AyoLane taught us.

We also discussed the impact invasive plants have on our environment and practiced recognizing and naming plant species along the trail. The kids learned so much. Even my teen enjoyed our morning adventure, though she had been resistant to attend something so "boring." We came away with a much greater appreciation for our local environment and the incredible variety of edible and medicinal plants Mother Nature provides us.

We're nowhere near ready to survive in the wild, but we do have a greater appreciation for the plants  around us and are better equipped to observe, record, and identify those we come across in our nature journals.  We strive to become more knowledgeable citizen scientists and informed hikers. The kids and I can't wait to attend another free class with our local naturalist program. We look forward to getting back out there with AyoLane this fall, hopefully with our homeschool community in tow. Every kid deserves the opportunity to be exposed to nature and learn to fall in love with, appreciate, and respect the miraculous bounty Earth provides.

 You can find more information at their website:

Spanish Nettle


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