Hunger can make anything look like food. As winter wears on, the wild foods tend to become scarce. Squirrels finish off the last of the tree nuts, and other animals put a dent in the remaining wild forage. After awhile, the only stuff left out there is the stuff that nobody eats – neither man nor beast.
So if you get stranded out in the wild this winter, you’ll want to skip the following list of plants.
The pretty red berries of the American Holly can certainly look inviting. You might be tempted to taste them, especially after you see the birds gobbling them down. But remember that birds can tolerate poisons that would kill a human. Holly berries contain the toxin theobromine, and while fatalities are rare from holly consumption, there have been some documented deaths.
Horse Nettle plants are dead and dried during the winter, but their fruits can remain plump and juicy. The yellow colored, cherry tomato shaped fruits of Horsenettle could look like a meal to the uneducated forager. Their tomato looks should be a warning, though. The tomato’s family (nightshade) is full of wild relatives that are harmful to humans. The Horsenettle fruits and most other parts of the plant are poisonous to varying degrees from the toxic alkaloid solanine. Eating fruits can cause abdominal pain, and possibly lead to circulatory and respiratory depression. Just remember that there are no edible wild tomatoes in the lower 48.
The classic holiday decoration of mistletoe can be found growing wild in oak treetops throughout the East. One popular way to harvest it is with a shotgun. The appealing looking white berries should be your first warning. Generally speaking, almost all white berries on earth are toxic to humans. The berries and the leaves of this poisonous parasitic plant can cause gastrointestinal problems including stomach pain and diarrhea. Mistletoe can also cause a dangerously low pulse. Kiss under it, fine - but don’t eat it.
Tell us about your favorite wild plants to eat in winter; or if you have ever gotten a bad one, by leaving us a comment below.