Our ancestors both hunted animals and gathered food in the form of wild plants. But when I ask people today what they would eat if they were stuck in the woods, they mumble something about hunting, snares, fishing, bugs and so forth. Very few people ever know what plants are available to eat or where to find them.

That’s a shame, because wild edible plants abound in the northern hemisphere–especially in the springtime. Just think of all that food that cannot run, fly or swim away.

Spring offers us a great variety of wild greens, shoots, tubers and roots. Some of my favorites are dandelion greens and flowers; chickweed salad; spring beauty bulbs; trout lily leaves; and sassafras roots, which I use for tea and homemade root beer. These are delicious things, fresh from the wild.

But how do you know which plants are the right ones to pick and eat?
Well, here are a few guidelines that will help you:

• Make positive identification by using a good book, like the Peterson Field Guide to Wild Edible Plants.

• Know the poisonous plants and warnings about plants in your region.

• Know how to use the plants, what parts to use and when to use them.

• Wash your weeds to avoid the pathogens in the dung of birds, insects and other animals.

• Don’t collect near roads, dumps, power lines, train tracks or other contaminated areas.

• Eat only small amounts of plants that are new to you, and only after you have positively identified them.

• Try just one plant at a time at first, to determine any allergies you might have.

• And last but not least–if you are in doubt, DON’T eat it!

What are some of your favorite springtime wild edibles? Let us know in the comments.