Wildcrafting: Foraging for wild food: is there an app for that?
I’ve been delighted to use my smartphone in the field to positively identify a plant that is new to me. I have Googled plant images, I’ve also Facebooked a photo and asked friends for help to identify the plant I post. To best use Google, it helps to be able to guess possible plant names. For the Facebook option, you need to have friended plant people who also spend lots of time on line. There are some better options.
In the area around New York City there is a guy who leads field walks, writes books, does lots of interviews, and now has a downloadable app for iphone and android.
Wildman Steven Brill has attracted a fair amount of attention after being arrested for foraging in Central Park, and then later being hired by the park service to teach people about foraging in Central Park. I haven’t yet met him in person but we’ve corresponded a bit. He is a genuine character (perhaps all foragers are to some extent), who is generous with his knowledge, enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and uses his slightly nerdy and awkward sense of humor as a teaching tool. It works.
His application can be downloaded for iphone and Android in the “lite” version, or upgraded for $7.99 to a larger data base. It is a great reference to have in the field, outlining more than 150 plants that he finds common, useful, available without too much trouble and, of course, tasty. It is available from WinterRoot LLC, searchable as “Wild Edibles” and called "WildEdibles with Wildman Steven Brill."
Steve has thoroughly addressed one of the common fears for new foragers: "Can this kill me?" Each plant listed includes poisonous look-a-likes and possible toxic parts to the plant. The photos help with identification, as well as additional line drawings. The Latin name is also given, so you can look further.
The app is more of a “what to look for” guide rather than a “what is this” plant guide. That seems to make it especially appropriate for people who want to learn a bunch of great local plants to eat, as well as some medicinal information. Steve speaks more from personal experience when it comes to food, less so with the medicinal info offered.
The written descriptions for each plant range from fairly dry scientific wording to bits of personalized comments and Steve’s odd but effective humor that includes references to The Three Stooges and a medicinal plant being found and used on a planet in a “Star Trek” episode. His firsthand experience with identifying, harvesting and eating the plants is the most valuable part.
The plants in both the lite and “for pay” versions are listed by common name, with a good photo next to each plant. There is a search function, but it doesn’t currently include searching for scientific (Latin) names. Dandelion is listed as “common dandelion” with many others using “common” as the first word, so a lot of plants aren’t where I thought the would be. With the relatively small data base it isn’t too much of an issue, but it can be confusing.
Overall the app is useful, very friendly and very well organized. Perfect for in-the-field use as well as casual perusing when you have a few minutes with your smart phone and nothing to do. There are lots of ways to prepare and eat the plants listed, you'll learn a lot about cooking as well!
Steve has also produced a number of series of flash cards to learn wild foods, available as free downloadable apps. His book Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places is also available from his website, and I’ve found it to be informative, easy to read, and well worth the money spent. If you order the book directly from Steve, he will sign it for you.
His website is a little hard to navigate, with lots of information on the first page, look to the left hand column under “for sale.” There is a lot of information there, available for free, so it is worth spending some time browsing around and returning for reference.
He has also done lots of video interviews that are online, so that you can watch him lead people through parks, sometimes be confronted by park rangers, and have groups of people taste different foods.
I’m happy to support this “Wildman” and his work. I’d recommend you check out the “lite” version and, if you like it, invest the $7.99 for the full application. I’ve also found Steve to be enthusiastic, responsive, and innovative in his work and writing and the bit of personal communications we’ve had. The applications he is developing are being upgraded and improved as he can. This review is based on the android application, most recent version.
Full disclosure: I have not received any compensation or consideration for this review, and have paid for the products mentioned.