Identifying Plants with Young Children

July 22nd, 2010 by Dionna | 17 Comments
Posted in Adults, Children, Compassionate Advocacy, Eclectic Learning, Ecological Responsibility and Love of Nature, Environmentalism, Guest Posts, Just for Fun/Miscellaneous, natural parenting, Preschoolers, Teens, Toddlers

Today I would like to welcome Melodie who has written a guest post on identifying wild plants with young children. Melodie is a mental health professional turned work at home mom of two girls. She blogs at Breastfeeding Moms Unite! where she shares information on and her experiences with breastfeeding, as well as other aspects of natural parenting and vegetarian recipes. I have a guest post there on tips for hiking With toddlers and preschoolers next week. So when you’re done reading about how Melodie shares her favorite past time with her girls, go check out her blog and make sure you watch for my post!

My three year old eating miner's lettuce in our yard.

One of my favorite past times is getting out for a walk in the woods and identifying plants. I feel it is important to know the names of the flora in one’s area and even basic information about the plant and its uses and/or applications, if there are any. As a child I used to make believe I had to live off the land. In order to do this I needed to know what kinds of plants were edible and which ones were poisonous. My parents helped teach me about edible wild berries, and when I become a teenager I learned more on my own.

All the kids I played with growing up knew about the wild berries we could eat. We used to pick cupfuls at my Grandma’s house and squash them up with sugar (or not) and eat them spread on bread. I used to decorate the cakes my mom made with huckleberries and salmon berries. I used to love eating Oregon grapes just to see how much of the sour taste I could handle. My dad used to take me out on his boat to deserted islands to pick buckets of huckleberries for huckleberry pie. This was a big part of my childhood.

Now when I go for a walk in the woods, or in my own backyard for that matter, I take the time to teach my children the names of the plants growing and which ones we can eat. I started doing this when my daughters were two. There’s something very fun about eating a weed! We chew on plantain, miner’s lettuce, dandelion leaves, clovers, cleavers, rose petals and berries, to name a few. I’ve taken them to harvest stinging nettle with me. We have also talked about the medicinal qualities of plants. Did you know that if you have a mosquito bite or minor abrasion, that you can chew up a piece of plantain and put in on top to relieve the itching? St. John’s wort also makes a great massage oil for sore muscles when infused in olive oil. It’s a fun science experiment to see what happens when you stuff a small jar full of the yellow flowers and then pour oil over it until the flowers are completely covered. Then you leave it for a couple weeks. You’ll know it’s ready when the oil turns red!

If my girls don’t know the name of a plant or know if it is edible, they have learned to ask me. This is something I instilled at a very young age. However, there are actually very few plants which are poisonous, and the ones that are thankfully don’t grow in our yard. You will want to learn what kinds of plants are poisonous in your area. One thing I find unfortunate though is when I hear adults telling kids “put that down, it’s poisonous!” Yes, it might be, but it probably isn’t. A better alternative is “I don’t know if that plant is edible or not, so until I find out I don’t want you to try it until I know it is safe.”

One thing I do ask my kids to steer clear of are mushrooms. There are so many varieties of mushrooms in our area and that grow in our yard, and I never learned to identify even the edible ones out of fear of the horror stories of my youth. One day I may venture beyond my comfort level and learn to identify the mushrooms we see, but for now they’re off limits and everyone is okay with that.

There’s something really beautiful about learning about one’s local herbs and flowers and trees. And it is so fun to forage for food and bring it home and cook it up. Since it is one of my passions it is a great feeling to pass on this love for nature and the forest to my children. If you would like to get to know your local native plants all you need is a guide book. So head on out to your library or bookstore and get started. You’ll be surprised to find out what you learn.

Do you like learning about the plants in your area? Do you forage for wild foods with your children? Please share your stories!

17 Responses to:
"Identifying Plants with Young Children"

  1. Laura   LauraBangerter

    Love it. I just wrote a post on berries. Planning on adding more berries soon. :)

  2. Maman A Droit   MamanADroit

    What a fun idea! I am terrible with this-I can identify dandelions, clovers, thistles, and that’s about it!!! But in my area everything is so developed I’m afraid everything’s been sprayed with pesticides etc. How do I find a “safe” place to explore plant life?

    • Melodie   bfmom

      Do you have any woods in your area? Mountains? A place that is public but isn’t necessarily “looked after” like a playground or city park would be? I’d start with finding a copy of a book on the plants in your area. That should help you.

  3. Judy @ MommyNewsBlog   MommyNews

    I love to go out in the neighborhood with my son and forage for berries. Recently we made a pie from the blackberries that we picked. We also like to pick raspberries and strawberries when we can find them too!

  4. Lauren @ Hobo Mama   Hobo_Mama

    I’ve been thinking about this a ton recently. I really need to pick up a book on plants in my area. Mikko was just asking me the other day about a berry he found, and fortunately (in retrospect!) I did what you suggested and said I wasn’t sure we could eat it but we could save it and look it up later. And some friends were talking about how they always used to go foraging for mushrooms as kids, and just after I saw several blog posts about current foragers, plus some foraged mushrooms for sale at the farmer’s market. So the practice is definitely alive and well! Now I just need to get in on it.

    I remember as a kid eating some tiny plant that grew at our playground, and I can’t for the life of me remember what it was. I hope I can find it in a book somewhere. We would also do the thing where we’d pretend we were great adventurers and had to live off what we could find. :)

    • Melodie   bfmom

      I remember eating weeds shaped like little fish on my Grandma’s lawn when I was little. I had no idea what they were until a few years ago when I found out that they were thankfully edible. I wish I remembered the name! Regarding the plant in the playground – you’ll find out what it’s called!

    • Michelle @ The Parent Vortex   TheParentVortex

      I really like the Lone Pine Guide to Plants of Coastal British Columbia (including Washington, Oregon and Alaska), and a wonderful book Tom found at a used book shop called Northwestern Wild Berries.

      We’ve been getting into foraging too – just things like huckleberries and blackberries, but I’ve made two batches of jam from foraged blackberries and it is satisfying in a way that is magical. It’s like creating food from nothing but ingenuity and energy! Amazing.

  5. Susan   susanmain

    I remember how much I loved learning about plants in our local bushes when I was in first year university. It’s so easy to just assume everything is poisonous! I like your response to that possibility.

  6. Aw, I love that too. One of my favourite things to do is find a big fruity Saskatoon bush and fill one of my kids hats full of ’em and then let them munch away on the way back. Life is better with purple children.

  7. Rachel

    This brings me so many memories, getting in trouble with several parents for teaching kids that if you suck on the end of clover flowers it tastes like lemon. I always told the kids “never eat a plant unless an adult tells you it is safe to eat. See this plant, if you eat this one you will get really sick”.
    Eating wild grapes and having the people with me think I was going to die, a friend not letting her kids eat blackberries off the bush (partly because fruit is too rich for their tastes and because she is a complete control freak).
    My friend’s Grandma is from the Czech Republic and knows all the mushrooms, no one likes her mushroom dish because just because they won’t kill you it doesn’t mean it won’t taste like it will.

    • Melodie   bfmom

      Ha ha. That’s funny. I love all those memories you have. I have one of picking chickweed with my friend when we were 6 or so and finding salt packages from Mac Donalds in my uncle’s truck and sprinkling it on our bowls of weeds. It was so gross! :)

  8. Mommypotamus   Mommypotamus

    Melodie, this really inspired me! Although I’ve lived in Texas all my life I cannot identify most of the indigenous plant. Basically, if I didn’t plant it myself I don’t know what it is ; – ) That’s going to change!

  9. Great post! I absolutely want to learn more about our local plants — I feel like I knew a lot more about that stuff back when I was a kid and have forgotten it all! I am the NW too and many of the plants you mention sound familiar. I was just talking to my husband about harvesting/eating nettle! Never done it but want to give it a try. I got stung a million times when I was a kid thrashing about in our woods, ha ha.

    I do love taking my girls on walks in more natural places — for us, that still mostly close city parks with wooded areas & trails, but eventually I hope to explore a lot further afield.

    • Melodie   bfmom

      Nettle is great. Just make sure you use scissors and wear gloves! Ones with rubber coating if possible.

  10. Dionna   CodeNameMama

    You’ve really inspired me to start learning about our local plants with Kieran – we actually took a trip to a local nature preserve shortly after this posted and talked about the different plants :) Thanks again for the fabulous guest post Melodie!

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