The Forager's Path - School of Botanical Studies

How to Find Food and Medicine Plants When Exploring a New Environment

Know the Water Sources
These may be springs, seeps, tanks, ponds, seasonal run-offs or perennial streams.
In arid country, both the diversity and quantity of flora increase near water.
Explore canyon bottoms.
There are many arroyos and mostly dry drainages in arid country.
Even these areas that appear bone dry most of the year, they receive extra precipitation from snowmelt runoff and summer monsoons.
These low points are cooler and wetter because they are in shade for greater periods each day and cooler air sinks.
An area may have aspen along the drainage bottom with yucca, piñon or cactus just a few feet higher in full sun.
Know the difference between phreatophytes and xerophytes.

Elevation and Tree Line
In the mountains, know the elevation where one reaches tree line.
There is a certain quality to a forest as one nears tree line.
The forest may be the same category (spruce-fir-aspen) but there are subtle changes at the upper reaches of this zone.
Meadows above this line have a predictable community of plants.

Differences in South and North Facing Slopes
Regardless of elevation or life zone.
This is as true in the Colorado Rockies as it is in the Sonoran Desert.
Plants prefer either full sun, deep shade or a mixture.

Invest in Quality Topo Maps for Your Area
Know the map symbols for springs, intermittent streams, perennial streams, swamps and tanks.With experience using maps and knowing the general environment, one can predict with surprising accuracy ahead of time which plants can be found in a specific area.

Learn an Area Over Time
10 years at least.
Note changes in the amount of moisture, quantity and quantity of plants and the overall health of that specific environment.
Has human visitation increased?
Is a once wild area now on maps for mountain bikers, atv-ers, hikers and social media influencers?

Recent Fires and Recovery
In recent years, wildfires have become more frequent and more widespread.
They have also become hotter, more intense.
This results in a forest being destroyed by the fire rather than cleaned up.
During the recovery phases, there are specific and predictable plants that begin to grow in the years immediately following a fire.
In the ponderosa zone, Verbascum thapsus, Verbena macdougalii and Sambucus species are among the first to return.
Rapid erosion can happen in recently burned areas.
The most destructive fires often occur just before the monsoon.
The newly exposed soil is washed away by the rains.
Once the topsoil is gone, the plant community is altered in significant ways.

In the American Southwest, cattle may overgraze an area or a specific plant type.
They avoid prickly pear cacti.
This results in a prickly pear taking over an area.
Even though these cacti are native, their populations can become imbalanced.

Human Influences
Be aware of ancient and recent human habitation and how it has altered the environment.
Yucca baccata is found near archeological sites.
Asparagus, apple trees and catnip are common near old homesteads.
The present flora may be the result of plants that have escaped cultivation or they may be the nutritious weeds growing in disturbed soil.

Plants Found in Disturbed Soils
Many of our most nutritious weeds – Purslane, Alfalfa, Goosefoot, Amaranth, Dandelion
Grindelia and Mullein


Copyright©2009-2024. All Rights Reserved. The content of this herbal medicine resources, classes and workshops site is owned exclusively by The Forager's Path, LLC [Flagstaff, Arizona]. Privacy Policy

Flagstaff Herbal and Botanical Therapy website designed by Reliable Web Designs.

Thank you for visiting our Flagstaff based herbal medicine course and consulting site!