Of all the “survival” skills foraging is probably the most difficult to learn, or certainly the one that takes the most time and personal fortitude. It is one thing to say “yeph, that plant is edible.” It is another to eat it with confidence.
Where you learn to forage makes a difference as well. The closer to the equator you go the harder it gets. (And if I remember correctly almost everything that grows in the arctic circle is edible, should you end up there.) When I say it is harder to learn I mean is harder to learn the way we do it now, more from books than growing up in the wilderness. The natives did not need books or botanists.
Florida, and perhaps Hawaii, are among the most difficult states to learn about wild edible plants. That’s the bad news. The good news is if you learn to do it in Florida everywhere else is very easy.
Why is Florida difficult? Two words, climate and geography. Some 450 miles long Florida, has temperate plants to tropical. Sixty miles wide on the peninsula brings influence from both coasts. Rain and geography can produce swamp plants where there are no swamps, and cactus in seasonal swamps. Hot summers distort common plants making them absolutely unlike descriptions, photos or drawings. Occasional light freezes modify tropicals. Then there are the ornamentals…. what a headache… hundreds if not thousands from far flung places, some edible, many of them toxic, several deadly, and a couple sudden death. Unlike up north an acre in Florida has totally unpredictable flora.
What I personally enjoy is wandering around any patch of ground in a northern clime. It’s quite thrilling and very consistent: The plants actually look like what they are supposed to look like and exotics are rare. That is so rare here in Florida. Oh bananas look as they should but not dandelions. If you didn’t know blackberries here were blackberries you might never eat one here. The up side is if you can forage in Florida you can forage with confidence anywhere. Florida is tough and probably has more wild (and escaped) edibles than any other state. I know of several hundred and I know there are at least a couple hundred more on the south end of the state that I haven’t explored. I’m still cataloging imported edibles on the warmer end and have a long ways to go.
How do you learn them? One at at time in season, season after season. Even here in Florida the demands of foraging require you should be able to pick a plant out of a landscape just as you would pick the face of a friend out of a crowed picture. You must come to recognize them. Watching a video or reading a book really isn’t enough. Find someone local who knows the plants and study them as they arrive each season. Knowing a few very well is better than knowing a lot poorly. Besides, in every locale there will be just a few prime plants. A local person can help you learn those quickly. Again, I recommend contacting the Native Plant Society in your area. They know what you want to know and the training is often free. More so, now is the time to arrange it so when your spring arrives you’ll be ready.