Collecting roadside herbs

What are the dangers? Seriously… if you wash them off does it fucking matter?

Everyone says to harvest 40 feet or so from the road… but most of the herbs I want grow right next to the fucking road! What’s an urban nomad to do???

For now, my motto is “just eat it!” Unless someone here can convince me why they are so fucking bad. I mean, if they’re so bad, why do they always look super-healthy?

I was gathering some Brazilian red peppercorn from alongside a very busy road. It turned my hands completely black. I’m afraid it might be brake dust from the passing traffic. I’m not exactly sure what I’m gonna do with the peppercorns now. So yeah, I was gonna pose a similar question to this.

I would mostly be concerned w/ anything in the brassica or lily families as they have a tendency to absorb pollutants like lead.

Not really sure about other plants. We have a lot of chicory growing roadside around here, and I’d like to harvest some, but…

lead is the thing that worries me the most. even though it’s no longer in the current exhaust that hits these plants, it’s still in the soil from the previous decades.

there are definitely certain plants to watch out for more than others, and i don’t know them off hand. sounds like we need a wiki page listing what plants are known to absorb what pollutants.

for me, whenever i see something along a roadside that i want, i just start looking in that same area, farther away from the road. even though roadsides make a good habitat for a lot of plants, they are not the only place to find those plants, and with some looking, i’ll usually see that there’s an even better selection somewhere else.

stalking plants is not too different from stalking animals. don’t look for a deer in the ocean, right? plants have their own islands, too. get to know the plant and what it likes: soil content (sandy, moist, disturbed, rich?), sun exposure (fully exposed, partial shade, underbrush?), competitiveness, invasiveness, etc.

and you can’t always rely on field guides’ descriptions of habitat because they often times say stupid things like “this plant enjoys roadsides” without telling you what it is about roadsides that the plant enjoys.

don’t be fooled by the plants’ healthiness equating your healthiness, either. you wouldn’t chow down on poison ivy just because you saw a horse doing it. the plants’ ability to handle lead is very different from your own body’s ability to handle lead. datura plants survive gloriously with alkaloids in them that would shut your body down–that’s their natural way, but it doesn’t jive with your body’s natural way.

also, if you’re going to be eating potentially dioxin-carrying animals from your urban environment, i would think you’d want to cut down the volume of any pollutants you let into your system.

I go by how heavy traffic is on the road. Busy urban streets I am weary of - but quiet country roads seem less contaminated sometimes. After rain cleans the leaves is prime too. If i followed a 40 foot rule there would be alot less greens in my diet right now. Amaranth accumulates toxins and St John’s wort sucks heavy metals out of the ground so add them to the healthy looking but toxic list.

The species lichen that grown in an area (and there are always lichens around unless the pollution is very bad) will tell you how much atmospheric SO2, sulfer, acid, and nitrogen pollution is present. Identifying a particular lichen is difficult but there are likely some outstanding indicator species for your area that will tell you at a glance if the spot is good/bad.
Lichens don’t tell you much about the heavy metals in the soil though. Most lichen are highly tolerant of, and will store within the thallus, heavy, even radioactive, elements.

The soils along roadsides are shitty especially closer into the city. I’ve seen how they are made. They are PACKED with pollutents, random rocks, human and non-human shit, piss, fluids, soups, oils, pesticides, rodent killer, debris, plastics, glasses, and metals, especially closer into the city. If I trust eating a worms from the soil I’ll trust eating a plant from the soil. I normally use road side plants for cordage, clothing, bait, fuel, plant identification practice, and fore external medicine the body, but very rarely do I use them for food since food can be obtained in areas that i don’t question at all.

I eat plants from the side of the road all the time. 'Course i don’t live in downtown Portland or any other big city. I do live on Main Street but that’s a bit of a misnomer. Less than 10 years ago it was RD (Rural Drive) 1. Sure, I go for the plants farther back if they are there. The ones close to the road are usually too dusty anyway. But overall I follow the rule of a wildcrafter I met in Vermont, “If you have a choice between picking the plant from the roadside and not picking it at all, go for the roadside.” She always said that even the highest most pristine mountain tops were polluted these days. Another herbalist I know also picks plants from the roadside. Her theory was that most farm fields were heavily polluted anyway from the tractors because
“…Fuel containing lead may continue to be sold for off-road uses, including aircraft, racing cars, farm equipment, and marine engines until 2008.” (Wikipedia)
And because of stories like this:

I wrote on Scout’s blog that I’ve read good things about cilantro being able to remove heavy metals from the body. Don’t know how it works or why, but we all might want to start planting cilantro gardens. The pollution is inescapable.

It probably matters which part of the plant you are planning to eat. Personally, I wouldn’t harvest root vegetables from sketchy soils but the root’s caspian strip may take care pollutants and leave the leaves/fruit/seeds perfectly fine. On the other hand, if you’re unconcerned whether or not heavy metals accumulate in your tissues- there’s no worries.

And what specificaly about brassicas and lilies makes them a concern for absorbing lead?


i’m with you scout, just fucken eat. i saw a doe get absolutely clobbered by a Shitty Urban Vehicle. it was a mess. the meat was good enough and the sourdock it was splatted next to would make for an appealing Bon Appetit cover photo. the goofy tourons just gasped when i asked if they wanted it.
venison and sourdock stew, a bit of bumper and exhaust. feral food at its finest.

Last ditch effort only. I also agree ‘if it will be your only chance pick it’, if you need it.

Could be. It probably also depends on the type of plant though.

What specifically? I don’t know.

I’d always heard that you could use collards for example to remove lead from soil (but not to eat the leaves).

Here’s a site that speaks to this a little bit:

And an excerpt:

In the summer of 2005, we grew sunflowers and mustards in seven gardens for a third phytoremediation experiment. The results from three years of research showed that plants alone do not accumulate lead fast enough for phytoremediation to serve as a practical remediation method. Using these results, plants would decrease lead in soil only by 300 ppm over the course of 7-10 years. Without the use of an added amendment to increase the mobility of lead, such as a chelating agent, plants are unable to make a significant impact on the lead content in soil. On average, the mustards accumulated 46 µg/g of lead in its plant tissue, sunflowers 47 µg/g, and collards 7 µg/g in the leaf and 57 µg/g in the root.

So it sounds like it may not be as effective as I had previously been led to believe. It also seems that collard greens would be safer than mustard greens and that some plants store more lead in the roots than in the leaves.

while i agree that you’re hard pressed to find a pristine, non-polluted habitat anywhere in the world now, it’s a question of how polluted it is. while there may be lead in agricultural-use fuels, a tractor or truck that runs through a field a few times a month can’t compete with the volume of lead having been dumped in roadside ditches from heavy traffic over several decades.

i agree with penny and miles that less travelled roads pose less of a threat. a rural road is less of a worry than a highway which is less of a worry than an interstate.

i worry equally about pesticides and herbicides. unless i know a patch of ground or have had the chance to watch it for a while, i am leery of trusting it. watch the bees and see if they hang out there. apparently they hate herbicides and won’t harvest where it has been sprayed. i don’t blame them. the stuff smells like shit and lingers in your nose for days.

an added note on penny’s cilantro comment. i have heard that vitamin C binds with heavy metals and helps them to pass through the body. i know violet leaves are pretty high in vitamin C. maybe cilantro is as well?

It doesn’t seem to:

Perhaps cilantro uses a different mechanism…?

hmm. according to wikipedia’s Chelation therapy article: one seems to know what chelating substances may or may not be in cilantro...

however, cilantro does seem to be the the chelator of choice. even if no one knows exactly how it works. :slight_smile:

Seaweeds are said to be good chelating agents as well. Of course you’ll want to get yr seaweed from a relatively unpolluted area. Delicious and easy to gather.

[quote=“WildeRix, post:15, topic:122”]hmm. according to wikipedia’s Chelation therapy article:

however, cilantro does seem to be the the chelator of choice. even if no one knows exactly how it works. :)[/quote]

Hmm, interesting…

Yeah, i wasn’t saying that it doesn’t work, just figured it was doing it by some other means.

Getting a lot of food for thought today…

Indeed, very interesting.

cilantro grows like crazy around here. I’ll have to do some experiments with it and see what comes up.

Yeah, i wasn't saying that it doesn't work, just figured it was doing it by some other means.

i wasn’t trying to say that you were trying to say that it doesn’t work. :slight_smile:

just pointing out that after some research on what the “different mechanism” might be, the only thing i can come up with is “nobody knows”.

Yeah I did the same search you did Rix to see what it was about the cilantro. All of the info is practically the same and circulated among the same crowd so maybe it is simply an urban legend. In any case I doubt cilantro would be the only thing. In general I believe there are common plants nearly everywhere in the world to treat every sort of ailment, just as there are ways to start fire nearly everywhere. No matter what your climate, there is something for you. In the meantime can’t hurt to eat cilantro (and large amounts of leafy greens and seaweed in general.) Some people hate it but I love the stuff.