Help! What to do when you don't know that plant!

Advice for beginners, but some more advanced links to resources for ID at bottom of blog.

Recently, a few people have posted on our Instagram and Facebook photos asking help with identification. It can be really tricky to ID things via a shaky mobile photo and I generally prefer not as I can’t usually be 100% confident unless I could see sharp clear botanical features. Those are, more often than not, the part that is missing from the snapshot.

I gave some lines of advice and it really got me thinking about what I did when I first started out foraging. Gaining confidence is key. Here are a few things that I would advice on the path to becoming good at ID

  1. You don’t nee to know allll the plants. Just start with a few, step by step. So, choose 1-5 and really get to know it/them. Once you have your ‘eye’ in for those, you can move on.

  2. Choose really common plants first, ones that grow everywhere. Good ones are ones that have lots of uses which will keep you busy experimenting for a while. Ones like nettle, elder, hawthorn, linden, wild rose.

  3. Plant of the year. An a mazing way to get to really know a plant is stalk it for a year. Go sketch it through the seasons, try the different parts (if not toxic, obviously) and try all the recipes you can all year round. Take notes, sketches, photographs. You don’t have to go hiking to virgin countryside to do this. Just choose a tree you see on your commute.

  4. Get a good book. My first go-to guides are photographic chronological ones - my favourites are Roger Phillips Wild Flowers of Britain (Pan Books, 1977) writing this in October 2018, I can see second hand copies for under £2 on amazon. The other is Sarah Cuttle and Rae Spencer’s Wild Flowers of Britain and Ireland (2005 & 2018 reprint) The new version is £11, and older versions are pennies second hand.

  5. Buy both, it’s good to get a cross reference. They may not be the smallest books, but very worth packing them when you go out.

  6. Find people who know this plant, and get them to show you. Even if they aren’t botanists. Many Grannies and Grandads (don’t have to be yours) are good at this.

  7. Find a hedgerow hassler. If you ever see someone picking things/staring at hedges carefully, and feel comfortable doing so, go ask them what they are doing and what they will use it for. I have learnt many things this way.

  8. Foraging walks. You really can’t beat learning from others who can SHOW you. So follow up points, ,5 & 6 if you can and also - Go on a foraging walk. Plenty good ones out there. Start at the Association of Forager’s directory to find your most local forager. Ask to be put on their mailing list for upcoming walks. You can also find courses on just plant id, without the uses, from the Field Studies Council (FSC)

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Once you have ‘got your eye in’ you’ll start recognising plants yards away and all that generic 'green space will start to become a fascinating library.

Good luck on your journey, and let me know any questions/share your tips in the comments below.

Kim x

online keys using plant descriptions to get an identification:

(There are more but I use these ones)

Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) key:

Go Botany, New England Wild Flower Society (Still useful for Europe)