Last weekend at our foraging class, the question came up: Can I use one of those new phone apps to identify forageables?
I cautioned against it. The fact is identifying plants and mushrooms is a whole-sense process. Some plants, like dandelions are very obvious, but wild lettuce has an uncannily similar appearance to dandelion. Fortunately, if you confuse them, it won’t kill you. But deadly nightshade has blossom bunches vaguely reminiscent of wild carrot, and it will kill you if you confuse them. But you can always tell them because deadly nightshade smells nothing like carrot. Boletes may look delicious, or they may turn blue if you bruise or cut them, and you don’t know if they’re edible or will give you terrible cramps til you see.
And the fact is, even experts often have great difficult identifying individual plant and mushroom species; how can an app possibly do it with a photo? What if a bird snipped off a petal of that blossom? What if that particular plant just grew a bit unusual, i.e., a four leaf instead of three leaf clover?
A photo cannot tell you what the plant looked like at different stages of growth, nor what it smells like, feels like, tastes like. Nor can it tell you what’s under the dirt of a mushroom fruiting body, or what the spores of a mushroom are shaped like, nor if that agaricus smells phenolic or cuts yellow.
There are no shortcuts to learning to forage. DO NOT use an app to identify plants and mushrooms.