Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Remember the prickly ash (Zanthoxylum americanum) I was so delighted to discover a few months ago?

The prickly ash that would finally allow me to try a whole chapter of recipes in Forage, Harvest, Feast?

The prickly ash whose medicinal properties propelled me down the rabbit hole of herbal medicine?

I checked on it this weekend, and it is not in fact prickly ash. It’s just plain old black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia).

These spiky branches are actually black locust, not prickly ash
These spiky branches are actually black locust, not prickly ash

There’s no mistaking the intoxicating aroma of those drooping flower clusters. Yes, the very same ones I posted about last week.

And I shouldn’t say “just” black locust, because of course I’m thrilled about another specimen to forage flowers from, although this tree is still very small and only had a few flowers.

But once again I got excited over a new discovery thanks to an app on my phone, and once again it was wrong.

Luckily I hadn’t tried using the alleged prickly ash for anything, yet. No telling what medicinal properties I might have gotten from tinctured black locust bark. (A quick internet search reveals the bark is actually toxic to livestock, while other articles – and even a seller on Etsy – suggest it does have medicinal uses for humans. But I’m not going to experiment on myself with so little to go by!)

So again, I say: do not put your faith in an app on your smart phone before you forage a new plant for food or medicine! Get to know the plant through its seasons. Consult a book, take a class, or talk to an actual human being. Making a mistake in identification just isn’t worth the risk!

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