Dying alone in a bus in the Alaskan wilderness from ingesting poisonous plants was Christopher Mccandless’ fate, but it does not have to be yours. We’ve put together some resources and guidelines so you’re not stuck flipping a coin over which plants are edible in Colorado. Educating yourself on Colorado’s flora is not only interesting, but potentially life saving. For the record, you should not ingest anything that you find without consulting an expert.

Eat This:

Colorado State University has a comprehensive database of all plants in Colorado. It’s a useful reference point for beginner foragers and enthusiasts alike.

1. Sand Lily

Pacific Southwest Region 5 - Sand Lily - Flickr
Sand Lily. Photo Credit: Pacific Southwest Region 5 (Flickr)

2. Wild Onion

Allium acuminatum - Wild Onion- Matt Lavin - Flickr
Although common, this onion is not as frequently encountered as the early summer white flowering Allium textile. Photo Credit: Matt Lavin (Flickr)

3. American Bistort

brewbooks - Flickr - American Bistort
American Bistort. Photo Credit: brewbooks (Flickr)

4. Wild strawberries

Björn S - Flickr - Wild Strawberry
Wild Strawberry. Photo Credit: Björn S (Flickr)

Not That:

1. Larkspur

Colorado larkspur
Photo Credit: RITA (iSTOCK).

This beautiful wildflower sprouts in alpine meadows after the snow is gone, transforming barren landscapes into colorful scenes. While it’s flowers are bright blue and quite pretty, ingesting any part of this plant can result in paralysis, respiratory failure, and death.

2. Death Camas

Death Camas 2 - Tom Hilton - OutThere Colorado
Death Camas. Photo Credit: Tom Hilton.

Featuring little white flowers, the “death camas” is sometimes mistaken for a wild onion. Don’t eat this though. Ingesting it can lead to muscle spasms, low heart rate, abdominal pain, vomiting blood, coma, and death. Don’t even touch it, as the stem and seeds carry the poison too.

3. Locoweed

Locoweed - Justin Meissen - OutThere Colorado
Locoweed. Photo Credit: Justin Meissen.

The locoweed is found in semi-arid foothills around the West. It’s known to have neurological effects on livestock that eat the plant, including depression, erratic behavior, extreme nervousness, and possibly death. Little is known about its effects on humans. Maybe just play it safe and don’t go snacking on this one.

4. Western Water Hemlock

Water Hemlock - cicuta douglasii - Ed Ogle - OutThere Colorado
Water Hemlock, also known as, cicuta douglasii. Photo Credit: Ed Ogle.

This perennial prefers marshes and moist valleys, and be warned… a single mouthful of the oily, yellow juice (cicutoxin) can kill an adult. The poison is mainly in the roots, but the entire plant should be avoided. Parents, be aware. Children have been poisoned using the stems as whistles.

5. Lupine

Wildflowers- andrey_zharkikh - OutThere Colorado
Silvery lupine (Lupinus argenteus). Photo Credit: andrey_zharkikh

A very recognizable wildflower that’s easy to spot in mountain meadows each summer, Lupine is particularly deadly to grazing sheep. The poison is found mostly in the seeds. When the wild seeds are consumed, it can cause abdominal pain in adults and death among children.

6. Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac

Poison Ivy - John from Flickr - OutThere Colorado
Poison Ivy. Photo Credit: John (Flickr).

If there are three leaves, let it be…and Colorado has three bad ones with three leaves. Brush against poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac and you’ll be left itchy, red, and blistered. Be especially cautious when burning wood and brush, as symptoms of these poisonous plants can be much worse when inhaled – even leading to death.

Don’t let the dangers of eating plants frighten you- instead educate yourself on your local wildlife. There are many educational programs on Colorado’s edible plants throughout the state. In Routt County, for example, a program called Yampatika—aimed to inspire environmental stewardship through education—provides informative programs on Colorado flora. The organization also offers educational tours given by Yampatika naturalists to educate the public on Colorado’s wildlife. The 19th Annual Wild Edible Feast will take place on June 7 at the Haymaker Golf Course in Steamboat Springs.

In a state that loves its pets, it is worth mentioning that pet owners should always use great caution when letting their furry friends forage around. Several plants found in Colorado can be deadly to dogs and other pets. Colorado State University provides a glossary of such plants.

Please note, we are not the experts here, but simply aim to provide you with helpful resources. Please do not eat anything you are not 100 percent sure is safe.

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