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Safety & Health

  • Never eat anything you are unsure of as many plants have toxic look-alikes. Check your identification against multiple sources. Seek a professional opinion when a plant can not be confirmed. 

  • Avoid spines and other plant hazards.

  • Be aware of potential allergies.  For example, natal plums should not be eaten by those with latex allergies. 

  • Be aware that most plants on the UCSB campus are watered with reclaimed water. Refer to this study: Reclaimed Water Use in the Landscape.

  • Avoid pesticide consumption.  Always wash what is foraged and be aware of pesticide use, especially when foraging for weeds.  On campus, Roundup is used on the soil for post-emergent weed control.  Avoid landscaped areas where pesticides may be used.  Some plants absorb toxins more than others.


  • Do not forage on private property.  Always seek permission from property owners before taking fruit or plants. 

  • Know your rights.  Foraging in public spaces and from plants that are overhanging from private property into public space is permitted in California. 

  • Do not forage in protected or conservation areas.  This includes the campus lagoon, coal oil point reserve, and more.  Respect conservation efforts and local ecologies.

  • Do not forage in California State Parks.  

  • Refer to National Park sites for specified foraging information. For example, Yosemite. 

  • Do not forage native, threatened or endangered plants.  Refer to California Laws Protecting Native Plants.


  • Be respectful of people, including landscapers.  Though fruit may be overhanging, maintain a good reputation for foragers by being respectful of property owners.  Use the opportunity to get to know neighbors and those who maintain the landscape. 

  • Be respectful of plants and the landscape areas.  Avoid climbing or harming trees and plants; usually it is better for the plant to cut th fruit from it than to pull it.

  • Be respectful of cultural heritage sites.  Do not forage from the Chumash Garden on campus. 

  • Avoid over-harvesting.  Take only what you need so others may also enjoy foraging. The typical rule is to never harvest more than 1/3 of a plant or 1/3 of a population of plants.

Environmental and Wildlife Hazards

Poison Oak

Be careful not to step on or brush up against poison oak! Many people are somewhat allergic (local itchiness) and some people are VERY allergic (full body, systemic reaction with blisters and swelling everywhere) to the oils on the sticks and leaves. It has many different appearances depending on where you find it. In wet, shady areas, this plant can have beautiful, broad, bright green leaves, with deep lobes. In dry, hot, sunny areas, the leaves can be very small, barely lobed, crumpled, and dark, dark red. Regardless, the leaves are in clusters of three (Leaves of three, let it be! If it’s hairy, it’s a berry!). In the winter, the plant has no leaves, but once you get to know the plant, the branches are pretty noticeable (they look like they are reaching for you, often with tiny little buds on the ends); beware: the leaf-less sticks ARE still poisonous. Poison oak usually starts out with green leaves in the spring and turns steadily redder until the leaves fall off in fall or winter. Poison oak can grow like a weed, a shrub, a tree, a vine or a liana. If you aren’t sure if it’s poison oak, assume it is! Better safe than sorry. If you do happen to encounter poison oak, wash as quickly as possible with cold water and soap; there are also special soaps that help get rid of poison oak or you can run Mugwort all over the affected area. Poison oak is most commonly found in more natural spaces like around the lagoon, but I regularly see little poison oak sprouts in out of the way planters on campus.

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There are four types of these blood sucking biting arachnids in California. These can all transmit diseases to humans, many of which have horrible, lasting symptoms, like lyme, and others that can be deadly. It is key that you check yourself for ticks after you brush up against plants; they can even fall from trees, so make sure you check everywhere, especially in the darker parts of your body like beneath clothes, along the hairline and where the sun don’t shine. If you find a tick on yourself that has bitten you, the best recommendation is to see a professional to have it removed as quickly as possible; often, they recommend antibiotics as well. It is very difficult to remove a tick properly without it breaking apart and spreading disease faster. 


Bees & Wasps

Thankfully, the most common bee you are going to see around Isla Vista is the European Honey Bee. The black and orange/yellow striped female worker bees with fuzzy bodies are the ones that can sting you, but they are rarely aggressive unless you are threatening their bodies or hives. That being said, some wasp species (like the Yellow Jacket) are very aggressive. Some people aren’t very allergic (local swelling and itching) and others can die from anaphylactic shock, so please be careful! Also, allergies get worse the more often you get stung. 

Image by Jason Leung

Black Widow Spiders

These lovely arachnids like to hide in cool, dark places. They are pretty distinguishable by their large black bodies and long black legs, but if you get the pleasure of peering under them, they should also have a red hour-glass on their ‘belly’.  They typically won’t attack you unless you threaten them or squish them. Try to look under leaves and fruit before you touch the plants you are foraging, because you never know where these critters can be hiding. They dwell in sticky, convoluted webs that don't appear to have any sort of particular rhyme or reason. BEWARE: if you do get bitten you should definitely go to the emergency room because the venom is pretty gnarly. Keep in mind, there are also spiders called Brown Widows that look very similar but are mostly brown instead of black.

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Western Diamondback Rattlesnake

You probably won’t be finding any of these venomous, fanged reptiles on campus, but if you venture into the Los Padres Mountains, during the dryer months, you’re bound to stumble upon one. The venom of these critters is very dangerous; if bitten, get someone to help you to the Emergency Room immediately (movement will spread the poison faster). If the triangular head and the diamond shaped patterns don’t scare you away, the loud rattle sound coming from its tail should! When foraging, avoid wandering through tall, dry grass or stepping in places where you can’t fully see the ground.

Image by Dan LeFebvre

Other Dangerous Plants

We advise to not just go around putting plants in your mouth. Please only forage for plants that you can identify with 100% certainty. Get a botanist or ethnobotanical expert to help you identify plants if you have even a fraction of a doubt. Deadly Hemlock and Water Hemlock, Deadly Nightshade, and Castor Bean are all plants we need to avoid eating, and even touching. These plants are toxic and dangerous, as their names suggest. Stinging Nettle is actually edible, but if you don’t prepare it correctly or touch it with bare skin, you can get hurt.

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