Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Beneficial foraging books

The opening paragraphs are designed to assist others avoid some of the pit falls I made in purchasing wild food literature. You can skip this and go directly to the individual book reviews if you choose. Please note that this review is of multiple wild food books. I prefer authors that work with the plants they are writing about, and don't just repeat things they read from another book (yes some wild food authors actually do that). I also prefer books with good descriptions, lots of photos of each plant to make identification easier, and to cover the plant from identification to the plate. That's my bias, here is my review.

I'm just a guy who likes to forage and enjoys the learning and nutritional aspect of wild foods. My main purpose for writing this review of multiple wild food books on one review is to assist others coming to wild foods for the first time (like I was three years ago), and to hopefully help them avoid some of the easily avoided pit falls I made in the literature I chose. At first I wanted books with the most plants in it for my money. It made sense to me at the time but ended up being a grave mistake. Books that devote one picture and a brief explanation to a plethera of plants helped me identify some plants in one stage of growth, but did next to nothing that would have allowed me to use them as food. Example, most books will show you one picture of the adult plant. Many times that's not when you want to harvest it. No one would eat a bannana that was over ripe and pure black and call banana's in general inedible due to that experience. Yet many who have sampled a dandelion have done exactly that. As I've learned from John Kallas, one has to have the right part of the plant (this includes proper identification of the plant), the plant has to be at the right stage of growth, and it has to be prepared properly. If you can't do those three things you shouldn't be sticking the plant in your mouth. Now on to the individual books.

Wild Edible Plants By John Kallas: 6 stars because it deserves more than 5

Instead of having hundreds of plants with one picture and one paragraph of information Kallas gives you less plants in far more detail and unmatched photography. If I could give this book to everyone in the United States I would as it is the best book I have found on the market. His descriptions of the plants are spot on and easy to read, his multiple full color pictures of each plant covered are the best I've seen in wild food literature, and he covers each plant from seedling to the dinner plate in stunning detail. If I could only own one book on wild edible foods this would be the one. No book can give you everything you need as a forager. That being said John does a superb job of plant selection in that most people in north america will be able to find all these plants within a mile of their home. For a guy taking care of two children under 3 years of age this book allowed me to forage while staying close to home. Consider this a must own. John also runs wild food adventures in Portland Oregon which offers wild food instruction in that area.

Nature's Garden By Samuel Thayer: 5.2 stars the second must own, and it too deserves more than 5 stars.

If I could only own two wild food books this would be the second one on my shelf next to John Kallas book. The section on Oaks and acorns are worth the price of the book by it self let alone the numerous other plants in it. Mr. Thayer uses color photographs at various stages of growth just like Kallas does. After you own Kallas book you will be hooked and Nature's Garden is the next logical progression in your journey. Other reviewers have covered Sam's brilliant rebutal to Jon Krakauer's propagandist poison plant fable of how Chris McCandless died. Chris died of starvation not a poisonous plant. Sam actually has this section of the book posted on his website for viewing (go to foragersharvest dot com), and is worth reading even if you don't buy the book. I really benefited from Sam's sections on the different wild lettuces, elderberries, thistles, and many others. On top of that Sam has the most engaging writing style of all the wild food authors I've encountered. Not only are his pictures only second to those of Kallas, his descriptions are spot on, and reading his books are like reading one of your favorite novels.

Foragers Harvest By Samuel Thayer 5 stars

I prefer Thayer's Nature's Garden over this book for my area. That being said I can't really say anything bad about this book. Good descriptions, excellent pictures at various stages of growth, good selection of plants, and done with accuracy. This book was to my knowledge the first of it's kind back when it was released back in the mid 2000's. To my knowledge it was the best book on the market then, and has only been surpassed by his follow up book Nature's Garden and Kallas Wild Edible Plants. Being the first book in this motif it (unjustly I might add) received numerous attacks by a few disgruntled souls on amazons book review section. One must remember Thayer was revolutionary in this field when he released this book, and people had a hard time adjusting. As my friend Stephen T. McCarthy once posted, "All truth passes through three stages: First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident. Well anyone who has used Sams books should understand the advantage of covering less plants in more detail than covering many plants with little to no detail like the over-hyped gimmick books that litter the wild food market do. I few things I really liked about this book include (but are not limited to): descriptions and photographs on cat tail, wapato, service berry, stinging and wood nettle. The canning section is solid for the beginning forager like I am. This in my opinion still fits the must own catagory.

Euell Gibbons, Stalking the Wild Asparagus 4.5 stars

Line drawings that are OK. Descriptions of the plants are excellent. Recipes are added by the author, plus his enthusiasm and good nature jump out at you through the page. I mostly use this book in conjunction with other books, and I never use it for it's photographs or line drawings. Not that their bad. Just not enough for a total novice in my opinion. Now his descriptions are excellent and should not be ignored.

Nancy J. Turner, "Food Plants Of Coastal First Peoples" and "Food Plants of Interior First Peoples" I'll give it 5 stars for ethnobotany and 4 stars as a foraging book.

If you live in the pacific northwest these books are MUST HAVES. A thorough grouping of the plants used by native americans for food in the pacific northwest. Why I only give it 4 stars is that it is essentially put in a field guide format which is very limiting when trying to use a plant for food. Plus while Turner is the queen of plants and uses in the pacific northwest, you'll only get a tenth of what she knows on any given plant. Kallas and Thayer go into much more detail, have numerous pictures, and lead their readers toward success. With Turner you'll get one good picture in one stage of growth. Through experience I've found that just isn't good enough. She does have more plants in her books than Kallas and Thayer but when you cover them in less detail that is to be expected. To be fair to Nancy I don't get the impression that these were designed specifically for foragers. All this being said I own them and wouldn't give them back if you paid me double what I paid for them.

Linda Runyan, The Essential Wild Food Survival Guide 3.8 stars, a good book.

Well first I do have some issues with this book: I'm not fond of the line drawings or black and white photos, she does edibility tests on wild foods and discovered many of them that way (which I'm not a fan of), and some of her descriptions are lacking in my opinion. All that being said she cans her wild foods, dries them for winter use, and lives off of wild edibles all year long successfully. She shares a lot of this knowledge with the reader in this book, and being a nurse myself I'm also able to relate to her thinking in a lot of ways. Plus her stories of using cat tail fluff as stuffing for a couch only to find out that it was infested with insect eggs was hilarious. She tells you all the mistakes she made so you don't have to repeat them. She will tell you to use two other good field guides along with hers. I would plan on not using hers at all for the pictures. I have issues with her lack of oversight on the pictures. I'm sure some will disagree but when Linda tells you in her video (by the same name) that her chickweed picture isn't very good it does bring to mind credibility questions.

Edible Wild Plants a North American Field Guide, by Elias and Dykemann. 3.5 stars

At one point in my very early stages I thought this book was the bomb. However, I would identify a plant, find it at times accidentally for the most part, and go "now what?" And that is the weakness of the field guide format in wild food literature (Thayer and Kallas do so much more for you). This book is almost the opposite of Linda Runyans in some ways. She doesn't give you good pictures but gives you some good details on what to do with the plant after you find it. This book gives you some good pitures, a brief description, and then says "your on your own kid." In Samuel Thayers "Foragers Harvest" he gives great descriptions between wood nettle and stinging nettle (both are edible when properly prepared). Thayer also happened to point out that this book actually has a picture of wood nettle and call it stinging nettle. I checked up on this, and lo and behold he was right. They have two pictures and one is wood nettle and one is stinging nettle. They are both listed as stinging nettle in the book. This tells me that the authors might not know all the plants as well as they should. Don't get me wrong I still like the book. But it does prove that wild food authors don't always use or know the plants their writing about.

Honorable mention goes to "Abundantly Wild" By Teresa Marrone. It is a wild food cook book. The pictures in the book are not great (though oddly beat many of the photos in supposed field guides) but I have read a few of the recipes and they look promising. I'll write a review about a year from now once I've put the book to the test. Until then I'll let you read the reviews on this book and make up your own mind.

1 comment:

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

Hey, thanks for this, BR’ER MARC!
That’s what I wants to know: if I’m gonna buy only ONE book on this subject, which one’s the best? And you’ve answered that question for me, Brother!

I’m going to be sure to get this book based on your trustworthy recommendation, ‘cause I suspect this kind of info might be a real life-saver in the not too distant future.

Thanks again, McBuddy. I’m taking this to heart.

~ D-FensDogg
‘Loyal American Underground’