Josh’s Foraging Tip #6

Borrow or Buy a Book

If, like me, you didn't grow up surrounded by foragers, eating wild food at every meal, you may be hesitant to start nibbling the landscape. Maybe you've dabbled with some easy to recognize edibles like Red Raspberry and Highbush Blueberry, but you're needing some assistance before dipping more than your toes into the ocean of wild foods. Luckily, there are experienced foragers who've written excellent books that you can borrow from a library or friend or purchase to serve as in-home foraging mentors.

Wisconsin forager Samuel Thayer is the author of The Forager’s Harvest (2006) and Nature’s Garden (2010). Each book is subtitled A guide to identifying, harvesting, and preparing edible wild plants and covers over 30 species, most but not all of which are present in New England. Thayer spends a great deal of time in fields and forests gathering the foods he writes about, and his books are filled with tested techniques for increasing your foraging success. I give these two books my highest recommendation.

Photo of Ancestral Plants by Arthur HainesAdditional recommendations include:

Ancestral Plants: A primitive skills guide to important edible, medicinal, and useful plants of the northeast (v. 1, 2010) by Arthur Haines. Though individual entries are not as lengthy and image-rich as Thayer's species accounts, Haines' work is valuable for a number of reasons. First, Haines lives and forages in Maine, so the plants he covers are all found in New England. Second, he goes beyond edible uses, to discuss medicinal, craft, and other survival uses of the 50 species he covers. Third, Haines is a research botanist who utilizes precise botanical terminology without being overly technical. According to Haines' website, a second volume of Ancestral Plants is currently in preparation.

Edible Wild Plants: Wild foods from dirt to plate (2010) by John Kallas covers wild greens in exhaustive detail with countless photographs.

Backyard Foraging: 65 familiar plants you didn’t know you could eat (2013) by Ellen Zachos is an accessible guide to suburban species with brief, but useful, entries.

Steve Brill's classic text Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places (1994) is printed on non-glossy paper, features line drawings instead of photographs, and covers a large number of wild foods.

Abundantly Wild: Collecting and cooking wild edibles in the upper midwest (2004) by Teresa Marrone includes many recipes starring wild foods. This title is currently out of print, so you'll have check with a used book seller or lending library to secure a copy.

Finally, if you want an introduction to foraging fungi, take a look at David Spahr's book: Edible and Medicinal Mushrooms of New England and Eastern Canada (2009). Spahr's book is large enough to cover many well-known species, but not so technical as to overwhelm a lay-person. As with plants, I recommend careful study and consultation with a knowledgeable mushroom forager before sampling wild fungi for yourself.

Even the best foraging guides cannot stand alone. A comprehensive, regional plant identification guide (like Newcomb's Wildflower Guide) is a crucial companion to any collection of foraging books. With the appropriate resources in hand and hours of careful study (and perhaps attending a wild edibles walk or foraging workshop), you'll be well on your way to foraging your own wild foods. Happy reading!

This post is part of a series of tips for foragers of wild plant foods.  For my core gathering practices, see Josh’s Guidelines for Foraging.

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