Monday, May 25, 2009

Foraging Books...

I was reading last night about the saints who first came into the Salt Lake Valley...and how they survived through the harsh seasons while the land was being settled. Saints were eating crows, thistle, bark, roots, and sego lily bulbs...really...most anything that they could get their hands on to make their suffering and intense hunger subside.

While to many in our day...that is just an interesting history me it is a story of survival that we could very well repeat in our lifetimes. Prophecy regarding last days events prior to Christ's return points to times of very primitive living. Times where farmers cease farming...and people flee from city to city to avoid mobs and destruction.

I have been studying for a while now the various edible plants that are found in the wild. When people find out that I eat wild food...some think that is pretty strange...a pursuit for someone who is a peculiar person...and perhaps not in a good way. Perhaps they feel this way because they do not understand the severity of what is to come...and how useful a skill foraging would be in hard times.

Others say to me "If things get that rough where I need to eat wild plants...I'll come and find you!!" But what if I am already gone? Relying on me to teach you what you can eat when "there is no store" is not a sound plan of self-reliance....especially if I have already evacuated my family!

Some think that they can grow all they need to eat or store it. But...what if you are driven from your home by war...natural disaster...mobs...etc? A person separated from their food could be in pretty sorry shape.

What about people with health needs...who rely on medication? When your supply of meds runs out...what then? Did you realise that God made a drugstore that may have the answer to many of your maladies (yes...not all...but many)?!
He reminds of this in...Alma 46: 40

"And there were some who died with fevers, which at some seasons of the year were very frequent in the land—but not so much so with fevers, because of the excellent qualities of the many plants and roots which God had prepared to remove the cause of diseases, to which men weresubject by the nature of the climate—"

God prepared plants and roots in North America to "remove the cause of diseases"!!

Wouldn't it be wonderful to have fresh eat alone or to add to your food storage to make it more palatable...and last longer...that you don't have to grow yourself?!

Wouldn't it be wonderful to know how to heal yourself for free...from plants that grow all around us!? Nature can be your store...year round!

I would encourage you to learn about what foods can be eaten in the wild and how to prepare well as their medicinal values. You could at least learn a handful of the really common plants that are found across the US. It would be wise to have this knowledge and have on hand at least one book (or more) that will help you to find some wild plants for a reference.

There are many foraging books that have been written over the years. Here are a few that I have picked up and read...and my take on them. They are in no particular order...and there are many more worthwhile books that I don't cover here. You may consider doing like I do and check some out from the library before you buy anything...

Foraging Along the California Coast - Peter Howthorn - I love the ocean...but have never cared much for any of the food that comes out of it. I do like fish and chips...but what doesn't taste good deep fried!? Though my taste buds now say "NO"...I do want to know what can be eaten from our local beaches...especially if I was in a survival situation. Peter Howthorn gives the methods to harvest all kinds of sea life...many of which I didn't know could be eaten...and gives recipes for each. He also has a section devoted to various types of seaweeds and their uses. The book is broken up into southern...central and northern California...and then into what kind of beach one is on...rocky...sandy...creeks...etc. The book is illustrated by Peters wife...and she does a good job. Still...I wonder if I would be able to identify the certain fish with her one drawing of it. If you were looking for certain identification of the various sea life...without a background in sea life would probably need another book to go with this one. This would be a fun read in the colder months...bundled up...drinking my hot chocolate on the oceans shore.

Edible and Useful Plants of California - Charlotte Bringle Clarke - First of all...I love the fact that this book is focused on the state where I live. Many of the foraging books will contain plants that you will never see in your locale. This book contains information on 200 types of wild plants...and gives some great recipes for how to use them. I really enjoy how much information it gives regarding how the American Indians used the plants. The book has lots of decent line drawings...and in the middle is a section with color photos of a handful of the plants. There is a helpful section that gives drawings of some of the basics of botany. The book is broken up into sections based upon what area you are in...wetlands...mountains...etc. I would not buy this book as the best book for a person to be able to identify various plants...though it is helpful...but instead for sheer number of plants covered...the fact that it is for California (if you live here)...and the depth of information about uses. Personally I consider this book a must have for a serious California forager.

Stalking the Wild Asparagus - Euell Gibbons - This is not an identification book. This is a book for a person who already is familiar with the discussed plant...or as a primer to get a person interested to find it! Euell Gibbons is seen by many as being like the father of modern foraging. Many other foraging books will cite his works. Here is a guy who as a youth foraged out of necessity for his family to survive through the dust bowl. His insatiable desire to understand the plant world...amassed a wealth of firsthand knowledge of the uses of various plants over a lifetime. He is not regurgitating things he read that someone else talked about...but his own experience. He has also written one on herbs called "stalking the healthful herbs" that is equally wonderful. His one on sea foraging called "Stalking the blue eyed scallop"...I haven't read yet.

Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants - Christopher Nyerges - One of my very favorite books. To my knowledge...the plants he chose can be found...with only maybe a few exceptions...across the US. The plants are listed in alphabetical order. Excellent information regarding the edible uses...and the medicinal. He includes much about Indian lore. One of my favorite things is all he put in the book about the vitamins in each plant and comparing it to other common plants. For example he states that "One cup of cleaned rose hips has as much vitamin C as 12 dozen apples". The photos are in black and white and not always that clear...but his descriptions of what to look for are great. I use this one regularly in the field.

The Practical Mushroom Encyclopedia - Peter Jordan and Steven Wheeler - Pictures so real that you feel like you could reach out and touch them!!! Seriously...the macro photos are remarkable...they remind me of the beautiful photo's in dorling kindersley books. The book is in 3 main parts...1. An intro to mushroom foraging 2. Edible and poisonous mushrooms photos and information 3. Recipes for cooking with the edible mushrooms. This is a wonderful introduction to the world of mushroom foraging.

Mushrooms Demystified - David Aurora - This book is no joke. It is just under 1000 pages of in depth mushroom info. This is NOT LIGHT READING!!! It covers some 2000 species and contains over 800 photos. Most of those photos are in black and white...but the middle section has some nice color photos. This quite overwhelming. Every page requires mental gymnastics as you try to figure out technical words longer than your brain can handle and the pronunciation of which would hurt your tongue. I think I will come back to it when I get more in depth with mushrooms...but that may be a while. For now I am doing mushroom addition and subtraction while this book is doing calculus.

Botany in a Day - Thomas J. Elpel - A wonderful book to get a person without a ton of understand the basics of botany. This will help the studious reader to understand plant families and why they are in a family. It also contains all kind of information on the edible species and their medicinal uses.

The Flavors of Home - Margit Roos-Collins - A wonderful book about foraging in the San Francisco Bay area. She gives information as to what local places she has found various specimens...which can be valuable if you are seeking out a certain plant. The line drawings of the plants are well done...but I would still want other books to confirm that I had the right plant. There is a wonderful graph in the back of the book that outlines a plan of what you can be looking for year round to forage in our area. It covers to some extent poisonous plants as well...and even gets a bit into seaweeds. I'd love to have my own copy of this one instead of just checking it out from the library...but it is now out of print and it's $11.95 cover price is now $50 or more!

Weeds of the West - This is one that I will need to bite the bullet and buy. It is 630 pages...full of full page photos of the plants in California with descriptions of each...and small close up photos. This is the one that you want on hand to confirm that you have the right plant! It is purely an identification book and does not have any info on foraging. Do not buy this one off of the the University of Wyoming at Laramie, they will sell you Weeds of the West for 26.50 with 5.00 shipping (9th edition, 2006). Their phone # is (307)766-5124

Wild Food Trail Guide - Alan Hall - One of my favorites. It tells you what regions to expect the plant to be found...uses...and what time of year. It has lots of history of the plants...and American Indian uses. Drawings of the plants are OK. A great guide to that is in my backpack on foraging walks.

Acorn Pancakes, Dandelion Salad, and 38 Other Wild Recipes - Jean Craighead George -'ve collected a wild what in the heck are you going to do with it! This book has beautiful illustrations of various dishes that can be made with plants that you collect. Each plant covered also gives a brief bit of information about the plant. A fun book.

Native American Wild Game Fish And Wild Foods Cookbook - David Hunt - 2/3 of the recipes are for things like turtle...raccoon and muskrat. The final 1/3 is devoted to various plant foraging recipes. Most all of them look very basic...requiring only a handful of ingredients...which would be good if you were supplementing food storage. Has a some interesting acorn recipes I want to try.

Where People Feast An Indigenous People's Cookbook - Dolly and Annie Watts - This one...kind of like the last...has recipes for a lot of wild game. I am currently mostly just interested in the plant recipes. A handful of the recipes look up my alley...and I'd like to try them...but most are pretty darned complicated. This is one to check out from the library to try a few dishes...and then take it back.

The Foraging Gourmet - Katie Letcher Lyle - A cookbook with much more! There are line drawings throughout....and a section in the middle with color photographs of some of the plants. Full of great information about each plants history and lore as well as how to find it.

The Wild Wild Cookbook - Jean Craighead George - The cookbook is listed as a "guide for young wild-food foragers"...but really is for any age. Has great recipes that are grouped into seasons when you can forage that item and cook it. Gives some brief info on description of the plant and it's habitat.

Wild in the Kitchen - Ronna Mogelon - A cookbook for wild foods. Line drawings throughout....not really the most attractive book in my opinion...still there are a few recipes I'd like to try.


  1. Thank you for such an informative web site and more specifically thank you for the list of books on foraging and for your 'foraging' walk to identify native edible and poisonous plants. I learned a lot. Sometimes what you know can be more important than what you have.

  2. Thank you. There have been many that have told me that they couldn't make it on the walk...but wanted to go...I'm sure we will do it again...