A Quick Little Foraging Book, Week Ending 11/24/2019

You guys. I fell off the book diet wagon. Yes, again. I am not proud.

But yesterday I found a book seller with a handful of foraging books I hadn’t previously encountered.

And one of them caught my eye.

The Quick Guide to Wild Edible Plants by Lytton John Musselman and Harold J. Wiggns
The Quick Guide to Wild Edible Plants by Lytton John Musselman and Harold J. Wiggns

Oh, who am I kidding? They all caught my eye! But what struck me about The Quick Guide to Wild Edible Plants was:

  1. The authors were writing about my plants in my area (roughly) – the Midatlantic region of the USA. Too many foraging books cover, say, the whole continent and devote pages upon pages of detailed information on wild edibles I will probably never encounter. Which may be interesting, but not actually useful to someone incorporating wild food into their diet on a (somewhat) regular basis.
  2. More importantly, they covered plants that I have tried to foraging (nutsedge, for instance) and been completely stymied by.

As a bonus, all the photos in this slim little volume are in full color. This helps with plant identification, although overall the photos are a bit small and sparse to be really useful. More like a supplement to another plant identification resource.

Once I started reading, I discovered what truly sets this book apart from the standard foraging resources.

At first I though it odd the book was organized by types of food (condiments, greens, starches, sweets, etc). The majority of foraging books use alphabetical order, sometimes with a supplemental section that lists the plants by season of the year. Or by type of plant (berries, nuts, etc).

But Mussleman and Wiggins focused their research, and thus their book, on what you can actually easily eat, rather than some esoteric tomb on everything which might possibly be slightly edible if you don’t mind investing serious work in processing the harvested plant parts into something edible. Black walnuts and acorns are probably the most complicated wild food they cover in the book.

Additionally, the book presents only foods that are actually worth eating. Nothing in the “edible but forgettable” or “edible but regrettable” category here. (Flashbacks to adventures with hairy bittercress…)

They also exclude any plants with poisonous lookalikes, for instance wild carrot, although there is a section on poisonous and toxic plants to help educate the forager so they know what to avoid.

Best of all, the authors include a number of very simple recipes, rather than the vague guidance (“enjoy in a quick stir fry”) provided in so many other books. (Or the gorgeous, but much more complicated recipes of others, like Forage, Harvest, Feast.)

Authors of foraging books face a unique challenge compared to other genres, because often they provide both plant identification guidance as well as information on how to prepare and eat the plants once you find them. So they aren’t “really” a plant identification book, nor “really” a cookbook. The Quick Guide to Wild Edible Plants does a good job bridging those two categories in one little book. And inspiring me to keep learning more about the wild edibles in my area.

Nutsedge, here I come!

What new things have you been learning lately?

Please note: I am not an affiliate marketer and I do not get commissions if you buy any of the referenced books from Amazon.com. I highly recommend looking for them at your public library. If you would like to support my work, you can hire me to perform a wild edibles assessment for property in the northern WV, central MD, northern VA, or southern PA area; hire me to speak or write about foraging, permaculture and sustainability; or consider making a donation.

One comment

  1. Well, I have been thinking about sustainability. Two ways of life are sustainable indefinitely, based on the historical record: hunting and gathering (aka foraging), and farming. Both of these support human flourishing for hundreds of generations. Hunting and gathering supports a very small number of people per unit of land; farming supports many more. The experience of life changes completely as a people transitions from one to the other, which means that everything in a culture changes.

    The experience of life changed completely again based on the industrial revolution. In a few short centuries people built the most fragile civilization ever. Modern civilization seems so powerful, full of pomp and circumstance; but let another Carrington event happen, or let the supervolcanic caldera in Colorado erupt, and a few days after grocery stores stop being restocked we will see the limits of our strength! I don’t see that modern civilization with its endless revolution is indefinitely sustainable.

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