Foraging is a large part of our lives. We begin foraging in the spring when the asparagus and rhubarb are ready–before we can even begin the think about planting a garden. Our adventures continue through the summer as we get berries and other fruits. In the fall, we forage for crab apples and more berries. Rose hips and russian olives are some of the few things that are still available when the snow falls.
In addition to these wild edibles being a regular part of our diet, it is also important to us that we all have a knowledge of all the edibles in our area in case they became important for survival.
You are constantly hearing on the news of families that break down in a desolate area, or get lost during hikes. We live an outdoor life. We never leave without our emergency packs (which double as “bug out” bags) because we never know when we will need them.
The other thing we do is make sure that everyone in our home not only knows what is edible around us, but also how to prepare these edibles.
No, we don’t habitually eat cattails–but we make sure each person knows where to find them and how to prepare them if they ever find themselves in a situation where they would need to. Sometimes we eat prickly pear cactus, but mostly we do this just for the experience of just getting the darn buggers off and apart safely.
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While I believe the best way to learn about wild edibles is to have someone with you who knows unmistakably how to identify plants in the area as well as how to safely prepare them, this isn’t always an option for everyone. The next best option is to study them and have a field guide.
I have three that are my favorites. They are all specific to my area. And while I realize that not all my readers live in the same area as I do (heck, some of you are in completely different countries), I’ll tell you why I like them (as well as what I don’t) so that you can make a good decision on what field guide is right for you in your area.
Foraging the Rocky Mountains (249 pages)
I love this as my “all around” field guide. It is divided into the following sections: Poisonous plants, Herbs, Shrubs, Trees, and ends with some information on honeybees. While not all the herbs in the listed section are edible, it still gives information on medicinal uses.
All herbs have a recipe at the end of the section. Those that are nonedible have a recipe for an oil, salve, etc. This leaves you not only knowing about the plant, but with the knowledge of at least one way to use it.
The shrub and tree sections conclude with at least one kitchen recipe for each edible as well. They differ in that most of them also have a short “how to prepare on the trail” blurb that gives you information on how you would eat this edible if you were out hiking or lost in the mountains. Very helpful.
This is about the size of a large bible only not as thick. Every plant has it’s own colored picture (at least one). The back even has 2 measurement tools along the edge in-case you wanted to measure a leaf, or other plant part.
I do find, however, that it lacks some of the wild edibles that are more common. For example, it does not have information on rhubarb, asparagus, serviceberries or hops.
If you don’t live in the Rocky Mountains, check out other Falcon Guides to find one for your area.
Wild Berries And Fruits Field Guide (336 pages)
This is my favorite field guide for berries. Hands down. I don’t think anyone could ever make this a better berry identification book. It is not merely just an edible berry guide, but rather an all-inclusive berry guide. It tells you which are good to eat, edible but may not taste good, inedible, and toxic. If you find a berry and want to identify it, this guide doesn’t discriminate–it should be in there edible or not.
This book is broken down by color of ripe fruit. It is divided into the following sections (in this order): berries or fruits that are green, …that are yellow, …that are orange, …that are red, …that are purple, …that are blue, …that are black, …that are white.
Every berry or fruit has a full page color picture on the right which shows the fruit and leaves (sometimes additional pictures), and the information (habitat, growth, leaves, fruit, season, compare to, additional notes, and a map of where it is found) on the left side.
If you are on a trail and you find a mature berry, you should be able to open this up to the correct color of berry section and find pictures with full descriptions available.
It is limited to fruits and berries however. You will not find nuts, trees, roots, etc. in this book.
It is probably the biggest guide that will still fit in your hand. When turned sideways, it is half the size of the aforementioned Foraging The Rocky Mountains.
The only problem I have with this book is that the side binding fell off it the first day I had it. I would assume the binding glue never got hot enough to make a seal–so I don’t know if it was just mine or all of them in the batch. I was going to send it back but then I opened it up and fell so deeply in love with it, I just decided to glue it myself. It goes everywhere with us.
Check out other field guides by Teresa Marrone if you live in another area. I plan to add more to my collection.
Wild Edible Plants of Western North America (307 pages)
There are… shall we say… many not-too-flattering reviews on this book. So why, do you ask, is it on my favorite list?
Because I’m nerdy. Yes, if you are the nerdy or artistic type, you will appreciate this book (sorry, I’m not going to call it a guide).
The first 16 pages contain 64 colored pictures of various plants found throughout the book. I’m going to be honest, even though I am familiar with most of them, I can’t necessarily see the resemblance in the pictures. Even though it is an updated publication, the pictures are still very dated and appear to have been printed with a very dated printer.
This is the only colored part inside the book. Everything else is in black and white. The book lists all the plants by number according to geographical location. If you want to find a plant, you must know the name of it first, look in the glossary and then it will take you to it.
Once you get to your plant however, there is very useful information about it. This is what I can appreciate. It tells the history of the plant, nutritional values, how it is used in other parts of the world, or by indigenous peoples, and some other just fascinating information. Freehand drawings (in black and white) are available for each plant (also listed by corresponding numbers).
While this book is highly informative, it will not help you identify a wild plant out in the field very easily–if at all. Nor will it tell you how to prepare it.
I love this guide for research purposes, and you will see me site it in various articles about wild edibles.
It is the size of a standard paperback fiction novel you would check out at the library.
Don’t live in western North America? There are other similar Wild Edible Plants guides like this available as well.
I highly suggest having at least one source of plant identification either in your vehicle or in your emergency/bug out bag at all times. We have try to keep a different one in each bag we have. The first two mentioned are always with us.
Have another guide you absolutely love and would recommend? Tell me what it is and why you love it, and I’ll attach another list.