REVIEW: Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places

By Mindy

Classic foraging text that belongs in the libraries of each and every herbalist and wildcrafter.

“Wildman” Steve Brill is legendary. An urban forager, Steve Brill was arrested in the mid 1980s for eating flora in Central Park. Soon after, he was hired by the NYC Parks Department to give plant walks. Read all about it here. He joined Evelyn Dean to write “Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places” (published by Harper in 1994).

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Approximating the size of a sheet of paper (8 1/2″ x 11″) and almost an inch thick, these 336 pages along with over 260 black & white line illustrations are a meaty foraging home reference. While not a field guide per se, the botanical information for each plant can be really helpful on a hunt (provided there is enough room in your pack to take it along!). This book will not withstand water, however, so leave it home on rainy days.

The first 22 pages provide a background on foraging, including overviews on safety, conservation, equipment, botany, ecology, and seasonality of plants. A small portion of the introduction is also dedicated to medicinal uses of plants.

Chapters 2 through 6 are composed of plant monographs divided up by the season which they should be harvested. For instance, Chapter 2 talks about plants of mid-spring. The chapters are further subdivided by the ecological region of the plant, such as lawns & meadows, disturbed areas, and seashore. This arrangement means that you can search the book easily by time of year. Want to forage in July by the beach? A quick look at the table of contents will point you toward useful plants you can expect to find (particularly in the Northeastern United States).

Each individual plant monograph consists of a few paragraphs up to a few pages, and are written from Steve Brill’s point of view (exclusively as best as I can tell). The authors clearly do not worry as much about uniformity as you sometimes see in other books; they freely take up as much (or as little) space as needed to adequately describe the target plant.

A scientific description of each plant is accompanied by a very helpful annotated botanical illustration. A description of the plant’s preferred habitat, uses, and useful parts, along with anecdotal experiences with the flora follow. Medical research and chemical constituents are also discussed when relevant. A folksy, approachable, occasional tongue-in-cheek banter make it possible to read this otherwise reference book cover-to-cover.

Finally, the last two chapters of the book describe how exactly to cook with wild plants, and list dozens of recipes (such as “Autumn Olive Jam”, “Coconut-Curly Dock Curry”, and “Common Evening Primrose Leaf Burgers”). A reading list and indices follow.

“Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places” stands above many–and maybe almost all–of the foraging books on the market today. Steve Brill’s authentic voice and obvious experience is generously sprinkled throughout the pages of this wonderful tome. I highly recommend a copy for any serious wildcrafter.

 

Note: The Walking Herbalist is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. This means that Marc will receive a small commission for each purchase on Amazon that you make after linking to it from this website. 

The Walking Herbalist has no affiliation of the authors or the publishers of this book at the time of the writing of this review. We purchased our own copy of this book for our own private use. This review is simply here to help our readers put together their own herbalism library, and other than possible commissions as an Amazon.com affiliate, we receive no compensation for this. 

REVIEW: Making More Plants – The Science, Art, and Joy of Propagation

By Mindy

Highly informative text on the various methods of plant propagation, wrapped in a coffee table book – type package (complete with beautiful photography!)

Ken Druse’s “Making More Plants: The Science, Art, and Joy of Propagation” is a perfect book for this time of year.  Even though the spring has been a bit long in warming up here in the Northeastern United States, our garden preparations have been carefully thought out. And “Making More Plants” is what its all about!

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This season, Marc and I are investing heavily in what we call our “Italian Seasoning” garden, so named due to the fact that it highlights our pesto staples: basil, thyme, rosemary, spinach, oregano. And we have a little lemon balm thrown in, which we will utilize medicinally. Using the procedures we outlined expansively here, we have started over 400 seedlings indoors this year! The featured photograph above shows our indoor growing set up with LED shop lights.

So, propagating plants is extremely important to us. In fact as we mentioned on last week’s episode of the The Walking Herbalist Podcast, our idea of foraging often includes looking for ways to make sure that we reproduce our wild floral friends. And of course, planting seeds is not the only way to make this happen.

Genovese Basil
A tray of Genovese Basil (approximately 5 days after sowing) for Marc & Mindy’s “Italian Seasoning Garden”

“Making More Plants” is a beautiful, large, coffee-table sized book (maximum dimension 11 inches), with exquisite photographs that were mostly taken by the author. The information within ranges from general plant botany, to sowing seeds, to vegetative propagation with descriptions for all sources of plant material (stems, leaves, roots). Plant grafting and division are also included.  It is a terrific source of information for the experimental gardener who wants to find ways to increase plant populations.

Be creative out there! Find your plants, and then make more of them. Ken Druse’s “Making More Plants” is definitely a good starting place!

 

Note: The Walking Herbalist is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. This means that Marc will receive a small commission for each purchase on Amazon that you make after linking to it from this website. 

The Walking Herbalist has no affiliation of the authors or the publishers of this book at the time of the writing of this review. We purchased our own copy of this book for our own private use. This review is simply here to help our readers put together their own herbalism library, and other than possible commissions as an Amazon.com affiliate, we receive no compensation for this. 

REVIEW: Mushrooms of Northeast North America (Midwest to New England)

By Mindy

As an absolute mycology newcomer, this seems like a good beginner’s guide to mushroom hunting thus far. Gotta start somewhere!

I have no business reviewing a field guide to mushrooms, let alone “Mushrooms of Northeast North America” by George Barron. Why? I have never willingly eaten a mushroom. The rare one that finds it way inadvertently onto my slice of pizza is thrown out in disgust. The few times I have bit into a mushroom, I have gagged.

Click on the photo link to Amazon.com to buy this book and we will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you!

So what is with this budding inner mushroom hunter apparently I harbor? Who knows?! I would not know a chanterelle from a white from an oyster from a portobello from a shiitake mushroom if they were labeled with giant black marker in the supermarket. In fact, I have no idea how to cook a mushroom, or what they are even supposed to taste like…WOW!

Last year Marc and I went to the Natural Living Expo in Marlborough, MA. One of the vendors there was Taproot Herbals who happens to have wonderful Chaga Tinctures (check them out here.) I purchased an amazing bottle of the Chaga Plus Mushroom Power, and really love it. In a way, I think it is this tincture that has opened my eyes to the world of foraging fungus!

So of course I bought books…And finally this spring, Marc and I have been going out mushroom hunting. Of the five shroom identification books I have, George Barron’s “Mushrooms of Northeast North America: Midwest to New England” keeps rising to the top of the most helpful stack.

Brown spores collected from a spore print of the little brown mushrooms from Belchertown, MA seen in the photo above. The spores were collected on a clear piece of packing tape, and then sealed with another piece of packing tape. Made a great impromptu microscope slide!
Brown spores collected from a spore print of the little brown mushrooms from Belchertown, MA seen in the photo above. The spores were collected on a clear piece of packing tape, and then sealed with another piece of packing tape. Surprisingly, made a great impromptu microscope slide! Approximately 600x magnification. (Remember I am a pathologist if you are wondering why I have a microscope!)

At 8 1/2″ in its maximal dimension, this identification guide is great for backpacks, but a bit too big for standard pockets. It is very well constructed, with a good binding, and glossy (probably water repellent to some degree) pages. Twenty-three pages of introductory material guides you through the organization of the book and the basics of mycology. There are a few pictoral quick reference keys.

The bulk of the guide divides mushrooms into “non-gill fungi” (Including slime molds, sac fungi, and basidiomycota) and “gill fungi”. The gill fungi is further divided by spore color (pink, dark, brown, and light). A beautiful glossy, well-taken, informative photograph adorns each one-half to one-third page mushroom entry. The description of each of the 609 represented species is a brief 3-5 sentences, and contains basic information with no fluff. A note on edibility is also included.

Finally, the back of the book contains an illustrated quick reference guide on edible mushrooms, a glossary of mycological terms, references, and an index. The guide is easy to flip through and well-organized overall.

So, the final word on this? I really am not even an amateur mushroom hunter; I am an absolute newbie. This book seems like a good place to start, even if I have yet to make a single successful/confident identification. I have no doubt that it will take me years to develop proficiency. And this review reflects my lack of knowledge on mycology. So, why bother posting this? It is a reminder to you (and myself) that we all need to start somewhere. So, grab your books and go…

P.S. Maybe my eyesight is getting worse, but I took a cue from my botanist pals and bought a magnifying loupe (10x magnification). I ended up getting this one, and am eagerly awaiting its arrival. I think it will be very helpful with floral and fungal identification. Keep it in mind if you eyes are getting a bit squishy…there are many types of loupes out there!

 

Note: The Walking Herbalist is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. This means that Marc will receive a small commission for each purchase on Amazon that you make after linking to it from this website. 

The Walking Herbalist has no affiliation of the authors or the publishers of this book at the time of the writing of this review. We purchased our own copy of this book for our own private use. This review is simply here to help our readers put together their own herbalism library, and other than possible commissions as an Amazon.com affiliate, we receive no compensation for this. 

 

REVIEW: Wild Plants I Have Known…And Eaten

By Mindy

Summary: Outstanding regional wild food guide for Northeastern America, and a fantastic resource for foragers and chefs!

Russ Cohen is a local legend. Marc and I had the pleasure to attend one of his foraging edible and medicinal plant walks in 2014 at the Wright-Locke Farm in Winchester, MA. At that time, we purchase his book, “Wild Plants I have Known…And Eaten” (available for sale here. All proceeds of the $15 book benefit the Greenbelt – Essex County’s Land Trust). Turns out, Cohen is not only a fantastic plant identifier, he is also a great cook! It was our first time trying Sumac-ade, a delicious cold beverage made from soaking staghorn sumac berries. We were hooked!

“Wild Plants I have Known…And Eaten” is a lean 86 pages and comfy 9″ x 6″, perfect for both curling up in bed to read, as well as stuffing it into your pack. It is entirely black and white, approximately 80% text, with line drawings (by Stephanie Letendre) and photographs sprinkled throughout.

The first seventeen plus pages are introductory, with a discussion on foraging including where to go, survivalism, and safety of consuming wild plants, amongst other topics.

The next segment dives into thirteen wild foods that are relatively common in Massachusetts. This includes plants like stinging nettle, pokeweed, sassafras, and shagbark hickory. Cohen provides a brief physical description of the plant and its habitat, followed by a robust discussion on its culinary uses. Finally, one or two recipes (suitable for high end restaurants) cap off each plant entry.

An “honorable mention” section provides a brief paragraph description and a black and white photo of 27 more edible wild plants common in New England (particularly on the North Shore of Massachusetts).  A bibliography and an index end the book. A pull-out calendar documenting when each wild foods can be harvested (with reference to northeastern Massachusetts) is an amazing bonus, and worth the price of the book by itself.

“Wild Plants I Have Known…And Eaten” is definitely not a field guide. It will be of very little utility when it comes to identifying plants. Leave that to staples, such as this guide and this one.  It excels, however, at sharing information on how to prepare the edible plants you do identify.

This book has a strong regionality as well, centering geographically around Essex County of Massachusetts. This is a strong plus for those who live nearby, and a negative increasing in strength the farther away from the North Shore of Massachusetts you get. For the most part, the plants that are included tend to be widely distributed throughout North America. Information on harvest times however may not apply to given regions.

In summary, this is a fantastic book, and should be a part of the library of any forager of the northeastern United States. Also, adventurous chefs would love it too!

 

Check out our 2-part guide on Beginning Foraging !

or see what Marc has to say in: Just Walk Already!

REVIEW: Seven Herbs – Plants as Teachers

By Mindy

Summary: Philosophical and spiritual healing journey of an archetypal life path that connects herbalism, the Bible, and the medical teachings of the Ojibwe Native American tribe. Incredible insight into the mind of a flower essence practitioner.

Written three decades ago by master herbalist, Matthew Wood, “Seven Herbs: Plants as Teachers” is a pioneering work on present day herbalism. A philosophical and spiritual exercise by which almost random-seeming plants are partnered with biblical stories, this book offers insight into the thought process of homeopathic and flower essence practitioners.

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The book is a quick read in some ways. Only 124 pages of well-spaced text, I easily completed it in a few sittings. Three introductory chapters (“Plants as Teachers”, “The Seven Guideposts”, and “Herbs and Healing”) set the stage for the mental excursion through seven separate yet intertwined allegories based on the Old Testament’s Book of Genesis.

The basis for this book is Native American lore, namely teachings of the Ojibwe tribe (which Wood had the pleasure to study with) “that there are seven steps on the path of life”.  Wood illustrates each of these steps, which he dubs “Guideposts” with a plant and a story (and in particular a person or people) from The Book of Genesis. The claim is that each guidepost most be completed in order for life to be fulfilled and completely experienced. Each guidepost is highly archetypal and generalizable, thus describing the universal pathway of life.

The healing arts are then integrated into these individual journeys. Matthew Wood assigns the use of each of the seven plants (as a flower essence I believe) as a support for clients that are stuck at, or working their way through, these phases of life. He documents his thought process, how to recognize what guidepost a client is experiencing, and the successes of his herbal recommendations.

“Seven Herbs” is a short book, and a quick read. But, it is a book that I could not absorb thoroughly my first time through. Even as I was reading it, I understood that I would need to read it again. It is a philosophical, spiritual, mental, and emotional journey through the world of plants. An introduction to flower essences, homeopathy, and shamanism. An odd intermingling of the bible, herbalism, and Native American traditions. It is a book that cries to be read over and over again, with the promise that it contains deep wisdom for those who want to see it. I strongly recommend it to those who are considering adding flower essences to their herbalism practice.

Getting ready to start your seeds? Check out our lecture on Indoor Seed Starting for the Urban Gardener!

Note: The Walking Herbalist is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. This means that Marc will receive a small commission for each purchase on Amazon that you make after linking to it from this website. 

The Walking Herbalist has no affiliation of the authors or the publishers of this book at the time of the writing of this review. We purchased our own copy of this book for our own private use. This review is simply here to help our readers put together their own herbalism library, and other than possible commissions as an Amazon.com affiliate, we receive no compensation for this. 

REVIEW: Breverton’s Complete Herbal – A Book of Remarkable Plants and Their Uses

By Mindy

Summary: Historical factoids and commentary on Culpeper’s classic Herbal — perfect for herbalist lecturers!

A bit of googling makes it very difficult to understand why Terry Breverton wrote Breverton’s Complete Herbal: A Book of Remarkable Plants and Their Uses. Sounds to me like he was a business man, turned lecturer, turned author. And nowhere do I see a solid connection between his interests in marketing, Wales, and pirates, and the world of herbal medicine. That said, he cared enough about the topic to decorate an herbal with his name.

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In large part an homage to famed 17th century English herbalist Nicholas Culpeper, and his works The English Physitian and Compleat Herbal (click here for an online version), Breverton essentially reprints components of over 200 of Culpeper’s plant monographs and adds his own updates and commentary along the way. The 1 to 2 page monographs are arranged in alphabetical order based on the common name of the target plant. Most monographs contain the subheadings “Other Names”, “Description”, “Properties and Uses”, and “History”. Others include a “History” section as well.  A black & white drawing or two of each plant adorns each entry. A text box highlights an additional interesting fact about each plant.  Each monograph has a uniform arrangement throughout the book, adding to a sense of steadfast organization and neatness to the text.

Breverton italicizes all of the passages taken from Culpeper, whereas his own words are written in plain text. He intertwines his thoughts and Culpeper’s throughout the book.

A table of contents, a two-page introduction, a reference page, and an index are essentially the only other components of this hard-covered, 383-page book. There are brief special topics, such as “Astrological Judgement of Diseases” (Culpeper was an astrologist!) and “The Origin of Paradise and the Beginning of Herb Gardens” sprinkled throughout. The size is perfect for a night-time read (8″ x 5 1/2″ x 1 1/2″).  The book is well made with a solid feel.

I think that Breverton’s Complete Herbal is particularly suited as a historical discussion of useful plants, more so than as a reference for a clinical herbalism practice. The many interesting and sometimes obscure tidbits of information on each plant provide great material for the herbalist leading lectures or plant walks, such as where the names of the plants come from and poems mentioning the herbs. And it is definitely not a field guide.

I recommend this book for herbalists who are interested in the interesting (but not necessarily clinically relevant) facts about herbs, as a table top conversation piece, or for those who want a historical context for plants.

Note: Reproductions of Nicholas Culpeper’s original text, The Compleat Herbal and The Phycitian are available (such as this one).

 

Getting ready to start your seeds? Check out our lecture on Indoor Seed Starting for the Urban Gardener!

Note: The Walking Herbalist is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. This means that Marc will receive a small commission for each purchase on Amazon that you make after linking to it from this website. 

The Walking Herbalist has no affiliation of the authors or the publishers of this book at the time of the writing of this review. We purchased our own copy of this book for our own private use. This review is simply here to help our readers put together their own herbalism library, and other than possible commissions as an Amazon.com affiliate, we receive no compensation for this. 

REVIEW: HERBS (Smithsonian Handbooks) by Leslie Bremness

By Mindy

Summary: Artistically stylized, informationally dense, photographically profound herbal. Best kept on the night stand for some bedtime plant meditation.  A serious text in a zippy, fun package.

Crawl into bed with this book. Seriously. It is the perfect size for a nighttime read (8.5 x 5.7 x 0.8 inches for those who really want to know!) And its fun.

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Lesley Bremness’ herbal, simply entitled Herbs, and one of the DK Smithsonian Handbooks (subtitled “The clearest recognition guides available”), packs a bunch into a modest 300 page space. The back cover brags that over 700 species and 1500 color photographs adorn its well-constructed pages.

The pages are arranged in a type of organized chaos that entice you to randomly thumb through the book, reading whatever plant caption or paragraph you happen to land on. Seemingly shotgun placement of photographs, wrapped with words, and text boxes dress each page.

Despite its sort of “devil-may-care” appearance, a second-glance solidifies that this book means business. Ms. Bremness arranges all of her monographs in a specific no-nonsense manner…like a type A personality hiding behind the type B exterior. A glance at the “How This Book Works” page at the beginning cements this notion.

Each plant monograph is arranged first by major plant type (defined as trees, shrubs, herbaceous perennials, annuals and biennials, vines, and other herbs). Then the species within each category are arranged alphabetically by their scientific name (a feature with pluses and minuses). Each monograph takes up approximately a half page box. The space within the box and its borders contain common name, plant uses, notable features, growing conditions and geographic location, usable plant parts, pictures of mature plant, growing habits, etc. I guarantee when you first look at this book, you will not realize how much information there is on each herb.

One of the best features is the various photograph of the usable parts of each plant (for example, photos of stems, roots, and leaves for a given herb).  The author isolates each photograph, removing the background. Stylistically, this makes the photo “pop” from the page in an artistic fashion. A small, thumbnail-size photograph shows the shape of the whole plant for reference.

The introduction offers a concise, thoughtful 20+ page look at typical herbalism and botany topics, including descriptions of plant parts, essential oils, the uses of herbs for cooking and healing, and gardening.  The book ends quickly with a glossary and a detailed index (which has scientific and common names).

This book is not a field guide. Nor is it really in my mind a comprehensive desk reference. I think it is more of an inspiration. It is a particularly great read for those with a somewhat lacking attention span who like their mind’s eye to jump from one area of a page to the next. Contrarily, it may not be as appreciated by focused linear thinkers who like to read in a uniform, line-by-line manner.

Put this book on your nightstand and ponder a few monographs before dosing off to sleep. Take in all of the fine details of the many annotated photographs. Lesley Bremness’ Herbs is a wonderful text, particularly inspiring to the budding herbalist. It would make a great motivating gift.  In fact, send a copy to your mom for an early Mother’s Day present!

Did you know The Walking Herbalist has a talk on Indoor Seed Starting for the Urban Gardener? Check it out here!

Note: The Walking Herbalist is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. This means that Marc will receive a small commission for each purchase on Amazon that you make after linking to it from this website. 

The Walking Herbalist has no affiliation of the authors or the publishers of this book at the time of the writing of this review. We purchased our own copy of this book for our own private use. This review is simply here to help our readers put together their own herbalism library, and other than possible commissions as an Amazon.com affiliate, we receive no compensation for this.