Summary: Wannabe wild food foragers should read this book from cover-to-cover. A great resource for those farther along on their native edibles journey as well!
Edible Wild Plants was the book… I mean, this was THE book that got me started on my way to learning wild edible foods! Dr. John Kallas makes foraging food accessible. Period. Dr. Kallas sits amongst a handful of contemporary wild food giants (to include Samuel Thayer, Christopher Nyerges, and Wildman Steve Brill), all of whom have written outstanding books that should sit proudly on a forager’s shelf (or in their backpack!)
But, in my opinion, Dr. Kallas has written the best book for beginners.
Why? Dr. Kallas organizes this book in an unique and interesting way that has provided the basis of my own food foraging. First off, he focuses only on fifteen plants, all of which are predominantly wild leafy greens. He divides these nearly evenly into four different categories: foundation greens (relatively bland tasting leaves, e.g. lambsquarters which he calls “wild spinach”), tart greens (with an acidic or citrus taste, e.g. wood sorrel), pungent greens (stongly flavored, e.g. garlic mustard), and bitter greens (e.g. dandelions). This arrangement provided me with a framework to think about the actual edibility of a wild harvest in a culinary way. I mean, unless it is truly a survival situation, why bother eating food that tastes horrible? I think there is a much greater chance of success (defined as actually learning to forage in a way that can be life sustaining), if you enjoy what you harvest.
The plants picked for inclusion in Edible Wild Plants are carefully curated to be relatively easy to identify, readily available in many locales, abundant, and rather free from dangerous lookalikes. And when there are lookalikes, Dr. Kallas carefully describes the differences between species with words and photos. Beginners can feel like they are in good hands with this material!
He discusses each plant in abundant detail, with many useful and illustrative photographs, beginning from seedling to adult plant. He talks about ways to harvest and utilize the plants, providing recipes. The chapter on curly dock, for instance, is over 20 pages in length. And Dr. Kallas is not faking it. He shows pictures of each of the delicious-looking preparations he has cooked up!
Overall, the book has 25 chapters divided into three sections: “Understanding Wild Foods”, “The Plants”, and “The Potential of Wild Foods”. The first sixty pages lay the conceptual framework of how to approach foraging, including how to use the book, what tools you need, what mindset you should have. The last section answers specific concerns about foraging (what about those oxalates?) as well as provides a space for daydreaming of grander solutions (“feeding yourself and society”).
The book is a soft-bound desk reference, high quality, and certainly not a field guide (although it may be useful in the field). The first edition was published in 2010 by Gibbs Smith (Layton, UT). It is over 400 glossy print pages and 9 inches in its maximal dimension.
For all of the wannabe foragers out there, start with Edible WIld Plants. This is the book that will make you realize that your backyard is a giant salad bowl. You can thank me later (with some wild mallow whipped cream on top of my favorite ice cream!)
Check out our 2-part guide on Beginning Foraging !
or see what Marc has to say in: Just Walk Already!
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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.