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.


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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 affiliate, we receive no compensation for this. 

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