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!