No matter how well you know your wild edibles, American forager Samuel Thayer can teach you something. His brand new how-to book, called “Nature’s Garden: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting and Preparing Edible Wild Plants,” is by far the best work on the subject, well worth the $25 cover price.
What sets “Nature’s Garden” apart from other guide books is its incredible depth. Thayer is true to his subtitle as he tackles the intricacies of 42 common plants found across North America — including dock, elderberry, oak, wild lettuce, amaranth, chickory and huckleberry — over 512 glossy pages. Packed with outstanding full-color photos and helpful charts (for instance, on the characteristics of red vs. white acorns), the book is highly useful for beginning and advanced foragers alike. It is written in an accessible yet scholarly style that avoids jargon whenever possible.
Thayer’s propensity for going the extra mile on the details makes this a total win for readers who really want to try this in the field. Lots of books might tell you, for instance, that young dock leaves taste better than older ones. But Thayer offers helpful tips like, “They do not have to be tiny, just young,” and “As long as the sides are even slightly rolled up, the leaf will be tender. Often…you will find them very slimy. Don’t worry: the slime is a sign that you are getting leaves at the right stage, and it will rinse off.”
Though it’s by and large a how-to, there is a narrative element as the author opens each chapter with a reflective personal anecdote about his experiences. These can be serious in tone, so I appreciated the occasional levity in the captions: Passifloracea, he writes, is “arguably the coolest-looking flower in the world.” And the first 75 pages are an entertaining read as Thayer reveals his personal views on what really killed Christopher McCandless of “Into the Wild.”
Thayer’s first book, “The Forager’s Harvest,” was published in 2006 and has become a respected standard, covering 32 wild foods, from cattail to stinging nettle (the newest work does repeat a few, but not many). One of my favorite features is a handy calendar outlining the harvest times for various plant parts from March through November. Fortunately, the latest work does too.
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