Book Review: “Edible Wild Plants” by John Kallas

John Kallas

John Kallas is a fellow Portlander who leads edible plant walks through his web site, Wild Food Adventures. He’s a botanist with a PhD in nutrition who has been enthusiastically studying and teaching foraging for years. He just put out the first in what will be a series of wild food how-to books, aptly named Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods From Dirt To Plate. It covers 15 very common weeds found across North America, from mallow to sow thistle.

Here’s what’s good about the book:
* It is very user friendly, arranged like a textbook with bolded terms and sidebars featuring definitions, range maps and lists of common names.
* It has outstanding photographs of the plants throughout their life cycle, from early spring to full-on summer bloom. This is exceedingly useful for identification, because a plant in early growth may be at its most tasty yet often looks nothing like its full-grown version — which is usually all one finds in the other field guides.
* It has detailed information about the growth process for each plant, useful for learning when to eat different parts and why.
* The recipes look delicious and have clearly been enjoyed by the author.
* The book has extensive information on some prolific weeds that get little attention in the other edible guides, such as nipplewort (Lapsana communis) and cat’s ear (Hypochoeris radicata).
* Kallas is meticulous in his research, combing through academic studies and reporting only nutrient data he’s personally verified.

Here are the book’s weaknesses:
* Despite the high page count per plant, there’s not a whole lot in it for you if you’re an intermediate-to-advanced level forager and are already quite familiar with the common weeds in this book. If you’re looking for a broader range of plants and want to go more in depth, Sam Thayer’s Nature’s Garden or Forager’s Harvest would be a better fit.
* Kallas does not delve into medicinal properties.

Bottom line: Kallas has crafted an excellent beginner’s guide with a strong emphasis on identification and basic botany.

For more book recommendations, visit the Resources page.
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I’m offering a fun and free workshop called Nonvisual Plant Identification on Saturday, Oct. 2. Click here for more info.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: “Edible Wild Plants” by John Kallas

  1. Pingback: Vegan Foraging « First Ways

  2. From the Author.

    Thanks for the thoughtful review. I agree with you that this is an excellent beginners guide, it’s user friendly, has outstanding photographs, lets you know when and why to eat different parts of each plant, covers some plants no one else covers, and only reports credible nutrient data. Chosen for inclusion are those plants that anyone could find anywhere in North America within walking distance from their kitchens.

    This book, however, is also designed for the advanced forager, foraging instructors and their students. In fact, advanced foragers believe this is a great book and an important part of their wild food libraries, including Sam Thayer whom you mentioned. The book is valued by them for the unique extensive and clear plant coverage and the conceptual chapters which you did not mention in your review. The conceptual chapters add depth to the plant chapters and visa versa. Reviews by some of the most respected people in the field of wild foods can be seen at my web site:
    http://www.wildfoodadventures.com/ediblewildplantsreviews.html.

    Most intermediate to advanced level foragers teach others about wild foods. They do not want to be loose with their facts, or to perpetuate false information. This book goes out of its way to tighten up the field, debunk myths, clarify terms, show new and innovative ways to do things, and to correct most of the misinformation about the nutrition of wild foods. Most intermediate and advanced foragers do not have formal training in botany, morphology, taxonomy, nutrition, physiology and biochemistry that I do. I help to correct and add to the record in a way that is simple and understandable to the average person.

    So you can see that I am confused about your “in-depth” criticism. On the plants I’ve covered, no one has gone into more depth than I. People can check this for themselves using Amazon’s and Google’s “look inside’ feature. If your criticism was that I did not cover a broader spectrum of plants that you personally wanted to know, that was not the goal for this first book in the series. Books that follow this one will have different themes and cover different plants.

    Here are just a few of the advanced features never addressed by anyone before and that advanced practitioners appreciate:

    The Plant Chapters
    — The focus on the natural history of the plants from seedling to seed producing plants with its accompanying detail provides advanced users with subtle morphological features they might not have known before like tubericles and ocrea in docks, the twist in the root of garlic mustard, the dandelion heart, etc. Since this is the first book to cover natural history, it also serves as a model for other authors in how they may cover plants in the future.
    — The systematic listing of all of the historic Latin names for each plant helps intermediate and advanced foragers research the historic use of plants.
    — Discussion of the development of saponins in wild spinach, erucic acid in mustards, etc, and how to manage them.
    — Discussion of the growing conditions in enough detail so that advanced foragers and progressive farmers could start experimenting with cultivation, edible landscaping, and permaculture.
    — The mallow chapter alone goes far beyond the knowledge base of any advanced forager to date. As common as this plant is, recipes for mumbo gumbo, mallow meringue and mallowmallows have never been achieved or reported before in a book.
    — Debunking and explaining the origins of perpetuated myths of plants like shepherds purse, curly dock, etc,
    — Plants are included that no one else covers.

    The Conceptual Chapters:
    — Identifying and formalizing concepts like rapid and end-stage growth in the understanding of edible and choice plant parts.
    — Establishing formal definitions for edible wild plants, medicinal plants, poisonous plants, and poisons vs toxins, etc. These formal definitions lead to a better understanding of the concepts in general and give wild food instructors a consistent foundation to work with.
    — Scientific level coverage of oxalates and nitrates in layman’s terms. Both concepts misconstrued and misunderstood throughout the literature and unclear to instructors without a scientific background in the nutrition sciences. I clear them up in this book.
    — For the first ever in a wild food book — sound nutrient data, and phytochemical information; complete with references to original scientific articles for the advanced forager to investigate. I debunk myths about nutrition and chemical constituents and explain how many toxins in small amounts are now being considered potentially beneficial phytochemicals.

    Given all this, I am bewildered in your statement that there is not a whole lot in it for the intermediate to advanced forager. This book is designed to be fun to read and that the reader can go as shallow to as deeply as the want and still enjoy the content.

    With Respect and Friendship,

    John Kallas

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