Review: Ancestral Plants by Arthur Haines

imagesI first heard of this book from east coast readers of this blog and folks on Facebook, who enthusiastically recommended it as an excellent reference guide, so I was very curious to check it out. In the opening section of the book, Arthur is very clear that Ancestral Plants is not meant to be a field guide nor recipe book; instead, it’s intended to share his firsthand experiential knowledge on using wild plants for food, cordage, fire-making material, medicine and more after we’ve positively identified them using a good field guide or other source. As a reference guide, it offers a “holistic understanding” with detailed information on the nutritional properties of wild plants and other key attributes from an ethnobotanical and primitive skills perspective.

Arthur Haines

Arthur Haines

Arthur, I learned, lives in Maine, where he has been teaching primitive wilderness skills for 20 years, with special emphasis on working with plants. He mentors folks through the Delta Institute of Natural History and is the staff botanist at Maine Primitive Skills School. He has a whole lot of “dirt time” under his belt, and this book reflects that valuable experience, with an excellent key at the top of each plant listing that explains whether it can be used as food, medicine, for tea, cordage materials, archery, primitive fire-making material, or even smoking! This is very valuable. He actually says he intentionally omitted common uses for a plant if he didn’t feel that it worked well in practice — I wish more wild plant authors would follow suit!

Another great feature of the book is its lengthy section defining and explaining medicinal actions in plants and chemical compounds such as alkaloids, and also various herbal preparations. I also enjoyed Arthur’s advice on collection and harvesting, in which, for example, he tells us that being careful to make clear cuts when taking a part of a plant will help it avoid infection from pathogens. He includes a great harvesting calendar, too.

The book is intended to serve the northern New England region, and it includes nearly 100 wild edible and medicinal plants. Of these, most are found in eastern North America, and just less than half will apply to the Pacific Northwest, or about 40 plants. Additionally useful is that Arthur includes a list of recommended reading with great books for further information, such as books by David Hoffman on herbal medicine and Sam Thayer on wild food.

You can purchase Ancestral Plants for $30 through SurThrival here or direct from Arthur’s website here.

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To see other field guides and reference books I like, visit my Resources page.
Herbal Smoking Blends

6:15 pm to 7:15 pm on Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014
The Herb Shoppe, 3327 SE Hawthorne Blvd., Portland, OR
Learn all you need to know to create your own unique herbal smoking blends. We’ll cover more than half a dozen herbs that are enjoyable to include for relaxation and flavor. We will also talk about the risks and benefits of smoking medicinal herbs and the relationship between plants and human consciousness in this context. Participants will have an opportunity to sample a smoking blend.

Connecting with Plant Spirits: Your Botanical Allies
3 pm to 4:30 pm on Saturday, Feb. 15
New Awakenings, 404 E. Main St., Battle Ground, WA
$20, register by emailing your name and class title to
Everyone can connect with plant spirits, the elders of our world. In this class, you’ll learn everything you need to know in order to personally receive the wisdom, guidance, and healing that you seek from plants. We’ll highlight four wonderful local plants who love to help people — chickweed, cleavers, rose and cedar, among others — and in a powerful guided meditation, practice using our hearts as perceptual organs in order to connect with them. We’ll also talk about ways to bring plant spirits into your daily life.

Virtual Plant Walk
Learn 10 common wild edible and medicinal plants in my informative and entertaining high-quality HD plant walk video you can download to your computer and keep. On sale now.

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