A Wild Foods Library: 11 Books for Foragers

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As my book manuscript comes into shape—almost done!—I find myself referencing a stack of foraging books several feet high. And so it happens I often get asked about my go-to foraging books. So here are a few of my favorites.

The first, best, and most compelling foraging book for me must be Euell Gibbons's Stalking the Wild Asparagus, the book that got me foraging for things beyond what my family knew about.

Gibbons has been an inspiration for me forever, and I've returned to his books over and over. He is knowledgeable, has obviously eaten everything he writes about, and most importantly, he's traveled.

This is key. The vast majority of foraging books are regional in scope, and this is not necessarily bad— in fact I have several regional guides in this post. But Gibbons' wanderings gave him unusual authority to write from a national perspective.

He did this in several other useful books, notably his Stalking the Blue-Eyed Scallop, which covers the seaside environment, as well as self-explanatory Stalking the Healthful Herbs. If you live or vacation near a seashore, you pretty much need to own Gibbons's Scallop, and if you are at all interested in wild herbs as medicine or just as a nice accompaniment to your food, then the herbs book is for you.

Mushroom hunting is different from other foraging in that there is more risk at work; you need to know what the hell you are doing.

The one drawback of Gibbons's books are the images, which are nice line drawings but are not overly helpful for the beginner. A modern forager, Samuel Thayer, has done an excellent job with the images in his self-published Nature's Garden.

This is Thayer's second self-published book, and it is the better of the two in my view. His first has a tone to it that put me off: he correctly points out that many foraging books perpetuate myths about plants because the authors have not actually seen or eaten some of the plants, but he cops a "they're all idiots" attitude in his first book I found off-putting. Thankfully, that 'tude is largely absent from his second book.

Nature's Garden is an excellent book if you live east of the Great Plains. Although there are a number of plants he discusses that also live in the West, more than half either do not or are so rare as to be pretty much unforagable. Still, for those plants Thayer writes about that do live in abundance here in California, I find his entries very thorough.

For those who live West of the Great Plains, there are three books I find invaluable. First and foremost is Charlotte Bringle Clarke's Edible and Useful Plants of California. Her book covers a lot of ground and is not as thorough as Gibbons or Thayer, but she deals with pretty much everything I see around me in California—and that comprehensiveness is valuable. I use this book, which has good pictures, as a stepping stone for further research into individual plants.

Presented by

Hank Shaw runs the website Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, nominated for Best Food Blog by the James Beard Foundation in 2009 and 2010. He is the author of the recently released Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast. More

A former line cook, veteran political reporter, and fisherman, Hank Shaw is a freelance food writer who runs the website Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, which chronicles Shaw's search for what he calls the Forgotten Feast: The seasonal foods--mostly wild--we once delighted in, but are now curiosities at best. Game, wild mushrooms, seafood, and wild plants all have a place in modern cooking, and Shaw spends his days exploring their possibilities on the plate.

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook was nominated for Best Food Blog by the James Beard Foundation in both 2009 and 2010 and by the International Association of Culinary Professionals in 2010. He is the author of the recently released Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast. His work has appeared in magazines such as The Art of Eating, Field & Stream, and Gastronomica. He hunts, fishes, forages, and gardens in Northern California with his girlfriend--and photographer--Holly A. Heyser.

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