All crafters have a cache of special tools—and foragers are no exception. I’ve been gathering food and medicine from wild places for nearly three decades and these are my tried-and-true tools of choice. As a bonus, every single one pulls double duty in the garden and around the yard.
It’s easy to become captivated by wild food and medicine. There’s a vitality to wild plants that is unsurpassed, and a nutrient load that is astonishing. More truly though, it’s connection that enamors us—a link to the natural cycles and sustenance of the earth, including a realization that a generous supply of nourishment and healing is springing up all around us.
If you’ve ever felt frustrated trying to choose a reliable field guide to take foraging with you, you’re not alone. There are heaps of books on the subject, and the selection can be dizzying. It’s truly important—you might even say a matter of life and death—to make solid choices in this department. To give you a hand, we cozied up in the Chestnut library and got studious, reviewing all the regional wild food and medicine books we could get our hands on, and checking each one for botanical accuracy and attention to detail. The best are queued up here, and there’s a little something for everyone, from bright-eyed beginners to seasoned foragers and plant enthusiasts.
In the spirit of cold-season stockpiles and cozy reading nooks everywhere, we’ve gathered a list of our most cherished books on wild food and herb foraging. Plenty of fantastic field guides and wild food books didn’t make it into this post. We don’t receive any compensation for promoting the books in our list—they are simply our personal favorites. We’ve included links to purchase directly from the author, when applicable, but you can find almost all of these books online or order them through your local bookstore. Note that some of these books cover medicinal and edible uses, whereas some cover only wild foods.
We herbalists have a unique take on the commonest of herbs: instead of dismissing them as mundane or maddening, we choose to embrace wily botanicals with enchantment and enterprise. These medicinal and edible weeds—vulgar villains to most—are the herbalists’ beloveds. This alchemical perspective, transforming the unplanned and uninvited into a veritable treasure, is a handy approach in life that needn’t be limited to weeds.
The internet can be a fantastic place to learn about herbs—with a significant caveat: anyone can share any sort of information that they want, free of qualifications or checks and balances. That’s why we’ve coralled our most-trusted online herbal resources for you to peruse. Materia medica, plant identification, recipes, research articles—it’s all here.
The homegrown benefits of witch hazel are easy to overlook as an herbalist, as witch hazel is not traditionally something you think of planting in the garden or making medicine with for your apothecary—drugstore brands are what most people associate with witch hazel.
There are over one hundred species of pine worldwide, and most have recorded medicinal uses. Cultures around the globe have used the needles, inner bark, and resin for similar ailments.
What a delight to interview Brandon Ruiz of the Charlotte, North Carolina-based Herbal Accessibility Project—a community-inspired network of food and medicine gardens that reflect and reconnect local relationships with ancestral plants.
My Beloved Rose: Given the way you show up with your gifts of flowers and medicine year after year—perennial and glorious, with little help from humans—I’ve been feeling that the least I can do is to write.