Foraging seasonal wild foods is an exciting and nourishing way to celebrate the turnings of the year—one that connects us to our ancestral stories of sustenance. Each season offers something unique, perfectly timed to nourish the cycles of life.
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.
When I first began foraging my own food and medicine, I focused on a particular array of plentiful, generous, and nourishing plants—the wild weeds, the common flora, and the invasives. These plants are some of our most superb medicinal allies and nutrient-dense wild foods. And these feral botanicals continue to be my main squeezes: non-native, “weedy” medicinals and wild foods are the most sustainable options out there.
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.
Violets are welcome “weeds” in my garden. In fact, the common blue violet—my particular brand of violet garden guest—is native to these parts, which is more than I can say for myself. The common blue violet (Viola sororia, Violaceae) is native to most of central and eastern North America. It is a common sight in lawns, gardens, sidewalk cracks and along trailsides. The common blue violet is typically considered a “weed” because of its relative ease in adapting to human disturbance, but it pushes the definition of weed because it has been on this continent for a very long time. The leaves and flowers of the common blue violet, along with many other species, are edible and medicinal. The “confederate violet” is an escaped cultivar (cultivated variety) of Viola sororia—it has white flowers with blue streaks and is a common inhabitant of lawns in the southeastern United States.
Bent over the moist earth, we gathered up the crimson and golden fruit into our hungry bags, chatting about life as old friends will, with meandering topics and understood nuances. Picking through the fallen leaves and occasional thorn, our bags grew plump with the fallen medicinal jewels.
Passionflower is ecologically intriguing, drop-dead gorgeous, and an incredibly useful herbal medicine and wild edible. So I introduce this passionflower materia medica with some ecological, botanical, and cultivation snippets specific to this amazingly charismatic native vine, and hope that you wont skip this juiciness for the medicinal information.