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.
Ingredients: 2 medium tomatoes 2 medium sized nopales (cactus pads) * ½ sweet onion 1 cup black cherries 1/8 teaspoon sea salt 1/10 teaspoon chipotle powder 2 limes ¼ of a small bunch of cilantro (to taste) Handful of edible flowers – calendula, scarlet runner beans, and a touch of red clover are the flowers […]
Lime-green succulent spears of winter’s released slumber, daylily greens are a relished early spring wild green. Daylily’s pleasant mild flavor is excellent paired with the more pungent creasy greens or wild turnip. To prolong the season, cut the greens right at the ground, and daylily will send up tender new growth. You can cut your […]
Creasy greens Creasy greens (Barbarea verna, Brassicaceae), also known as wintercress, is a common weed in the Southeast and the pacific Northwest. Its close relative, Barbarea vulgaris, has a more widespread distribution, occurring throughout most of temperate North America. Here in the southern Appalachians, they grow side by side and I seriously doubt that many people pay attention […]