The Ten Best Books on Foraging Wild Foods and Herbs
By Meghan Gemma with Juliet Blankespoor
The following article is a sneak peek into our 375-hour Online Foraging Course: Edible and Medicinal Wild Herbs, which begins in January 2018! The course begins with the basic ground rules of foraging safety and ethics, and then moves on to botany and plant identification. Before you know it, you’ll have the skills and confidence to safely identify and harvest wild plants.
You’ll befriend THE most common edible and medicinal wayside plants, including dandelion, stinging nettles, violet, yarrow, burdock, rose, goldenrod, and many others. The printable manual is hundreds of pages long and filled with close-up photos for identification, medicinal uses, and loads of easy-to-follow recipes. In fact, most of our plant profiles contain more detail than you’ll find in any book on wild foods and herbs.
Registration for this online course runs December 20th, 2017 through January 15th, 2018 and is only open once a year. The course runs January 15th through November 1st, 2018!
Every season speaks to the heart in its own way, and the brisk days of fall beckon us—one leaf at a time, and in the most ancient manner—to fill our pantries with nourishing food and medicine and softly burrow in. While the squirrels are thriftily gathering black walnuts and acorns, my family is doing the same. By the time winter blows in, we have a rich and wild supply of food—jars of nettles pesto, baskets of nuts, stores of hawthorn berries and rosehips, bottles of elderberry syrup; the list goes on. These are our winter treasures, unpacked one by one as the dark days unfold.
This makes winter a season of literally tasting and counting our blessings. It’s also a time for other slow and gentle pleasures, like curling up with a great book or delving into new studies. At the Chestnut School, we’ve been brewing nourishing cold-season treats to share with our herbal community: a reading list, a collection of fresh blog posts, and a brand new online course. The theme for all this seasonal inspiration? Wild food and medicine foraging.
If you’re curious about foraging, we recommend one of the first things you do is cultivate an ethos centered in sustainability and reciprocity. See our article Foraging for Wild Edibles and Herbs for more on this. Next, set yourself up with a stack of great foraging guides (see the resources listed below) or, better yet, apprentice yourself to a seasoned forager. As we spin into 2018, we’ll be offering our own mentorship to you in our 375-hour Online Foraging Course: Edible and Medicinal Wild Herbs. This program is shaping up to be THE most comprehensive online course on the topic! The printable manual is over 500 pages long and filled with close-up photos for identification, medicinal uses, and loads of easy-to-follow recipes. You can also check out the wild foods section of our blog, and our Online Herbal Immersion, which features an entire module on foraging.
Meanwhile, 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. But keep your eyes peeled for our upcoming features on regional wild food books and our top picks for free online foraging resources. 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.
1. Foraging & Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook by Dina Falconi, illustrated by Wendy Hollender (Botanical Arts Press, 2013).
We treasure this book for its beautiful illustrations and delicious recipes. It’s easily our most reached-for wild foods cookbook. The book is divided into two main parts: botanical drawings paired with key identification tips, followed by a bounty of herbal, wild foods recipes. Many of the recipes are flexible to work for a variety of diets—gluten free, dairy free, sugar free, raw—and Dina includes an array of master recipes that can be adapted to different plants throughout the seasons. There’s also a brief medicinal discussion of each herb as well as some nutritional tidbits. Many of the featured plants are common in the herb garden (elderberry, rose, bee balm, etc.), so this is an excellent resource for the gardener and forager alike.
If you love Dina’s recipes, you can catch more of them in our Online Foraging Course—she’s a contributor! You can purchase her book and access her blog via Botanical Arts Press.
2. The Forager's Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants (Forager’s Harvest Press, 2006) and Nature's Garden: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants (Forager’s Harvest Press, 2010) by Samuel Thayer.
Thayer’s books are hands-down the best resources on wild foods, being enjoyable to read and very informational. These two are companion guides, each featuring unique plants. Thayer shares detailed material on plant identification (accompanied by color photos) and food preparation, along with entertaining anecdotes. His books apply widely in the United States and Canada and include many plants found elsewhere in the temperate world. Thayer emphasizes wild foods specifically and doesn’t discuss medicinal properties; however, his books are valuable field guides for identifying many herbs that straddle the food-medicine divide (elderberry, chickweed, and raspberry for example). Highly recommended. You’ll need to buy the books separately, and they can be purchased directly from the author here.
3. Incredible Wild Edibles: 36 Plants That Can Change Your Life by Samuel Thayer (Forager’s Harvest Press, 2017).
Did you notice we’re recommending another book by Sam Thayer? That’s because he’s simply one of the very best wild food writers around. If you can only purchase a book or two to get started, we suggest beginning with his guides (Note: Thayer does not discuss medicinal uses). Incredible Wild Edibles is styled in a similar fashion to Thayer’s other books but covers a completely fresh collection of plants. And it’s equally wonderful and essential. You can purchase Thayer’s books directly, and check out his blog here.
4. Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants by “Wildman” Steve Brill and Evelyn Dean (William Morrow Paperbacks, 2010).
You can gather an immense amount of wild food knowledge from this book. Over 500 edible and medicinal plants are organized by harvesting season, with identifying characteristics, detailed preparation information, and beautiful line drawings to accompany each one. This was one of the first books on foraging Juliet owned, she’s learned more about wild foods from this book than any other. In the back of the book, you’ll find a collection of Steve’s recipes. You can purchase the book and visit Steve’s blog here.
5. Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate by John Kallas (Gibbs Smith, 2010).
This is one of the finest books on wild edible greens, with thorough species descriptions, beautiful photographs, nutritional profiles, and lots of recipes. Wild greens are an abundant food source in nearly all temperate places—including cities—so this book is a valuable resource for foragers everywhere. Kallas himself is a botanist, teacher, nutritionist, and wild foods expert who has foraged throughout the United States, Canada, and the European countryside. We appreciate that the book covers fewer plants in greater depth, which is more helpful than superficially covering hundreds of plants. This book focuses on identifying and harvesting wild foods; it doesn’t explore medicinal uses. More about John’s work can be found on his Wild Food Adventures website.
6. Ugly Little Greens: Gourmet Dishes Crafted from Foraged Ingredients by Mia Wasilevich (Page Street Publishing, 2017).
There’s nothing ugly about this book, which spoofs on the common misconceptions about weeds. It’s packed with fancy wild food recipes and sumptuous color photos. Many of the recipes are easy to prepare, but in general, this book is ideal for the epicurean forager, with dishes like nettles benedict and cattail pollen madeleines. Not just limited to greens, it features a diverse collection of plants that grow in most temperate to subtropical climates. The book blends plant identification with preparation but dials in on the recipe side of things. Therefore, it’s best accompanied by a field guide that features a lot of identification.
We’re excited to say Mia is a recipe contributor in our Online Foraging Course! You can check out her blog and schedule of classes at Transitional Gastronomy.
7. Wild Food by Roger Phillips (Little, Brown, 1986).
This wonderful classic was written by a British family who spent time in North America, camping and preparing wild foods and drinks. A wide range of wild edibles are covered, including mushrooms, herbs, seaweeds, flowers, roots, greens, nuts, and berries. The book features loads of simple recipes accompanied by sublimely staged photos of wild foods dishes in their native habitat. (Think glamping, with a wild foods twist.) Be sure to purchase the 1986 edition of this book, which is affordable to purchase used and offers more recipes and species profiles than the newer edition.
8. The Wild Wisdom of Weeds: 13 Essential Plants for Human Survival by Katrina Blair (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2014).
We love the spirit of this book. It covers fewer plants than your average field guide but takes you on a deep journey of discovery with each one. It includes edible and medicinal uses for many of the most common weeds found worldwide in the temperate climate, along with ethnobotanical information. Some tips on identification are included, but we recommend using a field guide along with her descriptions to make sure you have the right plant. This is a great resource for both urban and rural dwellers. You can order the book here.
9. The New Wildcrafted Cuisine: Exploring the Exotic Gastronomy of Local Terroir by Pascal Baudar (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2016).
Baudar’s book is truly groundbreaking, with delectable imagery and recipes that push the edge of even wild cuisine (edible insects, for example). In this light, we recommend his book for the curious and adventuresome cook, or for anyone wanting to take their wild food dishes to the next level. Arranged by season, the book balances progressive recipes with traditional preparations; lots of pictorial how-to’s feature fermentation and food preservation. Most plants in the book can be found throughout the temperate world, but others are found only in Mediterranean climates. This is a gorgeous book that is sure to spice up wild food conversation. You can read more about Pascal here.
10. Discovering Wild Plants: Alaska, Western Canada, the Northwest by Janice Schofield Eaton (Alaska Northwest Books, 2003).
Don’t let the title of this book put you off—it’s relevant to temperate climates around the world. And it’s a superb field guide. The book covers 147 wild plants, detailing their identification, range, traditional and contemporary uses, and medicinal properties. Each plant is accompanied by photographs and line drawings. The book is currently out of print, making used copies a bit more expensive than other field guides, but it’s so good that it still made our top 10!
Do yourself a favor and also read: Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer (Milkweed Editions, 2015).
This book will grow your heart and soul, and we recommend it to absolutely everyone. Though not technically about foraging, Kimmerer’s writing on our relationship to land, food, medicine, and legacy will change how you live and, yes—forage. Prepare yourself for incredible storytelling, immense beauty, and possibly a lot of tears.
Do you have a favorite wild foods book that didn’t make it onto our list?
We’d love to hear about it (including any regional guides that you enjoy)! There are so many wonderful books on this subject that we couldn’t include them all here. However, we’ll be giving a shout-out to even more wild foods and medicines resources on the blog soon, so stay tuned.