The Best Books on Foraging Wild Foods and Herbs
Compiled by Meghan Gemma and Sarah Sorci with Juliet Blankespoor
Photography by Juliet Blankespoor
The following article is a sneak peek into our 375-hour Online Foraging Course: Edible and Medicinal Wild Herbs. This program is THE most comprehensive online course on the topic! The printable manual is 600 pages long and filled with loads of easy-to-follow recipes, herbal medicinal uses, and gorgeous close-up photos for plant identification. In fact, most of our plant profiles contain more detail than you’ll find in any book on wild foods and herbs.
Throughout the course, you’ll befriend the most common edible and medicinal wayside plants, including dandelion, stinging nettles, violet, yarrow, burdock, rose, goldenrod, and many more. Plus, you’ll receive the foundational ground rules of foraging safety and ethics, and then dive deep into botany and plant identification. Before you know it, you’ll have the skills and confidence to safely identify and harvest wild plants.
Registration for this online course is *NOW OPEN* until April 2021.
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 nourishment 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 up a batch of cold-season treats to share with our herbal community: an intriguing reading list, a collection of fresh blog posts, and a brand new online course. The theme for all this seasonal inspiration? Sustainable 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 on 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. We offer our mentorship to you in our 375-hour Online Foraging Course: Edible and Medicinal Wild Herbs.
Meanwhile, in the spirit of cold-season stockpiles and cozy reading nooks everywhere, we’ve gathered up a list of our most cherished books on wild food and herb foraging. These resources are highly applicable in most temperate climates and are generalist resources. Some of these only cover wild foods and don’t explore medicinal plants, whereas others explore both. These books are best accompanied by a regional field guide or two to help you round out your identification.
Note that we don’t receive any compensation for promoting the books on this list—they are simply our personal favorites. Plenty of fantastic field guides and wild foods books didn’t make it into this post—there are so many to choose from! You can also check out our features on regional wild food books and our top picks for free online foraging resources.
ACCESSING BOOKS: We’ve included links to purchase books directly from the authors, when applicable. Otherwise, we recommend purchasing from small and/or Black, Indigenous, people of color-owned bookstores whenever possible. Here is one list of Black-owned bookstores, many of which offer an online store. You can find almost all of these books online or order them through your local bookstore.
Some books on this list may be more difficult to find and/or more expensive. To access these books, here are a few suggestions:
- Many public libraries allow patrons to request books be added to their catalog. Get in touch with your local library to find out if they offer this service.
- Many public libraries are members of countywide or multi-county library systems and participate in interlibrary loan services. If your local library doesn’t carry a book, check the interlibrary loan catalog to find out if another library in your system has it available. (For many public libraries, a catalog search automatically includes media from other libraries in their network).
- To access ebooks and audiobooks from your library system on your device, Libby is a popular app for Android and Apple devices (phones and tablets). OverDrive is the classic app that is compatible with most devices, including personal computers. Both apps can be accessed here.
- University libraries often allow folks who aren't students to use their books. Community members may be able to obtain a community library card, or simply use the books while they are on the library premises.
- If you wish to purchase a book that is more difficult to access, below are a few websites that specialize in rare books:
CONSIDERATIONS ON AUTHORSHIP: Most historical works about Native/Indigenous and Black traditions and practices have been written by white authors, which brings to question the books’ relevance and authenticity. It is impossible for any author to remove oneself from their own cultural lens when writing about another culture, and there is potential for perpetuating colonial relationships when white authors and white-owned publishing companies make a profit off of the knowledge of BIPOC communities. Because women and BIPOC communities have often been excluded from literacy and publishing, it can be difficult to find historical herbal books authored by BIPOC folks and women.
Despite these facts, we’ve included historical works with possible problematic origins because they hold important knowledge, especially considering that genocide, witch hunts, and forced acculturation has limited or even destroyed many traditional herbal oral lineages. Please write firstname.lastname@example.org with book suggestions, concerns, or critiques.
On the other hand, first-hand accounts of one’s own cultural traditions and practices are optimal for authenticity, consent, attribution, and compensation. Titles by BIPOC authors or co-authors (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) are written in purple.
Books on Foraging by Samuel Thayer
Thayer’s books are hands-down the best resources on wild foods, being enjoyable to read and very informational. If you can only purchase a book or two to get started, we suggest beginning with his guides. Thayer’s books apply widely in the United States and Canada and include many plants found elsewhere in the temperate world. (Note: Thayer does not discuss medicinal uses).
The Forager's Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants by Samuel Thayer
Thayer shares detailed material on plant identification (accompanied by color photos) and food preparation, along with entertaining anecdotal stories. He specifically emphasizes wild foods and doesn’t discuss medicinal properties; however, his books are valuable field guides for identifying many herbs that straddle the food-medicine divide (elderberry, for example). Highly recommended.
Nature's Garden: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants by Samuel Thayer
This is the companion guide to Thayer’s The Forager’s Harvest, featuring a fresh collection of plants. Equally essential and recommended.
Incredible Wild Edibles: 36 Plants That Can Change Your Life by Samuel Thayer
Incredible Wild Edibles is styled in a similar fashion to Thayer’s other books but covers a completely new selection of herbs, roots, nuts, and berries. (Note: Thayer does not discuss medicinal uses.)
You can purchase Thayer’s books directly and check out his website here.
Foraging & Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook by Dina Falconi, illustrated by Wendy Hollender
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 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.
Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate by John Kallas
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.
Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants by “Wildman” Steve Brill and Evelyn Dean
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.
Native Harvests: American Indian Wild Foods and Recipes by E. Barrie Kavasch
A well-rounded book featuring recipes with wild plants commonly found in temperate climates. Also includes information about Native American medicinal and ceremonial plant uses, as well as guidance on plant identification and poisonous plants. Beautifully illustrated by the author.
Ugly Little Greens: Gourmet Dishes Crafted from Foraged Ingredients by Mia Wasilevich
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 that Mia is a recipe contributor in the Foraging Course! You can check out her blog and schedule of classes at Transitional Gastronomy.
Wild Food: A Complete Guide For Foragers by Roger Phillips
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.
Wild Remedies: How to Forage Healing Foods and Craft Your Own Herbal Medicine by Rosalee de la Forêt and Emily Han
This book explores the benefits of two dozen common wild plants—many of which can be grown in the garden for those who aren’t called to foraging. Includes seventy-five tasty recipes and instructions for preparing remedies, plus detailed illustrations and beautiful photography to help with plant identification.
The Wild Wisdom of Weeds: 13 Essential Plants for Human Survival by Katrina Blair
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.
The New Wildcrafted Cuisine: Exploring the Exotic Gastronomy of Local Terroir by Pascal Baudar
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 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.
*100 Edible Mushrooms by Michael Kuo
Engaging to read, Kuo’s book features a hundred of the most common edible mushrooms and includes color photos, edibility ratings, descriptions, poisonous relatives and look-alikes, and a recipe section in the back of the book. Not exactly a pocket guide, but small enough to accompany you into the field. Juliet’s favorite book on wild mushrooms for beginners.
Discovering Wild Plants: Alaska, Western Canada, the Northwest by Janice Schofield Eaton
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 list!
Do yourself a favor and also read: Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
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 forage. Prepare yourself for incredible storytelling, immense beauty, and possibly a lot of heartfelt 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 give a shout-out to even more wild food and medicine resources on the blog. Visit our Foraging Hub for articles, recipes, and a roll call of our favorite foraging blogs, podcasts, and YouTube channels.
JULIET BLANKESPOOR founded the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine in 2007 and serves as the school’s primary instructor and Creative Director. She's been a professional plant-human matchmaker for close to three decades. Juliet caught the plant bug when she was nineteen and went on to earn a degree in Botany. She's owned just about every type of herbal business you can imagine: an herbal nursery, a medicinal products business, a clinical practice, and now, an herbal school.
These days, she channels her botanical obsession with her writing and photography in her online programs and here on her personal blog, Castanea. She's writing her first book: Cultivating Medicinal Herbs: Grow, Harvest, and Prepare Handcrafted Remedies from Your Home Garden. Juliet and her houseplants share a home with her family and herb books in Asheville, North Carolina.
MEGHAN GEMMA is one of the Chestnut School’s primary instructors through her written lessons, and is the principal pollinator of the school’s social media community—sharing herbal and wild foods wisdom from the flowery heart of the school to an ever-wider field of herbalists, gardeners, healers, and plant lovers.
She has been in a steady relationship with the Chestnut School since 2010—as an intern and manager at the Chestnut Herb Nursery; as a plant-smitten student “back in the day” when the school’s programs were taught in the field; and later as a part the school’s woman-powered professional team. Meghan lives in the Ivy Creek watershed, just north of Asheville, North Carolina.
SARAH SORCI grew up near the Lake Erie shores of Buffalo, New York, and is happy to be back in her home region. With a degree in Environmental Studies, sustainability fuels Sarah’s love for local, homegrown herbalism. Sarah has been part of the Chestnut team since autumn 2019, and she offers local classes through her business, Sweet Flag Herbs. Sarah loves connecting with the WNY herbal community as an Herbalists Without Borders chapter co-coordinator. She is also jazzed about her new writing project, A Nourishing Harvest, where she explores topics that support the safe, toxin-informed harvest of food and medicine.
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This article is a sneak peek into our 375-hour
Online Foraging Course: Edible and Medicinal Wild Herbs!
This groundbreaking program is THE most comprehensive online course on the topic of harvesting wild medicinals and edible weeds.
Registration for this online course is *NOW OPEN* until April 2021.
Looking for more blog articles about foraging?
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