If you’re into survival, then you need a few good Wild Edible Plant titles in your survival library. Finding the right ones can be a little overwhelming – trust me, I’ve bought about every wild edible plant guide there is over the past 15 years. Some of them are completely worthless, some are vague and some contain downright wrong information. There are 2, though, that stand out in the crowd and have become integral references in my study of Wild Edible Plants over the years. These 2 guides are:
- Peterson Field Guide of Wild Edible Plants by Lee Allen Peterson (I use the Eastern/Central North America Guide but they make guides specific to other parts of the country) .
- The Forager’s Harvest by Samuel Thayer (or any other book by this author – they are ALL good)
I like these 2 guides for completely different reasons and they complement each other well. Below is my 2 cents on each one along with PROS & CONS. At the end of this post I’ll also list a few great web-sites for referencing wild edible plants.
Peterson Field Guide of Wild Edible Plants
As far as Wild Edible Plant reference guides go, this one is the most detailed and complete of any manual I’ve ever seen. Not only does it list pretty much every edible plant in this region but it also lists poisonous look-a-likes as well. Each plant is illustrated by a black and white line art drawing – which is a huge frustration for me. However, the illustrations are really well done and the color photo supplement in the middle does show some of the most popular edibles but it certainly doesn’t list them all.
The Peterson guide includes the following information in each plant description:
- Names – common and scientific
- Description with Line Art Illustration
- Where found
- Parts Used
- Season of Availability
- Use and preparation
However, all of this information is listed in one small paragraph for each plant. Thus, the information is limited to just the absolute basics and necessities to be accurate. After reading the very factual and to-the-point descriptions you are left wanting something more substantive and personal. This guide almost feels like a science book instead of a real world experience with the plants.
- Includes a lot of plants – a very comprehensive listing
- Includes poisonous plants as well
- Lists all edible parts and also the ideal season of harvest
- Small Color Photo Supplement in middle of book
- Black and White Line Art Drawings versus color photos
- Includes only the facts and nothing more
- No photos about harvesting or preparation
The Foragers Harvest
As far as reading goes, this is by far one of my favorite books on wild edibles. It is clear that the author, Samuel Thayer, is passionate about this subject. There is no doubt he has a personal experience with every plant he discusses. Many wild edible books are just regurgitated information from other sources and you can tell the author hasn’t really harvested and prepared the plants they are discussing. Thayer is the complete opposite. His very detailed accounts of harvesting and preparing various wild edibles are evidence of years of experimentation, study, trial and error. This guy knows what he’s talking about and can back it up with very personal relationships with each plant. Unlike the Peterson Guide which just lists what parts are edible, Thayer details exactly how to harvest the plants and gives very specific advice, tips and tricks that can only be learned from experience in the field. He has a deep appreciation and reverence for wild edibles which comes through in his writing.
And, this book contains color photos of the plants in a variety of stages and harvest. Thayer also talks about exactly how he eats many of the edibles. For example, he writes ” I most often consume butternuts in hot cereal. A simple recipe, fit for the gods, is cooked wild rice with uncooked butternuts, served hot, sweetened with maple syrup.” And he does this with every plant he talks about. After reading his book(s) there are no mysteries how to eat the plants that he lists. He tells you exactly how he does it and it doesn’t get any easier than that.
- Incredibly detailed information in all respects
- Color photos of the plants in the wild, during harvest and during preparation
- Very personal accounts of harvesting and preparing each plant
- I’d love to see him list MORE plants. This book, for example, lists 32 plants and I was left wanting more… The book is 350 pages so you get an idea about how thorough he is when discussing the wild edibles
How I use the Guides
By now, I am very familiar with nearly every wild edible in this region and consume them on a regular basis – some more often than others. With that said, it’s still wise practice to cross reference harvesting with a couple of solid field guides. As you can see in the photos below, I study my wild edible guides and make my own personal notes in the margins.
I am in the process of building an on-line photo reference library of wild edibles in different stages/seasons for free reference here on the web-site. This has been a work in progress for 3 years and I’m hoping to have it on-line by next fall. I have taken meticulous photos of many wild edibles in all seasons, during harvest and during preparation. I think it will be a very useful reference guide for those of you interested in incorporating more wild edibles into your daily diets. For now, though, below are a couple of great web-sites that have some good free wild edible references:
- http://foragersharvest.com ( Samuel Thayer’s web-site)
Harvesting wild edibles is one of the most rewarding survival skills I practice and for those of you who have been looking for a couple of good field guides I hope this post has been helpful.
How about you – what are your favorite Wild Edible Field Guides?
Remember, it’s not IF but WHEN,
Creek Stewart is the Owner & Lead Instructor at Willow Haven Outdoor Survival School located in Central Indiana & online at https://willowhavenoutdoor.com.