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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Edible plant books

I recently bought a copy of the book "Edible Wild Plants of Eastern North America" by Fernald and Kinsey, 1958, 452 pages, ISBN 58-7977. This is an excellent book on the subject and is loaded with useful tidbits of information on plant uses in the eastern part of the USA. I saw this book many years ago and forgot all about it until I saw it a few years back on EBay. The price was outrageous ($75) and I never pursued picking up a copy since I figured it fell into the category of "highly collectible books" which are usually way overpriced in my opinion. Well, I happened to find a copy for $9 so I grabbed it. The book has a nice selection of drawings and photos but is not a field manual as far as plant identification. It is a book that go's into detail about the use of the many plants listed.
If you need to ID plants then you need a good field manual. My choice is the Peterson Field Guides, namely, Edible Wild Plants (eastern U.S.), Eastern/Central U.S. Medicinal Plants, and Medicinal Plants and Herbs (western U.S.). Medicinal plants are also the ones considered edible in certain cases. Of course highly medicinal roots and plants would not be eaten in quantity, common sense being the rule here. The various flower and tree/shrub books they publish are a must have, also, since they further identify the various species of plants that are edible as well as the poisonous and non edible ones. In fact, I have one Peterson Guide named "Venomous Animals and Poisonous Plants" that covers the whole U.S.
Another book I recommend is "Wild Edible Plants" by Kirk, 1975, 320 pages, ISBN 0-87961-036-0. This covers wild edibles in the Western U.S. and has many good line drawings of the various plants. A nice feature of this book is in the back pages after the index. It lists the uses for different plants in groups such as non food use, dyes, cordage, etc and another section lists the plants by their food use such as berries, roots, flour and meal, greens, beverages, etc. The only drawback to this book is it tries to be a field guide and a plant use guide and the plant identification information is too short, but, the drawings are excellent. I think the author assumes the user is familiar with plant identification and owns a good filed manual for ID purposes. Still, its an excellent book and will be worthwhile owning a copy.
Here's a list of some other useful plant books:
"A Field Guide to Wilderness Living" Gearing ISBN 8127-0057-0
"Eat the Weeds" Harris Lib of Congress 73-83951
"Stalking the Wild Asparagus"Gibbons Lib of Congress 62-13703
"Edible and Useful Wild Plants of the U.S. and Canada" Saunders ISBN 0-486-23310-3
"Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast" Pojar and MacKinnon ISBN 1-55105-040-4
"Wildly Successful Plants" Crockett ISBN 0-02-062600-2
"Sturtevants Edible Plants of the World" Hedrick ISBN 0-486-20459-6
"Heinermans Encyclopedia of Nuts, Berries, and Seeds" Heinerman ISBN 0-13-310285-8
"The Encyclopedia of Edible Plants of North America" Couplan ISBN 0-87983-821-3
"Know Your Poisonous Plants" James ISBN 0-87961-013-1
"Poisonous Plants a Color Field Guide" Woodward ISBN 0-87052-014-8
"Wild Fruits" Fielder ISBN 0-8092-5614-2
There are several good plant books available as free downloads on the net. has several such as Saunders, Medsger, and Sweet and others. Here are inks to a few:

Michael Moore has some very good books for download at his site:
such as "Desert Plants and People" by Sam Hicks and a lot of good herb books as well as ethnobotany books. A search for any category of wild plant books will yield good results on the net. Use keywords such as "wild edible", "forage", "edible wild plants", etc.
There are a lot of other very good books by such authors as Nyerges and Thayer to name a few. Good hunting and be careful of what you pick and eat. Remember: you MUST be 100% positive of the plants ID before you ingest it or you may DIE!!!


James said...

Thanks for the info

Anonymous said...

I enjoy studying up on the edible plants and think everyone should learn more about them. However do not make the mistake of believing we can actually live off the land eating plants. There are some places and some seasons where there would be an abundance and you could do pretty well for awhile. But mostly what is available won't supply you with enough food energy to cover what you spend in the gathering. Most indigenous people are quite small and their digestion system is accustomed to eating large volumes of food. Modern man can't do it. So when you think about edible plants think of them as a source of vitamins to complement a high meat or high carbohydrate diet. If you do not have access to lots of meat or lots of rice/wheat/potatoes then you will starve. I have literally stuffed myself with blackberries on a hike and deluded myself into thinking "this isn't so tough"! But that was in August in a temperate climate. Luck cannot be part of your survival plan.

Anonymous said...

I love this subject and think everyone should learn more about recognizing and using edible plants. However one point to keep in mind; it is almost impossible to get the calories and food value you need from just edible plants. Their value really lies in the vitamin content and the variety they can inject into a survival diet. If you can catch a fish, a bird or a small animal the greens and roots will supplement the meat. If all you have is greens and roots you will starve, it will just take a little longer. A cache of rice and dried beans will provide most of what you need and a variety of greens and other wild foods will provide the rest.