This has become my new pet peeve. When someone asks a question about a wild edible plant on the forums they get a dozen different answers from a dozen different people. I get so frustrated with this because there are so many excellent field manuals out there for identification and uses of wild edibles. There is tons of good identification information on the net from very reliable sources such as the USDA and some states have one like CALFLORA for example. I see about 5 new books a year on the subject being published. There is no excuse not to own several wild edible books if you want to partake of this skill. Even though I live in the western US I still buy and own several dozen books aimed at the eastern US. Why? Because I still go there on occasion and there are plants that grow all over the country and some that have different species of the same family all with similar properties that grow nation wide. For instance I used to gather sweet cicely, Osmorhiza claytonii, plants, roots and seeds in Pennsylvania for its food and medicinal properties. There is a very close relative, Osmorhiza brachypoda, that grows here in the Sierra Nevada's at about 7,000 feet. The root and plant is much smaller than its eastern cousin but it has all the same properties.
For the eastern US I'll add a few I know and trust. If you click on the title it will take you to the Amazon.com page. Here go's:
The Encyclopedia of Edible Plants of North America-Couplan This is a use guide rather than a field guide. Its a great book for the different uses of several hundred edible plants after you have mastered the identification skills.
Eat the Weeds-Ben Charles Harris Another use book. Very informative.
Edible and Useful Plants of the United States and Canada-Saunders This is a classic and covers more than just the east but the information is solid. Good for ID and plant use.
A Field guide to Wilderness Living-Gearing This is a handy little paperback and it has a very good section on plant use and recipes. It also has a good section on survival. Worth searching for.
Edible Wild Plants-Medsger This is another classic. It has some line drawings but the value is in the use details and I recommend finding a copy.
Edible Wild Plants of Eastern North America-Fernald,Kinsey & Rollins This is another great old classic. Good illustrations and excellent use details. Unfortunately its considered a collectible and a bit pricey but if you keep an eye out you may find one for a decent price.
Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants-Nyerges This is a great book for the active forager and covers more than just food uses. Its geared towards the west but a lot of the plants are found in the east as well. Again, I highly recommend it.
All in all I have nearly a hundred books on plants in my library. Most are old botany works which I have used over the years to study and identify plants. Once you get to the point of quickly recognizing a new plant by its "family traits", you're on your way. It gets easier the more you learn. A trick my grandmother showed me was to make drawings and take copious notes with a composition book she always had me carry on our adventures. By the time I was 9 I could rattle off the names and properties of around 300 wild plants. Its good to have a mentor.
I'll expand this list and make it a series of posts here if possible. The beauty of it is the fact that most wild edibles are also considered medicinal herbs. The medicinal virtues in most common plants is the vitamin and mineral content which wasn't quite that well understood when these plants were first used centuries ago. They just knew that consuming these plants was good for you and healed people on a poor diet.
Something else about forum edible plant posts. You can gather tons of good information from experienced posters. I am in no way dissing the forums at all! But, you have to take it to the next level and do some research on your own. Further study will reveal details about the plants you may find useful for the identification and study of other closely related or even similar looking plants. I'm all for the spread of knowledge or I wouldn't be doing this blog. Consider it a labor of love. I love learning and teaching. You actually give someone something worth while.
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