I’ve read a few edible wild plant guides in the past, and although they’re usually enough to get me excited about learning more, I can’t say I ever put down a book feeling confident that I could really go out and harvest based solely on what I learned within the guide. But after reading The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants by Samuel Thayer, all that’s changed. I now feel not only excited, but much more prepared to try my hand at gathering some wild leeks perhaps, or maybe some black locust pods from the tree behind my house.
I’ve been somewhat of a forager for awhile now, mostly due to my love of wildcrafting. But even as a child my parents would point out wild fruits and berries on our woodland walks, encouraging us to enjoy as much as we could gather. Sometimes we’d collect sassafrass roots for tea, other times we’d pick wild strawberries for jam or eat warm blackberries straight from the bush. So for me The Forager’s Harvest reaches pretty deep. This book is a far cry from most guides which offer wimpy sketches or tiny photos for identifying, with virtually no real how-to information. Thayer provides several photos of plants and trees, showing roots, fruit, leaves and various stages of growth. He also shares everything you’ll need to know about the actual gathering, like proper tools and usage, best times to gather, even how to store and use what you bring home. For instance in his section on gathering wild rice, which takes some time and dedication to gather, Thayer informs you on the habitat of the rice and what sort of equipment you’ll need (canoe, paddle, pole, knocking sticks, gunny sacks etc.) He even instructs you on how to stand in the canoe without falling out (thanks for that!), how to knock the grain off, even how to dry and store the grain so you’re set for the winter.
While not everything is as complex as gathering wild rice, Thayer doesn’t leave you out in left field wondering how to do anything. He’s thorough, knowledgeable, and offers a responsible perspective on gathering food in the wild. If you like to spend a good deal of time out in nature, and if you like to feel a closeness and understanding with the trees and plants that surround you there, then The Forager’s Harvest will definitely take you to a place where you’ll gather a deeper appreciation for plants and trees and all they do to sustain life. It’s a great guide for the wilderness lover, and I’ve no doubt my copy will be dragged about and dog-eared for years to come.