Friday, November 02, 2007

Book Review: The Forager's Harvest by Samuel Thayer

I've been meaning to write up a glowing review of this book for some months now, because I absolutely love it! I've bought, checked out from the library, and flipped through more than a dozen foraging guides, but as soon as I started looking through this one I knew it had value way above and beyond any of the others and that I had to buy it. Why? The details! I love details! And this book has them!

The book starts with coverage of general topics related to foraging, such as safety in identification and sampling; differences of harvest, timing, and use of different plant parts (leaves, roots, seeds, etc); processing and storage techniques; and the shortcomings of most of the foraging literature to date. After extensive coverage of these sorts of topics, with a lot of useful information I haven't seen elsewhere, Thayer spends 32 chapters detailing 32 plants (a few more actually, since he covers some closely related plants together in the same chapter). For each plant, he includes multiple high-quality color photos of the given species plus lookalikes where applicable, gives a detailed description of multiple parts of the plant highlighting key identification traits, lays out the range and habitat, and describes his personal experiences (and sometimes information from existing literature where useful) harvesting, preparing, eating, and storing the plant. Very few books I've seen rely primarily on the author's personal experiences, and of those, even fewer go anywhere near as in-depth as Thayer does.

Thayer lives in Wisconsin, so we in the Pacific Northwest might not find all the plants he describes in the wild here. But we will find more than half of them out here, and of the rest, I have several on my list to deliberately cultivate (including Ramps (Allium tricoccum), Spring Beauty (Claytonia sp.), ground bean or hog peanut (Amphicarpaea bracteata), and Groundnut or hopniss (Apios americana)...maybe also wild rice). So the book has great relevance all around. So far the book has helped me immensely in harvesting wapato (Sagittaria latifolia), describing the best way to muck about in the swamp so as to actually get lots of tubers, not freeze my butt off. And the book's descriptions of processing small seeds has helped me a lot with amaranth and dock harvesting.

My only complaint about the book is that it doesn't cover enough species! But Thayer is working on that, with a second book due out in a year or two. In the meantime, I'll just content myself with rereading the details to pick up all the info I missed the first time or two through!

Table of contents of the book:

    • Introduction
    • The Meaning of Wild Food
    • The Purpose and Organization of this book
    • The History of Foraging and Wild Food Literature
  • Getting Started With Edible Wild Plants
    • Why Forage?
    • Conservation
    • Where to Forage
    • Cooking With Wild Food
  • Plant Identification and Foraging Safety
  • Harvest and Preparation Methods for Wild Plant Foods
    • Greens
    • Shoots and Stalks
    • Underground Vegetables
    • Fruits and Berries
    • Seeds and Grains
    • Nuts
  • Storing Wild Foods
    • Freezing
    • Canning
    • Drying
    • Cold storage
  • Timing the Wild Harvest
    • Calendar
  • Plant Accounts
    • Ostrich Fern
    • Cattail
    • Wapato, Arrowhead
    • Wild Rice
    • Wild Leek, Ramp
    • Smilax, Carrion Flower
    • Butternut
    • Siberian Elm
    • Stinging Nettle
    • Wood Nettle
    • Sheep Sorrel
    • Goosefoot, Lamb's Quarters
    • Spring Beauty
    • Marsh Marigold, Cowslip
    • Swamp Saxifrage
    • Serviceberry, Juneberry, Saskatoon
    • Chokecherry
    • Pin Cherry
    • Ground Bean, Hog Peanut
    • Hopniss, Groundnut
    • Black Locust
    • Sumac
    • Wild Grape
    • Basswood, Linden
    • Evening Primrose
    • Parsnip
    • Common Milkweed
    • Virginia Waterleaf
    • Nannyberry, Wild Raisin, Black Haw
    • Highbush Cranberry
    • Burdock
    • Thistle
    • References and Recommended Reading
    • Bibliography
    • Glossary
    • Index

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