Book Reviews: Foraging

A few weeks ago, I checked out a couple of library books on foraging for wild edibles in the Pacific Northwest. I’ll share some notes on these books here:

  Northwest Foraging  by Doug Benoliel and  Wild Harvest  by Terry Domico

Northwest Foraging by Doug Benoliel and Wild Harvest by Terry Domico

 Northwest Foraging by Doug Benoliel (Skipstone, 2011)

This is a revised edition of Northwest Foraging; it was originally published in 1974. Contains descriptions of over 50 species of edible weeds, plants, and fruits that grow in the Pacific Northwest. Each description includes a physical overview of the plant, its specific geographical range, and the author’s notes on edibility. A detailed black-and-white illustration is paired with each plant description. The back of the book contains descriptions and illustrations of twelve poisonous plants.

Pluses: Each description contains very clear and organized written information about the physical characteristics of each plant. There are several yummy-sounding wild edible recipes included in the book. The “edibility” notes for each plant/weed/fruit are very honest and thorough, and contain good suggestions on preparation and culinary use. There is also a clearly-illustrated introduction to flower and leaf shapes on pages 31 to 34 which I found quite helpful.

Minuses: While the black-and-white drawings in the book give a good sense of the shape of the plants, foragers may need to consult some additional colour photos to fully understand what the plants look like. The plants in the book are organized alphabetically – this may be helpful to you depending on your preferences, but I would have preferred for the edibles to be grouped into categories so that I could commit them to memory more easily.

Summary: I think that this book works well as a pre- and post- foraging reference. The author’s thorough notes on edibility make it easy to see which plants are worth searching for, and the recipes offer good suggestions for preparing gathered edibles. While the written descriptions of the plants are very thorough, a beginner may wish to pair this book with a trustworthy photographic reference in order to assist with accurate plant identification.

 Wild Harvest: Edible Plants of the Pacific Northwest by Terry Domico (Hancock House, 1979)   

Contains descriptions and images of about 40 wild edibles. The write-ups include info on the location, appearance, and suggested culinary use of each plant. Each entry is accompanied by a photo and a line drawing.

Pluses: The edibles in this book are organized by season, which I thought was quite logical. That way, if you were walking in the woods in spring, you could just flip to the spring section of the book and see what you should be keeping your eye out for. The colour photographs are helpful (albeit not the best resolution), and the book is quite lightweight and would be easy to carry along on a hike.

Minuses: The description paragraphs do not contain subheadings, so scanning for the information you need is more difficult. While there are some cooking suggestions, information about the overall taste and edibility of the plants is vague. Though the book briefly mentions a few toxic plants on a back page, it does not speak comprehensively about other toxic plants that may be mistaken as edible.

Summary: You might like this book if you’re looking for a beginner-level photo reference that introduces some of the more common wild edibles in the Pacific Northwest and is light enough to carry with you into the forest. While this book will assist you with plant identification, you’ll probably want to consult a more thorough reference book (and/or take a foraging class) before you make any decisions about harvesting.