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Nature's Garden: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants Paperback – March 1, 2010
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About the Author
Samuel Thayer is an internationally recognized authority on edible wild plants who has authored two award-winning books on the topic, Nature’s Garden and The Forager’s Harvest. He has taught foraging and field identification for more than two decades. Besides lecturing and writing, Samuel is an advocate for sustainable food systems who owns a diverse organic orchard and harvests wild rice, acorns, hickory nuts, maple syrup, and other wild products. He lives in rural northern Wisconsin with his wife and three children.
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Top Customer Reviews
A visual and informative treat that is hard to put down, its 512 pages are well illustrated with 415 color photos. Sam brings us fresh insights on 41 new plants. ("New" because the first book in Sam's series, The Forager's Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants covered 32 other plants.) One of the great things about Sam's writing is that it is absolutely authentic, based on first-hand knowledge. For instance, every one of the 32 plants in TFH is one that Sam has eaten at least 50 times.
A second thing that distinguishes Sam's work from other authors is that Sam has a great curiosity. He doesn't hesitate to question edible wild plant claims made by other authors. He delves into research reports and studies, experiments on his own and keeps track of his findings like a scientist. His "Nature's Garden" account on acorns is 51 pages long, and contains information and a synthesis of material and insights that you'll not find anywhere else.
One of the plants included in NG is garlic mustard, which I had written off as an edible that wasn't to my liking. I've cooked and eaten the leaves, the flower buds, and the tuberous root. I've nibbled on the bitter, pungent seeds. In his chapter on garlic mustard, Sam writes that the young, succulent stalks, stripped of leaves before the plant blooms, are mild, sweet and juicy. He says that they are good in salads, snacked on raw, excellent boiled or steamed like asparagus, and that they add a nice flavor to soups. This may sound weird, but I can hardly wait for garlic mustard to come up again this spring, so I can try it!
Sam also has a chapter on autumn olive. He says that they are the berry of choice for making fruit leather. I agree wholeheartedly. He demonstrated how to make it several years ago, let me taste some, and I thought the fruit leather was awesome. Since then, I have made enough for my own use and have shared it with over 300 people in wild food presentations.
If you are concerned with how applicable this book might be to your part of the country, take a look at page 16 if allowed by Amazon. In the chart, Sam states a percentage of the plants covered that would be found for a given state or Canadian province or territory. Sam has done a masterful job of choosing the 41 plants, and comments in each plant's chapter on closely related species found in other North American locations. Only three states - Alaska, Hawaii, and Nevada - and two Canadian territories - Nunavat and Yukon - are below 50%. Even if I lived in one of them, I would still want to purchase this book for the insights that Sam delivers. Also, since I travel, it would allow me to pursue my hobby in other regions.
This book is definitely a must-own.
The book is divided into two parts: The first 74 pages cover conceptual ideas such as where to forage, why eat wild foods, environmental considerations, plant identification, his take on the public perception of the dangerousness of plants, and his take on Chris McCandless' death (as portrayed in Jon Krakauer's book, "Into the Wild"). I particularly liked Sam's personal account of "One Month Eating Wild". His experience has a lot to teach those thinking about living off of wild foods; a common fantasy of us testosterone-poisoned males.
The last 304 pages cover plants, a chapter at a time. Sam provides useful detail on the foods generated from each plant. He covers plants that no one has really covered well before. His American lotus and black nightshade chapters were just fun for me to read, even as a seasoned professional. And I love the foods he's generated with acorns. His acorn chapter alone could be a small book at 51 pages.
He includes an average of nine to ten photographs per plant with a range of three to fifty-one pages per chapter (the acorn chapter). Like his first book, these photos include different views of the plants at different stages of growth along with poisonous look-a-likes. Many photographs cover plant parts never seen before in a book. The book is worth buying for the photos alone. The book is worth buying for Sam's insights alone.
If you go back to re-read Nature's Garden when you are actually working on one of the plants Sam covers, you will see the benefit of the detail he offers. The more time you spend with wild foods, the more you will refer back to and benefit from his book. If you are serious about learning wild foods, this book will help you. If you are not serious, buy his book anyway to support his work.
Reading and referring back to Nature's Garden over time will make your life as a forager, more successful and more fun. While no book stands alone, Sam's Nature's Garden is an important part of any serious forager's wild food library. Highly recommended.
John Kallas, Ph.D., Director, Wild Food Adventures
Institute for the Study of Edible Wild Plants and Other Foragables
Author of Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods From Dirt To Plate (The Wild Food Adventure Series, Book 1)
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