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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
When I reviewed Thayer's first book, The Foragers Harvest, I wrote that it is as good or better than anything available on the topic. It has since become the go-to book for students at the Jack Mountain Bushcraft School. His new book, Nature's Garden, builds upon the high standard set by The Foragers Harvest and establishes him as the leading authority and author on edible wild plants that has ever published. It isn't slightly better than other books on the topic; it's in a whole different league.
The meat of the book is made up of plant accounts. These are in-depth profiles of edible plants, full of photos of how to identify, harvest and use them. The author bases all of his work on personal experience, so there aren't the usual falsehoods handed down by authors of lesser works. Instead, you get what works, along with anecdotal stories of how the author got to know the individual plants and how he's used them in the past. His writing style is conversational, and while there is a description for each plant that includes botanical terminology, the author writes it so as to make it accessible to the non-botanist. The numerous photos contribute greatly to aid the neophyte in identifying the individual species. The Harvest And Preparation section for each plant is where the author's experience really shines. Whereas the Peterson's Field Guide To Edible Wild Plants will list "starchy root" or similar descriptive term after a plant, Thayer has several pages of highly descriptive how-to information. To use a specific example, most books on edible plants have a sentence or two on acorns. Nature's Garden has 50 pages.
Anyone who has read The Foragers Harvest would expect the Plant Accounts to be encyclopedic and accessible, full of great photos and useful information. On this point, they deliver. If the book contained just Plant Accounts it would still be a fantastic resource. But there's more to outdoor living and foraging than how-to, and in the first section of the book the author gives a snapshot into the mind of living with wild foods. With sections on getting started, the ethics of harvesting wild plants, conservation, personal experiences on a wild food diet and a harvest calendar, he provides those new to foraging a great jumping off point. In a section titled Some Thoughts On Wild Food, he offers useful advice such as don't make a wild plant fit the description in the book (which is a common pitfall), then expounds upon the myth of the instant expert. The last chapter of the section is titled "Poison Plant Fables", where he discusses the story of Christopher McCandless and how his demise in Alaska, chronicled in the book and movie Into The Wild, didn't occur as the famous author of his biography would have us believe. He didn't poison himself by eating the wrong plant. Rather, he starved to death. By pointing out the facts, though, he doesn't poke fun at McCandless like so many armchair survivalists like to do. Instead, he treats him with respect, saving his derision for the authors and movie producers for not telling the truth. The money quote from this section comes in a section titled "What Lessons About Wilderness Survival And Wild Food Can Be Drawn From The Story Of Chris McCandless?"
'In a short term survival situation, food is of minor importance. However, in long term survival or "living off the land", it is of paramount importance.'
Bushcraft continues to evolve for me away from skills and toward personal relationships with the land and people. While I've never met Samual Thayer, after reading this first section I feel that we're kindred spirits.
There isn't a better book on edible wild plants. Taken together with The Foragers Harvest, it is the last word on the topic in print. I don't think more can be learned from any book; to go beyond what Thayer has written, you have to be out there actively foraging.
The commentary on Chris McCandless was in my opinion the most interesting part of the book. I first heard of "Into the Wild" about a month ago and was intrigued so I read it. I was touched by the story and was disgusted with the derision that was heaped upon Chris. Then I bought Nature's Garden and was fascinated by the analysis. Mr. Thayer points out that foraging for your food is hard work and the farther north you go, the more you have to be on top of your game just to get enough calories to survive. Mr. Thayer salvages the lessons that were lost in the mis-information presented by Krakauer. Well done!
Nature's Garden focuses on covering a few plants well instead of a little information on a lot. I was delighted with the Black Nightshade coverage in this book. I have been researching this plant for the past year and was concluding it was edible. I went so far as to eat a berry, but chickened out of eating more. Then I figured that I had better places to focus my thoughts and I dropped the subject. Thank you Sam for putting this one in. I also appreciated the discussion on how Black Nightshade came to be thought of as poisonous. Mr Thayer covers a look alike plant that might have given Black Nightshade its bad reputation. All poisonous look-alike plant pictures in this book are clearly marked with a red Skull and Crossbones logo in a corner which is a nice touch to a well thought out book.
There seems to be some friendly competition between Samuel Thayer and John Kallas on who can put out the best and most informative edible wild plants book. They seem to be running neck-and-neck down the backstretch and we are all winning. You'll need to buy both "Nature's Garden," and "Edible Wild Plants." I can't decide which is the best. They are both very good. I wish both authors long productive careers!
For example, acorns are probably the most important staple caloric foot that grows virtually everywhere on the continent, and they not only get a write-up, but a very through description with detailed processing and usage information. This is the kind to information people need if they are to do more than nibble curiosities on the trail.
Being in the desert (technically steppe), the options I knew of from my time in the Mid-Atlantic and South aren't all available here. Sure, there's wild berries and dandelions but a lot more is different than the same. I wanted something I could learn from now to look like a hero next month. This book is it!
Just from what I had skimmed through since receiving the book a few days ago, I spent agood deal of time today on my hike identifying edibles. This is a very good book and well worth the price.
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