The best edible wild plant books

2 authors have picked their favorite books about edible wild plants and why they recommend each book.

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The Forager's Harvest

By Samuel Thayer,

Book cover of The Forager's Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants

Like all of Sam’s books, this one is a gold mine of detailed, in-depth information about the plants he features in it. His information is beyond trustworthy: he is so familiar with his subject that it is as if he is inviting you to get to know some of his best friends (the plants). My copy is dog-eared and field-stained from all the use I have put it to.


Who am I?

I started foraging when I was a toddler and my Greek great-grandmother took me to a park to gather dandelion leaves. I read foraging field guides almost incessantly (still do). Eventually, I got a certification in Ethnobotany and went professional. I love teaching and sharing my passion for wild foods through my books, workshops, and videos. One of the most rewarding moments for me is when a student realizes that something I’ve just identified as a safe and delicious edible is a plant that grows all around them. It’s a game-changer. They can’t go back to seeing any plant as “just a weed."


I wrote...

The Skillful Forager: Essential Techniques for Responsible Foraging and Making the Most of Your Wild Edibles

By Leda Meredith,

Book cover of The Skillful Forager: Essential Techniques for Responsible Foraging and Making the Most of Your Wild Edibles

What is my book about?

From harvesting skills that will allow you to gather from the same plant again and again to highlighting how to get the most out of each and every type of wild edible, trusted expert Leda Meredith explores the most effective ways to harvest, preserve, and prepare all of your foraged foods. Featuring detailed identification information for over forty wild edibles commonly found across North America, the plant profiles in this book focus on sustainable harvesting techniques that can be applied to hundreds of other plants. This indispensable reference also provides simple recipes that can help you make the most of your harvest each season.

Edible Wild Plants

By John Kallas,

Book cover of Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate

John Kallas has rebranded foraging from 'alternative roughage' to 'five-star dining.' No other wild foods book has this kind of in-depth text, mouth-watering recipes, or eye-popping pictures of culinary delights, such as wild spinach pizza, pickled purslane, and homemade marshmallows.


Edible Wild Plants is rich with photographs, giving the reader the tools to be successful early and often at identifying, gathering, and dining on these plants. Based on the experiences of John Kallas, a lifelong, full-time wild food researcher, teacher, and author, it catapults a novice into many early triumphs, provides plenty of new useful and practical information for the seasoned professional, and offers naturalists a resource from which to teach wild food concepts. In no time, readers go beyond just tasting to incorporating these foods into regular meals.


Who am I?

Growing up, I spent summers and weekends with my grandmother, who introduced me to wild food foraging. Grandma Josie and I harvested purslane and lambs quarters weeds from her garden, dandelions and meadow mushrooms from the pasture, and watercress from a nearby spring. On daily walks we gathered peppermint, yarrow, and other wild herbs for tea. She cooked on a wood stove and kept a pot of tea warm at all times. Grandma nurtured my interest in wild plants, wilderness survival, and self-sufficiency. Inspired by her, I built my own stone and log house, teach survival skills and botany, and I still cook on a wood stove just like she did. 


I wrote...

Foraging the Mountain West: Gourmet Edible Plants, Mushrooms, and Meat

By Thomas J. Elpel, Kris Reed,

Book cover of Foraging the Mountain West: Gourmet Edible Plants, Mushrooms, and Meat

What is my book about?

There's food in them thar hills! There is also food in the valleys, meadows, swamps, and all around town, too...maybe even in your own backyard. Foraging the Mountain West is a guide to harvesting and celebrating nature's abundance. Reach out and explore the world with your taste buds. Discover new delights you will never find at the store. Connect with nature on a deeper level by meeting, greeting, and eating the plants, fungi, and creatures that share the neighborhood. Become a little more self-sufficient, and a lot more aware. Foraging the Mountain West will help you dream in winter, cleanse in spring, forage in summer, and gorge in fall. The book includes more than 600 vivid color photos detailing every essential aspect of foraging.

The Encyclopedia of Edible Plants of North America

By Francois Couplan,

Book cover of The Encyclopedia of Edible Plants of North America: Nature's Green Feast

The Encyclopedia of Edible Plants is the only book to list all edible species (about 4,000 plants) that have been used as food by humans on the vast North American continent. The book contains a comprehensive account of each species, including etymology, geographical location, uses of each part, history of the uses, composition, medicinal uses, possible toxicity, endangered species, and much more.


Author Francis Couplan, Ph.D. blended scientific expertise with thirty-five years of personal experience consuming edible plants. By relating to the senses and to the pleasure of discovering amazing new tastes and flavors, the book encourages the reader to develop new relationships with nature. The book also includes traditional Native American cooking techniques and uses for plants which the author recorded while living with various tribes around the country.


Who am I?

Growing up, I spent summers and weekends with my grandmother, who introduced me to wild food foraging. Grandma Josie and I harvested purslane and lambs quarters weeds from her garden, dandelions and meadow mushrooms from the pasture, and watercress from a nearby spring. On daily walks we gathered peppermint, yarrow, and other wild herbs for tea. She cooked on a wood stove and kept a pot of tea warm at all times. Grandma nurtured my interest in wild plants, wilderness survival, and self-sufficiency. Inspired by her, I built my own stone and log house, teach survival skills and botany, and I still cook on a wood stove just like she did. 


I wrote...

Foraging the Mountain West: Gourmet Edible Plants, Mushrooms, and Meat

By Thomas J. Elpel, Kris Reed,

Book cover of Foraging the Mountain West: Gourmet Edible Plants, Mushrooms, and Meat

What is my book about?

There's food in them thar hills! There is also food in the valleys, meadows, swamps, and all around town, too...maybe even in your own backyard. Foraging the Mountain West is a guide to harvesting and celebrating nature's abundance. Reach out and explore the world with your taste buds. Discover new delights you will never find at the store. Connect with nature on a deeper level by meeting, greeting, and eating the plants, fungi, and creatures that share the neighborhood. Become a little more self-sufficient, and a lot more aware. Foraging the Mountain West will help you dream in winter, cleanse in spring, forage in summer, and gorge in fall. The book includes more than 600 vivid color photos detailing every essential aspect of foraging.

Backyard Foraging

By Ellen Zachos,

Book cover of Backyard Foraging: 65 Familiar Plants You Didn't Know You Could Eat

Every forager I know (myself included) doesn’t just gather truly wild plants. We also harvest neglected fallen fruits and cultivated plants that were planted as ornamentals but are also great food. In this book Ellen focuses on the latter, introducing us to the tastiness of hostas, daylilies, and many other garden plants that most people think are just eye candy.


Who am I?

I started foraging when I was a toddler and my Greek great-grandmother took me to a park to gather dandelion leaves. I read foraging field guides almost incessantly (still do). Eventually, I got a certification in Ethnobotany and went professional. I love teaching and sharing my passion for wild foods through my books, workshops, and videos. One of the most rewarding moments for me is when a student realizes that something I’ve just identified as a safe and delicious edible is a plant that grows all around them. It’s a game-changer. They can’t go back to seeing any plant as “just a weed."


I wrote...

The Skillful Forager: Essential Techniques for Responsible Foraging and Making the Most of Your Wild Edibles

By Leda Meredith,

Book cover of The Skillful Forager: Essential Techniques for Responsible Foraging and Making the Most of Your Wild Edibles

What is my book about?

From harvesting skills that will allow you to gather from the same plant again and again to highlighting how to get the most out of each and every type of wild edible, trusted expert Leda Meredith explores the most effective ways to harvest, preserve, and prepare all of your foraged foods. Featuring detailed identification information for over forty wild edibles commonly found across North America, the plant profiles in this book focus on sustainable harvesting techniques that can be applied to hundreds of other plants. This indispensable reference also provides simple recipes that can help you make the most of your harvest each season.

It's Only Slow Food Until You Try to Eat It

By Bill Heavey,

Book cover of It's Only Slow Food Until You Try to Eat It: Misadventures of a Suburban Hunter-Gatherer

This book cracked me up. Bill Heavey met with people all over the United States and went on crazy foodie adventures with them in order to better understand pockets of unique eats and subsistence. This is not a restaurant visits book. This is a go fishing, backwoods, hunt-or-be-hunted book.

I have two favorite stories in this book. The first is of a woman who forages along the Potomac for Paw Paw fruit. Her attitude toward finding wild food is hilarious and matter-of-fact. The second is of a man who fishes the Bayous of the south and takes Heavey for a wild ride.


Who am I?

I am an anthropologist and former owner of a tech company. I saw firsthand how technology was changing society in the early twenty-teens, and knew that we were experiencing a compounding paradigm shift. I have a passion for telling stories and preserving the past for future generations — the stories that our grandchildren will ask about, just as we asked our grandparents about the great wars and depression.


My book is...

Stories of Elders

Imagine growing up with the first radio in your neighborhood or using a crank car to go to school each day, and now using an iPhone for your daily communication. Stories of Elders documents the high-tech revolution through interviews with those that lived its entirety. They share what it was like to see an airplane for the first time, watch a man walk on the moon, and received the first polio vaccines. They developed technologies like our first spy satellites, built the Saturn V, and transitioned their offices from typewriters to word processors to smart tablets. How has technology changed America? The Greatest Generation tells all in this unique book.

Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants

By Christopher Nyerges,

Book cover of Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants

Christopher Nyerges has been leading Wild Food Outings since 1974, and his Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants is packed full of stories and advice based on personal experiences. For example, he is one of a growing number of people who eat poison oak/poison ivy to build and maintain immunity to it. (Eating poison ivy requires caution, since an adverse reaction could cause your throat to swell shut. Read this book first!) Nyerges describes his own positive experience with eating poison oak, and he offers tips for those without immunity to treat their symptoms. Nyerges lives and teaches in Los Angeles, and the book covers the key edible and poisonous plants of the southwest. 


Who am I?

Growing up, I spent summers and weekends with my grandmother, who introduced me to wild food foraging. Grandma Josie and I harvested purslane and lambs quarters weeds from her garden, dandelions and meadow mushrooms from the pasture, and watercress from a nearby spring. On daily walks we gathered peppermint, yarrow, and other wild herbs for tea. She cooked on a wood stove and kept a pot of tea warm at all times. Grandma nurtured my interest in wild plants, wilderness survival, and self-sufficiency. Inspired by her, I built my own stone and log house, teach survival skills and botany, and I still cook on a wood stove just like she did. 


I wrote...

Foraging the Mountain West: Gourmet Edible Plants, Mushrooms, and Meat

By Thomas J. Elpel, Kris Reed,

Book cover of Foraging the Mountain West: Gourmet Edible Plants, Mushrooms, and Meat

What is my book about?

There's food in them thar hills! There is also food in the valleys, meadows, swamps, and all around town, too...maybe even in your own backyard. Foraging the Mountain West is a guide to harvesting and celebrating nature's abundance. Reach out and explore the world with your taste buds. Discover new delights you will never find at the store. Connect with nature on a deeper level by meeting, greeting, and eating the plants, fungi, and creatures that share the neighborhood. Become a little more self-sufficient, and a lot more aware. Foraging the Mountain West will help you dream in winter, cleanse in spring, forage in summer, and gorge in fall. The book includes more than 600 vivid color photos detailing every essential aspect of foraging.

Edible Wild Plants

By Thomas S. Elias, Peter A. Dykeman,

Book cover of Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide

Putting a wild plant into one’s mouth must be preceded by positive identification. This book’s text and photos offer guidance and recipes. It doesn’t try to cover a huge number of plant species, but the plants that are included are covered in more detail than in most plant books. The introduction alone, in my opinion, is worth the price of this book.

Who am I?

As a child I was drawn to the forest by its aesthetics. I felt as if I were wandering through a masterpiece painting. As I grew older, I wanted to know more about the many working parts of nature. I quickly learned this: If I wanted to know nature intimately, I needed to know what the Native Americans knew. After years of study and honing skills, I undertook seasonal, self-imposed “survival trips” in remote areas of the National Forest. As an adult I served as a naturalist for the Georgia Conservancy, wilderness director for High Meadows Camp, and as director of my own wilderness school – Medicine Bow – in the Appalachian Mountains.



I wrote...

Wild Plants and Survival Lore: Secrets of the Forest

By Mark Warren,

Book cover of Wild Plants and Survival Lore: Secrets of the Forest

What is my book about?

This comprehensive study of North American plants leads the reader through proper identification of 100 common botanical species and how to use them as foods, medicines, craft materials, soaps, and insect repellents borrowing primarily from Native American traditions and backing up those ancient uses by modern research. Also covered are weather-proof shelter building, primitive cooking techniques, hunting with a throwing stick, water purification without metal cookware, and more.

Not only does this book appeal to the newcomer to survival skills by immersing him/her into the fine details of woods lore, it is also written for the teacher, parent, scout leader, park ranger, and nature center educator by presenting a lesson plan for over 200 projects or activities designed to edify and inspire young ones to return to nature.

The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping

By Rosalind Creasy, Marcia Kier-Hawthorne (illustrator),

Book cover of The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping: Home Landscaping with Food-Bearing Plants and Resource-Saving Techniques

Rosalind Creasy is one of my heroes. It was she who first turned me on to heirloom fruits and vegetables over 30 years ago, when I read her newly published Cooking from the Garden. That seminal tome celebrates the food garden’s bounty and uses in cookery. 

Creasy is best known as a pioneer in the field of edible landscaping aka foodscaping: the practice of integrating edible plants into the landscape for beauty and sustenance. Think yummy delicious arbors, allées, groundcovers, borders, hedges, espaliers, foundation plantings, and potted plants. She spells out all the how-to’s, wheres, and whyfors in her first book, The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping; and updates it all in the second edition, Edible Landscaping. If you’re looking for practical advice, detailed instructions, design schemes, and recommended plants to feed body and soul, then allow me to point you in Ros’s direction.


Who am I?

Amy Goldman is a gardener, author, artist, philanthropist, and well-known advocate for seed saving, plant breeding, and heirloom fruits and vegetables. Her mission is to celebrate and catalogue the magnificent diversity of standard, open-pollinated varieties, and to promote their conservation. Amy gave up a career as a clinical psychologist to follow her first love which was kitchen gardening. In her own words from Heirloom Harvest: “I have romantic leanings and tend to follow my heart… In hindsight, I know my heart steered me straight, and toward a future I could never have imagined…My passion for the fruits of the earth has deep roots….”


I wrote...

The Melon

By Amy Goldman Fowler, Victor Schrager (photographer),

Book cover of The Melon

What is my book about?

Melons are the vegetable garden’s crown jewels – and Amy Goldman’s lifelong love and calling. Amy’s latest book, The Melon, will entice and educate, whether you are a gardener, a locavore, or simply delight in the inherent beauty and evanescence of the fruits of the vine.

Illustrated by Victor Schrager, a master of still-life photography, and many years in the making, this book is comprehensive and definitive. It includes portraits in words and photographs of 125 extraordinary varieties grown by Amy in her Hudson Valley garden, expert advice on picking and choosing melons and watermelons in the market, growing them in the garden, and saving pure heirloom seeds. Twenty delicious recipes and seed sources are included. 

The Drunken Botanist

By Amy Stewart,

Book cover of The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World's Great Drinks

Quick, name a beverage that has not been derived from or flavored by a plant? Not surprisingly, only water and milk leap to mind. Bestselling author Stewart delves into the natural history and cultivation of scores of plant species with witty and authoritative accounts of how they have been used in coffee, tea, all manner of spirits, wine, and beer. Cocktail recipes are included throughout as well as invaluable cultural context. I loved the bit about sorghum-based baijiu which figured in Nixon’s famous China trip. – “Alexander Haig had sampled the beverage during an advance visit and cabled…’Under no repeat no circumstances should the President actually drink from his glass in response to the banquet toasts.’” 


Nixon drank it anyway. Impressive since Dan Rather said it tasted “like liquid razor blades.” 


Who am I?

I’m a spirits writer, educator, and judge specializing in bourbon and other American whiskeys based in Louisville, Kentucky. I have authored or co-authored six books on bourbon (including two bourbon cocktail books) and among the publications for which I am a regular contributor are Bourbon+ (where I focus on the biology and chemistry of whiskey making) and American Whiskey Magazine, for which I write whiskey tasting notes and ratings. I am also the past president of The Bourbon Women Association. When I am not writing or conducting private, customized bourbon tastings, I present seminars at bourbon festivals and other bourbon events around the United States.  


I wrote...

Which Fork Do I Use with My Bourbon?: Setting the Table for Tastings, Food Pairings, Dinners, and Cocktail Parties

By Peggy Noe Stevens, Susan Reigler,

Book cover of Which Fork Do I Use with My Bourbon?: Setting the Table for Tastings, Food Pairings, Dinners, and Cocktail Parties

What is my book about?

Every time my co-author, Peggy Noe Stevens (who, by the way, was the first female master bourbon taster) and I have conducted bourbon tastings, often with cocktails and food pairings, we have been asked by participants, “How do we do this at home?” Our answer was this book.

It’s a guide to bourbon-centric entertaining, from setting up your bar to recipes for bourbon-friendly dishes, and cocktails (both individual and batched). For anyone wanting to take a deep dive into tasting, we devote two chapters about decerning flavors in bourbons and pairing bourbon with foods. To welcome guests with true Kentucky hospitality, we have chapters on hosting a Kentucky Derby Party and on how historic distilleries entertain. Both natives of the Bluegrass State, we even include some family recipes. You will want to marinate your beef tenderloin in bourbon and pop popcorn in bacon fat.

The Beautiful Edible Garden

By Leslie Bennett, Stefani Bittner,

Book cover of The Beautiful Edible Garden: Design a Stylish Outdoor Space Using Vegetables, Fruits, and Herbs

As primarily ornamental gardeners, we’ve fallen back on the old excuse about tomato plants being ugly as the reason why we don’t do edible gardening. It’s a lazy excuse! The Beautiful Edible Garden shows that its titular premise is so not an oxymoron. And it hits the two things we look for most in a garden design book, which are: (1) hyperspecific plant recommendations and (2) solid design principles we can learn from and put into action. Through lucid, inviting instructions and scrumptious photos, The Beautiful Edible Garden offers gold like how to select “anchor plants” to establish structure in a landscape, blueberries and culinary sweet bay being top picks. And the transformational effect of planting a “focal point” plant — which has us hankering to bring in a persimmon tree. 


Who are we?

We’re Chantal Gordon and Ryan Benoit — the cofounders of gardening/design/DIY blog The Horticult. Our site shows you how to create handsome yet effective habitats for your plants. That includes a collection of mounted staghorn ferns under our citrus trees, a vertical garden for your herbs, and a sleek bog for carnivorous pitcher plants. One of our most popular DIYs is how to build an outdoor theater behind your rosemary hedge. We show people how to create outdoor spaces they can deeply enjoy — whether it’s a patio, balcony, or yard. A key to welcoming someone is good design. The more you like hanging out outside, the better care you’ll take of your plants.


We wrote...

How to Window Box: Small-Space Plants to Grow Indoors or Out

By Chantal Aida Gordon and Ryan Benoit,

Book cover of How to Window Box: Small-Space Plants to Grow Indoors or Out

What is my book about?

We’re taking the classic window box you might see in Brooklyn, Charleston, and Rome and showing how you can remix it. How to Window Box features 16 boxes — like the “Tiny Island” box of bromeliads, “Salad Bar” box for kale, lettuce, and chard, “Edible Petals” box of enviable edible flowers, and “Sand Box” of cactuses — and gives you specific plants to arrange together based on similar light and water needs.

We also show how to care for those plants, where to put your box (even if you don’t have a deep sill or heavy-duty bracketing) and how to personalize your box. Like horticultural sand and mini pink flamingos among your ornamental grasses. The great thing about window boxes is you can scale up or down depending on your space.

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