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371 of 374 found the following review helpful:
It isn't slightly better than other books on the topic; it's in a whole different league.Apr 01, 2010
By Tim Smith
These are not good times to put out a book on edible wild plants. Unless you're Samuel Thayer.
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.
174 of 175 found the following review helpful:
A Must-Own!Apr 08, 2010
By Michael E. Krebill
Whether you're a newbie or an experienced forager, you'll find this book fascinating and a must-own. I have over 200 books on edible wild plants, and this is far and away the best ever published.
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.
68 of 69 found the following review helpful:
Essential Book for the Serious ForagerFeb 06, 2011
By John N. Kallas
This excellent book is a continuation of the fine work Sam started with his first book, A Forager's Harvest. This book covers new plants and is a whopping 512 pages; large when you consider that most wild food books fall in the range of 180 to 300 pages. And again, even though most of the plants are found in the eastern states, many have a wide range, or they are edible weeds found everywhere, or they are native eastern plants planted as ornamentals in neighborhoods and streets across the continent, or they are cousins of eastern plants, like the western huckleberries are to blueberries. So many of the plants he covers are accessible just about anywhere except for the desert, the Everglades, and higher elevations. And the depth of coverage of each plant makes this book valuable to those who really want to know plants.
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 (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)
22 of 23 found the following review helpful:
Sam Thayer continues to fill the void!!!Apr 01, 2010
By Randy J. Mercurio
Thayer has compiled another outstanding edible wild plant book with 512 pages that essentially has the same format as his first book, The Forager's Harvest, which has 360 pages. Not only does Nature's Garden continue to fill the void but the author listened to criticisms about his first book and expanded the coverage for the entire U.S. and Canada by including widespread species and genus-groups. A tutorial on "Plant Identification and Safe Consumption" provides the step by step lesson for those unfamiliar with how to go about getting started. The author has a nice 20 page chapter on "Poisonous Plant Fables" in which he puts to rest the twisted and incorrect notion that Christopher McCandless died from eating a poisonous plant that was perpetuated by Jon Krakauer's book, Into the Wild. There are 42 plant account chapters that are applicable to well over 100 species of North American edible wild plants. Every plant account has the common name(s), scientific name(s), family scientific and common names, an introduction covering some thoughts and experiences of the author, description, range and habitat, harvest & preparation, while others may include sections on ecology, history and lore, individual genus or species accounts, comparative tables, a dichotomous key (Lettuce-Dandelion Group only), line drawing (lotus tubers only) and an abundance of excellent photos. There are 50 pages dedicated to a fan-freakin'-tastic section on how to collect, process and utilize acorns from oak trees. He has added some very useful comparative photographs of some commonly mixed up poisonous and edible plants. For example, he clearly shows how to differentiate between Poison Hemlock (C. maculatum) and Wild Carrot (D. carota). In comparison to his first book, it contains a bibliography that is 4 times the size and a similar but slightly expanded glossary which is also very useful, as well as a handy index. A visually stimulating book with informative, enthusiastic words from an experienced, practicing forager who continues to research and experiment with edible wild plants. Without question, this book must be in the hands of those who are just beginning through to the accomplished foragers. Sam: thanks for taking the time to assemble this fabulous book and for sharing your knowledge with the rest of us so we can more easily and confidently enjoy the bounty that nature provides!
16 of 16 found the following review helpful:
Awesome Book...Grateful for it.Apr 23, 2011
By Ronald Clobes
A lot of people have written excellent reviews of this book and there doesn't seem to be much more to add to the excellent reviews. I was impressed from the beginning with Mr. Thayer's Claimer section where other authors would put a Disclaimer. Simply bold and I love it!
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!
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