Wild Plants I Have Known…and Eaten
by Russ Cohen
Review by Dee B.
Wild Plants I Have Known . . . And Eaten (Russ Cohen, 2004)
Book Review by Dee Burke
Have you ever wondered how you’d feed your family during a crisis if for some reason your food storage wasn’t sufficient or available? What if the supermarket shelves were empty? If you know a thing or two about foraging for food in the wild, you likely won’t go hungry.
Not too long ago, I had the pleasure of attending a talk by Russ Cohen, author of Wild Plants I Have Known . . . And Eaten. Over the course of an hour or so, I sat and listened to the voice of foraging wisdom, stared at images of plants I recognized as weeds growing in and around my own yard, and sampled treats made with foraged foods: autumn olive fruit leather and barberry/hickory nut thumb print cookies. I came away with a desire to take a nibble on the wild side and felt comfortable enough after what I’d heard to seek out some wild edibles on my own. So, of course, I bought the book. I wasn’t disappointed.
Wild Plants I Have Known . . . And Eaten contains a great deal of information in a straight forward, easy to read format. It’s a good starting point for beginners. It opens with an introduction to foraging, followed by information on more than 40 edible plants that focuses on those easily identified. Cohen encourages consulting a field guide specific to the reader’s area, and he provides the necessary cautions about being sure of what you’ve found before consuming any of the plant. At the same time, he makes foraging seem like something anyone could do.
Perhaps the most tempting part of the book is the recipes, proving foraged plants are not just salad greens or nuts. After a walk in the woods at the right time of year, you might feast on cattail chowder, black locust fritters, strawberry knotweed pie, sassafras candy, and sumacade. Yes, sumacade. The fruit of the unmistakable staghorn sumac can be made into a drink that looks and tastes remarkably like pink lemonade (and is high in vitamin C). Just the thing on a hot afternoon. I know because it was the first wild edible I harvested after reading the book.
While the focus of this book is wild edibles in New England, there is information on plants found across the country: stinging nettle, day lilies, invasives like garlic mustard, and every lawn owner’s nemesis, the dandelion. A particularly nice feature is the chronological listing at the back of the book identifying when each plant (and which part) is in season.
If you can find a copy of Wild Plants I Have Known . . . And Eaten, grab it. You just might find yourself inspired to make wild edibles a part of your regular diet now simply because they’re good to eat even when you still have those easy supermarket options.