Sunday, March 10, 2013

Book Review: Edible Wild Plants by John Kallas

One thing that I am interested in is the edible plants that grow all around us.  It's amazing how many plants that grow in your own backyard are not only edible, but are higher in beneficial nutrients than the ones that you can buy at your local grocery store.  I started this journey last year when hunting season started, and I began to see a multitude of what I thought might be wild foods.

The first thing that piqued my interest was Hank Shaw's book Hunt, Gather, Cook.  I had originally purchased it for his recipes on wild game and fish.  But he has several chapters on wild foods.  I highly recommend his book for all readers of this blog.  Whether you like to hunt, fish, or even just gather your own wild food, I think you will enjoy it.  He has some recipes that look interesting, and I've tried several of the ones from his blog (http://honest-food.net/)  I've never been disappointed in the results.  He really has a good insight into all things consisting of wild food.

But my problem has always been that I can't identify wild foods by sight.  Trying to do a web search for them is just about as hard.  You first have to think about what the food might be, then you have to sift through results looking for any good identifiers that you can find that might help you identify the plants you are looking at.  It's a tough process.  Enter Edible Wild Plants (The Wild Food Adventure) by John Kallas, Ph.D.

Dr. Kallas starts the book with the usual disclaimers about how you shouldn't eat wild foods unless you can positively identify them, he also mentions how you're mileage may vary over what he has said.  This is all good advice.  You really don't know what you're allergic until you've tried something or how it might affect you.  You should start small, and work you're way up to larger quantities.  He also discusses his credentials which are quite extensive.


The book is organized into sections based on different taste categories.  He has a section based on mild greens, bitter greens, and so on.  Each chapter consists of one plant within these genres.

The big difference between his book and others that I have looked at is that he really explains every plant in detail.  Each chapter starts with a distribution map of North America, scientific name, common names, and  edible parts.  He  also gives a brief history of the plant, and nutrient and phytochemical breakdown.  This makes for a very interesting read.  His book not only teaches you a lot about plants, but also a little history behind the plant.

The next part of each chapter is where he really breaks down the plant.  He starts by describing the life cycle of the plant, gives some interesting definitions of different words he is using. And lots of pictures.  I think the book is worth buying just because of the plant pictures in different forms.  He usually shows what the plant looks like in the early stages and in the later stages of its life. 

Next he will describe when to harvest the plant and what parts are good to eat.  He will describe when a plant is prime for harvesting, and what parts are good to harvest.  This makes looking for edible plants a lot more fun.  You can find the plants in the early stage, and help them along to make them even more tasty. 

Lastly, each chapter has at least one recipe that will help highlight a good use of the plant.  These recipes are unique for each plant, and I have found several that I would love to try this spring and summer when my local wild plants start coming up.

If you are interested in spending a little more time outdoors this summer, and doing a little gathering.  I highly recommend Dr. Kalla's book.  It's the perfect companion to your adventures in both hunting and fishing.  I can't think of a better way to fix dinner than with foods you've gathered yourself.