UPDATE! Due all the unethical foraging I see going on, I am suggesting you only forage on your own land and only with WEEDY trees and plants or invasives!!! We need to be stewards of the land! Watch these first before you read the rest of my post (this post is from many years ago)
Ethical Wildcrafting (watch first please)
UPDATE: Wildlife needs plants, trees even bugs for food. If you can’t be ethical do not venture into this real. I am serious too!!!!
I get this question all the time so I thought I would do a post on it. ‘So….. what are your favorite foraging books… ’ And I always give the same answer, there are so many that I like. Then I try to remember them all. So I am trying to give you a good starting point here. This is not a complete list, this is a starting place to help you. You should never stop learning as well, I strive to ID a new plant each time I go to the field, or get to renew an old friend if I don’t see new ones.
There is no substitute to getting out in the field and actually IDing and looking for plants in their habitat, but you need to ‘start somewhere’ and you also need some reference materials and they should be from people who know and actually forage for plants. I can’t tell you how many times I have been out in the field and had some layperson (or someone who claimed to know plants well) tell me Virginia Creeper is Poison Ivy. And they will argue with you about it. So please consider that, some people say they know what a plant is and don’t. I have met people who think Yarrow is Queen Anne’s Lace and all kinds of crazy things. LEARN BOTANY! Learn to key things out!!
You must spend time with the plants. You cannot sit inside and learn to forage. You must get out. This is not an ‘easy boy’ chair activity, get my drift? You need to spend time where plants grow. That’s outside, btw. J Did I mention you need to get outside? I mean with like bugs and things. GASP! You can do it!!!
Try and get to know at least 1 new plant a month. Draw it, learn about, find it other places besides where you first ID’d it. Try to find it in different stages. Some plant leaves look very different as the plant ‘grows up’ (like lambs quarters, or motherwort). So consider that as well.
One thing I did when I started out was I started with my back yard weeds. I got several good field guides and I started journaling the plants. Drawing every part of them (it was required study in my herb program and I am glad it was). Looking at the plant in a detailed way helps you to really get to know. I sang to the plant, I talked to the plant. I imagined what it would be like to be that plant. I got down on the ground and looked at it from an ant’s view, then from the birds view. I noted the soil, the time of year, the weather, etc. I tried to get to know as much as I could about it.
Finding someone to help you. Sometimes you get stuck, hey I am not Google, I don’t know every plant in the world. Find someone to help you if you don’t know. There are foraging groups on Yahoo and those folks are very helpful as well. (Update: if someone is not promoting ethics they are not a good teacher stay away)
So here is a small list of the things I have found useful, this is not all of them for sure, but these are ones I like and I own all of the ones listed so I am not speculating on how good they are. I am sure there are others I am still forgetting, since I don’t have all of my info laid out before me. But again this should help you get started!
One more thing before I close, please learn ethical wildcrafting if you decide to harvest ANY plant. If you don’t know what that means, you are not ready to forage. J
Yes I said it, you need to learn botany. You don’t have to get a 4 year degree in it, but you do need to learn it! Tom Elpel’s Botany in a Day is excellent and he has a new version that is in color. Also you can check out Botany books from your local library. Or pick up an old botany book on amazon. If you learn plant families and characteristics like is presented in Tom’s book things go a lot easier!
Botany Coloring Book.