Review: The Complete Guide to Edible Wild Plants

By , July 19, 2011

As I told readers in the past, I recently received a couple of books to review. We’ve been using them for a while, evaluating them in a couple of different ways. While I’ve been looking at their layout and content in general, Michelle has taken a more practical approach, consulting them first when she has a reference question, and keeping track of whether or not the books have been able to answer her questions.

First up is The Complete Guide to Edible Wild Plants, by the Department of the Army (check your local independent bookstore, or Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.).

Book Cover: Edible Wild Plants

(Image: Skyhorse Publishing.)

This is a good little book. I suspect Skyhorse Publishing has augmented the design and layout of the original publication considerably, creating a more attractive, user friendly civilian version. However, the title is misleading. This is my biggest hang up on this book. Had it been called A Guide to Edible Wild Plants, I’d have little beef. It’s the use of the word “complete” that makes the book inadequate. This volume comes in at 143 pages, far less than what would be required to encompass the edible wild plants of the world, or even North America. As you might expect, I started with the edible plants in our front yard, and found only about half of them listed in this book. I’m no expert in wild crafting, so if I can identify plants the book misses, there may be many more.

Interestingly, the book even excludes identification of plants that it refers to. The first chapter lists a few of the many edible seaweeds, but does not provide identification for any of them in later sections. There’s a good summary of specific medicinal remedies (did you know you can cure diarrhea by eating wood ashes? I didn’t.) but many of the recommended plants are not included in the identification section. They don’t even show how to identify chickweed, which they list as a poultice for aches and sprains. For my family, that’s a pretty egregious oversight.

The opening segments on plant identification are good, particularly the Universal Edibility Test. Some of the identifications are very valuable, briefly offering some easy, common sense ways to tell edible plants from poisonous look-alikes. It also includes a whole section on poisonous plants to be avoided. The photos are great (I think Skyhorse Publications gets the credit here) and the layout is comfortable and easy to use.

Since this book is a Department of the Army publication, I couldn’t help looking at its usefulness from two different points of view: my own, and how it might benefit our armed forces. I do this with the tactical gear we test for a military contractor as well—even though I can only really evaluate from our own experience, I do try to think of how these things might help or hinder soldiers in the field. In the case of the Army’s own publication, our soldiers deserve better. While you or I might miss out on a nutritious free meal by using this book, a soldier’s life could well be lost if his or her’s knowledge of edible and medicinal plants is limited to the information provided in this book.

Having gotten that off my chest, The Complete Guide to Edible Wild Plants would make a good addition to a civilian self reliance reference library. While it may not be complete, it includes a lot of information in a conveniently small volume. I often find that using a variety of sources to identify plants helps, as I get diverse information, even if it’s only different photos of the same subject. This book would contribute to that array. If I were a world traveler, this would be the book to take along. Otherwise, a wild plant book specific to one’s region makes more sense as first choice in edible plant reference.

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