Guest Author - Connie Krochmal
As a survival guide, this book by Christopher Nyerges can’t be beat. He wrote "Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants," which was published by the Chicago Review Press. It features a foreword by Ed Begley, Jr.
It is suitable for all sorts of audiences from outdoors types to those interested in learning more about the many ways we can use plants to enrich our daily lives. This reader-friendly guide is based on the author’s 25+ years of experience leading wild food outings and survival hikes.
Because Nyerges is based in California, this book does emphasize useful plants that can be found in that area and in the West. For example, in the East, we are unlikely to find rosemary or carob growing wild.
Presented in an easy to use A-Z format, this has complete profiles of 70 plants, arranged alphabetically by common name. These go all the way from agave to yucca, and also includes prickly pear. These are illustrated with black and white photos.
For each plant, Nyerges gives the common name, Latin name, and family with down-to-earth descriptions suitable for the less experienced. There are complete details that will help in identifying each plant, such as flower, leaves, and general description of its size, shape, and habitat. He also presents further information on the growing cycle, plant lore, and the useful aspects of each—including edible, and medicinal.
This is one of the best guides around an ethnobotany. The author provides a treasure trove of info on how the Native Americans used the plants.
When a plant has toxic or poisonous properties, Nyerges makes this clear under the heading Detrimental Properties. For example, he gives cautions when handling agave leaves.
In the introduction, the author explains he originally intended this book to be an emergency survival guide, for example, for those lost in the woods or doing wild food outings. But with his vast knowledge of ethnobotany, it grew to be much more than that. The introduction also contains tips on how to use the book and how to collect wild plants without depleting a plant population. In the appendix, he explains the different reasons for eating wild foods.
For ID purposes, reader should make full use of the illustrated line drawings and pictorial keys at the beginning of the book. There are drawings done to scale for the different leaf shapes, fruits, and seeds. These really do come in handy. Along with all that, novice wild food fans should make use of the additional information in the appendix about which plant families are generally nontoxic and safe to use.
The appendix also features a bibliography and glossary with some of the terms illustrated with line drawings.
Nyerges studied botany with an emphasis on ethnobotany and began leading
wild food outings and survival skills hikes. He is co-director of the School of Self-Reliance.
He has written extensively on the subject, including a number of other books as well as syndicated newspaper columns.