I picked up Backyard Foraging by Ellen Zachos because I'm on a plant identification kick. My first impression was that the book was a quality but unremarkable one. The photos are clear, the list of plants fairly lengthy and the tone is quite enjoyable. It's not quite as in depth as Foragers Harvest, but as a field guide, it would be a nice additional resource.
The more I thought about the book, however, the more I realized it was more unique and impressive than I originally gave it credit for. The emphasis on the book as the name suggests, is finding wild edibles near home. For example, the classic Cattail plant isn't included because presumably most people don't live in a swamp. Dandelion, on the other hand, gets extra praise for being so versatile, and again, a plant most will find easily accessible. To me Zachos goes beyond just enumerating plants that might be nearby; she gives a fresh perspective on wild edibles. What if you populated your garden with them?
Rather than choosing between a decorative garden and a veggie garden, why not have both? That is, plants that look beautiful (a quality she does indeed emphasize) and that are also tasty. By cleverly using edible plants you can accomplish just this. Additionally, and this my experience peeking through not hers, why try to grow a few measly veggies when you can plant something with the heartiness of a weed, because, well, it *is* a weed. Also at play here is the notion of eating alien species. With a good number of these plants, they not only grow like crazy, but you can harvest them to your hearts content because people want them gone.
This brings me to my updated list of ways to view Wild Edibles. They are:
- For Wilderness Survival - For years, this is what I assumed to be the main use of edible plants. Of course, if you get lost the last thing you want to do is eat something which could make you sick. So yeah, it's not as practical as it sounds.
- For Hunting - This notion is straight from the Forager's Harvest. Why not think about wild edibles as something we essentially hunt, like we do with animals. You head into the woods, use your skills to collect food, and then bring it home to prepare and enjoy. No blood spilled, but a strong connection to nature still maintained. Well duh, right? But I hadn't thought about it like that.
- For Growing - If these wild edibles are so great, why not just grow them in your garden? Again, seems obvious, right? It does in hindsight.
So Zachos expanded my mind to see this third perspective. What more could you ask from an author than that?