TO ADD SOME NEW PLANTS TO YOUR DIET?
fact that as many as 50 books explain how to find, collect, and prepare
wild plants for a meal speaks to the popularity of the endeavor. Whether
this is your passion or merely something you might be interested in
learning about, check out "The Quick Guide to Wild Edible Plants"
by Lytton John Musselman and Harold J. Wiggins.
published by Johns Hopkins University Press, this 133-page hardcover
book just might be the cookbook you've been looking for. (It's also
available as an ebook.)
slogan "easy to pick, easy to prepare" refers to the more
than 30 types of eastern U.S. plants, some native and some introduced,
and the 57 different recipes in the book.
guided the authors' selection of plant species for the book and the
instructions on how to prepare them.
is a critically important one. They only included plants that "are
easy to identify and do not have any toxic look-alikes." They also
have a section on identifying some plants not to eat, because they can
be toxic (like poison hemlock), or not to touch, because they can cause
dermatitis (such as poison sumac).
standard for determining which plant species to include as culinary
selections has two parts. They chose plants that are common, which means
you are actually likely to find the wild plant you are looking for.
authors also have a conservation angle: they want to make sure the species
they provide recipes for are neither rare nor endangered to the point
that removing them from the wild would be environmentally detrimental.
criterion needed for a plant to make the cut is that it can be prepared
from a simple recipe with common ingredients.
along with its recipes, that meets all the selection criteria is the
common cattail, which almost everyone is familiar with. Cattails are
nontoxic, easily identifiable, and widespread across the country, being
found on the margins of lakes, ponds, and other wetlands.
recipe for this wild edible plant is "cattail corn dogs."
Only three ingredients are required: vegetable oil, corn meal, and the
female flowers of cattails. I'm not sure why we don't all eat these
every year when cattails bloom.
plants that are themselves common--but for which recipes are not--are
orange daylilies, kudzu, and stinging nettle. I am wary of eating wild
mushrooms unless I'm with an expert I trust who identifies them as edible.
species of mushrooms (which the authors note are technically fungi,
not plants) are featured, each being carefully distinguished from toxic
forms by photographs and thorough descriptions. Even I might be able
to prepare a meal of "fungus chicken fingers," since the only
step in the recipe is "sauté in vegetable oil until tender."
Linda Lee, a colleague at the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, what
she thought of the book. Linda knows more about collecting and preparing
edible wild plants than anyone else I know.
"People who are interested in preparing foraged foods would find
the book a worthwhile addition to their collection." In comparing
the Musselman and Wiggins book to others, she noted that it "provides
useful details that eliminate a lot of the guesswork/trial-and-error
that is often required to prepare wild foods and to make them palatable."
indicated that numerous sources are available for identifying plants
and determining which ones are edible but that "this book was written
with the idea that readers will actually try to prepare these foods
at home, not just read about them."
I imagine most of the plant recipes I rely on will use the ordinary
items one finds at the grocery store. However, should I ever get a craving
for stinging nettle omelet or black locust fritters, I will know exactly
which wild edible plant book to look in.
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