While most of the UK is under several inches of snow, there’s not much opportunity for foraging but people might be thinking of their Christmas wish lists so here’s a quick guide to the books on my foraging shelf.
Probably the most essential and popular book on wild food in the UK. Originally published in 1972, it has certainly stood the test of time. I have a very early hardback edition, from 1973 with a few colour plates and comprehensive line drawings. The more recently available editions of this classic are illustrated with full colour pictures that are more than adequate for identifying foods, although I would still recommend supplementary books if edible fungi is what you are after.
Mabey covers absolutely everything that you might want to forage, cut, dig, wade or climb for, including: shellfish, nuts, fungi, roots, herbs and vegetables, seaweed, spices, flowers and fruits. There’s a handy appendix on poisonous plants, too. He includes insightful comments on the history of the wild foods he describes and their uses as well as plenty of anecdotal material that will enrich any foraging expedition. All the usual suspects are there, from Samphire to Ceps, but this is a great book for the more adventurous who might like to try for Monk’s Rhubarb or White Mustard.
The book is a handy rucksack pocket size. The only things missing from this are more details on cooking and preparing and maybe some photographic plates – but you can’t have everything.
Wild Food For Free – Jonathan Hilton
This is a treasure and bang up to date, published in 2007, and packed with full colour photographs that show the foods in their typical settings. A double page layout is given to each food and the sections are helpfully divided by typical location, i.e. Woodland Plants, Riverside Plants, Garden Visitors and so on. The 250 pages cover plants primarily, although there is a well illustrated Woodland Fungi section.
The layout is very easy on the eye and each entry covers what, where and when to look for the foods as well as comments on taste and use and any cautions to be taken. A handy little blue box for each entry contains a “foragers checklist” of the most essential features to look for. The prize, though, is a recipes section to get the mouth watering with visions of “Watercress Soup” and “Parasol Platters”.
The New Guide to Mushrooms – Peter Jordan
Peter Jordan is the foremost mushroom guru of the British Isles and I would consider any one of his excellent guides (there are several) to be absolutley essential. This volume got me started in mushroom foraging. It contains over 300 colour photographs to aid identification and the book is divided into edibles and poisonous sections, with a thorough introduction to fungi foraging, picking, storing and equipment in general.
About 35 edible species are covered, with at least two pages for each entry, that will provide an excellent starting point in the repertoire of a forager. There are a couple of odd items that you are unlikely to find in the UK, like the truffles and matsutake, but this book is not exclusively for the British Isles. It is also too big to lug around in the field, but perfect to keep at home for consultation.
This book is full of sound advice that comes from a lifetime of safely foraging for and eating fungi. Peter Jordan’s sound motto was “if in doubt leave it out”. The species covered in The New Guide to Mushrooms are generally among those that would be easiest to identify for a beginner and he always includes some caution about specific poisonous look alikes to avoid.
With a mouthful of a title, this book suggests that it is more of the kind of scholarly guide that I would recommend every forager keeps at home to check identification. It is still not completely exhaustive but this is more of a mycological work.
The species are divided by family and genus and details are included in each description such as the microscopic properties of the spores alongside colour illustrations. The illustrations are not sufficient to get a positive identification but a book like this is vital to gaining a broader understanding of fungi and identifying less well known, yet often very abundant, species – edible or not. It is not written with the forager in mind but does indicate ediblity.
Mushrooms and Other Fungi of Great Britain and Europe – Roger Phillips
I don’t own this and it is hard to come by but I did have a friend who had one and it is worth its weight in gold. If you see one second-hand, snap it up!
Picking and Identifying Edible Mushrooms – my handy guide for beginners, please check this advice.
- Mushroom foraging ‘damaging forests’ (guardian.co.uk)
- Weeds by Richard Mabey (guardian.co.uk)
- In praise of… Richard Mabey | Editorial (guardian.co.uk)
- Children should not pick wild food unsupervised, says quango (telegraph.co.uk)