Up North and Off the Grid: My Two Favorite Books on Edible Wild Plants

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This article begins a summer series of delicious wild dining. Plan to walk with me through your garden and the forest as we explore the wonderful world of delicious edible wild plants. Over the next three months, this column will focus on the best of the edible wild plants in Ontario.

This study begins with a review of two of my favorite books. If you want to get serious about learning how to identify and prepare nature’s bounty for the table, you’ll want to start by getting one or both of these books.

Euell Gibbons has been my inspiration for edible wild dining for more than 30 years. Though his books were written more than 40 years ago, they are still in print. Stalking the Wild Asparagus is the best of all Edible Wild Plant books for beginners.

Gibbons selected a few dozen of the most abundant and delicious edible wild plants to describe in this book. He teaches about everything from acorns to winter cress. He describes the most hated weeds with such admiration, that you’ll want to begin cultivating them alongside your tomatoes.

His stories are full of historical, medicinal, and culinary details. He writes with humor and authority. You’ll pick up the book to get a recipe for dandelion wine, and end up reading right through to the end of the day lily chapter before you know it.

“I know of no other outdoor sport which can furnish me with as much pleasure as foraging for food which can be made into exquisite dishes to share with family and friends” ~ from the introduction to Stalking the Wild Asparagus. If you are a gardener, you’ll know the deep pleasure that comes from dining on the gifts from the garden. Get to know the weeds within your garden, and you can double the produce that comes to your table.

The second indispensable book on edible wilds is Lee Allan Peterson’s Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants, number 23 in the Peterson’s field guide series. This book is as close as you can get to a comprehensive description of what’s good to eat in the wilds.

Whereas Gibbons gives great details of how to use a few dozen easily identifiable plants and lots of recipes, the Peterson book is geared to learning how to identify over 300 plants, and gives only a cursory view of how they can be used. Gibbons will devote 5 pages to a single plant; Peterson will describe 5 plants on a singe page.

The Peterson book is organized into sections defined by flower color. The pages are set up to have a written description on the left, and drawings of the plants on the right. It takes some practice to learn how to identify new plants. And because it is focused on the flowers, there are limitations to when a plant can be easily found within.

For beginners, get Gibbons’ wild asparagus book first. It can get you started on a journey of deciduous wild dining right away with plants that you are already familiar with. When you are ready to expand into the wider world of forest and fields, the Peterson book will be your constant companion.


For many years, Viki Mathers and her husband Allan operated Kukagami Lodge, a wonderful off the grid retreat reachable only by boat. They sold the lodge in 2012. They can still be reached by email at: kukagami@gmail.com or visit their website: http://kukagamilodge.blogspot.com/

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