|Foraging for Spring Greens|
The good news is that a wealth of information is literally at your fingertips. In addition to some really amazing books, there are cell phone apps, and websites that make plant identification easy and fun. The internet makes meeting fellow foragers much easier, albeit still a little difficult in some areas of the U.S.
Great foraging books:
Steve "Wildman" Brill has a great book: "Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants". The line drawings in the book are beautifully done. When I first saw the book, I was skeptical that the pencil drawings would help me identify the plants. Actually, the converse is true; the drawings allow you to focus on important identifying characteristics and leave out less important and distracting plant traits.
Steve also leads walks in the New York City area, but also leads some walks near Philly. I really like his cookbook "The Wild Vegan." He discusses how to cook just about anything you find in the wild, from milkweed to poke weed. Although I am not into some creative vegan cooking (think lecithin granules and nutritional yeast cheese), the book is a great resource.
Two books that are a must have for anyone wanting to sustain themselves on wild foods are written by Sam Thayer. "Forager's Harvest" and "Nature's Garden" are fun to read even if you are not planning on subsisting on acorns (51 pages devoted to acorns!). With lots of color photographs and very detailed descriptions, the books are really a necessity for anyone wanting to know a plant really well. Instead of covering several hundred plants, Sam discusses fewer plants but in great depth. I really appreciate the way Thayer debunks plant myths, including the edibility of some nightshades, and how Chris McCandless really died when he went "Into the Wild"...
A way more fun method of honing your identification skills, IMHO, is attending a plant walk. Meetup.com is a great way to meet others in your area. Let me just say that *our people* can be a very nerdy bunch. Trust me - I am the worlds biggest nerd; just ask my kids. But, someone who can walk into the woods and find food is super cool, in my book. The Mycological Association of Washington D.C. has frequent mushroom forays during prime mushroom season. Last year I found a bunch of Chanterelles with the group. Can't wait for morel season in the spring!!
Another resource is the internet; when you tentatively identified a plant, but just can't find a picture or description that jives, boot up the laptop. Remember to take a camera on your walks so you can post pictures on the internet at Eat the Weeds Forum. The forum is run by plant guru Green Deane who has a fabulous monthly newsletter with what is in season in his area, which is . Florida and the Southeastern U.S.
Of course, be sure to sign up for email notifications of new blog posts from me as well, since I will try to send out notifications of what is in season in the rest of the East Coast.. :-)
Facebook has some foraging pages, like Meriweather's Foraging Texas, which is awesome for people living in the southern U.S.
Enjoy and Happy Hiking!