Book Reviews of Wild Plant Cookbook.

1. "This was an interesting book to read. It is informative as well as entertaining and I would recommend it for anyone who is inclined to experiment with wild foods. The Beattys not only approach the use of wild plant foods from the viewpoint of palatability but they also research the nutritional values of the plants they used. I was surprised to learn that the leaves of the violets I pull up and discard every year would be a better source of Vitamin C than oranges and even the violet blossoms are weight for weight three times as rich in Vitamin C as oranges.

"I gained a new respect for the lowly dandelion--nutritionally it is higher in Vitamin A than any other plant, an excellent source of Vitamin C, calcium and other essential nutrients, and medicinally will 'cure what ails you'. The roots dried and baked even make a substitute for coffee. I am not convinced that I will ever develop a craving for dandelion concoctions and I still don't want the plants in my lawn; but if I should acquire a taste for them I know that they're readily available. A map of the United States assures me that dandelions grow everywhere in the country; a similar map at the beginning of each chapter indicates the distribution of every plant considered.

"The book runs the gamut of edible wild plants from cattails to elderberries and does it with such enthusiasm that the reader is tempted to try all of them. There are recipes included for every plant mentioned, which is a real boon for anyone who might wonder what to do with their wild treasures once they are collected. The recipes all sound appetizing and possible and combined with the nutritional information provided should make anyone want to at least try some. The author also enhanced the book by saying that venturing into the wilds was an aesthetic experience as he pondered the grand plan which makes everything in nature fit together in harmony. He also appreciated the opportunity of searching the great out-of-doors with his family, using the adventures as teaching experiences for his children as well as coming closer to nature and to each other." (Jennabee B. Harris, Journal of Range Management 41(1), January 1988)

2. "Bill Beatty is interpretive naturalist at the Brooks Nature Center in West Virginia. He has taught about wild edible plants for over 10 years. Through this book he communicated to me tremendous enthusiasm for his subject. Bill says, 'Edible wild plants can provide much of our body's most necessary nutrition. Edible wild plants are free sources of vitamins and minerals....I can think of no easier intake'. Bill shows, for example, that 1.24 ounces of raw dandelion greens (compared to 1.59 ounces of raw carrots) furnish the RDA (recommended daily allowance) of Vitamin A; .74 ounces of raw violet leaves (compared to 3.15 ounces of oranges) furnish the RDA of Vitamin C; and 9.03 ounces of raw lamb's quarters (compared to 23.93 ounces of whole milk) furnish the RDA of calcium. (Unfortunately, lamb's quarters contain an unfavorable ratio of calcium to oxalic acid and therefore their calcium is not available to the body.) There is a three page chart giving the nutritional analysis of some wild plants along with a comparison to domestic ones.

"The author then gives 102 recipes, plus anecdotal information for the following plants, with a separate chapter devoted to each: dandelion, violets, cattail, mustard, chickweed, ramps, purslane, daylily, jewelweed, Jerusalem artichoke, nettles, milkweed, lamb's quarters, poke, clover, mints, sumac, sassafras, mayapple, rosehips, pawpaws, persimmons, sweet cicely, blueberries, huckleberries, raspberries, blackberries, elderberries, cranberries, serviceberries, and strawberries. (To save space, I'm skipping Latin names, which were provided. All the above plants, or close relatives, occur in the West as well as in the East.)

"Each plant entry is accompanied by one of Bev Beatty's line drawings, and a range map. Although Bill says, 'This field guide is not intended to teach plant identification,' he does mention some identifying characteristics, such as in the case of lamb's quarters (Chenopodium album), a.k.a. goosefoot, where he says, 'the underside of each leaf is covered with granular white dots that easily rub off.' (For this plant, I would add that one take care not to mistake a poisonous nightshade (Solanum spp.) for it; the foliage is similar, but flowers and fruits differ.)

"Beatty explains that mayapple is susceptible to wheat rust, a parasite which causes the fruit to abort. Only after he was aware of this and located some rust-free patches was he able to successfully harvest the fruit. He tells about the time he tried giving some away to tourists going through the park where he was a naturalist: 'I put out a bucket of ripened mayapples with a sign explaining what they were and invited people to try one. After approximately 300 people were exposed to my offer (with few takers), I gave up, took the mayapples off the counter, threw the sign away, and kept them for myself.'

"Another plant some turn up their noses to is ramps, a.k.a. wild leeks (Allium tricoccum), a member of the onion genus. 'Any time that ramps are eaten raw,' Bill says, 'your newly acquired odor will be a faithful companion for the next two or three days. However, once they are cooked, their effect...is about the same as with ordinary supermarket onions.'

"For making berry-picking a happy family experience, Bill advises, '...allow the kids to get away with such things as eating more berries than they put in the bucket.' Beatty is concerned with the amount of refined sugar people eat. He recommends, as a candy substitute, using fruit; and sweet cicely: '...even if you don't like licorice candy...the anise flavor is very mild. Your kids will love it...' Here is a recipe for it in ice cream, as an example of one of the book's 102 recipes:

Smooth Sweet Cicely Ice Cream

Approximately 1 quart of smooth sweet cicely stems and leaves

1 qt. vanilla pudding                       1½ qts milk

1 can sweetened condensed milk    1 tbs. vanilla

Mix last four ingredients together in a one gallon ice cream freezer. Put 1 cup of the mixture into a blender and add the cicely (stems and leaves) and puree. Strain and add the liquid to the ice cream freezer. Crank away! Makes one gallon.

(Julie Summers, Coltfoot, March/April 1988; Small Press Review June 1988)


Additional informative reviews appeared in The Canadian Field-Naturalist, vol. 103, July 28, 1990, p. 472, and The Sunday Independent (Ashland, KY August 30, 1987).