Saturday, March 8, 2014
During winters in Maine people need any excuse to get outdoors, enjoy the fresh air and get a little bit of exercise. Many also need to improve their diet.
Tom Seymour’s “Wild Plants of Maine: A Useful Guide” can help with both goals.
This book is a revision of the same title published in 2010. Seymour writes in the introduction that a lot of people asked him back then about plants that were left out, so he and his publisher brought out this version, including more leafy green vegetables and mushrooms.
The book is divided by seasons, with separate sections on seashore plants, mushrooms and recipes. While most of the plants listed are used for food, some are used as medicine and other purposes.
The book is detailed. For each plant, he includes at least one photo, a description of the plant, where you are likely to find it, how the plant made it to the Americas if it is not native, how to grow it on your own property, precautions to take so the plant does not become a pest, the best ways to harvest and how to prepare it, often noting how most people do so as well as how he does it. With comfrey, for example, he notes that studies show that digesting it is potentially hazardous, but he likes to eat immature comfrey leaves as a potherb. (Seymour calls so many things potherbs that, while I understood what he meant by context, I looked it up. It’s an old-fashioned term for any leafy green that is boiled or steamed.)
Seymour argues that foraged food is not only less expensive than food grown in farms and gardens, it is also healthier. He says that food in gardens is forced to grow in places where it might not grow on its own, while wild plants pick the places they grow. He believes that means they are healthier and better.
Seymour has a conversational writing style. In the middle of discussing a specific plant, he will digress into a other discussions, including how the two-word scientific plant names are often more descriptive than common names – if you have a basic understanding of Latin.
The plants he uses range from those that regularly appear on lists of invasive plants to gorgeous wildflowers that people search out while hiking in the words.
One of his favored foods is Japanese knotweed, a bamboo-like plant that is the bane of many home gardeners. He likes to break off shoots and boil them in the early spring, and he makes knotweed chutney every year. He even provides a recipe.
At the other end of the spectrum are purple trillium and trout lily, both gorgeous. He does urge people to avoid painted and white trillium, which are rarer, and even with purple trillium to take only one leaf from each plant, so they will survive.
He includes plants that people forage commercially, including ostrich-fern fiddleheads and elderberries, and plants that few other people would consider eating.
This book, which would fit easily into a backpack or most jacket pockets, is essential to anyone who is thinking of foraging for food. It would also be fun to read for those who enjoy spending time outside and want to know a little bit more about the plants they are seeing. A lot of information is jammed into this book’s 164 pages.
Tom Atwell is a freelance writer. living in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at: