Wild Food Guide Review – Part One

Today here at Wild Cookery!, we review:

The Essential Wild Food Survival Guide by Linda Runyon

I’m just going to get this one out of the way.

I was going to do these in a particular order, out of a sense of fairness, but I just can’t get over this one. It’s raved about, it’s given star reviews (which is why I ordered it last year to begin with), and enough good stuff can’t seem to be said about this book.

So, read on if you dare, and I’ll go into the good, the bad, the ugly, and the outright horrid.

THE REVIEW:

Ok, so the book arrives in the mail last spring, I opened it up all excited along with the DVD (which will get it’s own separate and fair review, and will NOT be covered here.)

I’m pumped up, since this had such rave reviews from just about everyone, and it had been an awful long time since I got a new Wild Food Guide of any kind. I start reading the book from page one with great anticipation.

It went through some nice stories, some of which I would rank as very good general reading and quite valuable in and of their own merits.

Also in the first part of the book are a lot of interesting how-tos that deal with wildcrafting.

The actual plants part doesn’t begin until Part II: Field Guide to Wild Foods on page 49.

OK, now we’re getting to the good stuff. The whole reason I bought this book. The plant identification section. We are supposed to have at least three GOOD wild plant identification guides, to compare plants against, before consuming a new freshly identified plant.

The first plant up was Aloe Vera. Of course I already knew what this plant looked like. But then I looked at the drawing. I turned it to the left. Then turned it to the right. Then even turned it upside down.

And I would say to myself… WTF was this woman drawing? I have this plant right here. Right in the same room even. Right next to the book for that matter, and I STILL couldn’t identify it from the drawing, if I didn’t ALREADY know what it was. That, to me, is sure as heck not how an identification guide is supposed to work.

And they only get worse from there. Much, much worse. The illustrations for dock and mint come to mind.

The photos:

Half are pretty good, half outright suck, and ALL are black and white, which is a huge turn off, and it makes it absolutely and exponentially more difficult to pick out what I’m supposed to be looking for to ID a plant from the background foliage. Also, quite a few are far too ‘bright’.

I challenge anyone who is not already familiar with the plant to try to identify something other than perhaps dandelion with 100% accuracy from this guide. Take amaranth for example. The drawing looks an awful lot like several species of morning glory that grow along the road in front of my house. In fact, from the drawings, and the black and white photo provided, it’s darn near impossible to tell that it’s NOT amaranth. Well, the difference is one is a choice edible, and the other is quite toxic.

The book is absolutely rife with problems like this.

If this is the only wild food identification guide that you have, and you are stuck out in the middle of nowhere, cold and hungry, I’m sorry to say, but you’re pretty screwed.

Then again, I guess it’s better to have this book than nothing.

Even then, you are totally playing Russian roulette with your life if this is the only book you have. But hey, if you are going to starve to death anyway, I suppose it’s something. Just be sure to only pick something that has no known toxic look-alikes, that way if you pick the wrong thing, at least it won’t kill you.

I remember again how this book just got huge, rave reviews from all the supposed who’s who of the foraging world.

Funny. My first impression was that it outright sucked. Not a little sucked mind ye, but having to reinvent the term ‘suckology’ to describe this lame excuse for a so-called ‘Wild Food Guide’ Granted, it’s written by an old lady who fancies herself an artist, and that probably gets all kind of warm and fuzzies from people for that fact alone.

But as many of ye know, I’m very straightforward and I call a spade a spade as I see it, popular opinion be damned. This book had the limitless potential to be not just good, but great. But somewhere along the line, the ball was dropped. And the ball that was dropped was THE most important one. Accurate pictures and/or line drawings of the plants.

This book DOES have some good points to it, which makes it handy for several different reasons. However, as a ‘Wild Food Survival Guide’/Wild Food Identification Guide it fails epically, and that’s the platform it’s marketed under.

I compare this book to government cheese. Sure, it’s good, if you don’t know any better, have never seen better, and it’s all you have on hand to avoid starving to death.

Otherwise, I’d heartily recommend you steer clear of it as an identification guide, with one caveat. There is a nice recipe section in the back (62 pages worth!) in part III entitled ‘Wild Food Recipes’ that I really enjoyed, and so if you have a few extra fiat dollars to spend, it’s not a bad book to have in that regard. If this book was marketed as something other than an identification guide, I could give it much higher reviews. But the bottom line is that it fails in it’s prime duty. To help you reliably identify plants in a survival situation. If it was labeled as a ‘Wild Foods Cookbook’ first and foremost, it would have a much higher place of prominence in my library.

PROS:

Great recipe section in the back. 62 pages worth, multiple recipes per page. Also of note is a good section on drying and freezing wild foods. Interesting ‘old time’ stories, and very useful basic survival living stories and examples (unfortunately none of which help us identify any plants!)

CONS:

All of the photographs are in black and white. In a large number of the photographs it is difficult to discern the plant in question from the background. I would have gladly paid the additional $10 that would have been required to have printed a much higher quality full color book.

Final Rating as a ‘Wild Food Guide’: 5.5 out of 10 (The extra .5 was for the nice recipe section.)

If I could have actually IDENTIFIED something with this book, I’d likely have given it an 8.5 all things considered. Maybe if a second edition is released and the pictures fixed or better yet, outright replaced with CLEAR photography and new line drawings (Hint: hire someone to do this for you!), I’ll have much better things to say about a 2.0 rendering of this book. I’d certainly like to.

Summary:

If you only have $25 to spend, and can only purchase ONE Wild Food Guide for your library at the moment, this is NOT the book you want to get.

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