Foraging the Mountain West: Gourmet Edible Plants, Mushrooms, and Meat
This is the best book on wild food to come out in the last few years. This period has seen a flood of titles published on the subject; publishers think they have found a hot niche and are scrambling to fill it as fast as they can. But luckily, a few authors whose passion for wild edibles dates back decades have taken the time to carefully put together really good books--Tom Elpel being one of them.
This book is written in a mixture of informative and narrative style that it is both practical and pleasant to read. The book is not fluffed up by a format designed to take up space when there is little or nothing to be said--it is really packed with good information. I get the feeling he had a lot to say and had to pare it down to the essentials to fit. It is not a bunch of stories about foraging, but stories are used to illustrate points and liven up the discussion. The information is botanically accurate and based upon extensive research and experience. This is not the same old stuff being written about the same well-known plants. For instance, Tom goes into detail about the harvest and use of timothy grass, rice grass, and reed canary grass seeds--not plants often discussed in the foraging literature. He gives his opinion on twisted stalk berries, harebell roots, creeping bellflower, mariposa lily, and a host of other plants largely ignored in foraging literature. He doesn't hesitate to share when his experiences have been negative or positive, and he explains why. If you're looking for writing by someone who has actually eaten his subject matter, this is it. Foraging the Mountain West also goes into some non-plant food sources, such as mushrooms, crayfish, and carp.
The photos are good and portray the edible parts at the time they are eaten, and often illustrate processing techniques as well. The non-glossy paper detracts somewhat from the quality of the photos in print, and makes the pages more easily damaged than they could be, but overall I'd rate the quality of the graphics at least a 4.
Compared to HD Harrington's "Edible Native Plants of the Rocky Mountains" (which I'd rate a 4) this one has better graphics. It covers fewer plants (although still a very good number) but gives much greater detail on how to actually harvest and use them, and the writing seems to reflect much more foraging experience.
Compared to Gregory Tilford's "Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West" (which I'd rate a 4) this book is larger and focuses on edibles alone and therefore has much more info about the food plants it covers, and the author seems more knowledgeable--although the photos are not quite as good.
Compared to Liz Morgan's "Foraging the Rocky Mountains" (which I'd rate a 4) this one simply contains a lot more info, and the info is more accurate and reliable.
Compared to Bob Seebeck's "Best Tasting Wild Plants of Colorado and the Rockies" (which I'd rate a 5) this one is better just because it is bigger and goes into greater detail. But I really like Seebeck's book.
Compared to Linda Kershaw's "Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Rockies" (which I'd rate a 4) this one, again, has more info and is more reliable. It reflects more personal experience and gives much better and more detailed instructions for using the plants.
Several of the above books seem fluffy (designed to take up pages) and to be written with little passion, by people who lack the lifelong interest and experience of Elpel. While any of them are a good investment for a forager in this region, If you are in the Mountain West, Tom Elpel's guide is the first wild food book I'd recommend. It is also great for the western Plains which have similar flora. For a serious wild foodie anywhere, this book has lots of new info and good ideas pertaining to plants that are widespread outside of its region of focus.