Book review: The Bay Area Forager, by Mia Andler and Kevin Feinstein
I was very excited to read this book. When I was a new hiker, I loved learning about the edible and poisonous plants along the trails. I was greatly helped by the Flavors of Home, by Margit Roos-Collins. That guide to wild edible plants of the San Francisco Bay Area is out of print and copies can be hard to find, so I was hoping Bay Area Forager would be an easily-accessible book to guide the next generations of local hikers.
Unfortunately, I can't recommend it. It does have some good points, including color photos of the featured plants, ideas for preparing the raw ingredients, and sensible thoughts about the sustainability and ethical harvest of each plant. The recipes are quite basic and did not appeal to me. Advice about where to find the plants seems maddeningly vague to me -- madrones, we are told, are found in "wilderness areas, usually fairly remote. Oak woodlands and semi-shaded hillsides." While this is technically correct, unless one was already incredibly familiar with bay area plants, the tip does not help much. Hikers would need to know where oak woodlands were common. Even a little information would be helpful here, such as, in the case of madrones, they can found along wooded trails in the Santa Cruz Mountains, or on the eastern slope of Mount Tamalpais. Perhaps the authors intend folks to forage in more urban settings; in that case they should have cast a larger net, including apples, pears, and figs which can be found on bay area trails as well as in city yards and parks. Seaweeds and mushrooms are not included in the book. Also missing: pickleweed, gooseberries, currant, serviceberry, Oregon grape, holly-leaf cherry, and one of the most tasty wild plants of all, salmonberry.
But by far the worst judgement in the book is the inclusion of several plants considered to be questionable for human consumption. Black nightshade may only be poisonous if eaten in large quantities, but I'll skip it in favor of something with no know poisonous attributes. And I was shocked to see California buckeye in this book, as an edible. The authors write that they hesitated to include it -- they should have left it out.
I'll stick with the Flavors of Home.