A book review by Virginia Staat
“Welcome to my world, the world of a forager! It is a world filled with free, nutritious, and delicious fruits, flowers, roots, tubers, shoots, nuts, mushrooms, and foliage, all within walking distance of your front door. ~ Mark Vorderbruggen, Ph.D.
They call him Merriwether. Friends dubbed him with the nickname in honor of the famous American explorer Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. It is a fitting moniker. Meriweather is a research chemist with a M.S. in medicinal chemistry and a Ph.D. in physical organic chemistry. He is recognized as an expert in wild edibles and medicinal plants, having spent his life foraging and learning the correlation between foraged foods, their nutritional and medicinal values, and how to use them to optimize health. He holds sixteen patents and is a master gardener.
Merriwether, also known as Dr. Mark Vorderbruggen, recently published Foraging: Explore Nature’s Bounty and Turn your Foraged Finds into Flavorful Feasts (2022, Outdoor Adventure Guides). The book is a goldmine of information for both novice and experienced foragers, covering seventy of the most common wild edibles found throughout North America.
As a young girl, I learned to forage for wild berries at my grandmother’s side. Over the years I have often slathered prickly pear jelly on my toast and sprinkled sorrel flowers on salads. More recently I have become interested in learning about medicinal herbs and wild foods. To my surprise, I discovered that my home state of Texas has its own foraging guru: Dr. Mark “Merriwether” Vorderbruggen. I was first introduced to his website foragingtexas.com, where I learned to make beautyberry jelly. Soon after, I began a correspondence with him. After purchasing his book, David and I are signed up to take one of his foraging seminars in January. The best part is that when I walk through the woods now, I look at plants with an even greater sense of appreciation and curiosity.
Why would foraging be important to RMOWP members? Foraging information can be critical to outdoor writing. As an example, I have been dabbling with a story about the ancient Mimbres culture from the Gila Wilderness area of New Mexico. Learning about the plants that people ate to survive in that harsh environment is essential to the story’s authenticity. As a photographer, I want to know the types of plants I am photographing. Whether the plant is edible or not adds to the photo’s story. Additionally, with RMOWP’s focus on stewardship and nurturing the great outdoors, increasing our knowledge about sustainable foraging can help us encourage others to do the same. Whenever we can deepen our connection to nature, it expands our appreciation of the bounty surrounding us and enriches our lives.
Merriwether’s Foraging book is the perfect reference to learn about wild foods. The first section of his book details the basics of foraging, including regulations, ethics, safety, and the legality of foraging wild edibles. As an example, it is unlawful to forage in national parks and permission must be granted to harvest on most public lands. Sustainability is key to ethical foraging, and foragers should endeavor to leave ninety percent of a plant’s concentration unless it is extremely prolific or invasive. The book offers general foraging techniques and the necessary tools. It also discusses how to avoid toxic environments and how to test for any allergic reactions you may have with your foraged finds.
The second section of Foraging details seventy wild plants found throughout North America, including amaranth, dandelion, lamb’s quarter, mulberry, and wild violet. The edibles range from trees, to plants, to vines, to mushrooms, to lichen. Each highlighted specimen includes detailed photos of various plant parts, such as the flower, stem, leaf, and root. Each of the seventy wild edibles has a map indicating where they flourish, the best time of year to harvest, and the plant’s favored growing location (i.e., forest, fields, or marshy areas). Additional information includes which plant parts should be harvested and how to prepare it for recipes. Finally, if the plant has a poisonous mimic, a photo of the imposter is provided, along with identifying differences.
The third section of Foraging includes thirty recipes for your foraged finds, from black nightshade tarts to pickled burdock roots to honeysuckle-infused sugar to wild mushroom quiche. Since my mycology identification skills are nil, I’ve begun by hunting loblolly and white pine needles this winter. Chopped and steeped in boiling water, the needles are high in Vitamin C and make an earthy, slightly licorice-flavored tea. Next spring, I’m particularly looking forward to trying roasted cattail rhizomes and making my own gluten-free flour from cattail pollen.
The back matter of the book includes a glossary, a quick-reference seasonality chart for optimum harvesting times, and a detailed index.
If you’re interested in identifying and foraging wild foods, I highly recommend Foraging: Explore Nature’s Bounty and Turn your Foraged Finds into Flavorful Feasts. The next time you’re out in the wilderness, it may help you discover a welcomed snack to enjoy!
(For more information about Dr. Mark “Merriwether” Vorderbruggen, please visit his website foragingtexas.com for a list of over 200 wild edibles that thrive in Texas as well as many other parts of North America. His website medicinemanplantco.com offers ancestral health tips on the Learn and Live page. On his YouTube channel, Dr. Vorderbruggen hosts 25 informational episodes of Merriwether’s World at https://www.youtube.com/user/drmerriwether.)