Category Archives: Book reviews

Incredible “Incredible Wild Edibles” by Sam Thayer


Sam Thayer is without doubt my favourite foraging author and his new book Incredible Wild Edibles does nothing to change that! It’s been 7 years since his book “Nature’s Garden” and 11 since his debut, Forager’s Garden. All his books are thoroughly researched and I love his plant descriptions, which are detailed, thoughtful and accurate with lots of fun personal anecdotes intertwined! The range of edible plants in this book is very wide and includes amongst others plants yielding berries (including one of my favourites, but rarely grown, black raspberry), leafy greens and shoots (caraway, poke and bladder campion), annual weeds (chickweed and shepherd’s purse), “ground” nuts (chufa), herbs and spices (caraway and fennel), introduced invasives (Japanese knotweed, creeping bellflower), winter crops (miner’s lettuce), root crops (Psoralea or prairie turnip and poppy mallow or Callirhoe involucrata), nut trees (hickory), seed crops (black mustard), water vegetables (watercress), sap sugar (maple) and edible flowers (violet). As with Thayer’s other books, although these are North American wild edibles, some are cultivated as garden edibles around the world and several have a wide geographic distribution including Europe or originating in Europe (I like to think that caraway was introduced originally to North America by the Vikings from here in Norway). Some are also new wave perennial vegetables being grown in permaculture inspired and forest gardens. I actually grow most of this collection in my own garden in Norway. Therefore, all of Thayer’s books are also of interest to foragers, edible gardeners and permaculturists both in and outside of North America!  There are 3 species covered which I was particularly interested to read about as they are seldom covered in foraging and edible gardening books. These are water parsnip (Sium suave), Sweet root (Osmorhiza spp.) and sochan or cut-leaf coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata), the secret vegetable of the Cherokee. I’ve grown the latter in my garden for several years (a double flowered ornamental form; see the picture) as I’d read that it was used by native americans but had never found much in the way of first hand information! I can now look forward to trying this in my ever growing collection of edimentals or edible ornamentals (plants doubling good taste with good looks!)


The book starts with a number of short essays on various relevant subjects. I particularly enjoyed his “Foraging against the invasion”, that herbicides are not the solution, creating an ecological void, quickly recolonized by invasives….that it’s unrealistic that we will win in the end…and that foragers should participate in the deliberate control of invasives as they are the people most likely to notice and have an impact. Foraging can in this way actually save native plant communities rather than what is often stated, that foraging destroys by overharvesting. And many invasives are of course excellent edibles (we are planning an invasives festival here in Norway!)

The book ends with Thayer’s essay on what he terms Ecoculture! This is Thayer’s term for the ancient practice of the management of natural ecosystems to enhance their production of useful products…and argues that it should and could become an important component of future food systems. I remember on a visit to the West Coast reading in old (suppressed) literature about the amazing extent to which Native Americans managed the forests for food and other products. This is of course nothing unique to North America. These practices are also one of the inspirations of Permaculture’s forest gardens or food forests. Thayer also describes a part of his own garden that he has planted as a diverse productive garden of edibles, but he only (or mainly) uses native plants. Native ecoculture works for Thayer as native forests in his part of the world are particularly diverse and able to supply the calories…in my part of the world this is difficult without introducing non-natives like nut trees and introduced perennial vegetables in our relatively poor native flora……therefore I use forest gardening  rather than ecoculture. Thayer gives the prime example of the sugar maple and wild leek (Allium tricoccum) forests….the closest we have to this in Norway are hazel – ramsons (Allium ursinum) woods, but they are rather limited in extent and nuts are small. Our permaculture forest gardens lie somewhere between “unstable” mainstream agriculture and its predominantly annual crops and Thayer’s relatively stable natural plant communities with mainly perennials.

Thayer also argues that rather than reducing our impact, we need rather “to increase our positive impact on the landscape whilst gathering earth’s gifts to nourish and heal ourselves”.  There is also food for thought that in-situ natural perennial poly-ecocultures do not involve improved varieties as domestication or plant improvement happens in isolation……

Get this book, it could indeed change your life!
Seven years was worth the wait! Thank you Sam!!

Overview of Sam Thayer’s books:

Forager’s Harvest: 2006 (360 pages) 32 plants

Nature’s garden: 2010 (512 pages) 41 plants

Incredible Wild Edibles 2017 (479 pages) 36 plants

Around the World in 80 plants at TWO!!

ATW-SelfieAiahHappy Birthday ATW!! It’s difficult to believe that my book is already two years old!! It’s been an amazing couple of years for me since the book launch and thanksgiving party in Oslo!
It’s literally taken me Around the World in 79 events (talks, courses, Around the Garden tours etc.). This year has taken me to Japan, I’ve visited and given courses and talks at some famous gardens in the UK from Wardington Manor to Prince Charles’ Highgrove and I had a memorable tour of eastern Scotland (Edinburgh Botanics, Teeny Weeny Farm, Aberdeen and Findhorn)! I visited 3 botanical gardens in Norway, but the 400 people that turned up for my guided tour of the botanical gardens in Trondheim (1 in 5 bought the book!) surprised us all and was a real highlight :) Wherever I’ve been I’ve met amazing folk who are making a real difference in their communities and I’m thankful to have many new friends around the world! Thanks to everyone who has helped along the way <3.  I don’t plan to “retire” from plants just yet, so I will hopefully meet many more of you next year…and there are already many events planned for next year, from Canada, England, a tour with Arche Noah in Austria, the great Gothenberg botanical gardens and the wonderful Danish island Bornholm. I’ll also be teaching on a PDC in Trondheim and will be a talking at a film festival! Watch this space!

Please send your ATW Selfie if you’d like to be added to the ATW wall of fame ;)

I’ve collected all the  reviews here:
Oh, and Xmas is coming up ;) (advertisement over….)

Thanks for the reviews, keep em coming!

Thanks very much to you guys who’ve written reviews of my book on Amazon…it helps spread the word :)

However, I would encourage you to buy from Green Shopping (the publishers) or Chelsea Green in the US, better for all of us!

Alys Fowler on ATW in the Guardian

Thank you so much Alys Fowler!!!

She has apparently been “trailing round the house with my copy (of ATW), unable to put it down.”  :-D

Here’s a few shots from Alys and “hard working” cameraman Simon on assignment in my garden on that wonderful visit in July 2010 when Malvik was showing off its best …I remember Alys saying that this must be paradise….

Alys in Malvik

The garden later featured in Alys’ book The Thrifty Forager:


My way of sharing FUN – write about it!!!

Thanks very much to Joan Lambert Bailey for the nice remarks and great review! Yes, you’re absolutely right when you say “I am convinced this book is his way of sharing the fun” :) :) :)

Must check out your blog….never been to Japan and had planned to make the trip this spring but it wasn’t to be, highest on my places to visit….next spring :)

Book review in the North Devon Journal

“Stephen Barstow is to edible plants what Robson Green is to fishing!”

Well, I hadn’t heard of Robson Green before and I’m sure Green hasn’t heard of me before either….but this is a nice review (they’ve all been nice so far!!)  on my “APPETISING 80” !! Thanks Graham Andrews!!

….and my gaze went to the pictures on the right hand side of the page where 4 of the 6 are of edimentals…Urospermum is actually mentioned on p. 58 of the book (a wild foraged leafy green in the Mediterranean which I grow, but quite bitter to our modern palate), Papaver (seeds), Meconopsis (oil from seeds) and Anthriscus Golden Fleece has been on my wish list for some time…

Gardening page jan 15th 2015

Review in the Ian Young Bulb Log

The first review apart from the Permaculture Magazine one came from a completely unexpected place, the Scottish Rock Garden Club’s Ian Young’s weekly Bulb Log and a really good review it is too!!…/2014Nov261417007041BULB_LOG_4814.p…(see pages 11 to 15)

I had thought and hoped that the book might also appeal to ornamental gardeners and maybe we were right……

Ian’s bulb log is a labour of love and goes right back to 2003, you can see all of them here (I’ve followed this over the years and picked up a lot of valuable information!