A Forager’s Life: Reflections on Mother Nature and My 70+ Years of Digging, Picking, Gathering, Fixing and Feasting on Wild Edible Foods

A Book Review

By Paris Wolfe

Mike Krebill, now in his late 70s, has been foraging for more than 70 years. In his second book, A Forager’s Life, he reflects on his experiences as a naturalist, teacher, and most importantly, a champion of wild foods.  

DG.3 KrebillHe has many reasons why folks should be interested in wild edibles, but the most compelling, he says, “Historically, wild edibles were crucial survival fare during depressions. Now some of them command high prices in fancy restaurants. Trying something new can add variety to your diet at home.”

While the 264-page text released in early 2021 is a folksy, linear progression through Krebill’s life, reading the pages in order is unnecessary. In fact, it’s fulfilling to disregard convention and flip through the pages at random, settling on whatever shiny thought catches your attention. 

The narrative is broken up by recipes, lists, and images. In my case, I was eager to see what foraged botany starred in the 21 recipes. I own at least a dozen wild food books, and Krebill’s recipes are unique to this tome. They include Queen Anne’s Lace Pancakes, Clover Flower Spoonbread, Sumac Black Raspberry Lemonade, and Hickory Nut Sandies, among others. 

Page 123 lists 40 common wild edibles, including several mushrooms, that the reader will likely recognize. Upon reflection, Krebill recalls tasting 190 plant and 44 mushroom varieties. He’s tried foraging insects, but much prefers foraging for plants.

With the help of grade school students, he tasted and tested acorns from different trees and identified their different characteristics. He prefers the flavors and tannin-balance of the swamp white oak. Students also helped him identify that paw paws, like apples, have different flavors.

ST LYNN'S PRESS - FORAGER'S COVERThree warnings he offers include that mayapple fruits are only safe to consume when they are ripe; sumac may cause allergic reactions in some folks; and all mushrooms should be cooked before eating.

While going back and forth through the pages, I was drawn into Krebill’s storytelling. First, about his cousin trying to defy poison ivy to reach a generous stash of hickory nuts but then finding himself hospitalized with an angry rash. And second, when a middle school class was chowing down on a particularly delicious fried puffball and suddenly discovering wriggly little creatures inside. Both serve as warnings to newbies…pay close attention to the project whether gathering or cooking. 

Perhaps the most important parts of the book are safety precautions for the human and the planet. First, for the human he lists:

  • Be positive of a plant’s identity.
  • Know the edible part and when it can be eaten.
  • Don’t collect in polluted areas.
  • Know how to prepare it.
  • Eat a small amount the first time so that you can see how your body reacts to it.

For the planet he recommends regenerative harvesting:

  1. If plants seem crowded, thinning may help them grow.
  2. When harvesting tender leaves and stems from a plant, take no more than 30 percent of the plant, and be careful to avoid damaging the roots.
  3. Cut new shoots a few inches above the ground, instead of right at the ground. It allows them to regenerate.
  4. Make sure to leave a good number of seeds in the landscape. Help disperse them to encourage reproduction.
  5. Encourage runners like mint, nettle, and wild bergamot by cutting out small patches with roots intact, then transplant them. To keep a patch healthy, don’t uproot the runners during harvest.

For your copy of A Forager’s Life: Reflections on Mother Nature and My 70+ Years of Digging, Picking, Gathering, Fixing and Feasting on Wild Edible Foods, visit stlynnspress.com. If you want more information on identifying wild edibles, pick up Krebill’s book, The Scout’s Guide to Wild Edibles, also by St. Lynn’s Press.

St. Lynn’s Press publishes a wide range of books, from body-mind-spirit to enlightened business to all things “green.” Over time, they’ve gone deeper into the green side, and since 2010 have been publishing, almost exclusively, books on organic gardening, sustainable living, and ways to live gently on our little piece of the planet.

Photo Credits: 1) Mike Krebill; 2) Krebill Book Cover. All photos courtesy of St. Lynn’s Press.

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.


Paris Wolfe is a travel and food writer, and blogger. Away from the keyboard, Paris may be herb gardening, at farmers’ markets or traveling. She is often in the kitchen cooking, eating, drinking wine/spirits/tea and entertaining. 

Six Reasons to Read The Culinary Herbal

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

The Culinary Herbal bookAn herb gardener and enthusiast for nearly 30 years, it’s been a while since I’ve met an herbal reference I couldn’t live without. Well, I just met one:  The Culinary Herbal, Growing & Preserving 97 Flavorful Herbs (Timber Press, 2016, $27.50) by Susan Belsinger & Arthur O. Tucker. Both are members of HSA.

The book is  a guide, not a cookbook. With carefully chosen words, and straightforward pictures by Shawn Linehan, it sates the appetite for information. You don’t walk away hungry for more or overwhelmed by too much.

Six reasons to add The Culinary Herbal to your library include

  • It discusses common and uncommon herbs. For example, the first listing is “ajowan.” The seeds smell/taste of thyme and are used in savory Indian dishes.
  • It covers food uses. About lemon verbena the authors write “[the leaves] make a delightful syrup. Extracts and tinctures are used in the formulations of liqueurs. They can also be made into an aromatic paste for baked goods.”
  • It explores taste like a good wine catalog. Violas or Johnny-jump-ups “have pleasingly mild sweet tastes like baby lettuce. Some of them have a slight, mild hint of wintergreen, and a few bring bubblegum to mind.” 
  • It notes growing information. Atop the page for each herb is a summary of ideal conditions. French Tarragon prefers full sun in well-drained soil of a 6 to 6.5 pH. 
  • It cautions of dangers. Did you know that green, unripe elderberries are poisonous? 
  • It offers lush, definitive photography. Relevant photos of each herb show essential parts such as leaves, flowers, fruit, seed, roots.

The only thing missing is a spreadsheet so I don’t have to flip pages to find like-herbs for my shade garden with dry soil, etc. Then, again, the growing information is a top each listing. So, flipping page by page is simple enough.


What’s your favorite herb reference book?

 

 

 

Book Review: Crafting Holistic Beauty Products

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

Lip balm is among the easiest beauty products to make, says Shannon Buck, author of “200 Tips, Techniques, and Recipes IMG_3182for Natural Beauty” published in September, 2014, by Fair Winds Press ($19.99).

“Folks are always pleasantly surprised to find out how easy it is to craft. Once you learn how inexpensive and enjoyable it can be to handcraft your own lip balm, you may never want to buy store bought again,” she waxes enthusiastically.

Shannon’s interest in herbs has been evolving since she was a young girl inspired by her mother. ”I remember wildcrafting with my mom in the mountains of Wyoming and the flavor of Horehound throat lozenges,” she says.

In 2011, she enrolled in the East West School of Planetary Herbology’s Herbalist Program in and the Aromatherapy Program at Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. Eventually that led to a blog Fresh-Picked Beauty at www.freshpickedbeauty.com and teaching Therapeutic Uses of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy at a few colleges in Seattle.

”My present focus,” she says, “is how herbs can benefit the skin and help us age beautifully.”

Among her favorites is lavender, she notes. “I use the essential oil as a solution for tension, minor burns and other skin problems. I think everyone should have this herb in easy reach.”

Like many of us, Shannon is cautious of chemical-laden commercial products. “With my book you can create lotions and potions using all-natural, holistic ingredients. You’ll learn about carrier oils, butters, and floral extracts,” she says. “With step-by-step photographs, and expert tips, each recipe produces beauty products to use or give as gifts.”

book photoWhile that’s a succinct summary of the book, it barely captures the dynamic, valuable content on each of the 144 pages. Photos, charts and full-color visual organization make the content easy to reference. In fact, they entice you from page to page until you’ve accidentally perused the entire book. It’s a must-have.

If you’re not ready to buy the book, sample Shannon’s expertise at her blog – Fresh Picked Beauty.

For would-be authors, Shannon advises, “If you are passionate about a particular topic and would like to write a book, get in touch with a number of literary agents with your idea and see what happens. Once you get your book deal, remain motivated and transfer all your enthusiasm onto the pages.”

Shannon lives in Woodinville, Washington with her wonderful husband and two beautiful children. When she’s not writing, blogging or working with herbs, she enjoys spending time at her family’s lake house in Chelan, Washington.


“200 Tips, Techniques, and Recipes for Natural Beauty” is available at major retailers and online at Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, Indiebound.org, Target.com, Walmart.com and her blog.  She also sells products on Etsy.