Tiffany Francis’ Food You Can Forage covers a large variety of plants that are suitable for eating. The book is split into habitat sections, of which there are four: Woodlands, Coastlines, Meadows and Heathlands. Each section has a double-spread introduction including a piece of history, the habitat values, habitat uses and a summary of species that may be found. After exploring the many plants to forage in that section, there is a two page “Wildlife Watch” which includes very personal accounts from Francis’ own engagements with such habitats and a broader summary of wildlife that can be found in those areas. The book is then finished with 20 recipes which include some foraged ingredients and a useful foraging calendar.
Francis’ enthusiasm for foraging is contagious right from the start, her passion evident throughout. Her writing is easy-going and the language allows you to engage with Francis on what feels like a more personal level. It’s refreshing to read a book not entirely filled with technicalities. She describes the thrill of experiences, which is something totally relatable for any person who enjoys nature. There are lovely little titbits of history injected into each habitat and plant summary. This historical association is often something that would be overlooked in day-to-day investigations of plants, so the way it is approached is subtle but effective.
The whole book is incredibly visually pleasing, with beautiful illustrations drawn by the author for each plant species. There are also many photographs, however some incorrect photos have been placed. For example, a photo of hemp-agrimony being placed for common valerian. Having fewer photos and more writing in relation to identification would have been preferential. It is very useful to have the Latin botanical names, as some of the English names aren’t what I am used to, however I was disappointed to see the Latin is not formatted in lower case. Alongside this, within the Coastlines' "Wildlife Watch", cetacean distribution is not truly reflected and incorrect species names used. However, there are some attractive recipes in the rear of the book, with easy-to-follow instructions and a mouth-watering description at the top of each recipe. I look forward to trying out some of the recipes when the season is right, especially Puffball Risotto and Blackberry and Pear Crumble, they both sound especially delicious!
Given that the book is described in the blurb as holding ‘useful information to help you identify and find food in the wild’, it isn't really an identification guide. As mentioned, there are some incorrect photographs inserted, and useful ID tips could have been added. There are many species covered that have very similar relatives, often that are difficult to differentiate between. Black mustard is very difficult to separate from other brassicas and the umbellifers, of which a couple are mentioned, contain plants which are irritants and in some cases, deadly. Within the text for each plant, it informs you of the part of the plant to harvest, though there is no indication as to where to find that part or how to harvest it. With this in mind, it is essential to cross reference to a complete identification guide.
Food You Can Forage is a book that is not ideal for beginners, however, if you are knowledgeable about your plant species and are looking to learn about foraging then this is the book for you. Though as a beginner, do not disregard it, for it can be used effectively alongside an identification guide and the information, illustrations, personal accounts and recipes within the book are worth it!
Abi Jacobs lives in Wiltshire, close to Salisbury Plain. When she isn’t working as a Nursery Nurse, Abi enjoys rock pooling, sea watching for cetaceans, mammal & avian osteology, photography, pond dipping and moth trapping. Abi is a Marine Mammal Surveyor for ORCA and a volunteer bird surveyor for Natural England. You can follow her most recent adventures on Twitter @AbiJacobs.