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BOOK REVIEW: The Uses of Wildfoods

Using and growing wild plants of the United States and Canada
Frank Tozer
Green Man Publishing
262 pages
General Index
Index of Common Names

With this book Frank Tozer has attempted to create an encyclopedic guide to the uses of wild plants. Although subtitled 'Using and Growing Wild Plants of the United States and Canada' he actually includes a fair number of European Natives as well, plus some lore and uses derived from that continent, rather than focusing only on the Americas. Not that I would fault that - it ads to the multifaceted nature of the information included in this book.

This book presents a multitude of interesting and useful information, gathered together in one source - no doubt a laborious task. However, it is not a foraging handbook as such, since it lacks description and useful images to help with identifying plants. It is more useful as a supplementary adjunct, say, to a Peterson's Field Guide. Once you have identified a plant you note the Latin and Common names and check it with this book to see if it has any interesting uses. And in this way you can learn about the plants you discover in your neighborhood. The individual entries are not huge, but nevertheless cover the plants to some depth, including some tips on how to cultivate the different species and procedures of how to make certain preparations - however without clear instructions or recipes.

The categories into which each entry is broken down seem a little haphazard and although of course many are reocurring, there does not seem to be a fixed format to the information presented. Some plants are treated in great detail, including Native American uses, Medicinal uses, how to gather the plant, cautions where appropriate, notes on cultivation, related species and other bits of useful snippets pertaining to the plant, its history or potential new uses. Others are covered in much less detail, but that too is understandable, since not all plants are created equal in terms of their usefulness, or at least, mankind may not have discovered these uses yet.

My main criticism would be the layout and organization. Although there is a general index and a common name index, there is no scientific name index, which seems odd, since the entries appear in alphabetical order - of their Latin/scientific names. This makes it hard to cross reference - especially as common names are so often used for various different plants. He does make appologies with regard to the occasional botanical inaccuracy and states that he did not write the book for botanists, but rather for people who are interested in the plants. However - someone who is interested in plants cannot usually avoid Latin names for very long, even if they rather would - they are essential for determining with certainty which species is being talked about, and for cross referencing with other sources.

While of course anybody can go and figure it out for themselves, it would have been nice if he had paid closer attention to this detail, in order to make it easier for his readers, who want to use the book.

There is also no table of contents, nor are there clearly demarcated sections breaks to separate the 'a-entries', from the 'b-entires' etc, which makes the material presented a bit dense. The few illustrations that are included serve more as decoration than as useful identification help. And, if I was really picky, I would say the book could have greatly benefitted from slightly more careful editing and proofreading, but this shortcoming does not weigh too heavy in my books since the information presented is sound and interesting.

In general, I would say, the substance is good, though the packaging could be better - meaning the layout and organization of the information presented could easily be improved in future editions. What does come across is Tozer's obvious passion and enthusiasm for his subject matter - his love for plants. This book is a diligent and sincere effort to supply as much varied information on as many species of plants as he could find. All in all a useful reference book - I only wish he had produced it as a fully searchable database on CD.

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