The Thrifty Forager

Carl Legge
Monday, 31st October 2011

Carl Legge reviews Alys Fowler's The Thrifty Forager and finds not only a useful guide to finding wild food but a plant directory and a guide to setting up a community orchard to boot. Your suppers will never be the same again. Check out our special readers' offer too!


I have something to admit.

I've been lying to you.

Every time I'ver served you up spinach, be it in soup, pies or rissotto, I've actually been feeding you wild things. You've had stinging nettles, dead nettles, purslanes and oraches; I've fed you fat hen, good King Henry and goosegrasss. You've eaten dandelions and thistles. They've come from the side of train tracks, along the river, in the parks and sometimes in my garden..


Living Off Your Local Landscape
Alys Fowler
Kyle Books, 2011
236 x 210mm, 192pp

This is more than a foraging guide. It's an invitation to get to know your local environment and its seasons and cycles. Reading it is like having a chat with an extremely well informed and practical friend who will help you make the most of the free food around you. The 'friend' is Alys Fowler: RHS, New York and Royal Botanical Gardens trained gardener, broadcaster and writer.

Alys has vision for the long term. She encourages you to develop foraging as part of your own food production and consumption system. She shows you foraging is the epitome of fresh, local and sustainable food and permaculture ethics.

The book has four sections. The first covers obvious newcomer questions: is it safe and healthy, is it legal, where do I go and how do I do it? This section ends with some useful foraging Rules of Thumb.

The second section contains case studies from Norway, the United States and the UK. These cover edible ornamentals, public fruit mapping and jam making and an 'Edible Town'. Alys concludes by taking you step-by-step through the process of setting up a community orchard.

The third section is the plant directory. It contains 80 plants that taste good, are readily available, easy to collect and to process. There's a really useful At-a-Glance table that shows what's available when. Each plant has its Latin and common names listed along with Alys's notes and anecdotes, how to recognise and eat parts and, where relevant, how to grow it. There are simple, tasty recipes to follow. Simon Wheeler's photography is brilliant: clear for identification and beautiful elsewhere.

The final section on Resources is really useful if you want to go further in your foraging studies or activities.

This is an essential read for the new-comer, anyone interested in sustainable community projects and the more experienced forager looking for fun and inspiration.

Carl Legge is a smallholder, chef and writes a regular blog at: 

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