Backyard Foraging

 IMG_6231“My love affair with nature is so deep that I am not satisfied with being a mere onlooker, or nature tourist. I crave a more real and meaningful relationship. The spicy teas and tasty delicacies I prepare from wild ingredients are the bread and wine in which I have communion and fellowship with nature, and with the Author of that nature.”  ~Euell Gibbons


As I study plants, read more books, and hundreds of blog posts, I am finding there is much more to eat in my garden than just the typical fruits and vegetables.  I started learning about edible flowers, and have been growing and trying more for a fun change in our salads.  And I know that many of my IMG_2406wildflowers/native plants are edible, and I have been featuring these plants and their culinary/medicinal uses in many blog posts.  Of course you can harvest nuts from common trees like black walnuts, chestnuts and oak trees, and we did try the black walnuts that grew at the old house.

But when I saw this book about foraging for food in your own backyard, I was intrigued and had to read it.  I thought it would give me more information about my native plants, and how to harvest them.  I was not prepared for what I would find in this book as it features so much more.

So I thought this would be a fun book to share for Holley’s Garden Book Review meme.


Backyard Foraging 



Author:  Zachos, Ellen
Paperback:   240 pages
Publisher:  Storey Publishing, LLC (March 12, 2013)
Amazon Price: $11.32 (paperback)







In A Few Words

The author, Ellen Zachos, is a blogger, writer and forager extraordinaire as she leads foraging walks in NYC.  The book starts with how to identify the IMG_2410different habitats from which you can forage while ensuring safety and being ethical in your harvesting.  Then the author gives tips for how to carefully harvest using common tools without sacrificing the look of your garden.

The rest of the book gets into the details of plants to forage divided into groups:  tasty leaves and stems, edible flowers and fruits, nuts and seeds, roots, tubers and rhizomes, safe fungi and plants with many edible parts.  The last section  goes into how to cook and preserve these foraged foods.



What I Liked

I love how the author has given me a new perspective on edible plants, and has blurred the line between edibles and ornamentals.  The reason for foraging from the author’s perspective; it reduces your garden footprint and tastes good.  She includes many reminders throughout the book, such as:  be careful where you forage as you want to be sure there are no chemicals, domestic pets, not too close to the road, on someone else’s property and on and on.

IMG_1979And then there is the practical advice like picking in the rain or right after rain as it is the easiest time to pull ‘weeds’ that you can eat in effect “killing two birds with one stone”.  Or forage for root and tubers in fall when it makes sense, and you are winter prepping your garden.

Of course the best part of the book is where you learn about the plants you can eat.  An added bonus to the list of plants is many are either weeds or invasive plants that we are pulling out of our garden and throwing away so why not eat them if you can.  For instance you can eat:  Goutweed, Chameleon plant (ugh I cannot get rid of this plant but I can eat it), chickweed, garlic mustard, oxeye daisy, dandelion and the list goes on.

The author does get into traditional natives to eat such as monarda, ostrich fern, elderberry, serviceberry, spiderwort, crabapples and sumac.  And she doesn’t stop there but adds to the list with ornamentals I would have never considered.  Who would think hosta would be a great food, well except for the deer certainly not me, but it is.  Add to that sedum, Rose of Sharon, dahlia and canna.

Each of the plant pages tells the details about the plant, how to harvest and how to eat the plant part(s).  There is a key that shows what IMG_2409season to harvest the plant along with little tidbits of info about how to cook the plant or how it tastes.

I also liked the section about prep and preserving as it was a great introduction.  And the resources were many as she gives you more books and webpages about foraging.  I hope to check out some of these in the future as I start my foraging and have more questions.



Not So Much

I have little to criticize about the book as it was so comprehensive.  The list of plants seems endless and she has included a wide variety.  Though I am suspect of picking fungi as so many are poisonous, I would personally want Ellen or another  expert to show me what I am looking for before I ate any out of my yard.



Final Thoughts

What was not to like about this book.  I have so many of these weeds, natives and ornamentals that I can get started right away.  And the author has tried every one of these so you know the advice you are getting is reliable.  Even if you only forage a few items from your gardens and yards, you will learn so much and have fun doing it.  I hope to come back and report how our foraging has gone this garden season so stayed tuned.

**All the photos here are plants in my garden that I can forage.  Move your cursor over the picture to see the name of the plant. 


Note-Euell Gibbons was a great American forager in the wild.




We live in a vastly complex society which has been able to provide us with a multitude of material things, and this is good, but people are beginning to suspect we have paid a high spiritual price for our plenty.  ~Euell Gibbons


Next up on the blog:  Next week will be time for another Wildflower Tales as we end July already.  

I am linking in with Michelle@Rambling Woods for her Nature Notes meme.  It is a great way to see what is happening in nature around the world every Wednesday.

I hope you will join me for my posts once a month at Beautiful Wildlife Garden. See my most current post now.

As always, I’ll be joining Tootsie Time’sFertilizer Friday.

Please remember, to comment click on the title of the post and the page will reload with the comments section.

All original content is copyrighted and the sole property of Donna Donabella @ Gardens Eye View, 2010-2013.  Any reprints or use of content or photos is by permission only.






  1. Christina says:

    Sounds a great book. Italians still forage for lots of leaves in the countryside and the woods teem with people at times when there are fungi; at Chestnut harvesting time the road sides are full of people and I’m always terrified of driving as people pop into the road without looking. There is nothing nicer than walking around the garden grazing as you go.

    • Donna says:

      Here when dandelion greens are starting to pop up, you would see older Italians scouring the roadsides picking them. They make a wonderful salad. I love the idea of folks living from the land and knowing the wild things and how to use them.

  2. Susan Troccolo says:

    Hi Donna,

    You always write such useful and sensitive posts….thank you. I noticed living in both Italy and, to some extent, Switzerland, that people know how to prepare wild plants. It’s both a lost art and a memory of poorer times in the old world which was devastated by two world wars. It”s also sad but true that there are fewer birds in Italy, because people used to eat them to survive.

    • Donna says:

      Thank you Susie. It is amazing what we used to do here in terms of using wild plants for food and medicine and now we rely on synthetic drugs that have their roots back in those wild plants. I prefer the wild plants and hope to have fun exploring more of them.

      Here we have killed off species of birds because we used them for food and feathers to adorn women’s clothing. Sad really.

  3. Anna K says:

    Sounds lika a wonderful book, but be really sure about your elderberries! The edible ones are great, but there are a few that are poisonous. I’m sure the book talks about that, but I thought I’d point it out anyway. As with the fungi, better safe than sorry! Happy foraging! 🙂

  4. HolleyGarden says:

    Oh, my goodness! I have been looking for just such a book as this! I have secretly been adding a few edible weeds to our salads (so far, no one has noticed!), and have been wanting to expand my small list of wild edibles, but didn’t know a good resource. Thanks so much for reviewing this book! I will definitely be reading my own copy of this soon! Thanks so much for joining in!

    • Donna says:

      Oh Holley how wonderful. Can you share what you have been adding. Love to know what you found tasty. You will really love the book.

  5. Cathy says:

    I also enjoy foraging and have a very detailed book on edibles and non-edibles in German, covering plants that grow here. We could all eradicate a lot of our weeds if we ate them! I must admit, some things don’t appeal to my palate, but it’s fun trying them out! It’s useful to have such a good guide as the one you have reviewed. Some of my older neighbours know about plants, mushrooms and berries, and there is still a lot of interest in such things here. But I do fear the knowledge will eventually grow thin… Look forward to hearing what you’ve been nibbling Donna!

    • Donna says:

      That sounds like lots of fun Cathy…exploring the area in which you live. I also fear the knowledge will be gone soon. I hope to keep a list as we nibble and report back in the near future.

  6. Donalyn@The Creekside Cook says:

    I’ll keep this book in mind – it would be nice to find that some of my most pernicious invaders can be eaten!

    One time, my daughter and I went to a daylily farm, where they field dig your selections. They were all in full bloom, and of course it’s best to remove those scapes before you plant them again. My son in law had read somewhere that daylily flowers are edible, so we all sat around the kitchen table, trying each different cultivar, one by one. It is surprising how much difference there is in flavor between them – though I can’t say that any of them have become a favorite dish!

    • Donna says:

      I have often wanted to try some daylilies. That would be fun to try and do a little experiment…maybe I’ll try that when my mom comes in for a visit.

  7. Dorothy says:

    ‘Backyard Foraging’ would be a useful book to have on the cookbook shelf. Thank you for reviewing it. I am such a coward when it comes to eating things from the wild. I don’t know if there are restaurants that specialize in serving wild foods, but that might be a way to introduce the timid to trying new things. Hostas must be good because the snails in my garden love them! And the cats have taken a liking to the Japanese Forest Grass.

  8. commonweeder says:

    I haven’t been a backyard or roadside forager but when my middle daughter considered running away at the age of about 12 she prepared herself by stealing her brother’s campstove, stockpiling her vitamins, AND making her own foraging book – presumably choosing only those plants she thought she would find palatable. I didn’t know about any of this until some time later when I was throwing out some of her junk and found the foraging notebook. Perhaps the preparations gave her enough time to think about whether she really needed to run away. We have never discussed this and she is now 50.

    • Donna says:

      He was a wonderful soul wasn’t he Jennifer. I’ll let you know what I think of hosta. I think that might wait until next year when they are young and probably sweeter when the deer forage.

  9. PlantPostings says:

    Sounds like a great guidebook! I feel the same way you do about foraging for fungi. While I’m curious, I can’t trust my limited knowledge of them. But Garlic Mustard, Dandelions, and berries–those all are tasty and plentiful!

  10. Patty says:

    One year my husband got fed up with the multitude of dandelions that he harvested their leaves for salad and made tea (not very nice tea) from drying their roots. He has never done it again. It sounds like an interesting book, maybe one he would like.

    • Donna says:

      The best thing to make out of dandelions is a wonderful salad of their greens before they flower. Just salt, olive oil and vinegar of choice…

  11. Sho'Nuff Sistuh says:

    Not only do I appreciate this topic, I *really* appreciate that you went to the trouble to provide an excellent review of the book. May I link your review to the “resources” page of my blog where I keep my running bibliography?

  12. Donna says:

    I have been on foraging walks here with local clubs just for fun, but never found looking for food in the wild very enticing. I have grown edible flowers for salads, but that is more to make a better presentation than as a food source. The book sounds like it has a lot of information, but I agree with you, it is better to go with an expert to learn. Too many plants have similarities to others, so best to make sure.

    • Donna says:

      That does sound like fun to go on walks even just to learn more. I love flowers in food but have only tried a few. I hope to add a few more every year.

  13. Vicki says:

    I’ll have to look into that book. I have dabbled with foraging, with mixed results. I highly recommend young spring dandelion greens.

  14. Casa Mariposa says:

    I’d kill myself in a heartbeat by eating the wrong plant. Plus, everything would have been seasoned with dog pee. I’ll stick to my veggie garden, the farmers market, and the grocery store. 🙂

  15. catmint says:

    hi donna, such an interesting topic. Reminds me of the early days of European settlement in Australia. When white people got lost in the bush, they would be threatened with starvation, and Aboriginal people would be astonished because in their eyes they were surrounded by food – bush tucker, i.e. food you can forage.

    • Donna says:

      Love that,’bush tucker’. It is amazing how we have come to rely lesson the land. We need to slip back to that a bit more. Maybe then there would be more respect for it.

  16. Jennifer@threedogsinagarden says:

    Is it just me or is there a craze/fad/general interest in foraging at the moment? I keep seeing new books and articles on the subject.
    This was a book that I saw online and was interested in getting. Great to see it reviewed here! I am even more intrigued after reading your review. I am a little like you though- I am a bit hesitant and would want to have someone show me what I can eat.

  17. Jen @ Muddy Boot Dreams says:

    Even though it might make me a vindictive gardener, I would look forward to munching on some edible weeds…after all they are benefiting from my garden, why shouldn’t I make them into salad.


  18. Pam's English Garden says:

    Hosta? Who would have known? Another fascinating posting, Donna. We use dandelions and elderberries (my husband makes the best elderberry waffles). Must try some of the other plants described in this interesting book. P. x

  19. Laura Bloomsbury says:

    as usual a great book review and was fascintated by what is edible on your pic links alone.
    as children we often foraged, nibbling on grasses and my favourite weed – shepherd’s purse. As a result we had to be educated as to what was poisonous.
    This book reminds us of what we all once knew though I thought snails ate hosta and chameleons went for Houttuynia!

  20. Grace Peterson says:

    Hi Donna. I’ve been away far too long. My apologies.

    What an interesting post. I never thought of eating Hosta, sedum or Chameleon plant but it would be interesting indeed knowing what is safe to eat and what isn’t. Great post. Thanks for sharing.

    • Donna says:

      No apologies necessary Grace….your life has been so busy with your new book and I am so excited for you!!! Glad you enjoyed the post.

  21. Weeding the Web says:

    Foraging is definitely fashionable at the moment. Here in the UK, foraged ingredients are peppering all the trendy restaurant menus. I’ve long looked at the weeds and thought I was probably throwing away a bounty. Sounds a great book to boost your confidence in trying things out.

    • Donna says:

      Thanks for dropping by…I had no idea foraging had become trendy although many restaurants here have been adding flowers to salads for years.

      Nice to know that our gardens hold more of a bounty than we knew.

  22. Laurrie says:

    It was great to see this book profiled here. I have read Ellen’s blog in the past and marveled at what she could find to eat all around her! I’m not so brave — I’ll try nasturtium leaves in my salad, but haven’t gone much further and haven’t tried pulling edibles weeds and eating them! I’m impressed at what you are finding in your garden and nearby.

    • Donna says:

      It will be fun trying more things and I hope to check out Ellen’s blog more…glad you enjoyed the profile Laurrie.

  23. Jean says:

    This looks like a fun book. I have foraged wild berries from my yard as long as I have lived here, but it would be great to expand my horizons. I share your feelings about foraging mushrooms — something that requires on-the-job training from an expert, not just learning from books.

  24. Jason says:

    Judy and her brother once tried to make bread out of ground acorns. Unfortunately it was the wrong kind of acorn and was pretty much inevitable. They eventually painted it blue and used it as a doorstop. I should try making salad with young dandelion greens – we certainly have enough dandelions.

    • Donna says:

      What a cute story…I think you would like the young greens Jason. I remember nibbling on grasses as a child. Wish I had learned more about foraging then as we lived in the country.

  25. Andrea says:

    Hi Donna, i have been amiss with my posting and commenting, been busy and then got sick. Now feeling better though still coughing.

    Like you i’ve realized that there’s a lot of plants around us here that can be eaten or medicinal. Most specially here in the tropics, the lowly weeds around are edible. However, ways are not easily changed, sometimes i try, but i’ve just tried only less than five at the moment. Even at the pots on my 5th floor window, there are weeds that are medicinal and can be put in salad, however the taste really needs getting used to. I guess when we get older, we tried many things to improve our health and life.

    • Donna says:

      Oh Andrea, I hope you are feeling much better. It is nice to feel like we are really living off the land like our ancestors. How incredible that you bring it up to the 5th floor…that is dedication to the land.

  26. b-a-g says:

    I have chameleon plant (Houttuynia) in my garden. It behaves itself quite well considering the comments I’ve read about it. It has a rather pungent scent though, so I wouldn’t dare to eat it – unless someone cooked it for me and ate a bite of it first.

  27. Tootsie says:

    it feels like forever since I had time to sit and enjoy everyone’s posts…I am so glad I could drop by today and see your addition to my little party! Thank you so much for linking into my little party this week…I appreciate and enjoy every post!
    I hope you will link in again and again!
    I am also sharing your post to the Tootsie Time Facebook page!
    Have a great week!

    ¸.•´¸.•*¨) ¸.•*¨)
    (¸.•´ (¸.•´ .•´ ¸¸.•¨¯`•.

  28. Hannah says:

    I like to use the native berries in my yard, Blackcap Raspberry, Thimbleberry, Salal, Oregon Holly Grape, and native Blackberries, and I make a “green drink” by putting herbs in a blender, filling with water, blending, straining, and drinking the juice. I like stinging nettle, lemon balm, comfrey, mint, and chameleon plant in that. I also dry Self-Heal spikes and some of the herbs for tea, and I use Sheep Sorrel in salads. Good information on foraging. I also like the herbal information on many native and “weed” plants found in The Energetics of Western Herbs by Peter Holmes, he integrates it with Chinese Medicine so it is very detailed in usages and benefits.

    • Donna says:

      Wow Hannah you certainly have lots of experience here and I look forward to learning more from you. You have so many natives and wonderful “weeds” to choose from. I am just still learning but it is fun! I will check out this book too. I go to an acupuncturist who has studied all over the world and so I have been doing lots with herbs through him but not many US or local herbs.

  29. Lavender Cottage says:

    Sounds like a good guide book Donna. I grow a number of traditional things to eat from the garden but would hesitate to eat some of the more unusual plants like hosta. I actually beat the birds to some of the serviceberries this year and they are delicious, like blueberries. I’ve used dandelion leaves in salads too along with edible flowers. Nothing to risky obviously.
    Great review, hope we don’t have to start foraging anytime soon like our ancestors.

    • Donna says:

      Thanks Judith. I have not eaten serviceberries but will give them a try. I also do hope we wouldn’t need to forage for ourselves except for our own fun in trying new things.

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