Miles Irving’s, ‘The Forager Handbook’, begins with a passionate introduction about a revolution in the food industry and a burgeoning communal return to our ancestral roots. His enthusiasm and knowledge are clear from the start, and the book, without doubt, does offer a wealth of information. However, I fear the title misleads us in its inference that the volume would be of use out ‘in the field’ for a forager in need of assistance when attempting to identify a plant new to them.
The lack of colour photographs of species is not very user friendly. Compounding this is the structure of the book, which the author claims should make its use easier; it is divided into broad groups withing the plant kingdom, and then, further, into families. Irving argues that he finds it easier to identify a plant once familiar with the characteristics of the family it belongs to. This may be the case, but it intimates that prior knowledge of the plant kingdom and its subdivisions is a pre-requisite to being able to make use of this book. I wonder if its title may mislead some purchasers, as the work is more an encyclopaedia or textbook than it is a ‘handbook’. As a textbook it is thorough, diligent, and has the added interest of the inclusion of plenty of recipes suggestions and tasting notes provided by eminent chefs to whom Irving acts as provider of foraged ingredients. It must be said, though, that recipe ‘suggestions’ they are, giving a simple description of flavour combinations rather than details of ingredients or methodology. As a resource to have at home or in the classroom, it certainly has its merits for learning in depth about classification of plants by species, but would need to be used in conjunction with a more utilitarian identification guide by anyone not already familiar to an extent with its contents.
The Forager Handbook: a guide to the edible plants of Britain Miles Irving; ISBN 978-0-09-191363-2; Ebury