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4.5 out of 5 stars591
4.5 out of 5 stars
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on 10 August 2005
I got this book from my local library but loved it so much that I am going to get my own copy for future reference. After reading this book I went out for a walk and picked some blackberries, elderberries & sloes, which were growing in abundance some 10 minutes from my house! This book opened my eyes to stuff that I usually overlook in the hedgerows and provided me with some useful information about the type of plants, fruits and fungi that are edible (and perhaps not always well known), with recipe ideas too. It encouraged me to venture out into the fresh air and walk in local woodland, along river banks and fields etc. I even found some of the highly recommended Parasol mushrooms! Wonderful book and really, really useful. Worth every penny.
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on 5 February 2006
This is a 2004 version and worthy addition to the very popular and pocket-sized Collins Gem series. ISBN 0-00-718303-8. Food For Free - A Fantastic Feast of Plants and Folklore.
The book starts with an introduction by the author Richard Mabey. It then has short sections titled 'Roots', 'Green Vegetables', 'Herbs', 'Spices', 'Flowers', 'Fruits', 'Making Jellies and Jams' and 'Nuts'. They include general advice, observations and uses. The main section of the book is given over to identification, with at least two pages per entry. An interesting section follows titled ’Picking Rules’ which gives advice on how to pick correctly how to stay safe. The last section before the main body of the book is a summary calendar which groups the picking times for entries into a colour-coded calendar - very useful as a quick reference.
Every entry is accompanied with a drawing. Most of the drawings are excellent, but one or two are a little small and thus less detailed. Fortunately, almost every entry also has a photograph. The combination of colour drawings and colour photographs is what makes this little pocket book a true 'gem'. If the drawing is a little weak, the photo will be excellent and vice-versa. Almost fool proof.
Each entry starts with the common English name (Latin is in small type at the top of the page)a colour illustration and description. Taking Beech (at random), it says: 'Widespread and common throughout the British Isles, especially on chalky soils. A stately deciduous tree, with smooth, grey bark, to 40m (130ft). Leaves: bright green, alternate, oval. Flowers: male drooping, stalked heads; female in pairs. Fruit: four inside a prickly brown husk, Sept-Oct. When ripe this opens into four lobes, this liberating the brown, three-sided nuts.' The illustration depicts a leaf, spring twig with unopened buds, an opening husk revealing nut inside and bare nut. The article continues with headings; Harvest/Pick, Uses, Beech Nut, Beech Nut Oil, Beech Leaf Noyau. The photo at the end of the entry is a good close-up of a twig with a cluster of husks. (I didn’t know, for example, that ‘fresh from the tree Beech leaves are a fine salad vegetable, as sweet as a mild cabbage though much softer in texture’.)
The book, in line with its title, covers Plants and Trees, Fungi, Seaweeds and Shellfish. There is a glossary at the end and a page devoted to further reading. There is a List of Recipes and finally an index of entries in common English or Latin.
There aren't that many books devoted to 'British' wild foods so to find one which lists over 100 edible plants, berries, mushrooms, seaweed and shellfish is most welcome. Given the true pocket size measurements of the Collins Gem series of books, the price of a fiver (£4-99) and the quality of each entry, this is as good as it gets. Obviously not a benchmark reference work or field-guide, but at least this fits in the pocket - which is the main purpose of such books, isn't it? Five stars!
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on 7 January 2013
Review by my girlfriend since it's her book.

This book was a Christmas gift, and I'm really pleased with it.

First thoughts: The book is beautiful Heavy, glossy and sturdy, printed and bound to a high quality. The hard cover is lovely to look at, with the text stamped into the cover rather than merely printed. The book look impressive and is an attractive addition to my bookshelf.

Next thoughts: The interior is lovely, as well. Every food item described is illustrated with high quality, glossy photos that display the plant in its natural setting, showing leaves, fruit/flowers and stem clearly. It would be very difficult to misidentify anything with this book.

More detailed thoughts: The descriptions given for different plants are very thorough, and include smell for fragrant plants as well as appearance. The mushroom section is fantastic for newbies to mushroom foraging - the safest and most difficult to misidentify mushroom varieties are offered, and in the few cases where there are similar poisonous varieties, these are described and illustrated just as clearly, with large poison symbols to make it very clear what to avoid. There is also a very nicely arranged index at the back, where all the plants in the book are illustrated with the usual, old-fashioned colour sketches. This is great, as if you come across a plant you don't know, you can skip to the index, find a similar-looking sketch and it will refer you to the main page, where you can compare the plant to the detailed photos and descriptions more thoroughly. A very clever and very efficient way of arranging things.

I have only two criticisms.

One: This book is far too large and heavy to take out when foraging. It is such a thorough and clear book I absolutely would want the information it contains with me when foraging, but it is a little dense to keep pulling out of a backpack, supporting against a rock, flipping open, etc.

Two: Almost none of the plants have a time-of-year with them. Some of them do, but in other cases I'm left with no idea what sort of time of year I can expect to find a given plant at its best. It'd be very handy to have that.

**Overall**
A really great book. Ideal for beginner foragers, especially people who are nervous about picking mushrooms but want to try it. Very informative, well presented and laid out in an intuitive, sensible and useful manner.
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on 1 June 2013
This is a neat little reference manual...but it does depend heavily on having done alot of independent research (to the point where you wonder why someone who had done the necessary research would need this pocket guide).

My case in point is that I received this pocket guide and immediately went to work in the woods nearby trying to identify local wild herbs/plants that were edible.

I came across what I had previously thought of as an innocuous, useless weed - it seemed to correspond with 'Sweet Cicely' in the book..picture looked good, tied in with the description...looked like I had found easily a common plant that I could make use of.

Now, as stated, I'm not an expert so I went on to double-check (thankfully) and it seems like this plant is easily confused with hemlock (from what I can gather you can tell hemlock from the red speckles on the stalks).

I'd really like to regain confidence in this little pocket manual...please tell me if I'm mistaken about the whole hemlock thing.

I think I will be sticking with dandelion recipes until I get another reference manual which includes 'false friend' warnings about plants & fungi that need to be identified and avoided despite seeming similar to those listed.
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Richard Mabey is the author of several books on flora and fauna so he is well qualified to write a book such as this. Over one hundred edible plants are featured together with recipes and other culinary information. There is also information on how to pick and when to pick and the regulations on picking which are very important. As I come from farming stock I have to say that food for free does not mean going into a field and digging up a few potato plants or for that matter cabbages.

There are plenty of hedgerow plants available for free, if you are prepared to look for them and suffer the odd few scratches. There is nothing better than a bowl of freshly picked blackberries or raspberries, if you can get them home before they are all eaten.

Plants that are edible are fully illustrated and described and the recipes are both old and new. Other fascinating information is how the plants have been used through the ages. An ideal book for all those who are nature lovers and like the idea of something for nothing. I think the last part covers 99.9% of the population.
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on 16 July 2012
Perfect for beginner or advanced. Big glossy pictures and everything you need to know. If you're learning from home there is nothing better. If you want to learn while outdoors, the food for free pocket version by collins gem is ideal. With both you have everything you need.
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on 15 September 2003
A delightful, colourful book that is full of the countryside with amazing recipes of the wild flowers and weeds that have been photographed and inset on every page. He has created a new space for the English seasonal climate and the accompanying display of wild, ornate colourful flowers that have all got there culinary uses, some known like chicory others not so well known like Bladder Wrack Popweed. There are 21 daring recipes for you to try each containing somekind of wild flower or herb. The overall review of this book is that if you are in love with the countryside you will definetely find this book very interesting.
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on 1 October 2012
I was very pleased when this book arrived, as it has high quality binding and colour photographs. It was bought as a gift and is definitely the sort of present anyone who loves walking in the countryside and/or cooking would enjoy reading. There is a pocket sized version which would be much better if you need to refer to it during a ramble, but the disadvantage of the pocket sized version is the photographs are obviously a lot smaller and so indentifying plants en route is likely to be more difficult.
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on 5 August 2011
As ever with Collins Gems' guides the information contained is easily referenced,concisely put,has clear photograph's to make sure you dont get yourself into trouble by picking the wrong foods and makes a good entertaining and informative read for every forager,wether experienced or not.
All stars would have been given but for the one factor of the print being somewhat small for my failing eyes,but that is a 'personal thing'.
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on 11 October 2008
I do like a bit of hedgerow and it's great to enjoy the free gifts from Mother Nature, but until I got my hands on a copy of this pocket sized guide, it was a little unclear.

This book is ideal and helps you understand what's under your nose in the gardens! So many common plants can be used in cooking and yet still we pay mini-fortunes for little bags of this and that in the shops. This book certainly helped me to identify and try some of the more obscure plants that I had absolutely no idea I could eat.

It's clear descriptions of what they look like alongside nice imagery of the plants themselves help you feel brave enough to give them a pluck and cook and the warnings are there to be heeded, particularly when it comes to mushrooms (personally, I'd only go for a puffball, you can't go wrong there)....

Although it's an academic book, it's written in an entertaining style and makes for an enjoyable read too.

I would highly recommend this for anyone who's trying to pull in their belts a bit, not because it will give them 'all' the answers, but it WILL help them to understand that all food doesn't come from the shops and that's a great step forward. As is cooking from fresh which of course this book sings out loud and clear.

There's always a really good reason why a book reprints and there are too many to list for this little fella.

Order it and don't leave it to fester on a shelf somewhere - keep it handy in your bag or coat pocket.

Tracey Smith
Author of 'The Book of Rubbish Ideas'
The Book of Rubbish Ideas: An interactive, room-by-room, guide to reducing household waste.
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