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4.6 out of 5 stars576
4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 18 July 2008
This little gem of a book should be in every backpackers back pocket. Concise, focused and descriptive you'll have no trouble identifying the plants and shellfish. There has been some comments about lack of information on animals to eat, this is probably because rabbits, pheasants and such are classed as game and will belong to the landowner. Whilst it's ok to pick a few plants, mushrooms and shellfish it will probably be frowned on if you start blasting away at the countryside or setting traps!
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VINE VOICEon 26 October 2005
This is an excellent book but in the wrong package. Richard Mabey does a very good job of giving a seasonal guide to what's out there that you can have for free and does a respectable job of telling you how to use it. It falls short in two respects;

First it is not a comprehensive guide to any particular food source so while he may tell you how to cook ceps and morels and gives a reasonable guide to identifying it without this being a comprehensive guide to fungi you will never be entirely certain that what you have is a cep or a morel. To some extent that is true for everything he shows whether its fungi, nuts or fruit.

The second point is more significant for a book on foraging and is that this edition is simply too big to take into the field. In some ways this isn't a significant problem as because the book isn't comprehensive it wouldn't be the choice to take into the field with you.

This book falls somewhere between the coffee table forager's manual and Delia goes wild. Both of which might sound like criticisms but for someone who hasn't foraged wild food previously both of those would be the ideal starting point. If that's you then buy this book and read it but leave it at home when you go out and get a good field guide to take with you.

Note - since writing that review I have realised that this is available in several editions. Some of the other editions are small enough to use as a field guide.
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on 2 October 2009
This is one incredible little book, as long as one does not take it for what it isn't.

It is a short guide to wild food, a kind of introduction to basic principles of foraging, picking and cooking wild food. It is more specifically about food found in the British Isles, but most of these plants are very common throughout Northern and Western Europe (I have found more than 30 of the plants and mushrooms mentioned in the book as far north as central Finland).

It is very precious in that, it gives concise descriptions along with drawings and/or photos, which make for everything you need to carry in your pocket when taking a walk in the woods.

As a word of caution, always double-check what you've picked with a proper field guide when you return home (Mabey mentions that himself in the book). This book is not a replacement for field guides, and it should not be used as one.

This applies especially to mushrooms, and if you do not own a guide on mushroom identification, double-check online (spore-prints can be very useful). Although the mushrooms he has selected are relatively easy to find and hard to mistake for others, you don't want to find out you need a liver transplant because you made a mistake!

Great great great book, I can't really say anything else! This little book how opened my eyes to a world I didn't know existed before, and has lead me to buy more books about foraging and mushroom picking.
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on 6 September 2011
This small sized "book" (fits into the palm of your hand) is meant for those who are walking out in the woods and need a handy little, easily tucked away, reference quide with lots of pictures to make the plant or tree easily identifiable. Has sufficient info in it to make you more curious and encourage you to buy a real outsized library book for your collection with in-depth info so that you can broaden your knowledge at the fireside with a cup of tea.
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on 17 October 2012
I recently borrowed an earlier version of this book (Harper Collins Natural History 1989) from a friend and was so impressed I wanted one of my own (and in fact one for a friend too, who was also impressed by the book). The newer version is more compact.
Compared to the earlier version, there is now an index for the recipes, and new recipes have been added. This is quite useful. Unfortunately a few plants have been all but left out, I'm not sure if this is because some of these plants are now endangered or have disappeared altogether. E.g. there was no reference to the marsh mallow - I plant I find particularly intriguing! A more serious omission in my view is the poisonous plants: there is a whole group of plants (e.g. cow parsley, wild parsnip) which to me look almost identical, in the field, to the dropworts and hemlock - very poisonous; the new version does mention some of these in passing (but not in the index) and suggests using a well illustrated field guide in combination with this Gem. I think I found it more practical to have clear descriptions, with clear warnings, in the one book, as in the earlier version.
However, the layout of the new guide, in spite of its tiny size, is beautifully clear and it contains photographs, which is a big improvement. Its size (approx. 12*8*1 cm) means it fits easily in any of my pockets. I can hardly wait for next spring to gather beech leaves and try the beech leaf noyau, a `thickish, sweet spirit ...devastating in its effects' ... !
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on 24 July 2013
A useful book but the pictures and descriptions in these books never go far enough imho

I am not so interested in recipes for these plants, I could get another book to tell me all about the culinary delights of preparing one wild food or another, and yet the people that write these books appear to want to sidetrack the reader into preparing plants, rather than identifying them properly in the first place.

If I wanted a picture of what a plant looked like, I could just as easily compile my own book, by going on the net, typing in the plant name and print out the resulting picture.

What I do want and was expecting (foolishly) from this book, was a good description of how to identify each plant, and which lookalikes I should be aware of, and not an extremely brief description of the plant.

An example from the book.
Shady waste places, on roadsides and under hedges. Widespread throughout Europe. A hairless perennial forming large patches 30– 100 cm (12– 40 in) high. Leaves: finely toothed in groups of three at the end of the leaf stems. Flowers: white umbels on a creeping, hairless stem. June– Aug.
Mabey, Richard (2012-04-12). Food For Free (Collins Gem) (Kindle Locations 674-676). HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle Edition.

This is for ground elder, a plant that has many lookalikes some that are not good for you at all, but this book gives no insight into what differences to look for.
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on 27 May 2009
This book really is a gem. Full of free hedge row foods with sections on how to use / cook them for the best effect. Each plant has a nice picture and guide to what to look for. This said, it does miss some obvious edible plants which I would have thought people would want to know about and thus the 4 star rating.
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on 3 April 2013
I first bought Food for Free as a paperback about forty years ago. At that time it was to help distract our kids on walks. (And incidentally, it remains brilliant for that. Except that the "kids" in question are now our grandchiildren!) It's clear, concise and not at all stuffy or condescending--so it's perfect for somebody who's thinking of, or just beginning, foraging. Also, it's clearly based on UK flora and fungi, so it's ideally suited for the UK forager.

This time round I bought the Kindle edition. (I still have the dog-eared original, though!) This makes it even more useful, because it's completely searchable. So, for example, if you find something with "arrow-shaped leaves", it's easier to work out whether it's sorrel, or bindweed.

If there was a Desert Island Books show, like Desert Island Discs, this would definitely be a book I'd want with me.

Happy foraging!
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on 21 April 2012
I am reading and enjoying and learning. It is so good to have recipes included. I am now passing this review over to my husband.

I found the format excellent: the photographs are large, permitting of easy recognition; the text is large font, permitting of easy reading if, like me, your eyesight is none too good. An excellent book, worth the price.
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on 6 April 2009
This is a good book, it is nice quality too. However - be advised that this book does NOT contain photographs, only illustrative drawings of plants. Personally I prefer photographs, and was misled by a different review that it contained them. It doesn't.

However, aside from that it is a nice book and I have no regrets of buying it.
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