I met Sam Thayer at the 2007 NC Wild Foods Weekend. I was considering the trip, and when I saw that Sam was the featured speaker, that clinched it. I'd read his first book, The Forager's Harvest, and was impressed by the depth of his information and the sense of humor and personality that came through on every page. Sam offers a rare combination of vast experience and solid research. He's not afraid to use Latin names or correct terminology for plant parts and he also has deep personal knowledge of every plant he suggests.
Nature's Garden is Sam's second book and it's an even better read than the first. Once again, he has chosen a relatively small group of plants (42), then provides numerous, excellent photographs of every stage of every plant. He writes in detail about each edible, explaining where to find it, when to harvest, and how to prepare it. Sam's voice comes through loud and clear and his enthusiasm is contagious. And he isn't afraid to take a controversial stand, which he backs up with convincing data and details.
Nature's Garden begins with a section titled "Claimer" and reading it made me want to raise my fist in the air and say "Right on." So many books begin with a disclaimer intended to shield both author and publisher from litigation. Unfortunately this results in DIScouraging the reader from experimentation. Sam wrote his book to ENcourage people to forage, and he takes full responsibility for the information therein. He claims the contents rather than disclaims them, and then encourages us to read intelligently and be careful with our explorations.
Sam makes it clear that this is not a field guide; at 500+ pages, Nature's Garden would add weight to your backpack, plus it's so beautiful you might not want to risk schmearing it with mud or dropping it in a stream. I plan to use it for pre-foraging inspiration, then for instruction when I get my harvest home to the kitchen.
I could go on and on about the plants Sam includes (acorns, elderberry, Jerusalem artichoke, Mayapple), about his philosophy of nature as a garden, but I'd rather you read it for yourself. (N.B. Most of the plants in the book can be found in the Five Boroughs.) If you're a forager, this book should be in your library. If you're thinking about starting to forage, Nature's Garden will give you the jump start you need.