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Book Review: Backyard Foraging

Backyard Foraging: 65 Familiar Plants You Didn't Know You Could Eat
by Ellen Zachos

Backyard Foraging

240 pages, softcover
Storey Publishing, 2013
List price: $16.95

I've read several books on edible plants and I thought I at least knew what was edible in my own gardens, on my own property. But after reading Ellen Zachos' new book, Backyard Foraging, it's clear that I could probably eat for several days from the menu in my garden, and that's not even counting the vegetables.

While I don't know that it's true that "we can eat anything a bird eats," (I read this somewhere else, not in this book), we can eat a lot of those fruits from our trees that they enjoy. All those hawthorn berries that the robins strip from our several trees? Edible. The buds that grace our redbud trees in the spring? We could be eating those, too.

Ellen is careful right from the start to give you proper precautions when it comes to eating those things you've never tried before, with the warning to never eat anything that you aren't absolutely sure is edible. But she gives you plenty of safe choices to pick from and you're going to be surprised by some of them.

She tells you how to prepare each edible, even making use of the toilet tank (yes, that's right!) to cold-leach acorns to remove the bitter tannins. Now see...I didn't even think acorns were edible, period. We have enough acorns each autumn to feed our entire town of 180.

I found this book to be quite fun to romp through, looking to see what the next unexpected edible was going to be. Towards the end, there are more specific recipes, which I would have preferred to have been written in standard recipe form, rather than in just paragraphs of explanation. But now I'm being nitpicky about a delightful book that will make you look at your garden, yard, and general surroundings a whole lot differently and will certainly expand your culinary experience.

Ellen Zachos leads foraging walks and currently teaches at the New York Botanical Garden, where she received her certification in Commercial Horticulture and Ethnobotany. She writes two blogs, which can be found at and and has written numerous gardening books and contributed to publications including Horticulture and Better Homes & Gardens.

Read more garden book reviews.
Read Kylee Baumle’s blog, Our Little Acre.