Edible & Medicinal Wild Plants of the Midwest by Matthew Alfs. New Brighton, Minnesota: Old Theology Book House; 2013. Softcover; 422 pages. ISBN: 978-0-9612964-5-2. $45.00.
This second edition is a revised and expanded iteration of Edible & Medicinal Wild Plants of Minnesota & Wisconsin (2001). The author decided to change the title “[b]ecause the majority of the plants discussed herein flourish in a larger range than simply that encompassing Minnesota and Wisconsin — occurring also in Iowa, Michigan, the Dakotas, and other Midwestern states.” Other additions to the newer edition include a section titled “Personal & Professional Use,” in which the author has added his personal and/or clinical experience to each monograph; a history of herbalism in the United States; and a “Comparison Chart of Wild vs. Domestic Veggies.”
The book showcases 100 plants with 171 color photographs. There is an appendix listing “Physiological Actions of the Plants” with “superior ones in their categories” italicized, a “Measurements & Equivalents” page, and a brief two-page primer on “How to Make Herbal Preparations at Home.” The glossary includes definitions for physiological action terms, different formula names, symptoms, and botanical terms. There are more than 1,000 references, and the index differentiates by font diseases/conditions, physiological functions, Latin genera, book titles, and plant chemicals.
The General Introduction, “The Art of Wild-Plant Foraging,” has multiple helpful tips on how to forage safely, where to forage, foraging ethics, and how to preserve and prepare the harvest. The Auxiliary Introduction, “Health, Medicine, and Weeds,” includes a section on wild-plant nutrients (with the comparison chart noted above) and explanations of phytochemicals.
The majority of the book is the “Field Guide & Description of Plant Uses: Individual Plant Monographs Alphabetized by Common English Name.” The author used the common name he believed to be most well known; the scientific names are listed in the index. The entries include other common names, the scientific name, a description of plant morphology, range and habitat, seasonal availability, major nutrient constituents, food and health/medicinal uses (including harvesting and preparation techniques), the author’s experience, and cautions. Each information-rich entry spans roughly two to five pages.
Edible & Medicinal Wild Plants of the Midwest is unique in its genre; similar books usually focus on either edible or medicinal plants. Though there has been demand for books that do both, it seems few authors have dared to attempt it. Matthew Alfs, a nature teacher, forager, environmentalist, and practicing herbalist, seems well qualified to take on this large project.
Of the 100 included plants, many are less common species or at least less frequently written about — another reason the book is a valuable resource, besides the plethora of information it offers. The traditional Native American uses, along with modern uses, and the author’s experience with the plants are helpful, too. This book accomplishes its purpose and more. It is not just a reference to sit on the shelf; it belongs on the table for frequent use and consultation where other references are lacking. It can be utilized by the novice or the more expert forager. Though calling it a field guide might be a little out of the question — its 400-plus pages and 8-by-10 inch size make it rather bulky to take out to the field — it is definitely one to consult on the way to or from the field.
More than a foraging manual, a field guide, or a materia medica, Edible & Medicinal Wild Plants of the Midwest is a multipurpose book accomplishing these functions in addition to covering scientific studies, ethnobotany, nutrition, and more. It highlights the plants of a biodiverse region not often written about, though many of these plants may be found in an even broader region than just the Midwestern United States. With such a large number and variety of references employed, this is a versatile plant guide not to be missed.
—Abby Artemisia Botanist, Herbalist, Professional Forager Burnsville, North Carolina