“Foraging Kentucky : An Introduction to the Edible Plants, Fungi, and Three Crops of the Southeast” by George Barnett

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What does an ideal field guide look like? It has enough information to be useful in a variety of wild places, but not so much that the reader gets lost in thickets of unnecessary text. Forager George Barnett’s first book , Foraging Kentucky (University Press of Kentucky 2024), masterfully shepherds plant enthusiasts through the terrain of the edible outdoors. With its focus on plentiful, easy-to-identify plants and fungi in the southeast, the book is destined to find a place in the backpacks and on the kitchen counters of novice gatherers and experienced wildcrafters alike.

The introductory sections are concise, but are filled with useful information for beginning foragers especially. Barnett includes basics about safety considerations such as tick bite prevention, avoiding herbicide contamination, and so forth, as well as helpful advice about legal considerations of foraging on both public and private lands. Additionally, there is a short guide to preserving mushrooms.

The heart of the book, however, is divided into three parts focused respectively on herbaceous plants, mushrooms, and woody plants. Each entry typically includes sections on identification, season, habitat, and uses. In addition, most entries include 3-5 full color photographs of each plant or mushroom. Helpful safety considerations specific to particular plants and fungi are mentioned in these profiles as well.

Most valuable in Foraging Kentucky are the plants and mushrooms Barnett chose to profile. As the subtitle indicates, these wild edibles—from common violets and wild lettuce, to chicken-of-the-woods and woodears, to redbuds and black walnut—are prolific wild crops in the southeastern United States. As an example, I am able to identify many of the species featured in this book where I live, a one arce lot in a booming college town in Virginia. At least half the herbaceous plants, and several of the mushrooms, trees, and bushes grow in my immediate vicinity. Currently garlic mustard, a notorious aggressively invasive plant that displaces native species, is beginning to bloom. Many people in my community are rushing to pull it before it goes to seed, adding to the seemingly inexhaustible seedbank in the ground. Instead of only throwing it in the trash (which is the recommended way of dealing with tenacious garlic mustard), I’ve experimented with cooking it as a potherb and as the primary ingredient of a green gumbo with good results. But Barnett added to my knowledge by discussing the root’s use as a horseradish substitute. And so it goes with the other plants and fungi he covers.

Among its other virtues, this book is timely as foraging, herbalism, and sustainability movements are having a moment. Many of us from the Appalachian region, in particular, are looking for ways to connect with our heritage in progressive ways and are nurturing a 21st century folk revival focused on the green world. If I’m right about this, that there is a folk revival brewing in the southern Appalachian region, then contemporary foraging schools are our places of worship and George Barnett’s book, Foraging Kentucky, may well become one of our cherished sacred texts.

George Barnett

For more information about his educational classes and workshops or to order Foraging Kentucky, follow George Barnett @thehungryforager on social media or visit www.thehungryforager.com.






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