Ten Foraging books you need in your life

Following on from our surprisingly popular blog post featuring the Ten Coastal Foraging Books You Need in Your Life, we’ve put together a list of ten inland foraging books that we recommend. We have been discussing not only foraging guidebooks, but our process for choosing and evaluating them on our Foraging and Wild Foods courses for years now, and we have built up an extensive library here in the Original Outdoors office. We’d love to put them all down here, but for now we’ll start with ten that we think any keen wild food hunter should have on their shelves.

The books below (and some helpful links on where to purchase them from online) are intended as a guide – we would of course recommend that the best way to learn is to come along on a day with an experienced foraging guide.

The Wild Flower Key (Francis Rose)

The first step with any kind of plant identification is knowing how to identify it by the visual cues – the shape, colour, size and so on. This comprehensive guide (relevant particularly to Britain and Ireland, but of some relevance in Northern Europe too) is considered to be the ideal bridge between a technical guide for botanists and the keen amateur.

Wild Flowers of Britain and Europe (Podlech and Lippert)

It may seem like we are cheating by having two wild flower keys in this list, but this is one of my favourite ‘field’ guides, in a size and style perfect for throwing into a bag or rucksack ‘just in case’. It separates the plants by the colour of their flowers, making it easy to quickly jump to the section you need.

A Cook On The Wild Side (Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall)

Before River Cottage we had a Cook On The Wild Side, with chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (Hugh Fearlessly Eats-it-all as he was once dubbed) where he travelled around the UK in a Land Rover and a narrow boat, cooking with foraged items. This is the accompanying recipe book, and is probably the best foraging recipe book available – despite the fact it is out of print.

Food For Free (Richard Mabey)

This book should be on the shelf of everybody who has ever thought about dipping a toe into the world of wild food, and for good reason. Richard Mabey is largely responsible for the resurgence of the interest in wild food in the UK, and this regularly revised book not only covers the most commonly found edible species inland and on the shore, but also supplies information on the history, use and preparation of what you find.

Mushrooms (Roger Phillips)

If you are going to buy just one reference text on mushrooms then make it this one. It has full and detailed photographs of over 1,250 mushrooms and other fungi, laid out in a grid that makes them easy to find and compare. Hunting for mushrooms can be very simple and safe, as long as you stick to a few key species. However there is a world of subtlety and minor differences between species, and if you want to really get into your mushroom and fungi identification you need an excellent reference guide – just like this.

Mushrooms (John Wright)

Although it doesn’t have the range and details of Roger Philips’ book, this volume of the River Cottage Handbook Series is smaller (rucksack sized), easier to follow and contains good photos, descriptions and information on the most common edible mushrooms and fungi in the UK. A good field guide, and an entertaining read too.

Wild Food (Gordon Hillman and Ray Mears)

Books that go along with TV series are normally a bit ‘lightweight’, but this is an exception. The bulk of the text is by eminent paleoanthrobotanist Gordon Hillman, with an introduction from Ray Mears. Rather than just another edible plant ID book, this one delves into the world of our hunter-gatherer ancestors and attempts to examine the native food sources of the British Isles. It also covers plants not mentioned in most wild food guides, and is an interesting read.

Wonderful Wildflowers of Wales (Pat O’Reilly and Sue Parker)

It is always worth having a local wildflower or plant guide in your library. This is the series I refer our foraging course clients to as we are in Wales, but there are other editions, sometimes produced by local wildlife or natural history societies. The Wonderful Wildflowers of Wales series is separated into different environments – Woodlands and Waysides, Wetlands, Moorland and so on. A quick search online will lead you in the right direction for something for your area – although the plants referred to here can be found across the UK..

Hedgerow (John Wright)

Another from the excellent River Cottage Handbook Series , this one focuses on the most common edible plants you are likely to find along paths and tracks, field edges and woodlands. It is not only a reliable and easily followed foraging guidebook but it is also witty, entertaining and good enough to sit down and read like a novel.

Culpepper’s Complete Herbal (Nicolas Culpepper)

This isn’t immediately obvious as a resource for the forager and wild food hunter as it was printed in the 17th Century and has no helpful colour-photos or reference sources. However, as a historical reference point and a fascinating insight into the beginnings of botanical science it has no equal. A lot of the other books mentioned above will reference this book – “Culpepper says…” and so on. It is also a guide to herbal and medicinal uses of these plants. Whilst some apparent effects are a little suspect, others are currently being investigated by drugs companies to evaluate their usefulness. A worthy addition to the bookshelf.

There are many more I could list – so we have now listed them on this page, where you can also buy foraging guidebooks and other items.

And of course, if you want to learn to forage for wild foods in the UK with professional foragers you can get in touch here.

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  1. Hi Richard,
    Thanks for sharing these excellent books and giving us the chance to lead through them too. A valuable section of your foraging course, I felt.
    May I also recommend a book called “Hedgerow Handbook” which contains some great tips and recipes with beautiful hand-drawn illustrations?


    You’ve re-ignited my passion for wild food. I found myself nibbling a beech leaf the other day!

    Until we meet again,
    Chris McD

  2. Hi Richard. We are just back from our month in the north of Scotland. I couldn’t access email where we were, too remote! Incidentally my wife was very amused when I kept saying ” you can eat those you know “.
    Thanks for the photos and info on the books. I shall be looking out for them.
    Belated thanks again for a most interesting day.
    Cheers, Graham.

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