Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Free Fertilizers for the Urban Backyard

[Nyerges is the author of “Extreme Simplicity,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Foraging California,” and other books. You can learn about his classes and books at, or Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041].

In my “Extreme Simplicity” book, my wife Dolores and I outlined our efforts to live lightly and self-reliantly in the city,  a path that many more are pursuing these days.

We shared all our experiences with gardening and producing our own food.  Some friends told u that they do not garden because it is “an expensive hobby.”  That always made us laugh. There was a time not that long ago when nearly everyone gardened because homegrown produce was not only better from the produce you purchase at a supermarket, but also cheaper.

Before WWII, before agricultural chemical came into widespread use, everyone knew that to produce healthy plants, you had to improve the soil.  Weak soil means that the plants grown there will be weak, and subject to insect infestation, and more susceptible to both drought and freezing.  Insects tend to eat the weakest plants, and insecticides would rarely be necessarily if the soil provided all the nutrients needed by the plants.

We taught ourselves about the whole spectrum of fertilizers that were once common-knowledge.

For example, we learned a lot about the beneficial properties of seaweed from professional gardener Ernest Hogeboom.  He would collect several large trash bags of kelp from areas along the Pacific Coast.  He’d empty the kelp into a 55-gallon drum, fill it with water and cover it.  As the seaweed began to decompose, the water turned brown.  Within about two months, the seaweed was full decomposed into the water.  Hogeboom used the liquid as a concentrate, which he would dilute with water before spraying it on, or pouring it around, his clients’ plants.

Dolores used this for our own landscaping and gardening clients, with the addition of fish emulsion.  Approximately a quarter cup of fish emulsion was used for each gallon of seaweed elixir.  Plants sprayed with this mixture also seemed to repel insects, and generally showed renewed growth..The only pitfall is the fishy, oceanic odor that is detectable for a day or two after the application. 

Seaweed is rich in potassium, up to 12 percent by volume.  Though seaweed contains many beneficial trace elements, it is relatively poor in nitrogen and phosphate, which is why the addition of fish emulsion creates a nearly perfect fertilizer.

We didn’t use the bulky metal 55 gallon drum that Hogeboom used, but rather we purchased a 30 gallon plastic trashcan at a building supply store for about $10. 

If you live in a coastal area where seaweed rotting on the beach is readily availably, you’ve got a great potential fertilizer available only for your labor of hauling it.

Monday, July 18, 2016

MUGWORT -- A versatile herb

MUGWORT:   A versatile and common herb with many survival uses

[Nyerges is the author of Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants, How to Survive Anywhere,  and other books. His schedule of outings is available from School of Self-Reliance, P.O. Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041 and can be viewed on-line at]

Mugwort is an aromatic plant with species found all over the world.  It is perhaps one of the few herbs widely steeped in lore and mythology. Mugwort (Artemisia douglasiana and other closely-related species) is a multiple use plant, having been used for  food, medicine, fire-starting, dreaming, and more.

I have known people who ate the raw mugwort leaves in salad and added to sandwiches, in much the same way as you’d add a pickle or a piece of lettuce to a sandwich. However, I have always found it too bitter for my taste to eat raw. But once simmered in water and cooked like spinach, its appeal is greatly increased.  If you’re really hungry and there’s nothing else, this will be acceptable.
Southern California Indians gathered the mugwort seeds and ground them into meal to make bread products.   And in Japan, the dried and powdered mugwort is often used to flavor and color rice cakes.  Still, the food value of mugwort is not its greatest asset.

As an infused tea, mugwort is used by herbalists to improve the appetite and digestion, and to relieve stomach pains and fevers. The dried herb is commonly sold in Mexican herb shops under the name “estafiate.”  

An infusion from the dried leaves is applied externally for inflammatory swellings. Bruises are reputed to heal quicker if bathed with a mugwort infusion. As a bath additive, it's used for tired legs and feet. Plus, in the bath water, mugwort gives the bathroom a pleasant aroma!
In areas where poison oak grows, it’s a very old custom to mush up the fresh leaves of mugwort and rub the wet poultice over exposed portions of the body before entering poison oak areas in order to prevent the rash.  Some western Indians used the fresh leaves externally as a cure for poison oak and wounds.
Before I immunized myself from poison oak, I have used the freshly crushed leaves of mugwort rubbed over newly-developing poison oak rash with good results. Aloe vera is the best treatment for poison oak that I have found, but you don’t usually find aloe in the wild.

Mugwort gets its name from the English practice of putting a leaf of it in their mugs of beer to improve the flavor. ("Wort" is an Old English word meaning "herb.") This is still practiced in London pubs.
Mugwort is also used by home beer-brewers, such as Pascal Baudar in Southern California. The results depend on the recipe, ranging from a mead-like beer, to a very crisp, light beer.

One of the most effective wilderness "punks" is made by gathering the mugwort leaves that have dried and browned on the stalk. Slide your hand along the lower stalk to gather the dried leaves and then roll them into a cigar. By lighting the end of this "cigar" and then wrapping the entire cigar in larger fresh mugwort leaves, you can effectively carry fire over long distances. This was the technique practiced by Southwestern Indian tribes for transporting fire from camp to camp. It can still come to the aid of today's campers where matches are scarce or unavailable. In fact, I have tested dozens of tinders using both natural and man-made materials, and mugwort has consistently proven to be one of the best natural tinders.  [Note: Survival Seeds (Box 41-834, L.A., CA 90041) sells bags of mugwort for tinder, for $7 a bag. ]

When we teach and practice the art of fire-making with the hand drill, or the bow-and-drill, we nearly always have a good supply of the mugwort leaves on hand. It is the ideal tinder to shape into a birdnest, and to drop your ember into it.  By gently blowing on this ember, it slowly gets larger and larger.  Dried grass or pine needles are then added around the mugwort, and one continues to blow until it bursts into flame.

Sleeping on "pillows" of dried mugwort leaves is said to induce wild, vivid dreams and visions of the future. To test this, I placed several of the fresh leaves around my pillow. Those nights, I had very colorful dreams, though they were not what I would describe as “lucid” nor did I ever receive visions of the future. Nevertheless, some enterprising folks have begun to sell “dream pillows” which are small pillows stuffed with mugwort leaves.

Folklore from various parts of the world states that a leaf of mugwort in the shoe will enable you to walk all day without leg fatigue.
Nathaniel Schleimer of Pasadena, California, a student of acupressure, pointed out to me that there may be some factual basis for this "folklore." Schleimer told me that there is an acupuncture point on the bottom of the foot which is said to "regulate fatigue." The mugwort leaves which have naturally dried on the plant are collected and used in a therapeutic technique called acupressure. These dried leaves, when rolled into small balls or into a cigar-shaped cylinder, are called "moxa." A Chinese species is said to be the best, but all species can be used in the following fashion, described by J.C. Cerney in his book Acupressure -- Acupuncture Without Needles:   "On the outside of the lower leg, below the level of the knee, is the head of the fibula. Just below and slightly in front of the head of the fibula is what the Japanese refer to as sanri or S-36. This is an important vitality-stimulating zone. It's a point where weary Oriental foot travelers applied a burning ball of moxa and with energy restored, traveled on."

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Survival? Get to Know Your Neighbors

[Nyerges is the author to “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Foraging California,” and other books. His schedule of classes is available at]

Real Survival is not a sport. It is not a computer game. Survival is not a “reality” TV show.  Survival is not a concept that intellectuals discuss over latte. Nor is it a topic for science fiction novels.

Real Survival is that live-or-die feeling that emanates from our deepest desire to continue our life.  It is the deepest instinct of human kind and the entire animal kingdom. 

We joke about “the apocalypse” and zombies and “the end of the world,” and yet, due to our ability to adapt and to condition ourselves, we live all the time with factors that threaten our very survival.  But we continually address those factors, and we modify and change, and we survive.  

Human society stands as a testament to human ingenuity, adaptability, and the desire to survive. Our growth, and our ability to harness and utilize nature, all arose from our desire to survive.  Now, the main threat to our survival as a species seems to be – ourselves.

We know the natural threats to our survival: earthquakes, mudslides, tsunamis, volcanoes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and maybe even occasional millennia where a comet hits the earth. 

The so-called “acts of God” will be contended with when they happen, and it seems they will always be with us.

But as our urban centers grow ever-larger, we wonder if we will ever turn into a Bladerunner-type world, where we’re all cramped into ever-tighter quarters. 

We have to be concerned about the “acts of man” that continue to threaten our survival:  terrorism, war, bombs that nations point at nations, crazy leaders, economic chaos that drives our lives into the dirt, rampant plague and disease from poor hygiene, and so many other preventable crises.

Some of these “acts of men” we can do something about, and most we cannot.  But we can inform ourselves, and we can organize with like-minded individuals.  This is perhaps the most important step we can take, since as our society has grown ever larger, and vastly more technologically-oriented, and “leaders” that seem ever-distant, we realize that it’s important to try to take control of whatever we can of our individual lives. We realize that knowledge is power, and my increasing our personal sense of responsibility, and awareness, we can at least move our lives in the right direction.

Self-sufficiency and neighborhood cooperativeness is the path to sustainability and survival.

An associate of mine who told me he hates his neighbors, said that his ace in the hole in the event of a major disaster is his uncle in Minnesota who has a self-sufficient farm and home, and produces his own power.

“Really?” I mocked. “And how do you expect to get to Minnesota after some major catastrophe?” (My friend lives in urban California). 

Like it or not, we’re all in this same boat. In an emergency, your neighbors are your family. Get to know them, now, not later. Get back to our roots of neighbors helping neighbors, and learn to share and support among yourselves.  That is our tradition, and that is what made this country great.

There is no threat that stout-hearted people working together cannot overcome.

There are no simple answers to life’s many problems, but it’s a step in the right direction to always learn new things, and get to know your diverse community. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Re-learning the "Lost Art" of Survival

Christopher Nyerges

[Nyerges is the author of “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants,” “Extreme Simplicity,” and other books. He teaches urban and outdoor survival skills. See the schedule at]

“Survival” is a broad term that ties us all together.  In fact, in the broadest sense, just about everything we do is about survival.  Well, maybe not today because we’ve grown so technologized and specialized that we take everything for granted as we’ve forgotten our roots.

Think about it.  The rise from foraging to agriculture, and then farming, and food storage and processing.  That’s all about food, a basic of survival.  The development of villages, towns, cities, was all about pooling our resources so we could all work together for our mutual survival and upliftment.  With towns, and many people packed together, you need some sort of guidelines, thus, the development of government, and police, and fire departments, and even the building and safety departments of most cities.  The building industry with all its aspects is all about our mutual survival.  At its very essence, the large hardware stores are all about our survival from the little things to the big things, like fixing roof leaks.

So much has been developed over the last few hundred years for our basic survival that we tend to forget that someone or someones had to DO all those steps to make survival possible, and easy.  We have traveled a long path down the road from our grand parents who were still rural, and who knew how to live in the woods, and who knew how to use a rifle and an outhouse and raise food.  And the further we traveled down the technology path, the less we seem to know how to do the most very basic tasks that ensure personal survival and strength. 

What does one do?  How should you go forward in this ever-more complex and ever-more dangerous world.  You begin by educating yourself: Reading the books, and the magazines, and watching the Youtube channels, that cater to this specific interest.  And you should join like-minded groups of individuals who are working to learn these lost arts and forgotten skills.

And yes, obtain the gear and supplies that you need, just in case you can’t get to the store after an emergency.

Most important is to expand your perspective and raise your awareness.  I want you to read just a few books and try to grasp the deep message that each contains.  Consider their messages “survival tools” for your future.  I am only suggesting a few books here, but each is a valuable tool in understanding the world we live in, and understanding our future.

“The Twilight of American Culture” by Morris Berman  is a thoughtful look at the decline of western civilization, and what can be done about it, if anything.

“Language in Thought and Action” by S.I. Hayakawa is perhaps the single best book about how the words we choose affects our reality, and how we can improve our ability to think and communicate.  And isn’t communication a major “survival tool”?

“True Believer” by Eric Hoffer is perhaps the quintessential book on mass movements and cults, and teaches you “how to believe.”  Though written decades ago, this provides unique insight to today’s terrorist movements, and other forms of mob mentality.

“Democracy is Self-Government” by H.W. Percival is a must-read if you are to grasp what is wrong with modern politics. The author shows that individual self-government is the only path to real democracy.

And last, “The Art of Loving” by Eric Fromme shares how love is the answer to the problem of human existence, and he attempts to define the many real and counterfeit forms of love.

Yes, have your knife, gear, and pantry of food, but don’t stop there.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Grid Down! Now what?

[Nyerges is the author of “How to Survive Anywhere” and other books. He has taught foraging and survival skills classes since 1974. He can be reached at]

There are any number of possible reasons why the electrical grid could go out, anything from an accident, to sun spots, to terrorism.  How would that affect our life?

Even 50 years ago, temporary blackouts were not all that disruptive to everyday life. Indeed, to children, they were exciting times when you got to use lanterns and candles at night. Phones still worked, since most phones were simple rotary style.

In my household, we still had hand-cranked coffee grinders, wheat sifters, mixers (for batter), and can-openers. We had very few electric food processing devices, and we got by just fine.  We had no electric yard tools then, all manual rakes, brooms, clippers, edgers, lawn-mowers. None of the insane blowers and weed-whackers. All our tools were manual too: hammers, saws, pliers, levels, etc. 

Today, you can get an electric model of just about anything, and computer chips are everywhere.  The up-and-coming generation knows nothing else, which is perhaps one of our greatest dangers. 

Most folks, even if they grew up in the city, understands that there should be a backup for when the power goes out.  But too many young folks know no other way of life but the all-electric driven lifestyle, controlled and powered by the all-powerful, all-seeing I-God (oops, meant I-pod), with all of its minions through it’s spider-like Web.  There is even the chief high priest of this new world, ready and waiting to answer your every question: Rev. Google!

If the grid goes down, for whatever reason, the world of Eagle Rock and beyond will be a very different place, maybe temporarily, maybe long-term.  There really no way to predict what would happen, but there are various ways to prepare ourselves, mentally and physically.

Just walk through your home and look at everything that is controlled by electricity. What would your day be like if there was no power?  Some things would be hard, or impossible, to replace without electricity. But many other electrical functions could easily be handled with manual tools, or “old-fashioned” technology.

Lights are easy.  My mother always had a good supply of candles, lanterns, and flashlights, and whenever there was a blackout, the house was fully lit! 

You should never be unable to process your meals if the power goes out.  Go to any kitchen supply shop and make sure you have manual can openers, juicers, coffee grinders, egg beaters (hey, a fork works fine!), grinders, slicers, etc. Whatever it is you do in your kitchen, you should be able to do without power.

A refrigerator won’t work without electricity, so unless you have some solar panels on your roof, you’ll want to store plenty of non-refrigerated food. This means pickled, dried, and canned.   This is also one of the big pluses in having a backyard and neighborhood garden, as well as backyard chickens.  Your food is fresh, and local, and not dependent on transportation systems. 

Home heating and cooling is a big topic, and if all houses were built with thicker, more insulated walls, and white heat-reflecting roofs, and big overhangs, etc., much of the cost of heating and cooling would be unnecessary.  I spent considerable time discussing this topic in my “Extreme Simplicity” and “Self-Sufficient Home” books, both of which can be reasonably obtained on Amazon. 

I spent a year and a half back in the late ‘70s as a squatter, and practiced a lot of the ecological-living methods that are becoming very popular today. We recycled everything, cooked on a wood stove, grew a lot of our food, recycled all household water, and even used (for a part of the time) a compost toilet.   Had the grid gone done during that time, it would have been just an inconvenience.  I wrote a book about that experience, called “Squatter in Los Angeles,” which is available as a Kindle book, or download from the Store at

During my time as a squatter, I had the advantage of living in a house that had been built with thick walls, a flat south-facing roof, and large overhangs.  Due to its position in a wind path, and its good construction, we never used any heaters or coolers. Well, we didn’t have any anyway, but that’s beside the point. The roof, once painted white with a liquid rubber roofing product, made the place about 15 degrees cooler in summer.

I grew much of my own food, sent the bath water out into the garden, and even experimented with a composting toilet.   I raised some ducks, grew corn, bean, squash, and tomatoes.  I used a wood stove that a neighbor let me borrow, and I fertilized with the wood ash. 

I learned on the job how to live better for less, and discovered that I could live well by looking to the past. We did have a used refrigerator, though it barely worked, so we learned to buy most of our food in a form that didn’t require refrigeration.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for most people in a grid-down world will be that the infrastructure around them will not work, or will change rapidly into something that does work. There will be barter, and things will get very localized.  How could you ever prepare for such an eventuality? One way to prepare is to always read American Survival Guide, as well as staying alert to local and world events that could impact your way of life.

You should also learn pioneer and survival skills, and  get to know any of the various groups who practice one or more of the many survival skills. Find them on-line, or at Meetup.  And there is no shortage of Youtube videos and books to help you along this learning path. 

Let me know if you have questions.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Survival Value of Coins

We’re all so busy, rushing around from place to place in our modern world that we forget things have not always been like this, and – if history is any clue – things will not always be like this either.

Money makes our day-to-day life go forward, and most of us handle most of our transactions these days electronically, or with plastic.  (Does anyone write checks anymore?)

With even a simple blackout, most businesses are unable to function.  They couldn’t take your money if they wanted to, because their registers are all requiring electricity.
With a severe blackout, credit cards would be useless, though some merchant (and fellow traders) might accept paper currency.  At least for awhile, regular coinage would be accepted, because somehow tangible coinage in the hand will be regarded as more “real” than a check or paper money. 

If we were to fall into some long term breakdown (caused by natural forces, or man-made causes, or some combination), life would still go on and people will need some medium of exchange.  And they will find some medium.  In the short term, coinage will work, even the “junk metal” modern coinage, so it’s a good idea to have rolls of halfs, quarters, even dollars on hand.

In longer term situations, people might demand silver, meaning, pre-64 coinage from the U.S.  Copper and silver bullion pieces might work too, if you had the foresight to purchase these when they were readily available.

Gold is always touted as the survival metal, and yes it has stood the test of time because of its true rarity, and its incorruptibility, and its intrinsic actual value.  Nevertheless, look at the current price of gold.  Even if gold is “only” a thousand dollar an ounce when you read this, how many of your daily purchases approach a thousand dollars?  Not many. Even if you had 1/10 ounce coins, how many of your daily purchases are around a hundred dollars?  Granted, some will be.  But the 1/10 ounce gold coin is very small, and easy to lose.  It is probably a good idea to have some, because you can pack a lot of value into a little piece, but it’s not likely to be a coin of daily exchange in a survival scenario.  Gold does better in “normal” times when you can readily sell it on the open market for cash. 

But because so many of use these days more and more use plastic and electronics for paying bills, there is less and less hard currency in circulation. That means that if we were to experience some sort of currency collapse, coinage would disappear somewhat quickly. What then would people use for trade?

Again, we look to the past for clues.  Anyone who lived through WWII, or any of the other “small wars” all over the world, knows that basic commodities that everyone uses go into short supply.  Food, coffee, medicine, toilet paper, fuel, etc.  The items of everyday use become the items that everyone wants and needs, and these become tradable when the dollar dies.  Tradable items might also include sewing kits, first aid supplies, beer and alcohol, seeds, and maybe ammo.  Ammo makes a good trade item because it has different sizes that you barter about, but in the real world, most people want to keep their ammo, so other consumables will be highly sought as trade.
Use your imagination, and experience.

I have always enjoyed coins.  Not necessarily collecting, but learning about them, admiring them, learning their history, taking time with them, getting to know them, cleaning them, putting them into their right place in your collector’s book. 

Coins have rich intrinsic stories, and learning each coin’s history clue excites real collectors. Yes, perhaps some people make money with coins, and that was part of my early interest in coin collecting as a hobby.  You aren’t collecting buttons or bottle caps, but something that has a universally-acknowledged value. At the very least, coins are never worth nothing, and do not fall below their face value.

Like most collectors, I started with pennies, because pennies were cheap and you could buy rolls for 50 cents, and search through them for ones to fill the spaces in your book.  You learned real quick which ones were hard to get and rare: 1909SVDB, 1914D, 1931S, and perhaps a few others. Zinc pennies from the war were always interesting, and it reminded you that wars affect the availability of metals.  Indian head pennies were somewhat uncommon, and not necessarily valuable, but I always saved each one I ever found.

Coins are great conversation pieces, domestic or foreign. Everyone deals with coins all the time, so everyone is interested in at least a few coins.  Buffalo nickels are universally admired, and have long been used to adorn hat bands and belts.

Everyone likes the real silver dollars that were so long a part of American coinage, and visitors to Las Vegas back in the day would bring home silver dollars to give away or to collect.  Though only 90% silver, those beefy dollars reminded us that there was intrinsic metallic value in the coins.  They are still highly prized and only go up in value as silver rises.

Some years ago, I operated a farmers market and would get change for the farmers each week at the bank.  One farmer would consistently ask me to purchase rolls of half-dollar coins for him. More often than not, the bank didn’t have them, even though they are still produced.  Because they are not commonly used, most banks simply don’t stock them.

I asked the farmer why he wanted an “odd” size coin. He told me that the main reason is that people remember him from spending 50 cent pieces because they are not common.  He told me that people would often smile seeing them, and somehow that exchange of a half-dollar cemented friendships. He also said that occasionally he still finds silver coins.

I found that amazing, so I began to try it.  When receiving a half-dollar coin, people will feel it, hold it, look at it, and often smile, even laugh. “I haven’t seen one of those for awhile,” they’d laugh. 

I have had an occasion where someone thought they had received a dollar coin, and tried to give me change as if I’d paid double. In another case, as a joke, I told asked the person behind the counter if they would accept “Hawaiian money” as I placed the Kennedy half-dollars on the counter. “Oh, no, we can’t accept that,” said the worried clerk.   I didn’t think I’d have to explain that Hawaii was part of the U.S., and that I’d just made a joke, but the clerk was a new immigrant to the U.S. who had never seen a half-dollar, and didn’t know that Hawaii was part of the U.S.  To my amazement, I had to take back the half-dollars and pay with other money.

There was a coffee shop that I used to frequent, and I had begun paying with half-dollars.
After a few days, I came again to the shop and the proprietor asked me, “You were here two nights ago, right?”  ”Yes,” I said, “how did you know?”  “Because I found half-dollars in the cash register,” the proprietor told me. 

But another aspect that I found even more interesting is that because half-dollars are not commonly circulated, you occasionally may find silver coins in the rolls you get from the bank.  One Christmas, I actually got several Franklin halfs and 1964 Kennedy halfs, which are 90% silver. I assumed that some boy stole his father’s coin collection and spent the money, and the merchant who received it just took it to the bank with all the other change.

Though 1964 was the last year that there was a 90% silver Kennedy half, there was 40% silver in the halfs from 1965 through 1969.   This meant they were worth more than face value.  If  you know the spot price of silver, you can simply do the math to see how much just the silver is worth in, say, a 1966 Kennedy half.  Certainly more than 50 cents.  But I’d collected so many of these 40% silver coins that when I needed money to pay for a trip to Mexico a few years ago, I sold them all for over 10 times what I paid for them, and paid for the trip.  That wasn’t a bad investment.

Coins (and paper currency too) tell the history of a country, its politics, its ebb and flow of culture. I once had a Nazi silver coin that I’d purchased at a coin show, but I found its “atmosphere” unpleasant and quickly got rid of it.  I am still a bit amazed that Chinese currency retains the face of Mao, who was responsible for the deaths of perhaps 100 million Chinese. But he retains a bit of a mixed reputation among Chinese.

Sure, you can say it’s only pieces of metal, but they are so much more. They are living pieces of history, bringing the past alive, and giving you great conversation pieces.  And, equally important, if you’re ever broke, you can just sell your coins, or barter with them when the valueless Federal Reserve Notes are no longer accepted.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Learning About Mushrooms


Recently, when my “Foraging Oregon” book was released, one person criticized that it  did not include mushrooms in the book because “mushrooms are part of foraging.”  Obviously, the person didn’t actually read the book, and so he missed my reasons for not including mushrooms in the book. Yes, some mushrooms are easily identified, like chicken of the woods, yet there are many lesser-known related species in the “safe” groups can cause sickness if not processed right.

Mycology was the science that obsessed me the most, before botany, and back in the early ‘70s, mycologists were few and far between.  Besides getting every book on the subject, I also joined the Los Angeles Mycological Association, and spent many weekends in fields and wild areas looking for mushrooms, and learning how to identify them. 

Though I’ve written over a dozen books on wild foods and self-reliance, I’ve never written a book exclusively on mushrooms. The reason is because there are many specialists out there who’ve already written some excellent mycology books.  I admit, I shared some basics of mycology in my “Testing Your Outdoor Survival Skills” book, and I’ve used my mushroom quiz for the basis of many lectures.

My publisher of the Falcon Guides wanted me to include a few mushrooms in my “Foraging California” book, partly because all of the other books in that foraging series included a few mushrooms.  But I decided not to include even a few “simple” mushrooms, in part because there are really far too many members of each genus than are ever included in any book, and so amateurs really have no practical way of knowing these “look-alikes” even exist. I still read about experts who ate the wrong mushroom, and died, usually slow and painfully. 

Consider that there are many more good botanists than mycologists because you can go out any day (more or less) and study the flowering plants and trees, and you can get to know them well.  But mushrooms don’t last so long. They appear seemingly at random, and they disappear.  There are therefore not as many good mycologists as botanists because it takes a lot more time and dedication to study the mostly ephemeral mushrooms. 

Also, even the best mycology books do not include all the possible mushrooms that you might find in an area.  At one time or another, I believe I have possessed every notable book published on mycology.  Each contains verbal descriptions, and one or two photos. Some contain technical keys for differentiating the mushroom you found with every other mushroom.  But if the mushroom in your hand is not found in the book in which you are now looking, you might be tempted to conclude that what’s in your hand must be this one or that one in the book. Maybe, maybe not. No harm done if you’re just trying to identify the mushroom, and if you don’t intend to eat it. But it’s an entirely different ball game if you intend to eat the wild mushroom.
We’ve all heard the old rule: there are old mushroom hunters, and there are bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old and bold mushroom hunters.  Sad, but true.

When I was just starting out learning mycology, I insisted on eating every mushrooms that the old experts identified to me as being edible. Some were good, some were not. I had at least a few unpleasant vomiting sessions.  I no longer care to try every “edible” mushroom.

In other words, there are a LOT of mushrooms out there, and not all of them are described in books.  If you want to eat wild mushroom, learn mycology first (the study of mushrooms) and then learn mycophagy second (the study of how to eat wild mushrooms).  Learn by taking a class where you will see the actual mushrooms, hopefully in the field at least some of the time. Join a local mushroom society where you can go on field trips. Then, use internet sites, and videos, and books as the back up to your direct field experience.


And yes, there are some really good books out there.
Here are just a few of the books that I highly recommend for those of you who choose to pursue the science of mycology, without losing your life:

“California Mushrooms: The Comprehensive Identification Guide,” by Desjardin, Wood, and Stevens (Timber Press, 2015).  This new book is expensive, hard-cover, all color photos, up-to-date, and useful well beyond just California.  You get a good comprehensive overview of the world of mycology, with all the types of fungi broken into their categories with keys to help you identify the mushroom in hand. Well worth the money. This over-sized book is over 550 pages.

“Mushrooms Demystified,” by David Arora (Ten Speed Press, 1986).  David Arora is perhaps the man when it comes to mycology. A thick book with 2000 species, over 800 photos, mostly black and white but many in color.  If this is the only book you had, you’d do well, and you’d learn that patience is part of studying mycology.  Nearly 1000 pages.

“The Great Encyclopedia of Mushrooms” by Lamaison and Polese (Konemann, 2005). This is an English version of a German original, really more of a coffee table book that is a very good introduction to mycology.  A very good pictorial overview, and if you master this, you’re ready for one of the other books.

“The Mushroom Manual” by Pearson (Naturegraph, 2014)  Both amateurs and professionals will enjoy this book.  It does not purport to tell you everything you ever wanted to know about mushrooms.  It does, however, give the reader an excellent overview of fungi. It includes the “foolproof four” that anyone can identify and eat, the fatal five (deadly mushrooms), the nine basic groups, and mushroom identification keys.