WHY I WROTE MY BOOKS
Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants
[Nyerges’ “Guide to Wild Foods” book, originally published in 1978, has been released in the spring of 2014 in full color. The book is available at bookstores, Amazon, and at www.ChristopherNyerges.com. It has even been adopted for use as a college textbook in one college.]
My earliest interest in wild food began around 1967 or so as I began my awareness that Native Americans who lived in Los Angeles County in the pre-Spanish era gathered and hunted all their food. I wanted to do that too, because I thought I would be a good survival skill, and mostly because I thought it was one of the most essential things a person could do.
I studied all I could from the local library, and by enrolling in botany classes in high school and then college. I made the effort to study with whomever I could, when the opportunities arose: Native Americans, Amish, gardeners, botanists, bums -- whoever knew about plants and was willing to share their knowledge with me.
By 1974, I was asked to lead Wild Food Outings with the Los Angeles-based non-profit, WTI, whose focus was to educate in all aspects of survival. I fit in well, and not only led the walks (and continued to this day) but started work on a book about local wild foods. It took the next four years of typing and researching and asking questions and compiling notes, but finally my stacks of seemingly-random notes were taking shape into a book.
My notes consisted of various piles of paperwork that I stacked around my bedroom, and which I finally began to order when I started a typesetting job at the Altadena Chronicle. The editor, Sue Redman, allowed me to write a column each week which I called “The Emergency Plant Survival Guide,” which was eventually assembled into a photocopied 8 ½ x 11 format. In many ways, since I have always used my own book for looking things up, I wrote the book to assemble my own diverse notes and experiences about using plants for food, and other uses.
And by then, I’d met and began studying with botanist Dr. Leonid Enari, who really opened my eyes to the vast botanical world “out there.” Dr.Enari, as well as my mentor at WTI, were instrumental in shaping that very crude first edition of what we called “A Southern California’s Guide to Wild Foods.”
The second edition, completely revised, came out within another two years or so, and then soon another revised edition with more plants being added each time.
At the time, there was no other book like this one which appealed to the common useful plants in the Southern California area. There were a few academic books, though they didn’t appeal to the person who wanted to actually try these plants. And there was no internet then, so all my research was done in libraries or with first-person interviews, or spending all day to get somewhere just so I could learn one new plant.
The fourth edition was released in 1995, and in many ways this was my favorite version since all the plants drawings were painstakingly done in my own hand. After two printings of this version, the book came out with photos, though they were all black-and-white. Though this book always sold well, the photos were the weak area since they were not clear or large enough.
And finally, in the spring of 2014, the book has been released in full color, which is perhaps the ultimate format we’d dreamed about in the mid-1970s when the idea for this book was formulated. But back then, the technology didn’t exist for relatively inexpensive color books, and we couldn’t afford it anyway.
It’s great to be able to make a meal from plants growing in the mountains or in your backyard. And it’s incredible to make sweet desserts and juices from cacti and wild fruits, following in the footsteps of our ancestors. I wrote the book to share with others that these things – and more -- are possible.
I hope that you enjoy the book, and that it benefits you in many ways. If you have questions about the uses and identity of wild plants, please feel free to contact me.