Friday, May 15, 2015

Book Review: Nuts and Berries of California

[Joe A. Hall showing the HIP section of book]

Christopher's latest book:

NUTS AND BERRIES OF CALIFORNIA: Tips and Recipes for Gatherers. A Falcon Field Guide by Christopher Nyerges, 2015.  [Available from Amazon, or the Store at]

[Nyerges has been leading wild food identification classes since 1974.  Information about his classes and books is available from]

Last year, my “Foraging California” book was released, a full-color guide to the most common and widespread wild foods of California.

This month, a sequel to that book has been released, “Nuts and Berries of California,” another full color guide to just nuts and berries.  The foraging of nuts and berries has long been a family tradition, even by those who are just a bit too timid to collect wild greens or wild mushrooms. This is partly because there really aren’t that many toxic nuts or berries in North America, and the edible ones are fairly widespread and easy to

Had my father lived to see this book, he would have loved it, and would have used it for one of his jokes, saying that I wrote about the “fruits and nuts” of Washington, or Hollywood. 

In my new book, I first discuss native nuts, then native berries, and then the introduced ornamental plants which produce edible nuts or berries.  I wrote the book with advice from Paul Campbell, author of “Survival Skills of Native California,” who kept giving me suggestions about what to include in the book. I used many of Campbell’s suggestions in the book, but not all. Some of his suggestions of nuts or berries to include were marginal foods, or were rare, or were found only in very localized areas.  So when I outlined my book, I included those plants which had the broadest distribution, and which were relatively easy to identify.

The wild nuts include the acorn, which every child can recognize, and which every Indian tribe in California once used in their daily diet.  Wild walnuts are included, and when most people think of wild nuts, they think of walnuts.

Bay, pine, chinquapin, jojoba, and mesquite are all included in the native nut section. There is unique information about how to process the California buckeye nuts, which were widely used by the Pomo people for food. Dr. James Adams of USC shared some of the latest information about buckeyes toxins and how they can be removed before eating the seeds.

All the common wild berries are included, such as blackberries and its many kin, wild cherries, elderberries, strawberries, grapes, manzanita, rose hips, toyon and many others.

The last section is called HIP, a term coined by my wife Helen, meaning horticulturally introduced plants.  These are plants that were brought here from somewhere else for ornamental purposes and can now be found surviving in the wild as well as in the urban landscape. There are many HIP plants, but I only include some of the most common, like figs, loquat, mulberries, olives, and pyracantha.

The book is beautifully illustrated with color photos and contains many recipes for how to use these nuts and berries.

When I was first introduced to the world of ethno-botany many decades ago, it appealed to me on a deep subconscious level. Food is every where, not just on farms!  The native peoples from around the world actually ate, and often ate well, and this is at least partly because they had no other choice.

There was a mystery surrounding this field when I was first learning about it in the late 1960s.  Though there were books on the subjects, many of the authors obviously wrote about it in a very detached second-hand nature, like talking about something that doesn’t exist anymore. I saw the very pragmatic aspects of learning about the uses of plants, and I realized that so many of the food-related fears which mankind suffers are not necessary, assuming we educate ourselves and live in accord with the natural world. Yes, there is a trend in that direction, slow but sure…

My involvement with wild foods has included sampling everything that I learn about, and including many in my regular diet. I have also written about how these plants are used in books, and teaching classes. I led my first wild food outing in 1974, and published my first book, “Guide to Wild Foods,” in 1978.   Nearly every one of my books since then has included some information about wild foods and wild plant uses.

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