Comfrey with bee
Many organic gardeners would recognise comfrey if they saw it growing wild

I’ve been lucky enough to get several new books this year, and I’m gradually working my way through them. One I was looking forward to is Ray Mears’ Wild Food. I loved the tv series, and looked for the book as soon as it ended – but it wasn’t published until last autumn.

I’ve got the hardback edition, although a paperback has subsequently been published. I only hope they spent more time editing the text for the paperback, because the hardback text is littered with sentences that don’t end and words that run into each other. It doesn’t make for easy reading at times. The photos are good, though, and a real plus point.

The book is divided into two sections. In the first, Ray Mears looks at existing hunter gatherer communities and tries to extrapolate what life might have been life for Mesolithic people in Britain, and what foods they might have eaten. There is very little archaeological evidence from the period, but Ray recreates some of the technology that they might have had available and used for hunting or processing food. There are chapters on foraging, hunting and fungi.

In the second section, Gordon Hillman takes over and looks at the plants that may have been available to our hunter gatherer ancestors. The plants are grouped into families, and there are pictures of most of them, information about how they are or might have been used, and occasional personal and interesting notes. Gordon has devoted his life to wild food plants, and clearly knows a lot about the subject.

This is a reference work, and not a field guide. There are enough warnings and references to poisonous plants and potential problems to deter the unwary from heading out to sample whatever they can find in the hedgerows – and clear indications that in many cases that would be illegal.

Whilst this book would therefore be of undoubted interest to people involved in wild food collecting, it’s more of a coffee table book. The initial chapters are eminently readable, but the second section is information dense and not the kind of thing that most people would read their way through. Much better to dip in and read about these plants in small doses – which is how many of them should be enjoyed!