Florida Wild Edible Book Review
Book Review for the University Press of Florida
By AyoLane Halusky, Earth Kinship Kayak Tours & Nature Education.
Florida's Edible Wild Plants: A Guide to Collecting and Cooking by Peggy Sia Lantz
There are very few Florida foraging books on the market that are truly helpful to the serious modern gatherer. I've often thought that Florida is left out from the mainstream bushcraft and foraging information available to the public. I received a review copy of Lantz’ Florida’s Edible Wild Plants in early January 2023. The book is a full color paperback and is small enough to put in a backpack for wilderness hikes. As I initially skimmed the book, I thought to myself, “You have my attention!”
One of my Florida plant mentors once told me, “A weed is a plant whose virtues are not yet realized.” This concept has stuck with me for years both to guide useful observations and when researching wilderness skills. If you get the opportunity to read Florida's Edible Wild Plants, many of these virtues will be revealed to you about this exciting exploration of Florida wild foraging. Peggy Lantz wrote an amazing book where both the layman and the professional reader can enjoy and learn valuable connections about the earth and wild foods.
I believe Florida's Edible Wild Plants has captured the right amount of information to give the reader a strong baseline knowledge of certain plant identification, such as where and when to find them, and how to gather and prepare the plants for consumption. Where other books lack in recipes is where Lantz excels, bringing plants to the table with clear and easy to use recipes. As she clearly notes in the beginning of her book, one should be careful when consuming any new foraged foods and should always consult a professional before confirming an ID for a wild plant. I was happy to see the section of plant look-alike. This subject is often quickly passed over, yet could be the most important piece of information.
The chapters are well thought out and easy to follow with clear outcomes that anyone can complete. I have seen many others attempt to share the process of gathering plants to bring to dinner plates, but most fall short with a flimsy list of raw or cooked plants and usually focus on jams. Lantz goes beyond these subjects and dives into meals, beverages, cakes, and candies. The information packed into this little book is just enough to support a delicious meal, dessert, or beverage without completely relying on store bought ingredients. This subject was a concern of mine before I opened the book and I was relieved after I finished this section. I will be recommending this book as required reading for the Naturalist Plant Class that I teach at Earth Kinship Ecotours and Naturalist School. I hope Lantz will consider writing additional volumes.
Thoughts and clarifications:
I noticed that often when indigenous people of Florida are mentioned in history tours, informational signs, and archaeology books, there is a mainstream view of the life of pre-contact people that may not be completely true. One of these ideas is mentioned on page 1 of this book where it mentions that “Prehistoric hunter-gatherers spent nearly all their waking hours finding, gathering and preparing their foods.” The oral traditions of native people in Florida that I have personally spoken with and spent many years learning from, claim a very different reality. The elders say that an established tribe working as a community finds the average daily “workload vs time” comes to about 2-3 hours a day.The rest of their time is for maintaining a healthy lifestyle of rest and play along with group or family activities. This was also documented in the logs of the first Spanish ships who landed on Florida’s shores. They recorded their perception of Florida Native people who were lazy, sleeping a good portion of the day, and using most of their time to gamble.Clearly, this is a confused perception taken from a class of people who had conquering new lands and genocide of their minds.These were the same people who saw the health and the youthfulness of the native elders and conjured up the myth of a spring of water that had magical powers and would give a human everlasting life. The Fountain of Youth wasn't a spring in St. Augustine, but was a lifestyle of appreciating the bounty of the abundance gifted from the Earth. The youthfulness in their older people came from how they lived and the healthy plants and medicines they used. Wouldn’t you say that's food for thought?
Page 39 speaks about one of my favorite plants in Florida that has a rich ceremonial history. One could say it had been caught up in the twisted politics of the tea trade at the time of naming. The Yaupon Holly was indeed used in the “Black Drink,” which was taken during cleansing and renewal ceremonies, however, the plant is not what causes the action of purging. This is where what was perceived and the reality do not match in oral history versus the history books. I have personally consumed and helped prepare many different versions of the infamous “Black Drink”. One version was used as a welcoming tea for visitors to be awakened and stimulated for conservation, where Yaupon was solely used for its caffeine qualities. If one would look at what was and what was not recorded in the tea trade at the time, they may discover why "vomitoria" stayed in the scientific name for yaupon holly, even after many name changes and the realization that it does not induce vomiting. It's an interesting subject that hints at controversies of the times.
Lastly, a fun tip that will help speed up the process and reduce water waste: Acorns are better when boiled after they are shelled, and the first pour off is saved for a wash to heal wounds, rashes, and general skin care. It is truly healing water.
Suggestion for another book: Spices and dewormers. I am told that many meals were prepared with the thought of clearing the body of parasites. This was an ongoing struggle in daily primitive life of Florida. I think that the spices were used accomplished these goals, but it also had to change the taste of the meal. It's a subject I'd love to learn more about and I am starting that journey this year. Some interesting findings are with the Gullah Geechee people who are now recognized from North Carolina all the way to the Florida Keys.