If you’re a hiker, survivalist or doomsday prepper who feels like bringing food on a camping trip is cheating, Thomas J. Elpel with Kris Reed’s new book “Foraging the Mountain West” is the book for you.
Though not encyclopedic, “Foraging the Mountain West” is a guide to connecting with nature by becoming more in tune with what’s edible in the hills and forests around us. It’s a book “written for the backpacker who would rather bring more knowledge and fewer provisions into the wilderness. It is intended for the happy homemaker who wants to eat well and spend less. It is ideal for the creative chef who wants to explore new ingredients and impress diners with novel dishes.”
In an enlightening and often humorous way, Elpel writes that when he first began foraging for food in the Tobacco Root Mountains near Pony, he “was inspired to hone my skills until I could walk out the door with only a knife — or perhaps without it — and find everything in nature I needed to survive.”
Elpel said he wrote the book — his seventh — because he noticed there weren’t any like it targeting the mountain west.
“There’s been a hole in the literature,” he said. “There’s some good edible plants books for other parts of the country but not here for the mountain west. The ecology is different here. Other foraging books out here say they cover the whole country but they don’t cover the mountain west well. There wasn’t anything for this area and now there is.”
“Foraging” covers plants and animals of the Rocky Mountains west to the Sierra Nevada Mountains and north to the Cascade Mountains and Canada with many full-color photos. The book is broken into seven sections with numerous examples of edible foods in the region and a subsection in each on edible versus poisonous precautions.
The first section covers salads and greens, and includes plants like cat tails, wild asparagus (which is the same as domestic asparagus except free for the picking), milkweed, dandelions, salsify and stinging nettles. Another section, titled “Fabulous Fruits” discusses the ever popular huckleberry, as well as wild roses, elderberries, serviceberries and others.
Other sections include roots, seeds and nuts, mushrooms and the foraging lifestyle.
A particularly interesting chapter is “Hunting and Scavenging” which includes two subsections about road kill and dumpster diving. Though many people might turn up their noses at the thought of eating something lying by the road or inside a back-alley dumpster, Elpel makes a convincing argument for both – simple economics.
“We’re trying to be conscientious citizens of the earth and not let things go to waste,” Elpel said.
“It’s ridiculous to drive by 10 road-kill deer on your way to kill another one with a gun. These acts are self sufficient. It’s reducing dependency on corporate agriculture and the need for a 9-to-5 job when you can become more self sufficient.”
Elpel explains that safely consuming road kill (which is legal in Montana) and just-past-their-expiration-date foods is about common sense; if it smells funny, don’t eat it.
“Foraging the Mountain West” is a helpful guide for back-to-the-land types. It’s an argument to “become more native to this place, not as some romantic idea of the past, but as we know it today.” Simply put, it’s a good start for folks who want to live — and eat — more in tune with the environment all around us.
Elpel is offering a foraging class at 1 p.m. Sunday, June 29 at the Blacktail Trailhead in Thompson Park. All are invited. There is no charge or sign-up for the class. Bring a water bottle and enjoy an afternoon of foraging fun.
“Foraging the Mountain West” is available for purchase at Books & Books at 206 W. Park St. or through hopspress.com.