I started writing about herbal medicine and related topics in the mid-90s. The Collection was a print newsletter I produced quarterly for several years. In it I expounded upon my experiences as an herbalist and promoted various classes. Its evolution into enough material for a book took the better part of a decade. When Herbal Medicine of the American Southwest was finally published (2006) I was often asked ‘What took you so long?’ or “Tell me about your writing process.’ Honestly, the process was (and still is) somewhat excruciating. I essentially wrote the book twice. The first time (long hand) was for content. The second time had to do with my improvement as a writer: nearing completion of the first draft, the need for a complete re-write was too obvious to ignore. Looking back I’m glad I had the patience to do it properly, after all it’s best to rewrite a book before it goes to print rather than wish you had after. Since then American Southwest has been mildly reworked four times. Cover updates, textual edits, the title change to Medicinal Plants of the American Southwest in 2011, and the addition of new plants have all been part of the book’s progression. It’s my first book, so I’m a bit more attached to it than my others.
Herbal Medicine: Trends and Traditions was a book I felt I had to write. As with the material found in American Southwest, I had been employing these more popular herbal medicines in private practice for a good while, so it only made sense that my next writing project relay my findings of these commonly used herbs. Soon after beginning Trends and Traditions, I was deployed to Afghanistan. Initially while in country, I was so engrossed with this extreme change, I wrote very little. Soon however, I started to write again (when I found the time) and used Trends and Traditions as an escape from parts of the war. Once home it took me another year to finish things up. From start to finish it took two years to get the book to print. Looking back, I’d call the writing of Trends and Traditions ferocious. I was consumed. It helps to be driven, to have a major reason why to write, everyday, that won’t go away.
I promised to give myself a break from writing on weighty medicinal topics once Trends and Traditions was complete. I changed things up a bit by producing several wild food booklets. The writing process for these was easy, after all if plant medicine is an man-eating tiger, wild food is a house cat. There’s really no comparison of the two topics – so many more scientific subjects need to be evaluated when writing of plant medicine. Wild food? The only questions that really matter are: a) what’s the caloric value? b) is it non-toxic? c) what’s the availability and how is the plant prepared? That’s really about it, however the length an author goes to stretch that out…well that’s the difference between a booklet and a book.
Each booklet is marked in my mind, not by some information tid-bit, but by an event or realization that happened while conducting field research. For Sonoran Desert Food Plants: rattlesnakes! Always running into snakes in the desert. The body’s instinctual reaction to their buzz-rattle is an impressive example of the hard-wired startle response. With Southern California Food Plants, it was the ah-ha moment when I realized why everyone wants to live in southern California: a balmy 75 degrees by the ocean in the summertime. The area’s aesthetic beauty is hard to match.
Texas, like southern California, is an area that I regularly travel to with students. My last research-gathering trip (sans students) had turned into a massive 1000-mile-plus marathon motorcycle tour with rains, floods, and serendipitous events taking precedent. Though if I had to pick just one, I’d have to say my all-time favorite happening while touring Texas for Wild Edible Plants of Texas was running into edible-plant-expert Mark Vorderbruggen. I kid you not, I pulled over in the middle of Texas to read a road-side placard. And who was teaching an outdoor edible plant class just several hundred feet away? Mark!
Medicinal Plants of the Western Mountain States had been an on-and-off project since 2010, though I didn’t give it my full attention until 2015. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve said to others (and myself) ‘it’s almost done.’ Finally, it’s done! I think of the this title as the mate to American Southwest – identical format, yet higher elevation/more northerly latitude material. The Rocky Mountains, higher Basin and Range chains, isolated high-elevation outlier mountains of the Southwest, and the eastern ranges of the Pacific States are the book’s geographical foci. Authentic and reasonable in scope, like my others, I’ve written this book for the herbal critical-thinker. Readers interested in psychobabble-herbalism will likely be disappointed.
In 2017 I also revisited Sonoran Desert Food Plants. In need of an update, second edition improvements include a general index, a handful of new profiles, an updated photo layout, and the inclusion of an Arizona-only county-by-county location map for each plant. Also, every profile now has a useful season and edible-part indicator at the top of each page. Early 2019 saw the inclusion of two new wild food booklets: Wild Edible Plants of Arizona and Wild Edible Plants of New Mexico.
Arranged as an upland grouping of edible plants, ideally used in tandem with Sonoran Desert Food Plants, a collection of lower elevation species, Wild Edible Plants of Arizona will be found most helpful for foragers desiring middle elevation to high mountain coverage. Discovering wild Tepary bean growing up through Manzanita with its apple-flavored brown fruit in the mid-mountains of southeastern Arizona was one memorable event. I gathered an ounce of beans, took them home, soaked, rinsed, cooked them like any other, and had a protein-rich serving that’s hard to match with other wild foods.
Wild Edible Plants of New Mexico was written in tandem with WEPAZ. It only made sense due to the material’s relationship – many plants that are found in the New Mexican uplands are also present at similar elevations in AZ. The publication was essentially written by mid-2018, however I still lacked several photos of various species in fruit/flower. That summer, I scheduled the time for an extended trip to Toas, with the Sangre de Cristos as my main focus…what a beautiful range. My most memorable plant encounter during this time was finding Service berry in full bloom, and close-by, underfoot, was not a small amount of Valeriana acutiloba or Western valerian. Certainly not uncommon plants, but they were in peak-flower. Incidentally, I don’t dispense much Valerian (whatever species) at the clinic due to its unreliability as a simple sedative. There really needs to be a proper matching of physiological tendency to plant chemical attributes to see Valerian as somewhat successful as a sedative. If that doesn’t happen, it can be disturbing to sleep.
In the spring, during the height of the great media-politico driven ‘pandemic’ of 2020, I sallied forth to Utah and Colorado. My mission? To gather the few remaining specimens I needed to complete the state’s respective Wild Edible Colorado and Utah booklets. Needless to say, the roads were empty, which made for easy travel. One plant of note, Bryonia alba, which is not an edible plant, but rather one that is medicinal in small amounts, yet poisonous in larger sums, I located and gathered for clinical use. Unfortunately, the only stand was situated next to a popular hiking trail. This usually makes digging (it’s a root medicine) somewhat awkward. Disapproving looks and finger-wagging often ensue. Pleasantly, I was surprised. The mostly college-age kids were more interested in getting to the swimming hole rather than pausing at the plant-digging man.
Truth be told, I was a little early in the season for plant-hunting in the higher elevation Colorado Rockies. Fortunately, the state’s western plains did not disappoint. Luck often seems to be a factor when encountering any Yucca species at pre-flower flexible stalk-stage. So, at the appearance of a mile-after-mile crop of Yucca glauca (Soapweed yucca), I felt rewarded. And so easy to clip, prepare, and season.
The first half of 2021 saw a revisit to past publications. Southern California Food Plants was recalibrated as Wild Edible Plants of California: Volume 1 (The Essential Forages). A number of profiles were removed and new ones were added making Volume 1 greater in geographical scope than its predecessor. Volume 2, tentatively planned for 2022, will cover the state’s secondary wild edibles and poisonous plants. Not all states will get this dual volume treatment, but because California is plant diverse enough, it makes sense.
Wild Edible Plants of Texas: Volume 1 (The Essential Forages), is the second edition of Wild Edible Plants of Texas: A Pocket Guide to the Identification…. There are no fundamental differences between the two editions, except for the retitling (Volume 1) in order to make room for Volume 2. Like WEPCA, Volume 2 will cover secondary edibles and poisonous plants.
What’s next on the writing docket? I have a couple of things I mind, but as they say, it’s always wise to keep a little in reserve; keep inquiring minds guessing, just a little.
I’m a retailer/buyer – where can I purchase these titles wholesale?
Ingram carries Lincoln Town Press’ complete catalog. They offer standard wholesale prices to book stores, gift shops, libraries, etc. and fulfill orders for both national and international accounts.