The foreword to the 1939 'Edible wild plants' describes its author Perry Medsger Oliver, a biologist, as a magnificent guide and a true woodsman. One who quotes Thoreau! Oliver's own foreword confirms the origin of US contemporary foraging as coming from a fascination with the untapped resources of knowledge about nature that are part of the cultural heritage of the native American (although, Oliver believes, only to the intelligent ones); see quote below. There are some interesting differences between this guide book and contemporary ones: there is no mention of poisonous plants; there are no warnings against over-harvesting of plants or the accidental taking of protected plants. There is much space devoted to cultural uses and histories and very little space to the details of preparation (no recipes in the modern sense) because it knows that readers know what to do with a plant and you don't need to tell them to boil the water first. It is from this that you know that this is a book from a time when the handling of a vegetable was a daily chore not a lifestyle option to be bought alongside the new Jamie Oliver book. Did you know that in 1939 dandelions were grown semi-domesticated in New Jersey and sold on New York markets?
MORE than thirty years ago, I was with Dr. Harvey M. Hall when he made his botanical survey of San Jacinto Mountain, California. An intelligent Indian joined us for a few days and acted as guide. He was much interested in the plants used by the American Indians, especially those used for food. After I came East, for several years we exchanged specimens and seeds. I sent the Indian nuts of nearly all the edible nut-bearing species in northeastern United States, also acorns, seeds of edible berries, and those of other wild fruits. These he planted along canyons and in moist situations where he thought they might grow.
From that time on I have collected data on edible plants from books, published reports, papers, from the experiences of people, and wherever information on the subject could be obtained. When possible, I observed the trees or plants first hand, often experimenting or testing out their edible qualities.