Reviewing: Food for Free by Richard Mabey
Updated: Sep 5, 2022
If you're looking for a handy pocket-sized introduction to the most common plants and mushrooms that you can eat in the UK, then Food for Free is the book you need to buy. Written by one of the country's leading authorities on foraging and nature, Richard Mabey's Food for Free was first published in 1972. Since then, it has been regularly updated and remains a strong contender as one of the most useful foraging books you can take out with you.
There are foraging books that go into a lot of detail about the types of plants and mushrooms that you can find scattered around the British Isles. These are great for when you are looking to identify a new species to you, especially if you already have some foraging experience.
However, if you are just starting out, or foraging in the UK is new to you, then you will want something that highlights the species you will most likely encounter. That's where Richard Mabey's Food for Free comes into its own. And as you can see from the image I took of my own copy, I've used it a heck of a lot over the years. This is not a sit-on-the-shelf book, but an out-in-all-weathers one!
Pocket-sized foraging guide
Richard Mabey has appeared in many newspapers and TV shows and is enthusiastic about discovering and eating wild food. His collection in this book includes well known plants like brambles and poppies, as well as those you might not have heard of but will probably stumble across like ground elder and wood sorrel.
As it's a teeny book, there's little room for stories and tales, although they do creep in from time to time. Instead the book is on the whole down to earth and perfunctory when it comes to identifying plants and berries. Most plants have at least one drawing and one photo, as well as a box describing the most important and identifiable parts. It tells you what sort of area (woodland, beach etc) they are found in, and what time of year they are usually found.
There is also a section on the plant's uses, from eating to making a tincture to creating a flavoured drink. Depending on the use may drive you towards looking for a specific plant, so it's very handy.
The book is laid out in a logical manner, making it easy to get to the section you need quickly. After a brief introduction and words on plant use and conservation in the UK, you'll find the following sections:
Plants & Trees
It also offers a short glossary, some further reading and a list of the recipes included in the book.
Should you buy Mabey's Food for Free?
The paperback version of Food for Free is small and inexpensive. It is absolutely worth having to stick in your bag, glove compartment or under the pram! Buy a few copies so you are never far from one! This isn't a comprehensive foraging book, and has only a handful of mushrooms and seaweed, for example. But it's the species that you are most likely to find when starting out, so that's no bad thing. It cuts through the rare ones that you probably won't come across for you, making it easier to ID what you have discovered outside.
It's definitely a book to have in your wild food arsenal. So should you buy Richard Mabey's Food for Free book? Yes! Many! And you can do so on Amazon here.