Veronica, Lenz is here
Spring has us fully under control. There is already a hint of green about the landscape, interspersed with white and pink flecks of blooming trees. The days are long enough and after work we head out into the countryside. Nice how the meadow smells of spring. But what kind of herb is that that smells so fragrant here? "This year I want to be able to recognize all these flowers!", some people might think in the spring frenzy - but without previous knowledge it's not that easy.
With "Wild herbs and their poisonous doppelgangers" by Eva Maria Dreyer, Kosmos-Verlag now offers "bloody beginners" a reasonably priced and handy little book with three benefits: you gradually learn about ninety edible local ones based on the course of the year Knowing herbs, learns at the same time whether and how you can use them in the kitchen and, above all, how they differ from poisonous or inedible doubles.
The restriction to edible wild herbs is excellent because this selection tempts the user to get to know the little plants with all their senses, to discover their scent and to test one or the other herb in the kitchen. It's fun and works with this little book, as long as the nature lover doesn't get cocky and sticks to the author's recommendations and advice.
Because some of our wild herbs are really tough, and you should avoid them at the beginning of your collecting career or only collect them together with more experienced companions. The popular wild garlic (Allium ursinum), for example, is such a critical candidate: its leaves resemble those of arum (Arum maculatum), lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) or autumn crocus (Colchicum autumnale), all of which range from inedible to deadly poisonous. But the book helps the collector get started with distinctive herbs with no doppelganger-garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) or ground ivy (Glechoma ederacea) are just two of them.
On the cover pages, Eva Maria Dreyer explains the most important botanical terms. She then guides her readers through the season and flower color to the plant descriptions, which are divided into two chapters according to edible and inedible plants. You then have to leaf through all the plants of the same flower color and season one after the other to get to the plant in question. It's quick, though, because it usually only takes three or four pages to find a suitable plant.
The species are each presented on one page: Under a half-page color photo, Dreyer lists botanical characteristics and information on the habitat as well as collection tips, the most important active ingredients and suggestions for use in the kitchen. In the case of edible plants, which can be confused with inedible or poisonous ones, the author gives a clear indication of the dangerous counterpart with a small photo and a cross-reference to the relevant part of the identification. In this way you learn step by step where to look on the plant to really identify it with certainty.
With Dreyer's booklet you usually get to the right plant family. At the flowering time, with some only when they bear fruit, you can then work your way through to the species with the help of other identification books. My favorite for ambitious beginners is the so-called "Rothmaler Atlas" with drawings. The characteristic features of the plants can be seen better here than in photographs. Another tip for the very ambitious: get an identification key for the atlas and then work forward from the end result - preferably from plants that are already familiar. In this way you can gradually familiarize yourself with the botanical world of terms and at some point also identify unknown species. But you have to acquire this competence, it takes some time and doesn't fall into anyone's lap.
It is therefore not possible to identify all plants with this book alone. In the case of wild herbs with poisonous doubles, it is therefore better – and the author also advises this – to go regularly with an experienced person for a growing season in search of the delicacies along the way and to familiarize yourself with the different growth stages of the plants. However, you can take the first steps in this familiarization with the small book by Eva Maria Dreyer. It is easy to read and really picks up the layman from scratch. The handy format is very practical to take with you and the tips for preparation in particular make even more experienced herb lovers want to cook.