Book Review: Dandelion Hunter by Rebecca Lerner

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With an overly stuffed plateful of responsibilities sandwiched between a week-long seminar of East West students and a month-long trip for which to prepare, I had no business reading a book. But when Becky Lerner, one of our East West students at the seminar, mailed me a copy of her first book, Dandelion Hunter, I opened the cover to read:

The Stranger walked across her front lawn to meet me at dusk. She waded through a wall of weeds as high as her hips, parting the sea of greens like a post-modern Moses.

"Hi," I said, standing on her driveway. "I'm your neighbor, and I’d like to eat your weeds." 

I was hooked. I just had to read her book!

So stealing time from myself to do other needed things, I dived into Becky’s book with gusto and was absolutely delighted. Ironically, this came on the heels of my previous two impromptu blogs on dandelion, my favorite spring herb. While Dandelion Hunter (Lyons Press, Guilford, CT, 2013) is not about dandelions per se, it is the archetype weed for what Becky shares with us – how the magic and healing power of nature is right in our own backyards.

A journalist now turned nature educator and healer, Becky begins Dandelion Hunter with the premise of meeting a challenge to survive solely on the wild food she could forage in Portland for a week. What unfolds from there is a story full of fascinating facts, plant wisdom, and planetary welfare. I was alternatively enlightened, intrigued, and entertained as she took me on a journey of discovery through many trials and training around learning the local plants and all they have to offer.

Decades ago, we had an East West student living in New York City who complained she couldn’t complete the preparation assignments for our correspondence course because there were no weeds in NYC. After much encouragement, she began what became a captivating discovery of the many plants that grow in sidewalk cracks, window boxes, empty lots, and street ditches throughout the city. She was so inspired that she wrote an entire dissertation entitled, The Concrete Jungle.

I have never forgotten her experience and this book reminded me of that as I forayed through the many new tidbits I learned while reading Becky’s story. For instance, I didn’t know that eating red clover blossoms healed bloat, yarrow was found in a 60,000 year-old Neanderthal cave, or that corn roots make clicking sounds, which their neighbors can hear and respond to. I also learned about bioswales, pokeberry juice used to write the U.S. Constitution, and the foraging expert, Steve Brill, who got arrested for the simple fault of picking a dandelion in Central Park.

Along with great details on healing weeds, Becky includes humorous stories, Portland historical information, local ecology, zoopharmacognosy, and a fascinating history of the pre-Portland American Indians, all served up with lots of local color and intriguing residents. Her book is loaded with such topics as rich survival information, plant harvesting, identification tips, and even doggy herbalism.

Becky covers global and crucial topics as well, such as the impact of Roundup today, our hunter-gatherer ancestors, the various problems encountered while foraging, plant consciousness, and our general separation from nature. I especially found the connection between trees, pollution, crime, and health quite fascinating.

At the end of Dandelion Hunter, I discovered many intriguing recipes as well (recipes with stories – double yum!) and to my delight, the first one was a variation of dandelion coffee I’d never seen – it’s concocted with spices and flavors to make a sort of dandelion chai – so this is the first recipe I’ll try.

With raising a family, writing books, teaching, travel, and clinic, my herbal usage over the last 30 years has transferred from the garden to the clinic and then writing/teaching. I use herbs all the time, but not as often from the yard to the kitchen anymore. This book has put me right back into the wilds, re-inspiring my days of harvesting, preparations and the joyous fulfillment they bring.

So many thanks to Becky for her rich and rewarding journey into the forager’s world. I am so happy she quit journalism and transformed her life from survivalist forager to medicine woman, as it’s a tremendous gift to us all!

Signed copies may be purchased directly from Becky at her website, FirstWays.com. As well, check out her herbal blog!

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