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Edible Wild Plants
By Oliver Perry Medsger (1939)


MORE than once I have been called to write the introduction to a book treating on some aspect of nature that was much in the line of my own interests; and usually had no difficulty in penning the few pages that were called for. But the introduction to a book by Oliver P. Medsger proved a wholly different undertaking. Why this should be the case will be better understood when I describe my first meeting with this man of the woods. It was at Woodland, New York, in the camp of Harry Little (Sagamore), that my good luck sent me out on a forest walk with Medsger; and every yard of our trip was made delightful by some bit of information about the myriad forms of wild life around us forms with which I had been superficially acquainted all my life, but which I never really knew, because I had no exact names, no knowledge of their virtues.

It reminded me of an incident in my early life in the West. A prairie-born girl was asked by her mother what her dream of heaven would be. The child's whole life had been in the home circle on the Plains; so she said simply: "Heaven is a place with a big shady tree, and an angel sitting under it, who never says, I don't know when asked a question."

In my own childhood and youth, I suffered beyond expression from the knowledge-hunger, from the impossibility of learning about the abounding wild life around me. And now, when it seemed almost too late, I had found a competent guide. I know now why his Indian name is "Nibowaka," the "Wise Woodman."

"This man has opened and read the book of nature," I said."And, more than that, he loves it, for his knowledge embodies not only the names and qualities of the plants and trees, but also the poetical ideas about them, and pleasant little rhymes and fancies that fix the bird or flower in memory and give it the romantic glamour so vital to the lover of the woods."

That walk was one of many in the years that followed; and the joy of the first was not exceptional. The qualities of his talk were the same a mingling of science and art, encyclopedic information and romantic joy in the woodland world of beauty. Thus you see why I was possessed of a sense of being overwhelmed when confronted with the responsibility of writing this introduction. As a matter of fact, I made many attempts during the last year, and cast each aside in turn.

But the book is in press, I must keep faith with the printer. If an introduction is meant to be an adequate proclamation to the world of a new arrival among its books of worth, then I must put this also in the fire and give up the attempt. But I am in hopes that it will serve, if only to announce to all the heart-hungry forest folk that here is the book I longed for so much in my youth here is the angel of the prairie girl. I know it will serve the coming wood-wanderers as it would have served me. It will be the book I dreamed of the key to the woods.

You can download this book here in pdf format

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