The Forager's Path - School of Botanical Studies

Herbal & Foraging Field Guides for the American Southwest

Book & Internet Resources for Herbal Field Study in Arizona and the Colorado Plateau

Field Guides for the Southwest
The focus of these books is plant identification rather than herbal usage. In general,  books arranged by plant families and that use pen and ink drawings are considered more academic and geared to more experienced botanists. Books that use color photos and order plants according to flower color are considered more user friendly and geared to people with less background in botany.

*Wildflowers of Arizona Field Guide by Nora Mays Bowers, Rick Bowers and Stan Tekiela
Compact enough for field work. Plants are arranged by flower color.

*Cactus of Arizona Field Guide by Nora Mays Bowers, Rick Bowers and Stan Tekiela
Small, well organized guide, compact enough for field work

*Guide to Colorado Wildflowers, Volume 2 – Mountains by G.K. Guennel
Specific to the higher elevations in Colorado, this book contains the flora encountered during the Rocky Mountain field classes at our school. Includes color photos and watercolors by the author. Plants are arranged by flower color.

*Sagebrush Country, A Wildflower Sanctuary by Ronald J. Taylor
A field guide to the Great Basin desert. Color photos with plants arranged by plant families.

*River and Desert Plants of the Grand Canyon by Kristin Huisinga, Lori Makarick and Kate Watters
I love this book! Very well researched. Plants are arranged by families. This book does not include plants along the canyon rims but is excellent for inner canyon exploring.

*Flowering Plants of New Mexico by Robert DeWitt Ivey
Despite the title, this work covers much of the flora for Arizona. May be hard to find but worth the effort. My copy is a second edition from 1986. Arranged by plant families. Pen and ink drawings. Geared to the more experienced botanist. Very highly regarded work.

*Field Guide to Forest & Mountain Plants of Northern Arizona by Judith D. Springer, Mark L. Daniels and Mare Nazaire
The most complete, academic and specific field guide for the Flagstaff region. May be hard to find. Some color photos, mostly pen and ink drawings. For the more experienced botanist.

*A Field Guide to the Plants of Arizona by Anne Orth Epple
Very user friendly with color photos. Plants are arranged by flower color. A good place to begin field work.

*Peterson Field Guides “Western Trees” by George A. Petrides and Olivia Petrides
Part of the Peterson series, covers the entire western region of North America, from northern Mexico to Alaska. Arranged by foliage type. Contains helpful distribution maps, color photos and illustrations.

*National Audobon Society Nature Guides “Western Forests”
Contains extensive naturalist info on the various life zones of the western forests. Includes a wide variety of information in addition to plant identification

Herb and Foraging Field Guides
The primary focus of these titles is how to identify, harvest, prepare and use regional plants for food and medicine.

*Healing Herbs of the Upper Rio Grande by L.S.M. Curtin, edited and revised by Michael Moore.
A record of medicinal plants of northern New Mexico. Originally published in 1947, Michael Moore brought it to a wider audience when he revised it 50 years later. Plants are arranged in alphabetical order according to their common Spanish name.

A Trilogy by Michael Moore:
*Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyon West
*Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West, 2nd edition
*Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West
Having this set in your library gives you reliable references for any area in the US west of the Great Plains except Hawaii.
More specifically for northern Arizona and the Four Corners area, the Mountain West includes plants mostly found above 5,000’.
The Desert and Canyon West edition includes plants mostly below 5,000’.
The Pacific West title addresses the coastal areas from Baja California up thru Alaska. However, it includes enough plants in our area that I consider it essential.

*Medicinal Plants of the American Southwest (on some editions the title is “Herbal Medicine of the American Southwest”) by Charles W. Kane
A very high quality herbal, written for folks who actually use herbal medicine and want to connect with the local flora. This is the book to have for anything growing below about 5,000’ in Arizona.  His writing style is thorough, yet has no wasted words and is well organized, making for quick and efficient use. Essential when traveling south of the Verde River.

*Rocky Mountain States “Wild Berries and Fruit Field Guide” by Teresa Marrone
This title is especially good for the Rocky Mountain program at our school. It includes enough Arizona flora above 5,000’ to make it worthwhile even if you are not traveling out of state. Extremely user friendly layout with finely detailed color photos. Clearly identifies poisonous berries.

*Sonoran Desert Food Plants by Charles W. Kane
At 55 pages, more a booklet than book. Concise and to the point, compact enough for use in the field. The title says it all.

*Edible Wild Plants by John Kallas
Outstanding work that covers only wild greens. Its content is deep rather than broad. Contains everything you will ever need to know for mustard, dandelion, purslane and more. Not specific to the Arizona but these plants are global and commonly found here.

*Foraging and Feasting by Dina Falconi
A true work of art, both in words and illustrations. One of the most visually beautiful plant books I have encountered. What makes this title stand out from the crowd is accurate and user friendly info, stunning and detailed illustrations and a well done cookbook so you know how to prep the foods you just harvested. A hardback, it is too large for field use.

*Stalking the Wild Asparagus by Euell Gibbons
A classic by the guy who has inspired and mentored many present day foragers. Out of print but common enough in used bookstores. Compact enough for field work, this should be in every forager’s library. Not limited to the Arizona or the ColoradoPlateau but includes many regional plants.

*Foraging the Mountain West: Gourmet Edible Plants, Mushrooms, and Meat by Thomas J. Elpel
This is a relatively new work by the author of Botany in a Day. Based in Montana, Tom shares many years of hands-on experience living off the land. One of the best books on wild edibles for anywhere west of the Great Plains.

Superb field guides that defy easy categorization
*A Natural History of the Sonoran Desert by the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum
The essential book to have to gain a better understanding of the most botanically diverse desert region in North America. Addresses many topics besides native flora. Thick, thorough and academic, definitely not for the field yet a great reference and one I have consulted often before a trip to the world of saguaros.

*Wild Plants of the Pueblo Province by William W. Dunmire and Gail D. Tierney
Shares traditional Pueblo Indian uses of much of the flora in New Mexico. While not specifically on food or medicine, it is a well written and researched work that helps one gain a better understanding of the interplay between plants and humans in this landscape.

*Wild Plants and Native Peoples of the Four Corners by William W. Dunmire and Gail D. Tierney
Similar in style and content to the Pueblo book. This work does exactly what the title promises. These two books make a great pair of resources for anyone interested in the ethnobotany of the Colorado Plateau.

Roots: An Underground Botany and Forager’s Guide by Doug Elliot
Doug is an immensely popular plant teacher in southern Appalachia although he is not as well known in the Colorado Plateau region. An experienced and talented storyteller, forager and all around naturalist, Doug has put together an incredible book on the world of flora underground.

This is neither a straightforward field guide for herbalists nor a botanical work for plant identification. Rather it is storytelling about tap roots, tubers, corms and rhizomes. The plants selected include both commonly used medicinals such as Black Cohosh, Golden Seal, Valerian and American Ginseng and lesser known edibles (at least in the Four Corners area) such as ramps.

Despite the regional bias favoring Appalachia, there are enough plants common to the Colorado Plateau and the writing is so well done, this book is highly recommended for someone wanting to gain a deeper understanding of some very common and popular herbs.
May be hard to find but well worth the search.

The Dandelion Celebration by Peter Gail
Written by an experienced and highly respected forager, this book shares everything you ever wanted to know about this common weed. Includes chapters on nutrition, harvesting tips and recipes for tasty eating.

Graced by Pines by Alexandra Murphy
Written for the non-academic botanist, the nine essays provide excellent background on the Ponderosa pine, the dominant tree of northern Arizona above 6,000′. Topics include botany, archeology, the history of the West and ethnobotany. This is a well written book that would be of interest to anyone who spends time in the outdoors in the West and especially in the region around the Grand Canyon, South Rim, Flagstaff and Oak Creek Canyon.

The Piñon Pine: A Natural and Cultural History by Ronald M. Lanner
Tells you everything you have ever wanted to know about this multi-use tree found throughout the Colorado Plateau. A must read for anyone interested in foraging or wildcrafting herbal medicine in the Colorado Plateau region.

Internet Resources for Field Study
The official .gov database for vascular plants nation wide. A bit dry but very useful.
A project of the Arizona Native Plant Society, this site has many links to more specific plant databases such as Wupatki National Monument and the Verde Valley
Plants are arranged by common name, this site is specific to the Sonoran desert.
This site is a treasure and a personal fav. Covering all states of the Four Corners region, it is thorough, well organized and user friendly. An incredible resource.


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