Raining Spruce Tips
The Earth Tracks Edible Wilds weekend began at the Kinghurst Forest reserve. The sound of a goshawk greeted the plant apprentices as they arrived. Alexis presented a plant mystery to solve – to identify a tiny, irregular flower with four parts. After much debate, the little plant was identified as a species of Speedwell.
The sun was warm and bright as the plant apprentices walked along the trail, stopping to taste Wild Ginger root and admiring its reddish-brown flowers. Alexis discussed sustainable foraging practices and the importance of taking care of the plants. We encountered Poison Ivy next and took time to observe its characteristics and think about its possible role as a protector plant. We felt the soft lung-like leaves of Coltsfoot and learned about its role as a medicine for lung ailments. The apprentices sampled some young daisy leaves while also learning about the ancient Equisetum plants. We learned that these Horsetails can be used as medicine for bones, teeth and hair and should only be harvested when the leaves are upright not drooping.
Next, it was time to dig in the soil and harvest some burdock. Alexis shared that burdock stimulates the liver and increases bile flow. It is also good for the skin. As a biennial plant, it should be harvested in the fall of the first year of its growth or the spring of its 2nd year. We were reminded to harvest the root (bottom 40% is best) when there is no flower. The older, hollow parts should be discarded. The root is high in protein and can be used in stir-fry. Boiling it in a change of water removes some of the bitter flavour. It is considered a delicacy in Japan where it was first cultivated, thousands of years ago. Its Japanese name is “Gobo”. The late spring and early summer shoots can also be harvested, when they are still floppy before the flowers appear. Remove all of the outer, bitter layer and cook (recommended) the inner white core or eat it raw. The sticky seed heads are called “survival Velcro”. The leaves of the burdock plant can be chewed and used to relieve the sting and itch of bug bites. The large leaves can also be used to wrap food (salmon, stuffed peppers etc.) and put on a fire. One of burdock’s ecological roles is to bring nutrients and vitamins to the surface of the earth, using its deep tap root. What an amazing plant!
In addition to burdock, the plant apprentices harvested plantain leaves and dandelion heads, being sure to include some of the dandelion stem for making fritters later on.
While listening to the “Teacher Teacher” call of the Ovenbird and “Weep!” sound of the Great Crested Flycatcher high above, the group was presented with another mystery plant. It was Baneberry or Doll’s Eye – a poisonous plant to be mindful of. Next, our attention was drawn to the False and True Solomon Seal plants nearby. Alexis shared that the berries of False Solomon Seal are edible. He also shared how True Solomon Seal roots can be used in medicine to help repair cartilage and ligament injuries.
We observed some young milkweed shoots growing up from the trail and learned that it is important to be able to identify the differences between poisonous Dogbane and edible milkweed. We munched on some nearby basswood leaves. Alexis said to choose the young ones that are a little translucent and no larger than a toonie. He shared that the flowers can be used in a tea to help reduce anxiety.
A lilac grove beckoned everyone to sit for a while and enjoy lunch. Alexis cooked up some dandelion fritters in sunflower oil. The fritter batter included flour, rosemary, salt, pepper, egg (optional), and club soda. The sweet dandelion heads fried in tempura batter were delicious! A white-throated sparrow serenaded the lunch buffet with “Oh Sweet Canada, Canada, Canada!”
After lunch, we tried the growing tips of the wild grape tendrils and enjoyed their slightly sour taste. We moved onward past an old farm foundation and healthy, neighbouring Elm tree. Nearby, the light-green spruce tips caught our attention and Alexis invited everyone to collect some spruce tips in a jar. We poured apple cider vinegar over the spruce tips and learned that they can be made into; salad dressing, jelly, tea, beer and spruce tip sugar.
While foraging under the spruce trees, the wind picked up and the dry spruce tip ends started to rain down on the group. This event soon turned into a game as the plant apprentices tried to catch the dried spruce tips in their mouths. A Grey Treefrog churred high up in the trees. The sky darkened and in addition to spruce tips, the wind brought rain and pea-sized hail. We all huddled under the spruce trees, with our backs against the trunks of these protective giants of the plant world and shared stories while the warm rain soaked our clothing.
When the rain stopped, we reconnected with the trail and discovered Bloodroot. We learned that it is not edible and has caustic (?) red dye. We harvested some young violet leaves (ideally from plants without a flower) and admired the purple, white and yellow violets flowers blooming on mature plants nearby. Alexis shared that 1/3 cup of violet leaves contain the daily dose of Vitamin A and D(?). The plant apprentices sampled a trout lily corm and enjoyed its sweet, succulent flavour. We also sampled some apple blossoms and learned more about the edible plants in the Rose Family.
Alexis shared the “Three Rights” of Edible Plants:
- Right Part
- Right Place (don’t harvest plants from contaminated areas like roadsides etc.)
- Right Season (being mindful of where the plant’s energy is focussed e.g. flowers vs roots).
Before returning for the evening edible wild potluck feast, we harvested some wild grape tendrils, day lily shoots (harvesting the lower stalk from a shoot in the middle of a patch), young basswood leaves and garlic mustard.
The evening feast included a mixed green, basswood leaf, day lily shoot, wild grape tendril, young garlic mustard leaf, violet leaf salad with a vinaigrette dressing. Yum! We also had burdock root fried in sesame oil and another stir fry with plantain leaves, dandelion leaves (not too many due to bitter flavour), chopped nettles, Dryad Saddle mushroom, common Morel and garlic mustard leaves. Jen recommended marinating plantain leaves and dehydrating them into chips as a future enjoyable edible
Nighttime brought a chorus of snipe calls, coyote howls and frog song. It was a lovely day and evening. Much gratitude to Alexis for sharing his knowledge and experience and to the plant world for its incredible generosity. Upcoming: A chance to give back – the Caretaking weekend is next!