Edible and Medicinal Plant Foraging Workshop
Sunday May 25, 2014
Our day began in the sunny morning along a trail deep in the Hockley Valley. As our small group arrived we began to introduce ourselves. It seemed everyone came together to share the sunny day, and to learn. New faces began to connect in nature, and everyone was eager to begin the hike into the valley. As we ventured forth, Alexis outlined a very important topic – ethical stewardship and sustainable harvesting techniques. Not only was it important to correctly harvest the plant, but also to offer the land something in return.
We observed our first plant – the American Basswood. The tender early spring leaves are edible only for a short time. We ventured forward, discussing edibles even within a few feet of the trail entrance. We didn’t need to walk far – there are so many edibles all around us! Garlic mustard was first, a highly invasive species but a delicacy as a pesto. My personal favourite of the day – the Spruce tree – appeared next along the trail. The young new growth is chock full of vitamin C and a flavourful punch followed every nibble.
The plants we began to encounter are considered superfoods due to the high content of rich vitamins and minerals and trace elements. The flavours of these plants hit interesting parts of the tongue. We discussed incorporating bitter and sour flavours into our typically salty and sweet diets. The richness of flavours is one to be explored. It is important to remember to eat a small amount of the foraged edibles before over-consuming. Our bodies are not quite used to the intensity and we may not be aware of possible reactions.
Our next venture took us into a clearing of a nettle patch mixed with wild raspberry. The common nettle and wood nettle were exciting to find, and we were careful to avoid the stinging hairs. We followed the stream off the path and made our way through meadow following a deer trail. We stopped at the foot of a deer bed to examine our first mystery of the day – identifying a poisonous Cypress Spurge plant. Our next edible that we came across was horse tail. The group became more aware of how to utilize weeds as edibles and how the value of plants can change depending on the value we put into it.
The group stopped for lunch under the lovely cedars beside the stream embankment. With the gentle rush of flowing water we were able to rest. It was on to the next flower, the Viola family – the namesake of Alexis’ new baby girl. Our adventure began to pick up pace – we encountered a second Earth Tracks mystery through identifying the Bloodroot plant. The small side trail began to grow tighter and the group found an interesting hoard of walnuts at the base of a cedar. What mystery was this now? We determined that a chipmunk had nibbled through each nut through the side, rather than the top and bottom. This is a sharp tracking skill to determine the animal’s specific behaviour.
A short while after, we came upon the source of the stream (a lovely spring fed pool to dip our feet into). We foraged for wild mint and took a cool-down break in the sandy water. The group splashed about as nearby ravens cawed out protests to lure us away from their nesting site. A warbler sang in the distance as we moved on to our next edible, Wild Leek. Perhaps the most popular of the trip, the Wild Leek forage was a very important plant to sustainably harvest, and transplant to encourage spreading. We spread out one bunch of leeks before and one after harvesting from the centre of a patch.
At a small cedar clearing, we stopped for break. Lucky for us, we were sitting in a patch of our next snack. The Trout Lily was all around us, just on the tail end of its season. The spotted leaves fade away in late spring, early summer but still makes for a tasty treat similar to lettuce greens. As we made our way back to the trail entrance, we collected delicious wild ginger which we had found earlier, but avoided harvesting in a sensitive area. Our last collaboration of the day involved a meditation, or “sit spot” time. Each participant was able to really take in the day, reflect, and rest with purpose. After some final discussion on drying and processing techniques for our bounty, the last stragglers on the trail were able to lure in an Indigo Bunting with a call thus ending our lovely sunny day with some spectacular bird-watching.
Jill Byers Earth Tracks Intern 2014
May 25th Orangeville course
Viola spp. “violets”
Jack in the pulpit
Wild marjoram or basil