By Lily Falk, Waterlution Youth Programs Assistant – Lily Falk is working with Waterlution this summer to help kick-start Young Water Speaks, our new youth water storytelling contest.
It’s late summer 2014 and I’m walking in a scrubby, birch forest in the Swedish Arctic, watching my new friend Mikael jump around the woods collecting mushrooms. I’m amazed at how easily he spots them and then quickly cleans and cuts them with his special brush knife. Within an hour, he has collected two grocery bags worth that we will later dry and store, but not without making ourselves a nice mushroom pasta first. Mikael looks at the forest floor with different eyes. When I look at the forest floor, I felt I couldn’t see anything. This is my first memory of foraging.
Growing up in the suburbs of Toronto, I didn’t think about what could be edible in my backyard. Until recently, I thought foraging was reserved for those who lived in rural, forested places. I didn’t consider what edible plants might be growing wild between the cracks in the sidewalks and on my driveway. These days, I split my time between Halifax and Upper LaHave, Nova Scotia and I decided to challenge myself to see what sort of edible plants I might be able to find around my house. I’m excited to tell you that there are many edible plants growing in the most unexpected places! However, I will put a big warning THIS IS NOT AN OFFICIAL GUIDE!
Obviously I am not an expert! Consult more official guides and have people who are experienced foragers check over your chosen plants before you put them in your mouth! Eating plants you’re not sure about is a serious business and can put you in danger!
And one more time from Waterlution: We do not recommend foraging without the help of a local plant expert!
Some quick tips before we get into what I found:
- There are lots of great Facebook groups devoted to foraging! I joined one focused on Nova Scotia (https://tinyurl.com/ybhky9t9) where everyday, people upload photos and other people in the comments, help them identify the plants and discuss their uses.
- Go slow when trying edible plants! Start by eating a little and see how your body reacts. You could have an allergy or an intolerance you didn’t know about.
Here are the 5 edible plants I found around my house in Lahave!
1. My first find around the house was a sweet surprise: Wild Strawberries!
These little plants were growing in the gravel on the edge of the driveway. What resiliency! Wild strawberries are a lot smaller than the strawberries you might find at a grocery store or a UPick, but they’re just as sweet.
2. From the research I did to start looking around my property, I knew that I had seen some of the edible plants before. One of these was Japanese Knotweed.
It has a woody, bamboo-like appearance except that it’s stalks are reddish/purple with green leaves in the shape of a garden trowel. The young stalks are what most people use for cooking. It tastes a lot like rhubarb, but is a little more bitter. You can use it in any recipes that call for rhubarb.
One thing to note is that Japanese Knotweed is HIGHLY invasive. If it’s not on your property, don’t put it in your compost. It can quickly take over and is almost impossible to remove. Make sure you consume it completely and don’t bring it on your property!
3. Goutweed: Another tasty, invasive plant.
This was growing alongside my driveway and I had never even noticed it before! I saw other foragers online making pesto out of it and I decided to give it a go! Highly recommended!
4. Spruce Tips: These are the little offshoots of Spruce trees that come around in Spring.
Spruce tips are versatile with some people pickling, candying, or making into tea. I’ve decided to use my spruce tips as part of my next loaf of sourdough bread.
5. Plantain! This isn’t what you might think. I’m talking about the common backyard weed, also known as Plantago Major.
This plant was brought over with settlers to North America and is known for its medicinal properties. Its young leaves taste similar to Spinach and I’ve used it to add to salads. Yum!
There you have it! 5 tasty, edible plants I found without trouble around my house!
There are two runners up that I’m really looking forward to eating in the next month or two when they finally come in.
The first is eating out the wild, lowbush blueberry patch I had never noticed before! They seem well on their way to producing fruit. I’ve also had luck in the past walking on the sides of ATV trails to collect lots of blueberries.
The other is the chanterelle mushroom. This is the one mushroom I feel confident about identifying. They can be easier to spot because of the orange/gold colour and their fruity smell. They should be coming up in Nova Scotia in July, as long as we get some rain.
My curiosity has been sparked and I can already tell I’m looking at my urban environment with new eyes. My communal living household has encouraged my exploits and it’s been fun thinking of ways to cook with new, easily available ingredients. Thank you to Mikael for inspiring me to learn more about a skill that I’ve been curious about for many years.
While I didn’t know Danielle Moore, I was inspired by her desire to learn about medicinal plants and bring that knowledge to the Cautious Optimist Project. There is so much to learn about our local ecosystems and knowing what’s edible sure can be helpful in an uncertain climate!