Have you ever been transfixed by northern lights soaring in shimmering skirts of greens and blues? Watched mountain peaks glowing in the sun’s last rays? Been stopped in your tracks by a lone rosehip, deep red against the snow? In a land often painted with a backdrop of white, Northerners appreciate colour.
In the spring I always notice the fabulously named beardtongue first — six-inch stalks with rings of blue-bearded blossoms, swiftly followed by the tiny white flowers of the wild chickweeds, sturdy lupines, graceful lungwort and bright yellow cinquefoils.
The diversity explodes exponentially and July’s profusion of colours can be overwhelming to an eye accustomed to shades of white and blue.
Many of our wildflowers are not only beautiful, but delicious and nutritious as well. They provide a joyful, colourful contrast to equally tasty but less zesty winter fare (moose stew anyone?)
Like our summer, the blooming period for many plants is short and sweet: they demand that we put down our to-do lists and give attentive audience or we will miss the performance.
Some plants that I harvest as well as watch include wild roses, fireweed, red clover, and goldenrod.
The roses where I live have finished blooming, each blossom — on which I leave a single petal — giving way to a shiny hip. The lone petal is a flag of welcome for pollinators.
Fireweed has begun its slow blaze up each stalk, but if you wait for the whole thing to bloom at once you will wait in vain. Each patch can be revisited periodically to harvest the open flowers.
Red clover patches buzz with bees so mind your fingers. Each flower popping out of the familiar trefoil (three-leafed) foliage reminds me of Dr. Seuss and Horton Hears a Who.
These plants all frequent well-drained soils and often beautify disturbed ground. In contrast, goldenrod’s tight clusters of tiny flowers dot fields and open forests.
These flowers, as well as the much-maligned dandelion add life to salads and make beautiful garnishes on savoury dishes as well as desserts.
I like putting them in fruit popsicles.
They can also be used fresh or dried for teas, served iced on a hot summer afternoon, and used to brighten a grey winter day.
If you wish to dry your flowers, use a screen placed out of direct sunlight, with good air circulation.
Iced Petal Tea
1 cup fresh edible flower petals (for example: 1/3 cup each rose, fireweed, goldenrod), plus a handful for garnish
A handful of fresh wild mint leaves (optional)
Pour 1 litre of boiling water over flowers and mint and let steep until cool. Mix 1 tablespoon of fireweed honey in 1/4 cup hot water, then dilute with cold water to make 1 litre. Add to cooled tea and chill. When serving, toss fresh flower petals in each glass before pouring.
Kim Melton is an enthusiastic forager and gardener, inspired by all things that make up good, local food.