Wild Edibles: From Curiosities to Staples

If you grew up with the convenience of grocery stores, basing your diet on foraged foods is a romantic but daunting idea to consider. Luckily, whatever your reason for considering a change is, you don’t have to turn your whole life around to include local and wild foods in your diet.

There’s a great resurgence of support for local foraging right now, and with it many awesome books and resources to aid your journey. In whatever amount you rely on it for sustenance, foraging will transform a familiar landscape into a bountiful public garden and help you appreciate the way food finds its way into your kitchen.

Whether concerned about food security or a making stand against the practices of “Big Food” corporations (monocrops, pesticide use, unethical wages, etc.), looking to change the way you eat by foraging is an amazing way to engage with your local environment. In Canada, we’re so lucky to have such an abundance of natural resources still readily available.

So, what’s out there? And where and when are foods available?

If you don’t have a friend or mentor to show you, having a solid pocket guide the next time you go hiking is a perfect way to start familiarizing yourself with edible fare (and very helpful when that last bar of service is gone).

Of course there are many books on plant identification, but finding one specific to your climate and region is, well, essential. A time-tested book is Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada by Andy Mackinnon (2009) – and there’s a whole related series from Lone Pine Publishing depending on your region or interest.

Some Useful Wild Plants by Dan Jason is another resource. While not as scientific, this book – enjoying a publishing revival 40 years after it was written – has nostalgia-inducing line drawings and tips on how to harvest or prepare plants for medicinal purposes.

Lastly, depending on how big your pack is, bring the Yukon-centred go-to that was published in 2011: The Boreal Herbal by Beverley Grey!

I will also personally recommend All That the Rain Promises and More by David Arora (1991), a mushroom-specific guide I carry on all my foraging hikes (brought on by a healthy bit of fear in picking the wrong mushrooms).

“Yes,” you might say, “Great, all these plants, but what do I do with them?”

You don’t have to go gourmet. There’re plenty of cookbooks with simple recipes to prepare your foraged feast, make them into a tea or salve, or preserve your finds for future use. The Boreal Herbal comes in handy again here, as does The Deerholme Foraging Cookbook by Bill Jones (2014) and A Taste of Haida Gwaii by Susan Musgrave (2015), reviewed here last month.

And, if you need an inspiration push before you attempt a sojourn into foraging, reads like Browsing Nature’s Aisles by Eric Brown (2013), or the Canadian bestseller The 100-Mile Diet by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon (2007) may entice you to look into substituting wild edibles for your store-bought goods.

When done safely and mindfully, foraging is a great practice to help obtain a little more food independence. You truly don’t need to be a homesteader, have an acreage or acquire copious amounts of equipment to be a bit more self-sufficient. All it takes is a handful of time and a pinch of curiosity!

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