By Leigh Joseph
Rice Root bulb with nodding onions on skunk cabbage leaf.“Our people look after what we take, we don’t take too much, we leave something, we don’t go back to that same place, and we go gather elsewhere. All the harvesting is done to take what you need and not take everything. You need to leave something for other people and leave something so that the plant can continue to live. You’ve got to take care of those things.” ~ Chief Floyd Joseph, Squamish First Nation I have grown up with the belief that plants are our relatives. Connected to this belief are plant harvesting and cultivation practices that are rooted in respect and reciprocity. For each plant food or medicine there were, and are, sustainable practices employed to ensure the long-term health and productivity of plants in particular harvesting areas. When settlers arrived in Canada there was a misconception that the landscapes they encountered were untouched and unused. In reality, the landscapes were intensively managed and cultivated to maximize productivity of foods with the understanding that future generations would also carry out these practices and rely on these foods. There are many well-known examples now of ecosystems that were shaped by millennia of cultural practices and Indigenous knowledge aimed at building sustainable and bountiful food sources. These practices centered on the understanding that harvesting has impacts and in order to balance out these impacts there must be reciprocity. Reciprocity is the practice of giving back for mutual benefit. A plant-harvesting example of this would be replanting a section of root when you are harvesting roots for food to ensure the plant you are harvesting from returns and thrives. There is often a spiritual aspect to this type of reciprocity as well, in the form of a prayer or offering to the plant. Sustainability has been built into indigenous plant management practices since time before memory. People were taught to manage root vegetables through replanting and cultivation. They knew that harvesting too many leaf buds from a tree or shrub would stunt new growth. They knew that to harvest entire flowers meant that pollinators and animals would lose a food source and fruit would not develop. Two examples of Indigenous plant cultivation are camas meadows and estuary root gardens.
- Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Kimmerer
- Plants Have So Much to Give Us, All We Have to Do Is Ask by Mary Siisip Geniusz
- As We Have Always Done Indigenous Freedom through Radical Resistance by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson.
by Miche GenestLast year’s grass is long, yellow and plentiful in our Whitehorse backyard, and the new green shoots are already showing underneath. It really is time to rake away the old and prepare for the new. But I’m getting ready for a trip overseas, there’s so much to do, and the inevitable looms — I will not get to the raking. Every year it’s the same — we have great plans for the yard. We’ll build a food forest! Sow some grains! Cause passersby to stare in wonder at the glory of our garden! And every year, I might manage, latterly, to stuff armfuls of old grass into the compost bucket, fill a few pots with edible flowers, and maybe cut down last year’s stalks of Artemesia tilesii in the otherwise empty garden boxes. Then it’s time for the trip to Scotland, or the long hike, or the paddling trip. And instead of staring in wonder, passersby shake their heads. My husband offers words of comfort: “We’re not gardeners. We’re gatherers.” Right. So, we’ll gather. By the time we get back from Scotland, the dandelions that have colonised the yard will be in flower, smiling brightly between leaves of grass. We’ll have dandelion fritters for dessert. The spruce tips will be young and green in the higher altitudes, and this year we’ll make a special day trip just for picking. I’ll make spruce tip and juniper butter, spread it on freshly baked bread and pile hot-smoked salmon on top. And, you heard it here, I will roto-till the garden box outside the fence, dig in a whack of compost, and plant the rye I’ve ordered from Salt Spring Seeds. If all goes well, we could be gathering grain in the fall. Gathering has to be my kind of gardening — for now. Spruce Tip and Juniper Butter 2 oz (56 gr) butter, softened 1 Tbsp (15 mL) fresh spruce tips, finely chopped 1 tsp (5 mL) juniper berries, crushed 1 Tbsp (15 mL) garlic scapes, finely chopped Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and mix thoroughly. Spread on fresh bread and top with smoked salmon and sliced red onion.
by Miche GenestAs the swans return and the Yukon River breaks up, the longed-for foraging season inches ever closer. This waiting-for-spring seems endless now, but we know from experience that once the new plants start to appear it’s all going to happen really fast. First the dandelions and the spruce tips will appear, then the wild roses and the plantain and lamb’s quarters, then the Labrador tea and then the berries, the rapid succession of beautiful berries. Now, as we lounge in spring’s waiting room, it’s a good time to reflect and prepare for the foraging season ahead. As our love of wild foods grows, there are more and more of us out there, and it becomes crucial to practice ethical harvesting, doing our part to protect and conserve, so we, the animals and the birds can continue to enjoy the wild harvest for generations. The north is a big place, and sparsely populated, but even so the forager’s effect on the environment, especially sensitive environments, can be devastating. One Dawson resident said recently, “Indiscriminate harvesting concerns me as our population grows and more people are interested in the wild things.” When we’re out in number, our cumulative effect is far greater than we might think. Stories from the forests of Quebec provide a cautionary tale. The wild leek (Allium tricoccum, also known as ramps, wild onion or wild garlic), once abundant in the wild, was so over-harvested for commercial and personal use that it became endangered. Urban sprawl and habitat destruction also played a part. Since 1995, by Quebec law, the only wild leek harvest permitted is 50 bulbs or plants for personal use. Today, though commercial harvesting and sales of wild leeks have been banned, the species is still listed as endangered. Chef Nancy Hinton and her partner, the legendary Quebec forager Francois Brouillard, own Les Jardins Sauvages, a restaurant and small wild-food condiment business in Saint-Roch de l’Achigan just outside Montreal. Brouillard grew up spending summers in the woods near his grandmother’s cottage, now the restaurant, and was foraging for wild foods long before they became de rigueur on restaurant menus and at farmer’s market stalls. Now, says Hinton, though she and Brouillard are very happy people have learned about wild foods, the downside is the woods are becoming overcrowded and habitat is threatened. “There’s a lot of people going out, and they’re going too fast, they don’t have the knowledge and the patience or the experience necessary, even if they care about sustainability.” Worse, continues Hinton, the demand for wild food is so great it has spawned a flourishing black market. “There’s tons of people, and they sell to chefs, or to other people that sell.” This causes a number of concerns. “First, there’s no traceability, so if there’s a problem you don’t know where it came from or how it was picked. Second, these people are not people who are so concerned about sustainability.” Hinton and Brouillard now sit on a committee that’s trying to develop guidelines for this burgeoning industry, but it’s complicated. How do you monitor compliance? How do you monitor the woods? In the case of wild ginseng, an endangered species in Ontario that brings high prices on the black market, Environment Canada is using video surveillance cameras on known patches. In the meantime, wild ginger and crinkle root, plants that Brouillard has been gathering for years, and which still thrive on his family’s property because of careful harvesting, are listed as “at risk” in Quebec and their harvest subject to regulation. Hinton says that while she doesn’t want to dampen enthusiasm for beginners interested in wild harvesting, and understands that mistakes are made innocently, it’s frustrating to be denied access to much-loved plants because of others’ ignorance or willful negligence. We might think it can’t happen in the Yukon. But in Whitehorse low bush cranberry pickers have already noticed that they have to go farther and farther afield to find berries, even in a good berry year. There are simply more of us out there. The way foraging works, one friend brings another, who then goes back to the same place with a new friend, who then returns with one of her friends, and so on, until the small patch of wild berries that might once have supported one person’s family with a few cups of berries for the winter is now under an enormous amount of pressure. Last year at an area in BC famous for its wild watercress and its beautiful, extremely sensitive Karst landscape, my husband and I came across a Whitehorse family in the midst of harvesting wild watercress. They already had three large garbage bags full, and they were filling a fourth. “We do it for all of our family,” they said. Well, okay. But surely we have to think beyond our own families. What if we all filled several large garbage bags every spring? Amber Westfall, herbalist and wild food educator from the Ottawa area, has compiled a short list of helpful reminders on how to forage with care. It’s not a bad idea to review her guidelines while the season is not yet upon us.
Guidelines for Ethical ForagingComposed by Amber Westfall, herbalist and proprietor of The Wild Garden, in Ottawa, Ontario. Amber says, “Please practice good stewardship and take care of the plants that take care of us!”
- Make sure you have a one hundred percent positive ID. Ideally, reference more than one field guide, or go out with an experienced forager or wildcrafter.
- Do not over-harvest. Be mindful of how many remaining plants are needed to ensure the stand will continue to flourish and thrive. Learn about how the plant reproduces. By seed? Rhizomes? Slow growing bulbs? Think about what other animals, insects and people might be using those plants.
- Know the poisonous plants in your area and what to avoid.
- Be aware that anyone can have an allergic reaction to any plant. Eat a small amount and wait 24 hour to see if you have a reaction.
- Harvest away from busy roads and rail lines. Avoid contaminated areas and areas that have been sprayed with chemical fertilizers or pesticides. The edges of farm fields, unless organic, are not appropriate for harvesting for this reason.
- Know the history of the area you are harvesting from. Be wary of empty lots and avoid ‘brownfield’ land.
- Do not harvest on private property without permission.
- Do not harvest on protected land, fragile or at-risk environments or in provincial or national parks.
- Learn which plants are threatened or at-risk and do not harvest them.
- Learn which plants are prolific and which plants are invasive. These are ideal for harvesting.
- Whenever possible, replant root crowns, rhizomes, and spread seeds (except invasives).
- Only harvest the appropriate part of the plant at the proper time of day and/or in the proper season.
- Use clean, appropriate tools to reduce the spread of disease. Make neat, clean cuts at growing nodes to allow the plant to heal well and continue growing.
- Leave some of the best specimens to go to seed and reproduce. If we take all the best plants and leave behind weak or diseased specimens, we are selecting for future plants that will be weak and subject to disease.
- Have as little impact on the surrounding area as possible. Fill in any holes, re-cover bare dirt with leaf litter and try to leave the area better than you found it.
- Don’t waste the plants that you harvest. Use and process them promptly while still fresh and compost any parts that are not used.
By Leigh JosephSoapberries (Shepherdia canadensis), also known as Buffalo Berries, are a culturally important food and medicine to many Indigenous Peoples in Canada. The berries have been an important trade item for many generations and this practice still continues today. In places where soapberry does not grow people still trade for these highly valued berries. The berries are bitter in flavor due to the presence of a chemical compound called saponins which causes the soapy consistency of the crushed berries. Saponins have many potential health benefits to humans. They can help to reduce cholesterol, reduce the likelihood of certain cancers, they are high in antioxidants and help to boost immunity. Food Uses: The berries are edible fresh but are quite bitter and get sweeter after a frost. The saponins contained in the berries cause them to foam up when whipped with water. Preparing the berries in this way and adding sugar makes a desert that is often called “Indian Ice Cream” that aids in digestion and has a unique flavor. Soapberries can be made into a medicinal jelly as well. Traditionally the whipped berries would be sweetened with other sweeter berries. Medicinal Preparations: The berries, juice, leaves and stems can be used medicinally. The berries can help lower blood pressure and juice from the berries can be used to treat digestive ailments. A decoction of the stems and leaves can be prepared by simmering them in water and drinking. This decoction can then be taken as a stomach tonic or for treatment for constipation or high blood pressure. Elders have also shared that there is a soothing property to the juice when applied to eczema and other skin irritations. Harvest Time: Mid-late summer/early autumn. The berries are sweeter after the first frost. Storage: Soapberries can be frozen, canned (hot water bath), dried or smoked. They can also be juiced the juice can be canned (hot water bath) or frozen.
Recipe for Soapberry Whip2 Cups soapberries 2 Cups water Optional sweetener (sugar or other sweet berries) Using a clean metal bowl, crush the berries up and add water (and sweetener) then whisk the mixture until it froths up and becomes pink and fluffy like whipped cream. Enjoy! ** Using an oily bowl will prevent frothing of soapberries.
|Recipe by Leigh Joseph
by Michele Genest, The Boreal GourmetI’ve kept this salad as simple as possible, reflecting the scantiness of the spring pantry, but the basic recipe can serve as the starting point for several variations. Feel free to add whatever else you’ve got on hand from last year’s bounty–grated carrots or beets, sautéed potatoes, toasted sunflower seeds. I used new dandelions from my backyard, last year’s onion from my sister’s garden on Vancouver Island, and last year’s garlic from a farmer in Atlin, BC. Suzanne isn’t going to have a lot of oil in her pantry come May 2018, so here I’ve opted to use ghee instead, because she will have access to a cow. Ghee is a great substitute for olive oil. And, a bonus: somehow this salad needed no added salt. Wilted Dandelion Salad with Crispy Onions and Garlic
4 cups (1L) of washed dandelion leaves, roughly chopped 3 cloves garlic 1 small red onion 3 Tbsp (45 mL) ghee, divided 6 Tbsp (90 mL) rhubarb vinegar 1 tsp (5 mL) Uncle Berwyn’s Pure Yukon Birch SyrupHave the dandelions ready in a salad bowl. Cut garlic in half lengthwise and slice into thin lengths. Do the same with the onion. Melt 2 tablespoons of ghee in a frying pan over medium heat. Add onions and cook until brown and crispy, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towel and reserve. Reduce heat to medium low and add garlic to the pan. Watching carefully that it doesn’t burn, cook garlic until golden brown and crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towel and reserve. Melt the third tablespoon of ghee in the pan. Once it has melted, whisk in the vinegar all at once (stand back, it could spatter a bit), followed by the birch syrup. Allow to bubble for about one minute, remove from heat and pour over the dandelions greens. Toss in onions and garlic and serve at once. Makes 4 servings.