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Foraging is an exciting and sustainable way to eat fresh foods while connecting with nature
With foraging, all of nature is your own personal produce section
Foraged foods can be both health-giving and highly prized as delicacies – such as matsutake mushrooms sustainably foraged in the Pacific Northwest and sold online by Mikuni Wild Harvest.
Other sought-after taste treasures include newly-formed fiddleheads of B.C. ostrich fern and spongy-capped morel mushrooms that spring up in damp spots.
For aspiring “mushroamers,” mycological expert Daniel Winkler has created A Field Guide to Edible Mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest, with photos and descriptions of what fungus is good to eat – and what is not.
He strongly recommends connecting with a mushroom club for accurate identification, as “using a guidebook alone is often not sufficient.” Adds Winkler: “An old mushroomer adage is ‘When in doubt, throw it out!’”
For those looking for the easiest pick to become familiar with, he suggests the chanterelle, adding that “morels are pretty easy, too, but much harder to find and poisonous when not cooked.” Pickers should tread gently in any forested ecosystem, limit their harvest to just a few and know that it is illegal to harvest in provincial parks.
There are other ways to embrace “volunteer food,” says David Catzel of Glorious Organics Cooperative, which sells harvests at farm markets throughout the Lower Mainland. Along with lettuce and kale, this company serves up the wild greens that sprout alongside crops in the fields of Fraser Common Farm. Salads that include sheep sorrel, wood sorrel, shepherd’s purse, dandelion, oxeye daisy, chickweed, watercress, lamb’s quarters and purslane have been a big hit with customers.
“Whether or not we realize it, in both a practical and viseral sense, we are supported in being here,” says Kyle Patton who runs the Urban Herb School offering courses and workshops in both Vancouver and Nelson about the “wild abundance in the concrete jungle.” Called Garliq by his students, he teaches them to “never look at ‘weeds’ the same way again,” encouraging an intimacy with the life cycle of the plant.”
Knowing what to eat when goes a long way to successful foraging, says Patton.
“Chickweed, for example, is nice to eat in the early spring, but dry and woody in May,” says Patton. For those seeking to find food such as hawthorn, salmonberries, salal, thimbleberries and nettles in the Vancouver area, he has created an Urban Edibles map at urbanherbschool.ca.
“Learning to forage cultivates a connection with the land where we live,” says Patton. “Recently I moved to a new property and even before I had a chance to plant, I was able to harvest what nature had provided in our yard. Right now we have a huge patch of violets that have sprung up on our lawn . . . and some of them will be part of dinner tonight.”
Originally published in BC Home & Garden magazine. For regular updates, subscribe to our free Home and Garden e-newsletters, or purchase a subscription to the magazine.