Forest to Plate – Foraging for Wild Food

Photo credit: US Fish & Wildlife Service 

“As foragers, our relationship within nature- our complete interdependence- becomes crystal clear…With this comes the rewarding responsibility of caretaking the land and the plants that feed us.” - Dina Falconi Foraging and Feasting

Foraging is one of the most beautiful things one can do to connect with nature. It's not just about the wild food you find, it’s about being in nature and rediscovering it in a completely different way. 

Foraging means learning to harvest what nature gives us in time - it teaches us to observe the natural cycles of the seasons, the changing foliage, the flora and fauna. Through the act of foraging, we can begin to gain a deeper understanding of local environment, which in tern motivates us to become better stewards of nature.

The art of foraging is as practical as it is poetic. Wild foods are, after all, free for the taking. Not only are they organic and typically more deeply flavoured than cultivated varieties, but pesticide-free and sustainable. As wild food forager Sunny Savage says in her popular TedX Talk urges – consuming just one wild plant a day can go a long way in improving our health. Indeed, wild foods are as good for our health as they are for the environment. 

The act of foraging however, can be dangerous due simply to the fact that many plants are toxic to humans. Exercising caution about what you’re picking is essential. It is important to know how to correctly identify plants and know where they grow, as well as know which parts of the plants are edible. Make sure to attend a workshop to learn more about foraging and identifying wild plants and mushrooms before you head into the woods.

The forests surrounding Loon Lake are abundant with wild foods, however picking, sampling, and foraging impacts the forest’s research, educational values, and can impact long-term biodiversity and ecological integrity. As such, foraging at Loon Lake is welcomed, but only with permission and under the guidelines of the research forest.

That being said, here are just a few plants that can be harvested around Loon Lake:

Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis) - Salmonberries are found in moist forests and stream margins, especially in the coastal forests. The berries ripen sometime from early May to late July and depending on ripeness and site, they are good eaten raw and when processed into jam, candy, jelly and wine.  They often form large thickets, and thrive in the open spaces under stands of red alder. The salmonberry is a very unique plant in terms of the origins of its name and the history behind its identification with many legends from Pacific Northwest native communities around that tell the story of the origin of the salmonberry. 

Red huckleberry (Vaccinium parvifolium) - With their fireworks-red berries dangling under bright green foliage, red huckleberries are hard to miss when walking through the woods. Able to produce prodigious quantities of fruit when it gets enough sun, the red huckleberry thrives on decaying woody material in the soil. They are often seen growing out of the top of rotting stumps, feeding on the remnants of old timber. Red huckleberries may not be the most palatable fruit to eat fresh, but are best eaten in pies, cakes, crumbles, preserves, syrups and reductions.

Oval-leaved blueberry (Vaccinium ovalifolium) -  The oval-leaved blueberry is a spreading shrub that may grow to 1.5 metres (5 feet) tall with pink, urn-shaped flowers. The berries are dark blue, sometimes with a waxy coating. The most active growth period for the plant in the spring and summer, with fruit and seed production starting in the summer. Growing in open forests, clearings and bogs, the oval-leaved blueberry prefers moist soils. Traditionally used by all coastal aboriginal groups within its range, the oval-leaved berries were dried, eaten fresh, preserved in oil or grease, or baked into cakes. he berries also make excellent jelly or wine.

Trailing blackberry (Rubus ursinus) – The trailing blackberry is a native perennial, low trailing shrub often found in fairly open to dense woods. It appears to thrive in clear-cuts, fire scars, logged-one areas and under transmission lines. Its trailing or climbing stem is armed with tiny, slender, hooked spines. The trailing blackberry produces edible berries in open, sunny areas from April to August. The vines of trailing blackbery were used by the Saanish Indians of Vancouver Island to place over and under food in steam cooking pits, and also for ritual scrubbing. They and other Coast Salish groups sometimes used the fruits as a purple stain. 

Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus) - Rubus parviflorus, commonly called thimbleberry, salmonberry, and snow bramble, is a species of Rubus, native to North America. Thimbleberry typically grows along roadsides, railroad tracks, and in forest clearings, commonly appearing as an early part of the ecological succession in clear cut and forest fire areas. The dense shrub up to 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) tall and often grows in large clumps. The beauty of the thimbleberry is that it has no prickles! Thimbleberry fruits are smaller, flatter, and softer than raspberries, and have many small seeds. The berries are are both low in fat and calories and are a great source of vitamins A and C with traces of potassium, calcium and iron. The young shoots, roots and leaves are used to treat many ailments. A tea is made of the leaves or roots as a blood tonic in the treatment of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and dysentery, and its effects are believed to tone and strengthen the stomach, helping increase appetite.