Taking a Peek at Spring Foraging
By Liisa Hymander
As the weather plays with my excitement for the coming spring, I have been flipping through the pages of a wonderful book called “The Boreal Herbal” by Beverley Gray. It is a wonderful user friendly book with vibrant visuals and clear simple information. In North America many of us have become so accustom to our food being bought in grocery stores that we have become disconnected not only to our health and wellbeing but also to the Earth and where our food comes from.
Spring is a perfect time to reconnect and to learn a little about foraging so when the snow fades and the buds begin you can refuel your body after winter with fresh nutritious local food.
What exactly is foraging?
Foraging is the searching and gathering of food. For this article I refer to foraging in nature and not in dumpsters; that is a whole other realm we could talk about. Humans have always foraged for food and many still do. Although in North America many of us have adapted to purchasing the majority of our food from grocery stores or farmers markets there is still a strong community of foragers here in Thunder Bay. Ontario Nature sums it up nicely “Sustainable foraging can contribute to increased food security in northern communities, reduced dependence on long-distance food sources, and increased access to locally-abundant, nutrient-rich foods” (www.ontarionature.org).
What do we forage for?
One of the most common foods to forage for in our area is ……Berries! Wild raspberries, strawberries and blueberries abound in summer. The boreal forest has everything from Labrador tea to chanterelle mushrooms, from cattails to currants. Most of us however are only familiar with a few things that the boreal forest has to offer. We are fortunate in our community to have access to knowledgeable elders, organizations and working groups that can help us expand our knowledge base.
But if berries come in the summer what can I forage for in the spring?
There is a vast array of spring growth that can be sustainably harvested and utilized. Here is my family’s top five spring plants:
- Wild onion also known as chives - these are a definite spring excitement in my house. Chives will be the first thing that pops up even when there is patches of snow left. Their aroma and flavor is so welcomed. Pick the fresh green stems and enjoy the spice or toss a few flowers into a salad. The root bulb at the end can be used as a fresh spring onion.
- Dandelions – in the spring the leaves are great in salad, before it flowers the roots can make a nutritious warm drink and once those beautiful yellow flowers pop out they can be made into so many different things from pancakes to jelly. After cold winters dandelions can be a great boost of readily available vitamins and minerals.
- Labrador tea – although my family harvests Labrador year round, a warm Labrador tea from spring harvest is a refreshing treat for the senses. Utilize the leaves for tea high in vitamin C or throw a couple leaves into a stew instead of bay leaves.
- Mint – the beauty of accidentally walking through a mint patch and having your senses filled with refreshing aroma. Mint is another early spring growth that can be used for tea or dry a handful and mix it into your hummus.
- Spruce – spring spruce tips can be a tasty treat when hiking in the spring or add them into tea or salad. The high vitamin C content make a great spring boost.
Foraging can be an empowering experience for us and our children. We can always consider personal health, wellbeing and safety when foraging. Thankfully we have great resources in Thunder Bay to help us navigate when to pick for optimal nutrition and flavour, how to pick sustainably and safely and what to pick for our own personal health. Www.Ontarionature.org runs amazing educational walks by local professionals giving us hands on experience and has a guide to introduce you to foraging. Books like “The Boreal Herbal” by Beverley Gray give us a wealth of knowledge. If you are on Facebook there is a great support group called “Thunder Bay Foragers” that allows us to connect and ask questions. We are fortunate to have knowledgeable elders in our community who are a great resource.
So as the snow melts and the green begins to sprout perhaps take a look at what is around that can be added into your foraging diet. Happy Foraging!
Liisa Hymander is a Community Nutrition Worker at the NorWest Community Health Centres.
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