Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Fun With Foraging

I've been interested in plants for a while now, but that doesn't automatically transfer into actual knowledge about plants. The goal for someone who is interested in plants, I suppose, is to be one of those people who can walk through a forest and recognize all the species by sight and smell, and know their uses as well.

Spending time in the Yukon was an unexpected boon in this matter because there are relatively few plant species (and less biodiversity in general) in such northern environments. In the valley where we worked, for example, there were only two types of trees to keep track of-- if it had needles, it was a spruce tree, and if it had leaves, it was a poplar. With the help of a good field guide, then, my dream of knowing most of a forest could be realized thanks to subarctic simplicity.

I was happy to find that many of the local plants were edible, in part or in whole. Fireweed, the official flower of the Yukon, is the perfect starter for anyone interested in foraging-- it is visually distinct, very common (at least where we were), and every part of it can be eaten, though the young shoots and flowers are probably the tastiest. Several other plants were eventually added to the pool of things I could snack on while in the woods: a few berries, a few flowers (rose petals are generally pretty good), and several sorts of leaves were on the menu.

There were also several local plants that were very poisonous, which made things more interesting. It certainly provided an incentive for accurate identification. There was a type of purple flower you couldn't eat that would make you hesitate to seek out the type of purple flower you could eat, and so on. Again, a good field guide was a real lifesaver.

At many points, I wondered if I had learned enough to survive for a few days on foraging alone. There was, after all, a lot of fireweed around. I never got to test this, but perhaps that is for the best.

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