Foraging For a Connection

Posted on Thursday, 29 July 2021 under Stories

The connection grew larger and deeper as I found more wild edibles.

The connection I speak of is the connection to the land. The connection was always there but it was just on the surface. My knowledge was limited to picking berries like Wild Raspberries, Wild Blueberries, Saskatoons, and if I was lucky, Black Huckleberries. I picked berries in areas that were easily accessible, normally on clear-cuts. There was no reason for me to step into the forest so I stuck to the trails and open areas.

Then thirteen years ago, two little green plants changed that. I was shown the False Solomon Seal shoot and the Ostrich Fern Fiddlehead. My friend took me off the path, into the forest, picked a few of these plants, placed them in my hand, and said “Here, cook and eat these.” She said it with such confidence and authority, so matter-of-factly, that when I answered back, “I can eat these!?” She just gave me a dumbfounded look and retorted, “Of course you can, and you call yourself a bush girl!”

I called myself a bush girl because I hunted, fished, and picked berries for food. But those areas I went to were limited to open areas like trails, logging roads, and clear-cuts. I was mistaken to call myself a bush girl back then.

wild foraged mushrooms and flowers

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Côté

I am now. I use the roads and the trails to get to places, and I still forage on clear-cuts but I am often stepping into the tree line and the bush to wander and gather. After those green plants were placed into my hand, the forest became my grocery store. I grabbed a few guidebooks from my local bookstore and the education began.

Now, not only am I heading into the forests to look for wild greens and fungi but also in urban areas. They became a place for me to gather as well. The weeds in back alleys, city greenways, and even the occasional yard with apples that nobody would pick became a place to find food.

I now know approximately 70 plants and fungi that I can pick for either edibles or natural medicine within one and a half hours of my house. Knowledge of what is in season and where it is, allows me to target certain foraged goods and helps me become more efficient at gathering.

Extra side benefits from being out on the land foraging are seeing more wildlife, observing nature, and seeing some gorgeous scenery! I find lovely, beautiful places. Sometimes I find not-so-lovely places like illegal dumpsites and clear-cuts sprayed with glyphosate.

My connection is deeper now as I gather for my substance. The forest is my food and medicine; I want to protect the areas I gather from. I have a sense of stewardship more than I ever had. I have eyes and ears out on the land. I hope to have a voice too.

foraged wild produce

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Côté

I often think about my ancestors, both Indigenous and European, and think about how they lived. Did they eat this or make this into medicine? How did they prepare it? What was their favourite way to eat it? How did they preserve some of these foods? Just by thinking of them, I feel like I have a connection with them and their relationship with the land. We all have a relationship with the land and everything we acquire, use, eat, or drink are all gifts from the land.

Tonight, I am having a barbeque with a few friends and family. I look over my pantry and see the canned wild goodies I have like pickled Spruce tips, pickled False Solomon Seal Stems, dried Mushrooms, and more. The mushrooms will go well on the venison steak and the pickled False Solomon Seal will be a nice side. I move to the freezer and choose what wild green I will have as a side veggie. Will it be Fiddleheads, Stinging Nettle, Cow Parsnip, or Dandelion buds? Sauteed Fiddleheads will make a lovely match. Oh! What frozen wild berries will be for dessert? So many choices. Huckleberries for Huckleberry pie it is!

As I prepare for this dinner, I feel a sense of pride, satisfaction, and food security knowing I can provide for my family and make an awesome meal doing so! I know that as I sit around the table enjoying that meal, I will make more connections with the people I share it with and that brings a smile to my face and a warm glow to my being.

About the Author

Jennifer Côté is a nature and foraging tour guide and offers Wildcraft workshops based on plants from the Boreal and Montane regions. Côté is the creator of Moose, Mushrooms and Mud, where she shares her journeys hunting, foraging, and fishing. She also sells Wildcrafted teas, dried mushrooms, and more.

(250) 649-0257
Photos courtesy of Jennifer Côté