Foraging is more than a trendy weekend activity, it’s in everyone’s blood. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors foraged the wild foods around them. While it’s not reasonable to make up our entire diet from foraged foods these days, including some wild foods can benefit our physical, emotional, and mental health. And we’re in luck—Squamish is a forager’s paradise.
Foraging Benefits our Health
Foraging brings us into nature and acquaints us with our neighbourhood in a different way while exposing us to unique foods and flavours. Tromping around outside is great exercise and makes us happier and healthier. Wild foods can contain more nutrients than their grocery store alternatives and can offer exciting new flavours and textures that many of us haven’t experienced before.
Getting to Know What Grows Around You
Start with easily identified plants that don’t have poisonous look-alikes. Wild foods can be found almost everywhere including your backyard, your street, or along your favourite running or bike trail.
Plants of Coastal British Columbia is an indispensable book for plant identification in our area. It includes notes about edibility and traditional uses, along with helpful photos and ID tips. Further google searches can nail down ID and recipe ideas.
The never ending Squamish rains are good for something: mushrooms! All That the Rain Promises and More is a staple for fungi lovers. For mushrooms particularly, find an experienced and earnest mentor to help you get started.
If workshops are more your style, Camille Flanjak of Museum Eats offers foraging workshops out of Vancouver that sometimes come to Squamish. Swallow Tail Tours offers classes as well. The season will dictate what plants and mushrooms you find.
Be Smart About It
In the beginning, stick to easily identified species, and take care to triple check your identification from multiple resources. When in doubt, leave it where it is. Never eat something if you are not 100% positive you’ve identified it correctly!
Ensure your harvesting area isn’t contaminated from industry, cars, pesticides, or dogs. Some invasive edible plants, such as Japanese knotweed, are treated with pesticide to stop their spread—pay attention to signs and flagging tape. Get permission to forage on private property, and note that foraging is illegal in BC Parks.
Keep in mind that you might share your favourite berry patch with the neighbourhood bear! Talk or sing when you are in bear territory, bring a few friends along, and consider carrying bear spray. Bring a first aid kit, and let others know where you are going and when you expect to be back.
Respect For Culture and Nature
Knowledge about wild foods is an important facet of cultural identity. Settlers have a nasty history of stealing this knowledge from indigenous peoples for their own profit without consent and without the understanding of how this affects communities. In Squamish, we are foraging on the unceded territory of the Coast Salish peoples, in particular, the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and Səl̓ílwətaʔ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. Acknowledgement of this history is important as you develop your own foraging ethic.
Aside from respecting the cultural significance of foraging, we must also respect the plants themselves. Only take at most 10 percent of a plant in a given area, leaving enough for the next person or animal who comes along. Be aware that harvesting roots or over harvesting bark can kill the plant. Only harvest plants that are abundant, leaving endangered or rare species and ecosystems alone.
Tools of the Trade
Proper tools can make a foraging trip go smoothly. Scissors, pruning shears, a trowel for digging roots, a pocket knife, bags or baskets, and field guides should be in your foraging toolkit. Don’t forget the aforementioned first aid kit and any special equipment for the season or specific species.
What to Look For Now:
Evergreen needles make for great winter harvesting. The fresh spring tips are extra delicate, but the older needles have plenty of culinary and medicinal uses, including teas, liquor infusions, baking, and more. All conifers are edible around here except for the toxic yew tree. Cedar is fine in small small doses. Learn more at Gather Victoria.
Cottonwood buds. Nothing signals spring like the sweet, honey-like scent of cottonwood tree buds. Find cottonwood trees along any of our Squamish rivers or low damp areas. The resinous buds are only ripe for picking for a week or so in early spring before the leaves start unfurling. The buds can be made into a soothing oil or salve, which is great for sore joints, muscles, cuts, and scrapes.
Stinging Nettle. Stinging nettle is becoming popular as a nutritious superfood, high in iron and other vitamins. It’s great for nourishing and detoxifying the body after winter. Nettle is common in shady and damp areas in Squamish. The tender young leaves can be used in place of cooked spinach, as they lose their sting when cooked (or dried). Note: The leaves should not be eaten after the plant goes to seed, as they can irritate the urinary tract. The seeds, however, and edible and nutritious.