“When I walk in the forest I see a big old salad”

Sam Goertzen, an edible plant enthusiast and a staff member for the summer, described the way he views the forest in this way to a group of 20 gathered for a presentation and guided hike he led on the Pembina Valley’s wild edibles.

The Pembina Valley is full of many different plants. Sometimes these plants look similar, but they have a huge diversity of flavours and effects on the human body. Often when a person goes hiking, they naturally take in the sights of nature. On occasion a person might take time to notice the sounds of wildlife or the smell of the air or a flower. They might even reach out and feel the bark of a tree. However, it is rare that a person explores a landscape with their sense of taste. The purpose of this guided hike was to help people learn to explore nature in this way.

Before heading out, we learned some plants are only available, or are more edible, during certain times of year. Goertzen also taught us to forage responsibly, meaning not to take too much from any one spot. Otherwise we may hurt the population of these plants. It is also good to leave some for other people to see and enjoy.

On our hike, we were able to smell the liquorice scent of Sweet cicely and taste the sweet root of the False sarsaparilla, the spicy leaves of Wild bergamot, the vegetal flavour of stinging nettle, and the tart, bitter flavour of Buffalo berries. It was surprising for us to put innocuous-looking leaves in our mouths to find out they were full of flavour.

Goertzen also pointed out some of the more dangerous plants, such as Poison ivy or Water-hemlock. For safety, you should only eat plants you can identify and know are safe, know yourself and your allergies, and avoid areas polluted by vehicle fumes or agricultural chemicals.

This event took place on August 19th running from mid-morning until mid-afternoon. Participants enjoyed sharing stories of the wild plants they enjoy and have tried.