Tag Archives: foraging

Herbal First Aid

Big thanks to all those who made it out to our herbal first aid workshop in August, and even bigger thanks to our wonderful facilitator, community herbalist Ali Jopp! Ali took us through the basics of identifying herbal medicines in the wild, the healing benefits of different plants, how to experiment (and when not to experiment!) with different plant concoctions, and how to make tinctures, liniments and salves. It was an amazing afternoon, and we all left with some healing concoctions as well as a ton of new knowledge. Ali has generously let me reprint part of her amazing Herbal First Aid zine, so click through for more information and some wonderful recipes for herbal healing (all text is Ali’s, unless noted otherwise).  Continue reading


Herbal First Aid Workshop: Sunday Aug 26th, 1-4 pm at the Fernwood Community Centre

Image by henna lion, used under Creative Commons license

Don’t call St John’s Ambulance when St John’s Wort will do! In this workshop, Community Herbalist Ali Jopp will teach you how to make medicine from plants that you can find in and around Victoria.

We’ll go over the components of a herbal first aid kit and learn about characteristics, harvest and uses of various medicinal plants, as well as how to make your own healing herbal concoctions.  Each participant will leave with  a salve, tincture, liniment and instructional zine!

Location:  The multipurpose room at the Fernwood Community Centre.  The FCC is just around the corner from the Compost Education Centre, at 1240 Gladstone St.  To reach the multipurpose room, head in the front doors and turn left.

Suggested donation:  $15-20 sliding scale, with no one turned away (I know this is higher than the cost of most SLUGS workshops, but it will help us cover the cost of materials and space rental.  As always, we have a “no one turned away” policy, so please don’t feel like you need to miss this workshop if the price is out of your budget.  We value community accessibility!)

Please email slugs.coordinator@gmail.com to register for this event

Urban Wild Foods

Thanks to everyone who attended last week’s Urban Wild Foods workshop, and mega thanks to our great facilitator, Katy Harding!   Katy has kindly given me permission to reproduce some of her information here, so you can still get some great wild food info, even if you missed the workshop.  As well, Katy may do another wild foods workshop later in the summer, and will be teaching a wild e other chances to learn from her.

Katy started us off by emphasizing the importance of safety and research, and I thought that would be a good area for us to start by taking a look at as well.  Here are her criteria for the qualities you should be looking for in a plant before you eat it:

  • Plants you are 100% sure about:  It’s important to be quadruple sure about your plant identification before you start noshing.  Make sure you’re familiar with the plant at every stage of its life, aware of any poisonous doppelgangers it may have (i.e. the picture to the left is  poisonous Bindweed, not the similar looking delicious Sheep Sorrel!), and that there’s no doubt in your mind about the identification.  Don’t rely on an unclear memory, a friend’s guess, a blurry guidebook photo, or a dodgy website:  confirm your ID with numerous sources before you snack!
  • Plants found in an area you know is free of pesticides, other chemicals, or wastes:  If you’ve seen someone spraying pesticides on a garden (or aren’t sure of the organic status of it) or you’ve noticed that an awful lot of dogs walk by past a certain area, don’t harvest from there!
  • Healthy, disease-free plants:  The city is full of dandelions — don’t eat the droopy, blotchy ones you find first when there are perfectly delicious specimens half a block down the road!
  • Vigorous, well watered young plants:  Generally, eating an older plant or a less well nourished plant isn’t going to hurt you, but it will disappoint you and dampen your enthusiasm for snacking on wild foods.   Just like you wouldn’t eat a plant from your garden that had bolted and become bitter, be choosy about your wild edibles.

Sorry about the picture quality — our straw bale building is a great place to learn but a terrible one to photograph!

We covered a lot of ground in the workshop, learning about Dandelion, Hairy Cat’s Ear (best named plant ever!), English Daisy, Sheep Sorrel / Wood Sorrel, Dock, Chickweed, Pineapple Weed, Stinging Nettle, and Highland Cress.   For each, we learned about the appearance, characteristics, best recipes/uses, and common lookalikes.  Katy even brought in samples of each plant and its doppelgangers, so we got to see, touch, smell and sometimes taste them, which was a great way to learn.  It’s one thing to see a plant in a guidebook and quite another to get to manhandle it in person, and it really makes a difference for your confidence level in doing plant IDs.

While we don’t have space here to reproduce the full amount of information in the workshop, I thought it would be great to include a profile of one edible plant from Katy’s slides.  I chose Curly Dock, as it’s quite easy to find and doesn’t seem to be commonly known as an edible weed (I certainly had no idea you could eat it until the workshop).
Curly Dock (Rumex crispus) is a perennial herb ~1m tall
ID characteristics:
  • Long spoon shaped leaves with wavy/curly margins
  • Ocrea present
  • Large yellow/orange woody tap root
Edible areas:
  • Leaves
  • Young stems
  • Seeds
  • Use in the same way you would spinach
  • Best results from boiling or sautéing
  • Use as cabbage to make dock rolls

Lookalikes:  Broadleafed Dock (Rumex obtusifolius)

  • Closely related to Curly Dock
  • Leaves usually flatter, shorter and broader
  • Edible, although the flavor is not as good as curly dock
I hope you enjoyed that peek at the workshop, and that you’ll feel intrigued enough to start researching wild edibles for yourself!  I found that in the days following the workshop I was checking out all the plants around me way more attentively, and I noticed lots of edible plants that I otherwise would have completely missed.

Urban Wild Foods workshop, Sunday June 17th, 1-3 pm

Ever wonder if those weeds growing in your garden have any other uses besides just taking up space? Many of the wildflowers you see growing in your neighbourhood are actually non-native plants bought to Vancouver Island as food crops.  Harvesting urban wild foods is good for your health, good for the environment and can even make you excited to weed your garden! This workshop will focus on several common species, how to identify them (as well as their poisonous lookalikes),  and their uses as food or medicine.

Location:  The straw bale building at the Compost Education Centre, 1216 North Park St, Victoria BC.

Suggested donation:  $5 (no one turned away)

Please email slugs.coordinator@gmail.com to register for this event.

Native Plants

Thanks to all those who attended our native plants workshop last Wednesday.  Marika Smith, our lovely facilitator (as well as our wonderful office and volunteer manager), gave us lots of information and fun facts about the plants we were studying, as well as a chance to get hands on and explore the native plant garden here at the Compost Education Centre.  There was a wealth of knowledge among the workshop participants as well, so good discussions and skill-sharing abounded, which is always a bonus.

Yerba buena

For those of you who missed the workshop, I wanted to pass along some facts and resources so you can start your own native plant explorations.  A great place to start is right here in the garden of the Compost Education Centre.  We have a rain garden right out front of the office that also serves as a native plant garden.  You can find cool plants such as ninebark (whose bark helps an upset stomach), ocean spray (whose wood is so strong it can be used to make harpoons), oregon grape (whose bark yields yellow dye), yerba buena (which makes amazing tea), and many more delicious, useful and beautiful native species.

Indian plum: beloved by hummingbirds everywhere

Marika also recommended some great books and websites.  Naturescape BC has a brochure about native plants for the home garden that is available on their website.  It’s an amazing guide for the home gardener, and includes a sample layout for a native plant garden, as well as a comprehensive chart of plants organised by level of sun they prefer, the type of plant (tree, shrub, etc) and their wildlife values.  The wildlife value is a particularly cool organising principle, as you so rarely see anyone suggesting that you choose plants based on their ability to provide forage for mammals, berries for wildlife to eat, or as an attractor of butterflies and bees.  In terms of books, Plants of Coastal British Columbia by Andrew MacKinnon, Paul Alaback and Jim Pojar is great (and available at the library), as is  Native Plants in the Coastal Garden: A Guide for Gardeners in B.C. and the Pacific Northwestby April Pettinger and Brenda Costanzo.  As well, there is a well-maintained database of all plants of B.C. available online.

To give you a taste of the great information Marika gave us, here is a sampling of some native plants and their traditional uses, as well as a picture of each one. 
Mock Orange :  Saanich used wood for bows and arrows and knitting needles,; rubbed leaves and flowers foam into lather used for cleansing skin.


Nootka Rose:  Makah used rose petals to flavour food and dried for tea, branches and bark used as an eyewash for cataracts, chewed leaves were applied to bee stings and rose hips were steeped and given for diarrhea in infants.

Saskatoon berry: Haida and Salish dried berries into cakes for winter storage, wood was used to make digging sticks and drying racks.




Salal:  Most plentiful and important fruit for FN communities, eaten fresh and dried into cakes, young leaves were chewed as a hunger suppressant and used to make temporary cups.

If you’re feeling inspired and intrigued by this post and would like to learn more about native plants, Marika has kindly made a copy of her presentation available in PDF format.  Drop me an email at slugs.coordinator@gmail.com if you’d like to have a copy sent your way.

Rad book alert: Edible Wild Plants by John Kallas

This book recently appeared on my household’s field guide shelf, much to my excitement.  I’m always interested in learning a bit more about wild edibles, and this book is hands down the best and most practical field guide to wild foods I’ve found.

John Kallas grew up in a suburban neighbourhood where he spent much of his time practicing his outdoor skills and eating whatever wild foods he could find.  In college, he pursued a science degree while taking courses in wilderness survival, nutrition and edible wild plants, and spent his summers traveling through along back roads of the European countryside, foraging food and learning about the each region’s traditional foodways.  Over the years, he completed degrees in biology and zoology, a master’s in education, a PhD in nutrition, and obtained training in botany and nature photography.  He has been teaching about wild foods since 1978.  Which is to say, he is a guy who knows his wild foods.

Kallas was disappointed in most available wild food guides, finding them to be broad summaries of edible foods, without enough information on the appearance of plants in all their various different stages, and lacking detailed information on how to prepare the foods (let’s face it, wild foods are a lot more appealing if they are palatable, not just edible).  He wrote Edible Wild Plants:  Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate to remedy these shortcomings, and I think he did a damn fine job.  This guide is chock full of good quality colour photos and detailed descriptions, which made me feel confident that I could actually successfully identify the plants I was learning about.  Also, he includes lots of detailed recipes and cooking instructions which give a clear picture of what the foods will taste like and how to best use them.  Almost all of the recipes looked delicious, not just edible.   I would be totes stoked to chow down on a chickweed burrito, faux gumbo or vegan meringue made from mallow, curly dock pie filling, sheep sorrel pesto, wood sorrel ice cream topping or or any one of a ton of tasty recipes included.

Unfortunately, the Victoria library does not carry this book, but we picked up our copy at Bolen’s, and it’s put out by a reasonably big publisher and should be widely available.  You can also check out John Kallas’ website, Wild Food Adventures.  You can find out more about his cool looking courses in wild foods and wilderness survival (see Kallas and some students in mid food prep at the left), and you shouldn’t miss the excellent book review section.  Also, if you’re jonesing for more wild food info right away, check out this article Kallas wrote on making dandelions delicious.