Tag Archives: wild foods

Radical Mycology Convergence: Grassroots Activism at its Finest

The Radical Mycology Convergence in Port Townsend on the 18th through the 22nd was pure magic. It was a weekend of perfect moments created by people coming together to empower and inspire each other in the sharing of knowledge. Best described by the event website, The convergence was a volunteer-run gathering of mycologists, fungal enthusiasts, and earth stewards sharing skills and information related to the numerous benefits of the fungal kingdom for humans as well as the planet. The Event included various remediation inspired projects (putting theory to practice) and offered a unique chance to build community with like-minded mycophiles (aka mushroom lovers) from around the world. It provided an opportunity to discuss ways to build the movement, collaborate on various projects and synthesize ideas for future work. This gathering was really valuable because it helped make information on the healing powers of fungi accessible to people from all walks of life. The affordable event provided workshops for all levels of experience, making it a very inclusive and encouraging space. The five-day event asked a 10-50 dollar donation per person and provided parking, camping and three meals a day. Everyone participated in maintaing the community whether it involved helping in the kitchen or cleaning up the compost toilets. Thank you to everyone who made this event possible.

I want to pause for a moment to apologize to any advanced mushroom enthusiasts reading this post. I am new at this, so everything I will be going over is quite basic. Similarly, please forgive me if I get any terminology mixed up and make myself sound silly. As a beginner, I was shocked to see how miseducated mainstream society has been about mushrooms. Mycophobia runs rampant, disguising the phenomenon of fungi and decomposition as something gross or dangerous. In reality, humans need to realize that biogeochemical processes have been interrupted and displaced to the point where seeking help from mycelium is imperative in re-establishing natural cycles. Certain strains of mycelium have even displayed promising results in decomposing plastic and transforming pollutants such as oil and pesticides back into organic matter. Some fungi can even survive anaerobic (without oxygen) environments such as landfills.

This excerpt called, “Why Radical?” from the RMC website is really important in understanding the vision of the gathering:

We see the use of fungal species for environmental betterment as an extension of “radical” or “deep” ecology, which considers all beings as having an inherent value and interdependence. Through the use of fungi to enact change, we are attempting to challenge assumptions about the importance of the fungal kingdom in our western culture in an effort to help shift our society’s relationship to the Earth toward greater harmony. One of the things that distinguishes the RMC from most of the other projects and activities going on in the world of mycology is that the kind of work we support is based on an anti-oppression analysis of the world’s problems and doesn’t rely as heavily on a globalized & industrial capitalist system. We also emphasize learning skills that help us live outside of that system and in better balance with the world via mycopermaculture, growing and foraging for our own food & medicine, and making mushroom paper and dyes.

Source: http://radicalmycologyconvergence.wordpress.com/

Here is a 15 minute video offering a taste of the event:


If you think the environmental benefits of mushrooms are interesting, just wait until you hear about some of their medicinal properties. I had the pleasure of sitting in on a medicinal mushroom lecture from the lovely Linda Zurich. She had a whole table of sample mushrooms for us to look at and did a tea brewing demonstration. Mushrooms don’t have immune systems of their own, so they combat the bacteria they come into contact with by exuding antibacterial, antiviral, anti-fungal, anti-tumour, antihyperglycemic, anti-inflammatory, any many more properties. The coolest thing about medicinal mushrooms is that they are immune modulators; they interact with our bodies intelligently to recognize the imbalances. To put this into perspective, let’s compare it to taking a vitamin. Taking a vitamin boots your immune system, but taking medicinal mushrooms is bi-directional, targeting your immune system where you need it rather than using energy to overproduce. These medicinal substances are indigestible because they are trapped in chitin of the mushrooms. For those unfamiliar with the term, chitin is the same material that comprises the shells of shellfish or the exoskeletons of insects. To extract substances from the chitin one can either make a tea or a tincture, both of which are remarkably easy. To make a tea, you simply boil pieces of the mushroom until it is dark brown. To make a tincture, you put 100 proof alcohol with your mushroom of choice in a jar and shake the mixture up once a day for several weeks. There are plenty of tutorials on both of these processes on the internet, but here are two webpages to get you started:

A basic outline of tincture and tea making: http://www.willowharvestorganics.com/catalog.php?category=5

If you want to get a bit more complicated and make a double-extraction (a mix of tea and tincture) in order to maximize the benefit of the mushrooms check out this blog post:


Some of the most well-known mushrooms include:

Reishi- Reishi has been called an “immune potentiator.” Recent studies have indicated that Reishi can have a number of other effects: Analgesic, Anti-inflammatory, Antioxidant, Antiviral through inducing interferon production, Lowers blood pressure, Cardiotonic action through lowering serum cholesterol, Expectorant & Antitussive, Liver (Hepatitis)-protecting and detoxifying, protection against ionizing radiation, Antibacterial, and Anti-HIV activity. Reishi contains calcium, iron and phosphorus as well as vitamins C, D, and B – including pantothenic acid, which is essential to nerve function and the adrenal glands.


Cordyceps Mushroom
- Can be a powerful stimulant for macrophage activity, strengthening your immune system’s ability to fight against bacterial and viral infection. Human clinical studies indicate that Cordyceps can be effective for treatment of high cholesterol, poor libido/impotence, arrhythmia, lung cancer, and chronic kidney failure. It is also reported that Cordyceps causes smooth muscle relaxation. This can make it especially helpful for treating chronic coughs, asthma, and other bronchial conditions.


Chaga- The primary active ingredients of Chaga are special mushroom carbohydrates, also known as polysaccharides/beta-glucans. These substances can enhance the feel-good chemicals in the brain. They can also benefit the intestine, slow down digestion, boost liver function and increase energy.There is also a chemical substance called betuli/betulinic acid which can only be found in this mushroom specie. Research shows that betulinic acid can kill cancer cells without damaging normal cells. It was discovered recently that this substance has an inhibition effect on topoisomerase – the enzyme that regulates the over winding or under winding of our DNA strands. Combined with the actions of polysaccharides, Chaga is indeed a very potent agent that can be used as a dietary supplement to promote good health. Aside from these main active ingredients, Chaga also contains several phystosterols (mainly inotodiol and lanostero). This mushroom also contains high amounts of melanin which is a natural antioxidant. Melanin is also responsible for the black color, as well as giving it the highest antioxidant levels of all natural foods.


Shitake-Shiitake (for centuries called “Elixir of Life” ) has been licensed as a anti-cancer drug by the Japanese FDA. Lentinan has shown some effect on bowel cancer, liver cancer, stomach cancer, ovarian cancer and lung cancer. Lentinan stimulates the production of T lymphocytes and natural killer cells and can potentiate the effect of AZT in the anti-viral treatment of A.I.D.S. Shiitake is rich in several anti-oxidants (Selenium, Uric acid & Vitamin A, E, & C) as well as Vitamin D. Shiitake mushrooms may also lower blood pressure in those with hypertension, lower serum cholesterol levels, increase libido, stimulate the production of Interferon which has anti-viral effects, and has proven effective against Hepatitis in some cases.


Turkey Tail- These mushrooms are one of the most researched and respected of the medicinal mushrooms. Its main effects are to strengthen the immune system, particularly by enhancing the workings of one of the most critical cells, known as T helper cells. T helper cells tell all the other cells in the immune system what to do and to what degree, and when to stop.In cancer, the runaway cells often secrete compounds known as cytokines that give false signals to immune cells to stop working. This further enhances the ability of the cancer to survive. An unfortunate side effect of chemotherapy and radiation therapy is that they further damage the immune system, in part by inadvertently killing T helper cells.Turkey tail mushrooms have been the subject of a large number of controlled clinical trials in Asia showing that it can help rebuild the immune system in people with a wide range of cancers.


I have some information on mushroom and lichen dyes, as well as some pictures that I am getting developed from my film camera to share in my next post in a couple of days. Stay tuned!


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.