Foraging in PEI
Foraging has always been something I’ve been interested in. I remember when I was a young kid I would eat all sorts of different things outside. Blades of grass, dandelion leaves, stems, and flowers. I was just trying to get a feel for what they tasted like. I was always fairly inquisitive. Some might say weird… Apparently I used to stuff worms in my mittens because I liked the way they felt wriggling around on my hands. I guess as a kid I was just exploring the world, getting to know it for myself. I can remember my grand mother’s voice “Spit that grass out of your mouth! Yuck!!” I remember thinking What’s wrong with eating grass? It’s a plant right? We eat lettuce? I guess even then I was wiser than my years. The funny thing is, I catch my 3-year-old daughter doing the same things and my wife says “Stop! Spit it out! Yuck!”, but even today, I don’t really have an answer why she shouldn’t eat it, beyond regurgitating that old kids commercial with the raccoon baby that wants to eat mushrooms. So I just say to my daughter “Some mushrooms are not for raccoons”. She laughs and carries on. I guess that’s why the real danger is in not knowing what you can and can’t eat outdoors. You don’t want to poison yourself, and really, there is a lot that can poison you that you wouldn’t really think. Deadly Night Share, lots of mushrooms, tons of berries. I guess I answered my own question there.
My curiosity has carried me a long way in this journey towards eating whatever I find. When I was in school for Wildlife Conservation Biology I remember every time we went on a field trip and the instructor would introduce a new plant my hand would raise instantly. To which, before I could get a word out the instructor would exasperatedly reply, “Yes Josh… You can eat it”. By far this was my favourite part of my education. I hated school, unless I had a real interest in what I was learning, then all the information stuck. When it comes to eating, you can be sure that information stuck. My excitement for food started at a young age when I ate my first steak that wasn’t cooked until it became a rubber boot. Today I find myself preparing a pasta for supper and then running outside while my wife looks at me like where the hell is he going now? As I go gather some wild time growing on our lawn. I always smell it when I mow the grass, delicious. When I go to the beach I always make sure to pick some peppery Sea Rocket leaves or salty Salicornia for a juicy crunchy snack. People just don’t seem to realize there are new flavours everywhere you go.
My interest in nature also spawned at a young age which has led me down a path of appreciation for food, rather than seeing it as a necessity. As a fisherman and cook, I would feel awful if I killed every fish I caught, but rather, every time I kill a fish, or pick a flower or anything to eat, I consider how amazing it is that this is here and nourishing me. If I don’t respect the ingredient that gave it’s life, then I shouldn’t be eating it. Kind of a hippy dippy way of looking at things I know. Atlantic Canada’s foraging is often looked at as very bleak. When you compare it to going down south and gathering all the coconuts or mangos you could ever want, it can certainly seem like there isn’t a lot to choose from here in little old Prince Edward Island. Mark my words however, there is a lot you can find foraging in PEI if you just know where to look. We have some of the rarest and most delicious delicacies hidden around every corner. We’ve got some real fine dining quality wild edible plants like Chanterelle Mushrooms (by far my favourite mushroom) and Fiddle Heads, or highly sought after medicinal plants like Chaga Mushroom and Ground Hemlock. Funny story about Chaga. Before I knew what it was, I used to call it pitch bark. It grows all over PEI and I used to use it as a tool to start fires. It wasn’t until I realized that it was worth a lot of money that I started to think twice about potential burning dollar bills.
Prince Edward Island has an abundance of Wild Apple, each with their own unique flavour. Yes, some are bitter, and some are so sour that squeeze your face together, but it’s all part of the experience. Don’t even get me started about wild raspberries or blackberries. Far better than any you can get in the supermarket. Beyond the everyday apples and raspberries that you can find anywhere, there are some really interesting plants that most people have no idea you can eat that are truly a delight. Queen Anne’s Lace or Wild Carrot has a very thin parsnip like root that smells and tastes like fresh picked carrots from the garden. Pineapple weed that grows along every roadside in PEI smells like the ripest pineapples you could ever buy in Canada, and even the humble Cat Tail has a juicy asparagus like stem that you can grill or dice into any salad and be happy to serve. These are the reasons I fell in love with foraging. They’re also the reasons I get so distracted and my wife ends up 100 feet ahead of me when we’re out for a hike. If you’re interested in learning more about Foraging for wild edible plants in PEI, stop by Ben’s Lake Campground and Adventure between May and October this year and we’ll chat. Better yet, we are designing a specific foraging package that might interest you where I’ll take small groups out for a walk in our on site Old Growth Forest to see what we find and bring it back for my business partner and Professional Chef Jordan Liantzakis to teach people how to cook and preserve food with all sorts of local ingredients.