Sunday, December 6, 2015

Foraging for the Holidays

While some would never dream of feeding wild plants and mushrooms to holiday guests, the sharing of foraged foods is among the oldest human traditionsand a reason to celebrate in itself. Rich in nutrients, healthful properties and delectable flavours, foraged foods bring us fork-first into the natural world. Luckily for us, winter edibles abound in the Pacific Northwest... just in time for the holidays! Here are just a few:

Image: Bladderwrack (Fucus vesiculosus)
With BC boasting more than 530 species of macroalgae, most of which are edible, Powell River's winters offer a wealth of seaweed to explore. Why not delight holiday guests with a Japanese-style seaweed salad, or a seaweed-spiced sauerkraut? And for cold winter nights, there's nothing like Seaweed & Tofu Egg Drop Soup; I like to use Bladderwrack (Fucus vesiculosus), though there are many seaweeds to choose from, and endless variations in how you flavour this soup. Read my homemade recipe here.

Savvy seaweed snippets:* Seaweeds are a good source of Vitamins A, C, E & K, and trace minerals.* Never eat freshwater algae or Acid Kelp (Desmarestia)* Don't pick seaweed from rotting piles, from polluted areas, or during herring spawn season* Some seaweeds are less palatable or digestible than others; learn your seaweeds! :D

Image: Beech nuts (Fagus grandifolia)
Starchy Nuts and Seeds:
The holidays are a great time to dip into those nuts and seeds you've been squirreling away. Acorns (Quercus) are a great source of starch, protein and healthy oils, though they do require some processing. After shelling them, you can crush them coarsely, soak them in a couple changes of water, dehydrate the resulting meal, and grind it into a flour. Nut & seed flours can be stored year-round in the freezer, and be added to soups, granolas, and baked goods. Maple keys (Acer), Chestnuts (Castanea) and Beech nuts (Fagus) can be foraged around town, and don't require a soaking process. Why not enrich your next  batch of biscuits with foraged flours, and smother them with gravy made from Winter Chanterelles (Craterellus tubaeformis)?

Image: Rose hips (Rosa sp.)
Holiday sweets:
For those of you with a sweet tooth, I recommend Rose Hip jelly! Rose hips are high in Vitamin C, and will reach peak flavour and nutrition after the first frost. Speaking of jellies, this was my first year candying a mushroom known as Toothed Jelly Fungus (Pseudohydnum gelatinosum)... it looks as weird as it sounds, but it's quite delicious!

Image: Ground-ivy (Glechoma hederacea)
Winter Medicines:
There are countless herbs and roots to harvest through the winter: Ground-Ivy (Glechoma hederacea), Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), and Oregon-Grape root (Mahonia) are just three of an astonishing variety of wild medicinal plants to make into teas, digestive bitters, or mead.

Getting Started:
Forage safely and respectfully; start with what you already know, try small amounts of new foods before gorging on them, and please don't over-harvest. Field guides, novels, podcasts, blogs, databases and outings are just a few options for your learning journey. But when it comes to incorporating foraged foods into holiday meals, your biggest assets are your curiosity and imagination.

Now go on and get out there; it's time to turn those wild edibles into wild delectables!

Happy foraging,

--Ioni Wais

***This article appeared originally on the Powell River Living Dec 2015 issue, which can be accessed here***