Category Archives: Foraging

Foraging Fun: Yarrow, Self-Heal, and Wild Strawberries

Self-healI’ve recently set my mind towards trying to identify which edible (or otherwise useful) plants I could discover growing close to home…whether in my boyfriend’s yard up north, or near my apartment in Verdun.  Getting started with plant identification may not be the easiest thing, but once you learn the name of a certain species you will likely have no problem identifying it when you come across it again, and indeed, if it is a weed, will start to see it everywhere!

Self-Heal

I had been wondering about one wildflower with very peculiar purple flowers which I had noticed grows all over my boyfriend’s lawn.  I was finally able to identify it by browsing through some wildflower photos on my wildflowers.com.  I originally checked my Peterson field guide, Edible Wild Plants: Eastern/Central North America, but I didn’t have any luck there.  It is called Self-Heal, or Prunella vulgaris, and is also known as All-heal.  After determining the plant’s name, I was easily able to do a all-healbit more research into its possible uses.  It is in the mint family,  and the entire plant is edible.  It contains the vitamins A, C, and K.  Medicinally, it can be used as a poultice to treat wounds, or as a tea for sore throat.  I collected some, and decided to use the flowers and stems to make tea, and to add the leaves to a salad.  The tea, which I drank cold, was quite flavourful and meaty- a bit like stinging nettle tea.  I found it tasted a bit mustardy, as well.  Overall, it was quite pleasant.  The leaves, when added to a salad, were a little unremarkable, but good.

Yarrow

Yarrow (or Achillea millefolium) is another plant which I have seen growing in abundance in the yard.  It has also traditionally been used to help heal wounds (hence another of its common names, ‘soldier’s woundwort’).

Yarrow Identification

yarrow-drawing
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Its fern-like, aromatic leaves, and distinctive flower centers (which are actually made up of small disc flowers) make it fairly easy to identify.  However, one must make sure to positively identify it, as one who is not paying much attention to its distinguishing characteristics may mistake it for poison hemlock.

poison hemlock
Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum)

Conium maculatum

Conium maculatum

In light of this, I would like to present you with two drawings which outline the distinguishing features of each plant. As you can see, they are quite different.  The leaves of the poison hemlock resemble those of carrot or parsley, while those of yarrow are fern-like.  The odor of the poison hemlock is rank, while that of yarrow leaves is pleasant and herbal.

Finally, hemlock flower stalks radiate from single points in umbels (like an umbrella) while yarrow flower stalks are more half-hazard, and, additionally, the yarrowappearance of the individual flowers is quite different.  If you are paying attention ( as you should always be when harvesting food from the wild), it is easy to spot the differences between the two.

Yarrow Uses

Besides its use in wound-healing, it has been used medicinally for pain-relief (for menstrual cramps, headaches, and toothaches), as an anti-inflammatory (to reduce fever), and as a treatment for colds and sore throats.  In the culinary arena, it has traditionally been used in beer-making, to make liquors and bitters, and also as a cooked vegetable and seasoning herb.

After tasting both the flowers and the leaves, I learned that the flowers were quite bitter, while the leaves were rather bitter-sweet and reminded yarrow tinctureme a bit of lavender or rosemary.  I decided to use the flowers to make a tincture, and use the leaves as an herb.  I figured I could use the tincture both as a bitter in cocktails, and medicinally.  The tincture worked out quite well, turning a pretty pale green and becoming quite bitter during the two weeks I let it steep.  I chopped up the yarrow leaves and mixed them with some chopped up onions and mushrooms to make a stuffing for fish, and that was quite good, also.  I’m not quite sure why it is no longer used as an herb, but I plan to collect more this summer, dry it, and use it both as a tea, and a seasoning.

wild strawberries growingWild Strawberries

On to wild strawberries.  These are also easy to identify, as they look just like the strawberries you buy at the store…only they’re much smaller, and more flavourful.  If you’ve ever grown strawberries (or seen them grow) you will immediately recognize their leaves.  In order to find more berries, one must simply follow the runners (shoots the plant produces in order to propagate itself).  The strawberries up north (in the Laurentians) usually appear in July.  They are not as sweet as commercially grown varieties, and their flavour is more concentrated.  Eat them as they are, orwild strawberries (runners) use them in any preparations you wish.  Also, I recently came across a blog, Wellpreserved.ca, which suggests drying strawberry hulls and using them to make tea.  I think that this is an excellent idea!  No waste!

Anyway, until next time, happy foraging!

Foraging Fun: Violets, Winter Cress, and Dandelions

Wild VioletIt’s hard to believe that it’s June already…especially since up in Saint-Adolphe-D’Howard, in the Laurentians, there was still snow on the ground until just a few weeks ago!  Spring/summer it is, however, and the land is green, and alive.  My boyfriend and I finally made it out into the woods and fields, and walked around to see whether we could discover any wild edibles to take home with us.

We looked for mushrooms, but didn’t see many; I guess it’s either too early, or too dry for them.  I saw a lot of strawberry plants in bloom, so I guess that in a couple of weeks, there will be strawberries everywhere!

Wild Violets

Finally, on a hill where I once found some wild irises growing, I found some wild violets.  IWild Violets had grown pansies in my garden before, so I found them fairly easy to identify (they are in the same family).  The flowers have a distinctive striping on one or more of their lower petals.  Apparently, these veins are meant to guide bees to their nectar.  The species is, I believe, the viola adunca, commonly called the ‘early blue’, or ‘hookedspur’ violet.  The leaves and flowers may be added to salads, and the flowers can also be candied.

Winter Cress

Winter CressFurther down, at the base of the hill near some water, I discovered some winter cress.  There are, according to Wikipedia, twenty-two different species of winter cress, and I’m not sure which one in particular this one was.  It was, however, also fairly easy to identify, as the leaves which were further down, near the base of the plant, looked exactly like watercress leaves.  As with every plant (or mushroom) I find in the wild that I have the intention of consuming, I did, of course, make sure to look it up in a field guide (in this case, Edible Wild Plants Eastern/Central North America by Lee Allen Peterson) in order to determine if, firstly, it was/could be highly poisonous, and secondly, whether I have reason to believe that I have correctly identified the type of plant.  It is, of course, better to be safe, than be sorry.  After looking it up, and finding no look-alikes (and most certainly no poisonous ones), I tasted a leaf; after discerning a pleasant cress-like flavour, I picked some to take home with me.  The partially unopened flower-heads looked particularly tasty, like broccoli, so I made sure to gather some of those.

Dandelions

Since I now had the makings of a tasty wild salad, I gathered a few leaves from the dandelions which were growing nearby.  The flowers had not yet opened up, so I was hoping that they would be a little bit less bitter than usual.

A Wild Salad…

Winter Cress Head

Upon returning to the house,  I washed the greens and flowers carefully.  I also tasted one of the partially unopened cress flower-heads, and my boyfriend and I both agreed that they were very nice and tasted quite like broccoli.  The foraged greens and some of the violets made a very pretty and colourful  salad, to which I added a bit of (locally grown) radish, since I had some on hand, and a simple vinaigrette consisting of salt, pepper, white balsamic vinegar, and olive oil.

Foraged Salad Foraged Salad Foraged Salad Lunch!

I went on to candy the violets, later on in the evening.  It turned out to be a rather satisfying day, even though we did not find any mushrooms!  Anyhow, I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for strawberries, which should be appearing everywhere soon.  ‘Till next time, happy foraging!