Yesterday herbalist Scott Reid guided a workshop on identification and use of edible and medicinal plants. He demonstrated what a wealth and diversity of useful plant life occurs along a short stretch of parkland around the confluence of the Speed and Eramosa Rivers near downtown Guelph. However, this resource should not be taken for granted. He also presented a primer on the ethics of wildcrafting.
Here are two example he introduced to us:
In late spring moist places fill with pale lilac pools and a carnation-like fragrance. They are the blooms of Hesperis matronlis, dame’s rocket. I’ve always admired the flowers, but did not realize they were edible. They belong to the mustard family, which Scott told us is generally a good candidate for eating. I did not care for the taste of the leaves; they were bitter, but would probably be more palatable earlier in the spring. The flowers, on the other hand, were delicious. I would not hesitate to include them fresh in salads.
The mints are another family of generally edible plants, though their strong aromatic properties lend themselves more to moderate use. Leonurus cardiaca, motherwort, is one common wild species Scott described. Its square stems place it in the mint clan and the palmate leaves are distinctive.
He recommended it for balancing the hormonal (endocrine) system and as an emmenagogue among other uses. It can be administered using a tincture or alcoholic extraction. Stuff a jar with the green plant, cover it with alcohol (vodka, brandy or pharmaceutical ethanol), shake it every day for three weeks, making sure to keep the plant parts submerged, then press and filter the liquid and discard the plant parts. Take 20 to 60 drops in a small amount of water.
Scott pointed out a wide variety of food and medicinal plants. A few I have previously written about here and in guest posts elsewhere:
- garlic mustard and stinging nettles
- rose hips (Joan Lambert Bailey’s Japan Farmers Markets blog)
He also addressed the ethics of wildcrafting:
- Never harvest from parks
- Only harvest from other people’s private property with permission
- If you are unfamiliar with the plant, use several field guides for identification
- Know and avoid poisonous plants
- Foragers must be plant conservationists: take only one-tenth of the plants available
For more information about wildcrafting in the Guelph area, Scott will offer more extensive summer courses. Through Minga skill building hub he offers a herbalism and wildcrafting workshop on July 7. He will also hold summer courses at Althaea Herb Farm, where he grows plants for his own use and sale. Visit the website for more information and to contact him.
Scott also sells herb products at Guelph Farmers’ Market from June 15 to Christmas. Note that the market is moving from its permanent location to Exhibition Park for renovations as of June 15.
Scott’s free wildcrafting workshop was offered by the Ontario Public Interest Research Group.
At the end of our walk, Hussein and several other foragers found morels growing under some white pines near the river. These are among the most highly favoured wild mushrooms. What a lucky way to end a foraging workshop!