Foraging in Alberta
with Julie Walker
To ‘forage’ is to explore the environment for wild food. Foragers follow strict codes of conduct, so we look to Professional forager, Julie Walker, who has immense respect and support for plant biodiversity. Julie took River Café’s Chef Andrew Winfield and Owner Sal Howell on a guided foraging experience in the foothills just south of Black Diamond, on June 9, 2014. We uncovered the following plants:
Found in moist areas, nettles are found around the world. They are an unbranched weed that grows several feed high with fine bristly hairs and small flowers. Careful – these little hairs will ‘sting’, and must be handled methodically. With a little work, they can be very nutritious.
Looks and grows a lot like rhubarb, but only blossoms every other year (on the off-years it actually produces a foul odor and requires much more effort to make it taste sweet). You can burdock leaves before they flower, or use them for wrapping food on the barbeque.
Cow parsnip is a tall herb from the carrot family, and can reach a height over two metres. They can be eaten raw or cooked, but the stems must always be peeled because touching the outer skin can lead to an itchy rash.
FACT: The cow parsnip plant can be found in every Canadian province and territory, except Nunavut.
Morels most often live on the edge of forested areas and pop up in the spring. They’re pretty easy to identify, but there are a few toxic copycats out there. Be sure to pick them when their cap has fully emerged, and not while it’s still close to the root. Just like other common mushrooms, they’re safe to eat raw but delicious when simply cooked with butter and seasoning to bring out their rich, meaty flavor.
After you’ve harvested the flowers of your backyard dandelion for wine, you can still use the roots as ‘greens’. Despite their bitter flavour, they’re backed with nutrients. For best results, pick them before they flower, and combine with sweet greens to add depth to a salad.
The prairies are home to an abundance of delicious ingredients that you may not find in your local supermarket. The exploration will make your find all the sweeter. Lacking a Green Thumb? At River Café, we plant some of these wild species in our very own garden, so feel free to explore the biodiversity found on the plate at River Café! To learn more about foraging, visit Julie’s website, or connect with us!