I was 10 years old, riding on a slow pony in the untamed grasses of Quebec when I first fell in love with treasure hunting in forests. Today, I call it wildcrafting and medicine gathering, but back then it was just a way in which my sister and I spent with my Uncle Klaus.
Klaus, who was born in Baden-Baden, Germany and had grown up wildcrafting with his own mother, often took my sister and I with him mushroom hunting in the acres of uncultivated land at the back of the farm he lived on with my Aunt. Klaus sat tall on his lovely pinto mare named Blue Eyes; my sister and I rode on the squat and stubborn ponies that were ours to take care of that season. When we came to the places where Klaus knew the mushrooms would be we would dismount and walk lower to the ground, leading our horses on loose lines.
Klaus would show us how to find the lacy morel, whose intricate web-like cap looked like it had been spun by fairies, or the more elusive chanterelle, which would always make him call out in delight when it was found. I was reading Gone With The Wind the first time I went mushroom picking with Klaus and so the chanterelle enchanted me with its beautiful rolling name that made me think of Southern ladies in wide debutante dresses, not unlike the way the mushroom’s edge curled up and down like the edges of a crinoline gown in motion.
My Uncle was an incredible chef who loved and appreciated good food. That night, he made us a rich and savoury wild mushroom goulash with homemade bread dumplings. Our anticipation for the meal had begun with the excitement of finding the mushrooms that simmered in the stew pot, filling the house with their earthy aroma. Ever since that day, I have been captivated by the idea of gathering my own wild food and medicine.
Wildcrafting has become one of my favourite practices, one that I now share with my husband in the Sea to Sky corridor of BC where we live together. We love heading out with small bags and gathering baskets, our rambunctious dogs in tow, on a search for wild foods to nourish ourselves with. Wildcrafting wakes us up to the land we live in and helps us to see the characters and attributes of the many plants that grow around us.
In the spring season we gather nettles, spruce tips, fiddleheads and dandelion greens. Summer days promise the blossoming of wild roses, St John’s Wort and arnica flowers. As autumn approaches we gather rose hips, medicinal roots, and mushrooms. Now in late winter we will begin to gather sticky poplar buds to make redolent salves and healing oils. I think of wildcrafting as a practice that nourishes us twice by offering us simple delight and meditative pleasure in the gathering of the plants themselves, and then the feeding of our bodies through food or medicine.
Of course there are numerous details one must learn before gathering wild plants, such as how to identify plants correctly, how to gather responsibly, and how to store or prepare what has been gathered. There are many books out there that will offer teachings on this. I’ve included a list of some of my personal favourites for my area
- Boreal Herbal, The: Wild Food and Medicine Plants of the North
- Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West
- Plants of the Whistler Region: Raincoast Pocket Guides
If medicine making and wildcrafting is an interest of yours then you will want to start building a library of resource books to support your learning. That said, one of the best ways to learn is the simplest – put on your shoes and go outside. By walking through the woods with someone who holds the knowledge of wildcrafting in their minds and bodies already you can start to share in their wisdom. If you were lucky enough to have a family member or mentor that had this wisdom in plant gathering then you already know that what you learned by their sides is information that cannot easily be condensed into a book. The experience of learning in the living classroom, all of your senses attentive to the teachings at hand, simply cannot be felt from the written page.
For this reason, I am hosting renowned herbalists Yarrow & Angela Willard in a Wildland Medicine Crafting Intensive in Squamish this May 5th-7th. The Willards have spent years immersed in wildland medicine. Yarrow, a Master Herbalist, grew up with herbalist parents. Angela, co-visionary of the Harmonic Arts Botanical Dispensary with Yarrow, obtained her Clinical Herbalist Diploma from the Wild Rose College in Calgary, Alberta in 2005. We will spend an entire weekend learning about the art and craft of Wildland Medicine through informative herbs walks, classroom presentations, and discussions on the ethics of wildcrafting and seasonal medicine making. This workshop also offers daily yoga & meditation practices to help us attune to the natural world that nourishes and supports us. You can get an idea of how we will be learning during this special weekend by watching this short Herb Walk Video with Yarrow.
If you are called to learn with us in this way this Spring you can register for the Wildland Medicine Crafting Intensive here. The course is filling up fast, with over three-quarters of the spots already spoken for.
In the meantime, get outside today and start to look at what sort of plants are growing in your neighborhood!