Living in the country provides many opportunities to graze and harvest wild berries and plants – particularly in areas like ours in Eastern Canada where there was a lot of abandoned farmland and nature had overgrown and reclaimed its place. We quickly learned to identify the plants in our vicinity and to learn which were edible and which were best left untouched.
We tried many things like wild Tansy Tea and Labrador Tea that grew along our lane way and along the edge of the forest. We did it as more of an experiment to see how they tasted. They never became a habit like our Red Rose brand orange pekoe tea that we drank all the time. (Nor did we use them medicinally.)
We gathered the wild greens called Lambsquarters. It grew like a weed in our garden so we were more inclined to rip it out of the ground than cherish it, but we did eat it in salads and cooked it like spinach on occasion.
The area we lived in (Jolicure) was connected to the great Tantramar Marshes – you only had to go a few miles in most directions to find your way to the these wetlands. So there were many boggy places around – not only in the marsh proper.
Not far from our house we found a lovely patch of cranberries growing in one such bog. We were able to pick these for ourselves every year, but we had to act fast because other locals would show up and pick them too.
They grew right on the edge of the forest in an old cleared field.
We also had raspberries near the house – but instead of local people, we had to be quick to get them before the birds and wildlife found them. They were hard to get quantities of – so you’d just eat what you could find right away and enjoy the sweetness in the fresh air.
Wild strawberries grew along our road and in various small patches near our house.
We sometimes did manage to pick enough for a few pies – but again it was a challenge to beat nature to the prize.
There were other wild treats growing around our house like the patch of Fiddlehead ferns that grew in our backyard by a big old stump; we could harvest them once or twice a season for a few meals – usually as an accompaniment to the fresh trout my father caught in the lake.
To pick blueberries we went to a commercial blueberry farm and used blueberry rakes to gather the fruit. Here we were guaranteed enough to freeze for the winter.
And on occasion we harvested the fallen fruit from abandoned orchards – though this fruit had to be used for making jelly – as it was generally worm ridden and had to be carefully cleaned for use.
We experimented with our rose hips from the wild roses that grew along our lane. We made rose hip jam one year and brewed a tea from them on other occasions – rose hips are very high in vitamin C.
Once we tried making dandelion wine because our friends made some that was yummy and we had an endless supply of organic dandelions – but ours wasn’t a great success – it turned out more sludge than wine, but we tried.
We didn’t harvest wild mushrooms, of which there were many varieties. It was too chancy a risk that we’d poison ourselves and we didn’t trust our guide books for identification. Its important to really know what you’re doing with these things…
We had a stand of giant fungi that grew on our property along a tall stand of pines; a wind break treeline at the back side of the house. I loved looking at them with their big and brightly colored caps – but I was very wary of them and never touched them as someone had told me they were Death Angels, a very poisonous and deadly fungi.
I’ve since found out that what we had were toadstools; a kind of fungus that is also poisonous (you can die from renal failure after a long and horrible decline) and psychoactive. So they were pretty much just as bad as Death Angels and Death Cap Mushrooms (all three kinds of mushrooms are in the same family). These are the mushrooms famous in European folklore and fairy tales and you can see why…
When I was in college at Mount Allison University a group of students got hold of a bunch of local, wild, hallucinogenic mushrooms which they happily ate until someone realized they were full of worms – upon which all of them got violently sick and apparently had really really really bad trips.
The moral of this post is – don’t eat what you don’t know!