Eating wild in Whistler's backyard
Learn about the area's edible and medicinal plants on new food foraging tour
by Brandon Barrett
Eating local has never been easier with innumerable elite chefs and top restaurants priding themselves on sourcing their ingredients from as close as possible.
Usually that means a trip to the local market or a phone call to the nearest organic farmer, but, if you know what you're looking for, there's also plenty of tasty and nutritious treats to be found right in our own backyard.
And thanks to a new, guided tour by Vancouver's Forager Foundation, Whistlerites now have a chance to learn how to spot and harvest the many edible and medicinal plants our wilderness has to offer.
Running all summer long, the tour takes amateur foragers to the alpine trails of Whistler Mountain and around Lost Lake to uncover the bounty of ethnobotanical edibles the areas has to offer.
"Whistler's a beautiful place, and this just adds an extra layer to that," says tour guide and Forager Foundation president Bryce Watts.
Among the most commonly found edible plants is the cattail, which is plentiful in wetland areas. It's also a favourite with foragers, Watts explains.
"Cattails are one of the best plants you can find in the area because so much of it is edible," he says.
Use the pollen or dried roots as a flour supplement or thickener. Then there's the leaf bases, which can be cooked or eaten raw and taste a little bit like celery or cucumber, Watts says. Or you can do as the Russian Cossacks do and peel off the outer portion of young plants to get at the heart, which can be consumed raw or boiled and eaten like asparagus.
There are pine nuts, rose petals, and a range of edible berries, too, says Watts, who has seen interest in food foraging grow since founding his organization two years ago.
"A lot of people don't have any experience in harvesting but are interested in learning more," he says. "The 100-mile diet (is popular) and wild foods are just an extra layer on top of that that people are getting interested in."
While there's only been one Whistler tour so far, the Forager Foundation also runs tours in the Lower Mainland and in Squamish, and Watts says they've been a good mix of both locals and tourists looking to create a stronger connection with their natural surroundings.
"People are really enjoying the fact that on a hike that most people go and do on their own, that they're able to recognize (different edible plants) and take a little nibble of a berry, or maybe in the springtime when the shoots are coming up you can have something on the way just to add to (the experience)," says Watts.
And in a place like Whistler, where the wrong turn on a hike can leave you stranded in the backcountry, knowing about the flora you may find isn't a bad idea.
"Even just as a safety aspect, if you know a little bit about the edible plants in the area, maybe it can help a little bit to use that knowledge if you're stuck," Watts says.
The Lost Lake Trail Foraging Tour runs twice a month. The next one is set for July 6.
Tickets cost $60, which includes a trip to the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre where participants can learn about the local First Nations and eat a lunch prepared with some of the plants you may find on the tour.
For more information or to register, visit www.foragerfoundation.org/foraging-tours-vancouver.