Spectacular vistas, whales breaching, ice bergs floating by, and a foragers paradise. We are blessed with many wilderness areas that offer abundant edible plants. I rarely go on a hike without stopping to have a little taste of this or that. Like many people, I even plan hikes specifically for harvesting dependent on what is in season (think of your blueberry picking adventures). In this post, I will touch upon some of the edibles currently available in our wonderful wilderness.
But before I begin, I just want to emphasize the importance of harvesting sustainably and of not destroying the biodiversity of an area. Nature trails give us the opportunity to reach into nature and to become a part of something that for many people has been forgotten or unknown. It is important to remember that you are only a guest passing through. By harvesting from natural areas, you are taking from an intricate system of life and death, so it is important to be a good guest. When you are finished harvesting and look around, you nor anyone else should be able to tell that you were there. This will ensure that everyone can enjoy these areas for generations to come.
Christmas in July? The new growing tips of balsam fir trees (Abies blasamea) can be nibbled on for a burst of unseasonal flavour. Fir trees are common evergreens with flat needles and upright cones. Simply pinch off the tender growing tip, pull off the needles, and enjoy. Soon, they will start to get woody and tough, so be sure to try them soon. A few every now and then make a great little snack on a hike or while camping, but it isn’t recommended to eat too many. I find that they taste as you would expect, and it always reminds me of Christmas.
Juniper is another evergreen that offers a tasty little treat. There are two native species in Newfoundland. Common juniper (Juniperus communis) is a low growing evergreen, with sharp pointed needles, while trailing juniper (Juniperus horizontalis) grows much closer to the ground and has short, overlapping leaf like needles. They are both common along edges of forests, seasides, and in barrens. The blue berry-like cones of this plant can be used as flavourings for meats, marinades, or used in teas. You only need several to add flavour to what ever you are making. These berries are also famously used to flavour gin. Since it takes a couple of years for the fruits to mature, they are available year round.
Along the sea shore where you find juniper may also grow scotch lovage (Ligusticum scoticum). It is a low growing plant (30 - 60 cm tall) with stiff, shiny leaves. The leaves of this plant have a strong celery flavour. They can be steamed and eaten, or, like celery, used to add flavour to soups, salads, and many other foods. I have harvested the leaves even after it has gone to flower, although they are more tender earlier in the season.
Roseroot (Rhodiola rosea) grows along the rocky shores throughout this province. It resembles a smaller version of the common garden plant, stonecrop (Sedum spp.). Where abundant, the fleshy greyish-green young leaves and stems can be harvested for a refreshing treat, salads, or soups. One clump represents one plant, so it is best to harvest a few stems from many clumps as opposed to a lot from one. As with many plants, this practice will help ensure a sustainable harvest for years to come. The fleshy root of this plant, which smells like roses is also used for medicinal teas, but harvesting it will kill the plant. This plant is easy to propagate through root cuttings, so this plant is definitely one that can easily be added to a medicinal garden. This way, you’ll be able to grow your own and share with others without having to disturb natural areas.
These are just a few examples of the treats that you can find along the rocky coasts of Newfoundland. Over time, I will add more plants as they are ready to be harvested. Happy trails!