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Posts Tagged ‘Wild Edibles’

snowshoe hare eating spruce needles

‘Eat your greens’ we’re told from a young age.  Young snowshoe hares need not be reminded.  Nothing green seems to get overlooked by their taste buds.

hare nibbling on spruce branches

Once new growth emerges on the lower branches of fir and spruce trees in the yard, the tender needles replace dandelions on the hares’ seasonal menu.  Hungry bunnies reach the higher branches by standing on their hind legs, carefully balancing themselves in order to grab a bite.  Who knew snowshoe hares could eat standing up?!

Snowshoe hares are amazing runners whose reproduction rates are legend.  Could the greens in their diet be a key to their boundless energy?

Even keen salad eaters wince at the idea of eating evergreen needles but we don’t need to eat an entire bough to benefit from such nutritious fare.

balsam fir new growth

A simple tea made by steeping a sprig of new growth needles in hot water will provide a good dose of vitamin C.  Balsam fir needles are used for colds, coughs and asthma according to my Peterson Field Guide of Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants and Herbs.  As wild as it sounds, it’s probably tamer on the body than most drug store decongestants.

fresh green growth

The Green shopping aisle

Spruce and fir needles can also be dried and crumbled for use as a wild accent in a variety of kitchen fare.  Think of adding a bit to rice, venison or even Christmas cookies.   At least the shopping aisle won’t be crowded and the Grocer’s selection will be a feast for the eyes as well.  Recent rains have encouraged so much evergreen growth that Nature’s bounty will be great enough for both humans and hares to have plenty to share and enjoy.

Text and photographs copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2013

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Violets have been blooming in the woods and yard for the past few weeks. Their time is coming to an end… Soon I’ll be able to mow the lawn without having to worry about cutting them down.

Wild white violets growing in the lawn

They’re so delicate and small that they’re frequently overlooked.  Perhaps it’s their half-hidden shy nature that makes them so endearing.  The Lucy in Wordsworth’s poem must have been a wild violet…

SHE dwelt among the untrodden ways
Beside the springs of Dove,
A Maid whom there were none to praise
And very few to love:
A violet by a mossy stone
Half hidden from the eye!
Fair as a star, when only one
Is shining in the sky.
She lived unknown, and few could know
When Lucy ceased to be;
But she is in her grave, and oh,
The difference to me!
~ William Wordsworth

Tame violets, on the other hand, are a deeper more showy purple with large leaves that are easier to spot in the flower bed.

Tame violets

If you have the patience to pick them, wild violets are edible and an aromatic addition to teas.  They can be dried or eaten fresh.

A violet tea with sponge cake

Violets are a reminder of slower times, when people took a moment to take notice of the gentler arts on a regular basis.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could make an effort to take back some of these enjoyable moments, if only each year at Violet Time.

You can learn more about the Manners of Wild Violets in a previous post here.

Text and images copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2012

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Why did the snake cross the road?  Didn’t it feel the vibrations from oncoming traffic? 

Hey, do I look worried?

This maritime garter snake managed to survive being run over by a truck, luckily slipping between the tires.  Why was it willing to risk life and limb to get to the other side?  Was it looking for something tasty to eat? Snake berries perhaps?

For years I’ve heard both adults and children talk of ‘snake berries.’  Could these be berries that were frequently eaten by snakes? 

As children, my sons and their friends used the term to describe the fruit of the bunchberry plant, shown above.  It seemed that only the daring among them had ever tried tasting these snake berries.  My friend Sandy thought snake berries were blue. Others who knew of snake berries weren’t able to describe the plant in any detail. 

After a bit of digging, I discovered that the term is used to describe any berry of questionable edibility.  So, if you are in the woods, and see a berry that you’re not sure you can eat, you might choose to call it a snake berry.  All snake berries are therefore considered poisonous.  By the way, bunchberries are edible.  They’re bland with a large pit, but edible nonetheless.

Since the berries shown above are unknown to me and I’m not sure if they’re safe to eat, I’ll call them snake berries until I can learn more about them.  And since all snakes are carnivores, there’s no way that they would eat this or any other berry.

So, as to why the snake crossed the road… in Cow Bay, there can only be one answer:  it was the pheasants’ day off!

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What would happen if I ate a slug? Is eating slugs dangerous? Are slugs nutritious? Enquiring minds want to know. And so, several times a day for the past 18 months, visitors have arrived at Flandrum Hill in search of answers.

Back in July of 2009, I wrote a post about Eating Slugs and Snails.  To date it’s received more views than any other post on this site. 

I’d wondered if slugs were edible ever since I marvelled at the sight of 6 inch long ones in British Columbia decades ago.  Even the smaller ones in Nova Scotia looked meaty and boneless, and I wondered why nobody seemed interested in cooking them up for nutritious fare. Well, apparently there’s a good reason for this.

Slugs harbor a host of parasites. You can contract meningitis by consuming them.  Not to mention death.  So there you have it. I hope all those folks who visited my post found the answers they were looking for and had their sluggish apetites curtailed.

Still, if you aren’t yet convinced that there are better things than slugs with which to satisfy your apetite, at least cook them well before you eat them.  In order to kill any bacteria, it’s recommended that turkey be roasted to an internal temperature of at least 165ºF.  I’d go with at least that (and then some) if roasting slugs. 

Even in January, slugs can be found curled up under rocks in my backyard.  You’re welcome to come and pick your own.  Just remember to put the rocks back in place when you’re done.

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sensitive ferns

Sensitive Ferns

Ferns add a touch of freshness and elegance to Nova Scotia’s forest floors in late spring.  These beautiful green plants can also be found growing along ditches and in rock crevices.

Ferns first appeared on the planet hundreds of millions of years ago and are still thriving.   They reproduce by spores or rhizomes and are quite resistant to disease.  Ferns provide the surrounding soil with mineral nutrients while the structure of their rhizome root systems reduce soil erosion.  The sensitive leaves of these bioindicators are easily damaged by acid rain.

Cinnamon Ferns

Even in Nova Scotia’s temperate climate, ferns can grow to several feet in height.  Their leaf litter is so great that mounds are often formed in forest areas where they thrive from year to year.

polypody ferns

Polypody Ferns

Moisture, shade and acidic soil attract the growth of both ferns and mosses.  Polypody ferns, shown above, crop out of rocks near the salt marsh.

Bracken Ferns

In springtime, many people enjoy eating fiddleheads, the shoots of young ferns.  Ostrich ferns are especially tasty.  However, the safety of bracken ferns, shown above, is questionable.  Its consumption has been implicated in cases of stomach and esophageal cancer, especially in Japan where it is widely eaten.  Water from sources near growths of bracken ferns is also considered suspect.  (For more information on the toxic effect of bracken ferns on water, see The Fatal Fern).

Northern Beech Ferns

Shaded northern beech ferns, shown above, capture bits of sunlight through gaps in the forest canopy.  The effect is enchanting.

In Finland, gathering fern spores on Midsummer’s Eve is believed to give the gatherer the ability to become invisible.  Also, if one was to perchance acquire the elusive fern bloom on this special night, one would be able to uncover the treasure hidden beneath the magical lights of the Will o’ the Wisp.

Even if you don’t believe in the magical powers of ferns, or partake of fiddleheads in spring, they nevertheless make a wonderful contribution to the biodiversity of the forest ecosystem.

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fungi 10

Fall is an excellent time to see fungi in Nova Scotia’s woods.  Whether growing on the ground or on decaying trees, these life forms are varied, with some species being edible.

fungi

Of the ten types of fungi I managed to photograph in my yard in the past week, I am only confident of the identification of one, the orange jelly at bottom centre which is considered edible if boiled.  Even with the use of an Audubon field guide, I’m still wary of my ability to correctly identify the less colorful varieties.  Despite minute differences, they all look so similar to one another.

Although a distinction is often made between mushrooms and toadstools, with toadstools often considered toxic and with a tapered (as opposed to straight) stalk, there is no scientific basis for this.  The edibility of mushrooms is best determined by experts rather than through trial and error.  The adage that there are old mushroom pickers and bold mushroom pickers, but no old, bold mushroom pickers is probably true. 

fairy rings and toadstools by richard doyle

Due to the poisonous and hallucinogenic nature of some fungi, they have often been given magical properties in art and literature.  Faeries and gnomes are frequently depicted beside toadstools as in the 19th century painting of Fairy Rings and Toadstools (shown above) by Richard Doyle.  I once came across one of these ‘fairy’ rings in my yard.  They originate in the growth of fungi around the outer edge of the decaying underground roots of old trees.  It seemed pretty harmless in the light of day, but who knows what magic transpired in its midst during moonlit nights.

fungi with copper pennies

Copper penny test to determine toxicity of mushrooms as per Wind's comment

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