Creeping Bellflower Harvest May 2022

Posted on Categories:Blog Posts, Harvest Stories

Been a while since we posted!! Life has been crazy preparing the garden beds and trying to keep our plants alive! Here’s a little story about an enemy turned friend haha. As they say in permaculture the problem is the solution.

Here is Creeping Bellflower – Campanula rapunculoides.

A wildflower that is invasive and is likely right in your own yard! Identifying it is pretty easy! Definitely, an easy green to forage for and is quite prolific, which means there are lots to harvest!

Creeping Bellflower in bloom. Bloom season is June – October.

What Is Creeping Bellflower (Campanula Rapunculoides)?

Plant type: perennial

Size: low growing clumped foliage in spring, grows to 1 m tall flowering spike in early summer

Leaves: heart-shaped in early-stage becoming lance-shaped, tooth-edged, and coarse-textured (a tad hairy!)

Creeping Bellflower Leaves

Flowers: purple-blue 2-3 cm long nodding bells, blooms begin on lower stem

Bloom season: June – October

Now the roots can be a pain. Creeping bellflower has both a thick, tuber-like root that’s an inch or up to several inches deep in the soil (which can be why they take over a raised garden bed). Aside from these tuber-type roots it also has a lot of thread-like little roots that grow horizontally just below the soil. As this was the issue in our raised beds I got to know the roots quite well. I was so frustrated by these roots, I started Googling solutions to dealing with them and after some research, I found out, that it’s edible!! As the permies say, try to turn the problem, into the solution!!

What Does Creeping Bellflower Taste Like?

The greens are very similar to spinach. The taste is subtle and not bitter or too strong which I find is typical of wild edible greens. This makes it a top option to use as a spinach alternative. The one thing I will mention is that the leaves have a bit of a fuzzy texture and I think is much better cooked (but they can totally be eaten raw! I used it like spinach in eggs and then the roots I soaked and made into a Korena side dish called, Doraji Namul! Check the recipe I used below! I can also see the greens being used in pesto and even using the roots as s substitute for the pine nuts!! We will be trying that in another post.

How To Make Doraji Namul (Sauteed Bellflower Root)

For our recipe, I used fresh roots, so I made sure to soak them overnight in saltwater to cut some of the bitterness. If you can find dried roots you can use them as well!!

Soaking the fresh Bellflower roots. Split them up to soften them more. Save for eating or dry them for future use.
  1. If using dried roots. Place the doraji / bellflower root in a large bowl and immerse it in water overnight (8 to 12 hours). Drain the water. If using fresh like in my case, simply add the coarse sea salt and wash the bellflower root a few times with running water. This is to remove the bitter taste of the bellflower root. Boil some water in a saucepan (enough to cover the root) and blanch the bellflower root in rolling boiling water for about 2 minutes. Drain the water and rinse under cold running water. (I actually boiled them for a little longer until they were softened).
  2. Place the blanched bellflower root in a mixing bowl then add the seasoning sauce. Mix them well with your hands.
  3. Heat up a skillet over medium-high heat. Once heated, spread the cooking oil. Add the seasoned bellflower root and stir around quickly. Add the green onion and sesame seeds. Remove from the heat. Serve.
    Be sure to look around as foraging has begun!!

Sometimes life’s toughest challenges can secretly be a blessing in disguise!
It’s all about perspective.

Roots about this size were the best and I would try to find more of this size for eating and cooking!

Our Frontyard Lilac Harvest May 2021

Posted on Categories:Blog Posts, Harvest Stories

Lilacs (Syringa vulgaris) the “Queen of Shrubs”

We are big fans of flowers, and especially hardy flowers, since we are budding gardeners and still learning – so we like a few easy wins. And what is a hardy flower we love? Lilacs! We do nothing, and we have heaps come spring! In contrast, we’ve been trying to grow the not-so-hardy lavender for years. With little success (we just started to stratify some new seeds in our attempt for this season), we decided to start with the most abundant and hardy flower we could find locally, our lilac bushes.

Lilacs have a lovely scent and since we don’t have lavender around (yet), why not use what we have? Since we are now mid-winter 2022, we thought this little throwback to early spring might help us through the winter blues. So what did we do with our lilacs? First, we did a little reading!

Medicinal Uses

Lilacs have been used for centuries as a form of medicine. Lilac leaves and flowers have traditionally been considered a tonic, a febrifuge (helps lower a fever), a vermifuge (anti-parasitic) and an antiperiodic (preventing the return of a disease), and it has been used in the treatment of malaria. This has been confirmed in peer-reviewed works like this one that demonstrated that common lilac, which is a traditionally used medicinal plant in Europe, is a valuable source of active compounds, especially neooleuropein. Scientific data supporting the traditional use of S. vulgaris are connected with its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-nociceptive and antipyretic properties. Traditionally N. American indigenous peoples chewed it to relieve sore mouths.

History of Lilacs in Canada

The history of the lilacs in Canada can be a bit problematic. Lilacs likely made their way to Canada from Eastern Europe, thanks to the pioneers in the 1800’s, and of course Colonialism. Although they are beautiful, we do think it is important to acknowledge history and the effects of the colonizing of Canada. It is important to contextualize the botanical history of imported plants but even more so the fact that we should always be mindful of our native species and respect our native peoples when planting anything. There are many references to lilacs in North America, but we must remember they are not native here. For an extensive look at the history and first historical references, check out “An Ode: A History of Lilacs in Canada by Andrea Eidinger”

How We Used Lilacs

As we learn to use more foraged flowers in everything from cooking to medicine, we know that we simply had to discuss the “Queen of Shrubs” and find a way to harvest and use it in our everyday life. We tried to freeze some which left them brown and soft, with a sweet honey-like odor. This might be useful to use in recipes but it was definitely not a great way to store them for any other uses. We also infused some coconut oil, and honey. The honey was delicious! We ended up using bundles we hung to dry.

Lilac harvesting Spring 2021.

So what did we make? Our very first skincare product! Lilac and lavender Epsom salt scrub made by us!!

Wildcrafting With Our Spring Harvest

I started to make DIY salt scrubs at home. I’ve been slowly perfecting the right recipe. First, I used kosher salt, sugar, and essential oil. Essential oil needs to be mixed with a carrier oil to be applied topically; so I tried coconut oil, however I found coconut oil is comedogenic (i.e. clogs pores). So I changed the recipe to sea salt, epsom salt, glycerin oil, and I’ve been using dried hibiscus leaves, basically loose tea leaves for scent. It is a significantly better recipe however, I’m not a fan of the staining from the tea leaves. Which is where the lilacs come in! They are only around for a short period of time in the spring, so we harvested a bunch of the flowers and are trying 4 separate ways of preserving them: freezing, air drying, in coconut oil, and in honey. Lilac flowers are also edible. so we will be posting the various things we try to do with these beautiful, fragrant, flowers!

Wildcrafting notes from our little modern forest nymph.

To prepare dried lilacs to use in products, you can hang dry them or place them on a drying rack somewhere they will get plenty of airflow. Air-drying is a basic, simple method of preserving lilac flowers, although pink blooms tend to fade. This method can take three weeks or more.

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Assiniboine Park White Spruce Harvest Dec. 2021

Posted on Categories:Blog Posts, Harvest Stories

This adventure starts with the onset of Covid-19 into our household. Likely through our son’s school – and – likely the Omicron variant. This of course means, that we are hunkered down for the next couple of weeks. To fight the boredom, I had been doing reading about one of the most abundant forageable goods during a Canadian winter (our beloved spruce trees) and in particular, the white spruce. There are a few really interesting things that can be done with Spruce needles, and I suppose now is the time to give it a try!

White Spruce Trees in Winnipeg, Manitoba Canada.

What is the White Spruce?

Excpert from Wikipedia:

Picea glauca, the white spruce,[3] is a species of spruce native to the northern temperate and boreal forests in North America. Picea glauca was originally native from central Alaska all through the east, across southern/central Canada to the Avalon Peninsula in Newfoundland. It now has become naturalized southward into the far northern United States border states like Montana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine; there is also an isolated population in the Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming.[4][5][1][6] It is also known as Canadian spruceskunk sprucecat spruceBlack Hills sprucewestern white spruceAlberta white spruce, and Porsild spruce.

Why Forage White Spruce?

Spruce trees are in abundance! Spruce also provides foraging opportunities all year round. The needles are edible and most commonly used to make a hot tea, which is steeped (not boiled) to retain its nutritional quality (we will get into that later). All parts of the tree are non-toxic. Not only can it be used to make hot tea but it can also be used in syrups, as a wild yeast starter, and can be pickled and fermented! Where to start! We will collect, the needles, some tips, bark, and sap! Food and medicine! Not only is the white spruce abundant but it is also an incredible source of Vitamin C, a great medicine for anyone who is fighting off a cold or the flu (although we are fully vaxxed anything we can do to help to fight off Covid-19, we will try!).

Where to Find White Spruce?

As we mentioned before, white spruce is everywhere. It isn’t hard to track down some conifers which make it an awesome foraged good for beginners. The only tree that is poisonous lookalike is the Yew family of evergreens (Taxus baccata). It is pretty easy to tell the difference between the different evergreens and spruce is most easily identified by its shorter four-sided needles. Here is a good guide to identifying conifers!! For our spruce harvest, we walked along the Assiniboine Forest along the edges where some of the surrounding pine trees have been slowly moving into the forest area – which is predominantly aspen.

What’s the Science?

Ok, so what is the science?? There is evidence to suggest that White Spruce was potentially the lifesaving plant known as “Addenna”, a plant that healed Cartier’s critically ill crew.

Several conifers have been considered as candidates for “Annedda”, which was the source for a miraculous cure for scurvy in Jacques Cartier’s critically ill crew in 1536. Vitamin C was responsible for the cure of scurvy and was obtained as an Iroquois decoction from the bark and leaves from this “tree of life”, now commonly referred to as arborvitae. Based on seasonal and diurnal amino acid analyses of candidate “trees of life”, high levels of arginine, proline, and guanidino compounds were also probably present in decoctions prepared in the severe winter.

Arginine, scurvy and Cartier’s “tree of life”
Don J Durzan 

Aside from a healthy dose of Vitamin C, another compound that I found quite interesting was the high levels of shikimic acid, which is a key material used to synthesize Tamiflu!

Shikimic acid is a white crystalline cyclitol, which is a precursor material for industrial synthesis of the important drug, oseltamivir phosphate (Tamiflu), which is an effective drug against the H5N1 influenza virus [1], especially if administered early. According to the in vitro and in vivo studies, shikimic acid and its derivatives possess many pharmacological effects, such as antithrombotic [2], anticoagulant [3], anti-inflammatory [4], analgesic [5], antioxidant [6], anticancer [7], and antibacterial effects [8]. Serious health threats have promoted social development and the concerns over an outbreak of the disease have increased the need for shikimic acid [9]. Shikimic acid (Figure 1) was first isolated from the fruit of Illicium religiosum by Eykman in 1885 [10]. Currently, most of the shikimic acid required by the pharmaceutical industry was obtained from the fruits of Chinese plant star anise (I. verum) [11]. The fruits of this tree were reported that the content of shikimic acid ranged from 2 to 7% [12]; however, only I. verum resource could not satisfy its growing market demand as growing difficulties. Potential alternative resources of shikimic acid are thus urgently required. Shikimic acid is a widely occurring primary plant metabolite, which has been identified in some conifer needles with relative abundance distribution.

Extraction and Chromatographic Determination of Shikimic Acid in Chinese Conifer Needles with 1-Benzyl-3-methylimidazolium Bromide Ionic Liquid Aqueous Solutions

Fengli Chen,1 Kexin Hou,1 Shuangyang Li,1 Yuangang Zu,1 and Lei Yang
White Spruce, Assiniboine Forest, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

How to Prepare White Spruce Tea

Preparing white spruce tea is easy, however, one thing should be considered. It is strong medicine! A small bit goes a long way. The first time we made the tea we made it incredibly too strong. We finished a couple of cups before figuring out the exact ratio to give enough of a citrus pop without being too overwhelming. As a simple rule of thumb, a couple of sprigs the size of your thumbs in 6 cups of water is a rough idea.

This is too much:

This makes VERY strong medicine.

We finally landed on this recipe. One cinnamon stick, one apple, one 13g sprig of our harvested white spruce, and a tablespoon of vanilla in 6 cups of water. Bring to a simmer (do not boil as the heat will damage the vitamin C!) and let it steep. It was quite delicious and really got me thinking about more practical uses for this citrus-style flavor.

The outcome Holiday Spruce tea.

How to Make White Spruce Soda

My next recipe is a simple fermentation process. I added 1/8 c of maple syrup to a jar of water and (roughly) a cup of spruce sprigs. I want to capture the wild yeast to see if I can get a woodsy soda going on!! We are on day two! Not sure the direction I will go with this but I can’t help but think the flavors are so well suited for a fizzy pop!

Wild white spruce fermentation station.

Final thoughts!

Lately, I have been obsessed with this show From The Wild, filmed in Alberta by Kevin Kossowan, about the journey to rediscovering his connection to wild food. I highly recommend it. The show has been inspiring for me to go out and actually use some of the foraged goods that I often overlook, something like the spruce tree. Just as I suspected, the tea is actually quite nice and is something I can see myself making again or at least enjoying when we are out in the woods again.

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Pembina Valley Wild Chaga Harvest Oct. 2021

Posted on Categories:Blog Posts, Harvest Stories
green and yellow trees in a forest

As with most of our greatest adventures, this one started as a simple hike in the Pembina Valley.

Pembina Valley region Manitoba, Canada.

There have already been a couple of frosts by now and so it did not come as any surprise that most of the choice edible mushroom harvest window had closed for this year. However, we always keep our eyes open.
It’s a good thing we did too1 Mixed in with the Aspen trees, a Birch stand showed evidence of a delightful surprise!!

Chaga growing wild in Pembina Valley, Manitoba, Canada.

Low and behold I was right!! There it was in the trees, the “king of mushrooms”, wild Chaga!

What is Chaga?

Inonotus obliquus, commonly called Chaga, is a fungus in the family Hymenochaetaceae. It is parasitic on birch and other trees. The sterile conk is irregularly formed and resembles burnt charcoal.

Harvesting wild Chaga in Pembina Valley, Manitoba, Canada.

Animal and test-tube studies found that Chaga extract may boost immunity, prevent chronic inflammation, fight cancer, lower blood sugar levels, and reduce cholesterol.

Once we successfully harvested the Chaga, we said a short prayer of gratitude to the Creator and we brought it home for processing. We set it up on drying racks for about two weeks. We placed the Chaga in jars and have saved 20g sample bags for those who may be interested!

Drying Chaga chunks.

Preparing Chaga

My prefered way to take the medicine is tea. Take a chunk and simmer until the water is dark, there is no science to this and the longer it soaks the more flavour it will have. Some folks leave the chunks in water all day. You can prepare it by placing it to steep on something warm like a stovetop or perhaps the woodstove however, simply boiling water and letting it steep in a cup works fine as well. You may want to powder it a bit more so that it mixes in a bit better! I often throw in a few pieces and reuse them over and over until the flavour fades as you can see below…

Preparing Chaga tea.

It has a slight vanilla flavour and is a wonderful coffee replacement. It is one of my fave teas!!

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