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COLUMN: Spring can mark the start of backyard foraging

Your own yard is the perfect site for an ultra-sustainable foraging practice.
PG18 Jackie Skrypnek HEAD SHOT
Jackie Skrypnek

It certainly took its time coming, but spring has well and truly arrived in Cochrane. Some of us may have gardens planned, some may have a few things in the ground already, but even if you’re not so inclined there’s another source of food out there that you may not have thought of. It’s free, takes no effort to produce, and beats the vegetable patch out of the gates every year.

Have you ever explored your yard for the edibles that have simply volunteered there? They might be wild species, they might be “weeds”, or they might be perennials you never thought to eat, but chances are there are at least a couple of plants just outside your door that you could add to a meal right now. Dandelion leaves and flowers shouldn’t be hard to come by, but you might also find plantain, chickweed, lamb’s quarters, sorrel, chives, garlic shoots, young yarrow leaves, or fireweed. Even the leaves, young shoots, and roots of the much-loathed creeping bellflower are edible.1

Your own yard is the perfect site for an ultra-sustainable foraging practice. You’re not disturbing wilderness areas, you’re not apt to over harvest if you want to see the plants return year after year, and if you’re harvesting “weeds” what better way to dispose of them than on your dinner plate! Wild species also tend to be nutritionally superior to our domestic garden varieties. Dandelion leaves, for example, have twice the calcium, three times the vitamin A, five times the vitamin K and E, and eight times the antioxidants that spinach does.2

Of course, edible greens pop up all over our urban spaces so you’ll find them even if you don’t have a yard. But it’s hard to know if the plantain in the alley or the dandelions on the edge of the playground have been sprayed or otherwise exposed to chemicals like car exhaust. You want to be certain of two things when foraging: the identity of the plant and the cleanliness of the source. Unless you know unequivocally that you’ve got an edible species, consult an expert or field guide and begin with a tiny nibble when trying any for the first time. Not every plant is benign!

So head out with a bowl and scissors and do a little backyard forage - you might be surprised at how much food is all around us. And if you don’t find much worth eating, consider putting some seeds or a cutting in the ground so you have something to look forward to when the snow melts next spring.

Jackie Skrypnek is the President of Cultivate Cochrane. Cultivate Cochrane will be posting helpful resources on various food and sustainability topics over the coming weeks - including more about foraging! Sign up as a member or check regularly for updates.