In today’s blog, you’ll learn about my approach to the fine art of boreal harvesting and what my main motivation is for harvesting and ingesting my findings from the wild.
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As you’ve heard me say many times in the past, I am Ukrainian: 75% Ukrainian to be a bit more precise (albeit my Ancestry DNA results added a few different strains in the mix). With that being said, I take a lot of pride in being Ukrainian, and I am true to my heritage. I love to eat. A few blogs ago I wrote about going to my Auntie Mary’s late at night where she had a full table spread ready to go. Remember? Ukrainians like good food and ample amounts of it too.
So it’s no surprise that I removed most of the perennials from my yard at my house in Red Lake and replaced those dirt spots with vegetables, because as far as I know, you can’t eat a hosta. (Actually, that’s not true. You CAN eat a hosta!) Brad and I have really gotten into the blanching, canning, pickling and freezing of vegetables over the years. So we have a yard full of beets, cauliflower, broccoli, red cabbage, tomatoes, zucchini, yada, yada, yada. We plant a lot. Add to that our prolific berry bushes such as saskatoons, raspberries, gooseberries and man, the strawberries this year were out of control! The summers are spent roaming around the yard, looking at blooms that will become juicy, delicious meals.
But out at the farm, we don’t have a garden. We are still working on clearing the land so we haven’t had the chance to take on that project yet. Yes, we have transplanted a few berry bushes here and there, but overall, we’re not able to sustain ourselves with what we have grown. That will come. So, true to my Ukrainian nature, I am curious about what I already have on my land that I can eat. So far we haven’t found very much in the way of mushrooms, but I’ll be honest in saying that we really haven’t looked that hard yet. They are there, but we are either not at the farm during their season, or we haven’t gone trolluping into the bush while we’re down for that duration of time. This spring Brad serendipitously came across a big batch of fiddleheads which we were able to triumphantly feed on. These are cinnamon ferns. Some say don’t eat them. Some say do. We do, in incredibly small amounts, once a year, and we’re not dead yet.
But I have a book. It’s a book that I first came across on Instagram. My friend Nick Di Francesco of Blackwater Bushcraft (who you can check out here: https://www.instagram.com/blackwaterbushcraft/?hl=en ) posted about a book that he uses as a reference called The Boreal Herbal. This book has become somewhat of a bible for me, and I use it as a reference ALL.THE.TIME. Seriously, I need to buy two of ’em. One for Red Lake and one for the farm because when I forget it I am very, very upset with myself. And seriously, the author of the book, Beverley Grey, she HAS to have a little bit of Ukrainian in her, because that girl eats everything from coniferous needles to who knows what. I remember reading once that she turns one of her harvests into popsicles, and I thought…POPSICLES? What the heck? Haha People are fascinating and their pallets are even more so.
So I slowly and methodically went page by page through the book, earmarking all of the pages that had a weed or plant or tree in it that I recognized from our property or while gallivanting through the woods. Then I started looking at what they are used for and holy man…I don’t know why anyone bothers with synthetic medicines. It’s basically all in our backyards!
This is how I got hung up on plantain. Around our campfire at the farm, the plantain in prolific. For safety requirements when doing burns, we were advised to scrape our land down to to dirt and have our fire contained within that region. The plantain just loves the ground there. So I put on my rubber boots and stomped over to the firepit, with book in hand to confirm that my identification skills were on point and holy cow. I’ve got me a whole heck of a lot of plantain. Then I started to really look around and realized that basically, the whole world is being held together by plantain weeds. It is literally everywhere. Plantain is one of those wonder weeds that does pretty well everything from stopping bleeding to eliminating the itch from bug bites, stings and wounds, to soothing and reducing skin inflammations. When I got stung by a wasp, which happens quite frequently at the farm (did you know those little bastards make nests in the GROUND? What a bunch of jerks!) I ripped up plantain and frenetically rubbed it on the sting and I am not even joking when I tell you it eliminated the pain immediately. It was one of those moments where I wished that I had known about it much sooner as it would have come in handy many times over the years.
I am on a Homesteading page on Facebook, and any time someone asks for natural relief for some form of ailment, my go-to response is “plantain”! So I learned how to make a salve out of it, and it is lovely. I am sharing the recipe with you today in my resource library.
I also make it quite regularly in the summer and sell it in little jam jars. It’s just awesome. As I like to say, if you’ll excuse the language, “I’m no doctor but this shit is good.” I hope my recipe helps you on your way to naturally healing because my recipe uses only natural ingredients and no weird additives. If you want to make it smelly with different essential oils, though, have at ‘er. I just happen to love the smell of plantain.
This journey of harvesting has sparked a big interest in me. I am constantly harvesting and drying something to transform into something I can either eat, drink, or slather all over my body. In my collection at the moment is wild chamomile, dandelion root, purple clover, Labrador tea and fireweed.
Lately I have taken to posting my boreal harvest findings to my YouTube channel. Yep, we have a YouTube channel. What a funny world. Please note that I do not have any intentions of becoming a medicinal expert. Basically, my videos give you an idea of what these plants TASTE like, because I’m Ukrainian, remember?
That leads me to my next story about thistles. You would think the taste test results would be a no-brainer on this one, right? After all, the word THISTLE does not exactly conjure up nice thoughts. Ouchie.
But after doing some research, it kept on coming up time and time again that people were eating thistles, from top to bottom. Well, I wasn’t going to go this one alone, so I dragged Brad along with me for the taste test ride. I’ve added the video link here for you to check out what the results are from eating various parts of the Canadian thistle.
So until that garden gets put in at the farm, we are going to eat what nature has provided for us. So far, I have done taste tests on three of the five plants that I have harvested from the land and posted those findings on my YouTube channel as well.
What about you? Are you a boreal harvester? What is your favourite thing to collect from nature and bring into your home? I hope this blog inspires you to get out there and take a look at the “weeds” that are all around your feet, and instead of trying to think of ways to eliminate them, try to think of ways you can eat them!
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