Tree Fest 2017

Despite the withering humidity, I had a great time at Tree Fest 2017, held at Brewer Park September 23 and 24. Many thanks to the Tree Fest Ottawa folks for inviting me to host an edible plant walk, and to all those who soldiered on through the heat, asking great questions and swapping info.

Of the many plant species in Brewer Park, here’s a short list of some of the most common edibles found, and just a few ideas of what you can do with them:

Acorns : go nuts and grind these into flour 

Black walnuts : cracking these requires patience and/or a vice, your choice

Burdock : think Velcro…roots are edible but especially tough to dig up in dry conditions

Cattails : pollen can be used as flour…this spring I made a superb fish batter with it

Chicory : beautiful blue flowers; the root is best known as a coffee substitute

Clover : red and white and tasty all over; flowers are sweet and smell fabulous

Dandelion : all-round great plant; invite these dudes & dudettes round for supper, brunch…

Dock : leaves are like Swiss chard in spring; later, grind the seeds for a buckwheat flour substitute

Lamb’s quarters : leaves are crunchy, kinda sweet, and a great addition to a salad

Milkweed : although many parts are edible, unless it’s in abundance, leave most or all for the Monarchs

Pineapple weed : steeped in hot water it really does taste like its eponymous fruit

Plantain : no, not the banana, the powerhouse medicinal plant

Sumac : sumac-ade is lemony; you need a clean source because washing flowers destroys the flavour

Wild grape : edible leaves (spring) and fruit (summer/fall), but also invasive and can and do kill trees of all sizes.

More detail on some of these plants, including recipes, how-to videos, and foraging resources can be found in Every Lawn a Salad Bar.

Remember, be a safe, smart and ethical forager:

  1. If in doubt, don’t put it in your mouth! (Or anyone else’s either.)
  2. Get curious. Read, ask questions, take pictures. Cross-reference information with reliable sources. Some of these include university and college research departments, government departments and agencies, national or professional societies, NGOs, and local experts.
  3. Don’t be greedy. If you over harvest certain plants, like fiddleheads for example, you can severely damage or kill them. There may also be other species that depend on a plant. I’m sure you wouldn’t be thrilled if some stranger came into your home and raided your larder.

Poisonous swallowwort, aka dog-strangling vine, seed (top) and in flower (bottom). No actual dogs have ever been strangled, but the same cannot be said for the many unsuspecting plants lying in its path. This stuff is all over Ottawa, including Brewer Park. If you’ve got this vine on your property, and it hasn’t yet gone to seed, and it’s getting near any plant you care about, including trees, dig it out or cut it back now.

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