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Montreal’s the Menu

Foraging for naturalists and foodies alike

By Robert Beauchamps

With hundreds of species of wild edibles across the island of Montreal, why not take advantage of nature’s bountiful (and free) food source? Humans have done just that for millennia. With rising food costs and an obvious disconnect with nature, many among us are taking our grocery lists to the wooded path in lieu of the grocery aisle.

Foraging for food is gaining in popularity. It helps that renowned foodies and celebrity chefs are heading out for a hike in search of a wide array of fresh, local, and sustainable ingredients. The bounty includes everything from mushrooms and acorns to onions, wildflowers, berries, and bulbs.

The hero of the modern movement is René Redzepi, head chef at Copenhagen’s Noma restaurant. Known for his foraged foods making up 20-course meals, Mr. Redzepi told Interview magazine that, in a very basic sense, foraging helps you see nature not just as a beautiful thing but also as a delicious resource. “Once you start actually indulging and really spending time in it you also want to take care of it. Basically you are obtaining a new skill set, a new knowledge that connects you to the place you’re in.”

Closer to home, chef John Winter Russell makes foraging part of his daily routine in and around Little Burgundy. “If you can have food for free that you can pick in a few minutes on your way home from work, why wouldn’t you want to take advantage of that,” he said in a recent interview with The Gazette. “I’m not doing this to prove a point or to exaggerate an idea. I really think we should be eating what grows around us.”

Les Jardins Sauvages, a restaurant in St-Roch-de-L’Achigan under an hour outside of Montreal, also believes in foraging for fresh comestibles. Montrealers can browse through their kiosk at Jean Talon Market for ideas of what to look for on their own. Best of all, they offer workshops for would-be foragers. Explore three different environments and their so-called harvest: open field, riverbank, and deciduous forest.

The best part is you shadow experts in their field, no pun intended. Of course, not all plants are safe for human consumption, and eating the wrong plant (or the wrong part of an otherwise-safe plant) can result in severe illness or even death. A good beginner’s resource is the site www.northernbushcraft.com, which comes complete with detailed descriptions, pictures and what part of each plant is edible. The bulbs of one plant might be perfectly safe, but the leaves could cause diarrhoea, for instance. That said, regardless of whether you forage solo or with a friend, never eat a plant unless you can identify it with absolute certainty.

More tips to consider:
Familiarize yourself with a plant’s Latin name since common names aren’t consistent and there are instances where a plant shares a common name with a poisonous plant. Check with local government to learn whether it has rules regarding foraging on public land.

Foraging Fights Hunger:
Foraging can also aid national efforts to reduce hunger. University of California researchers are experimenting with a program that maps edible plants in low-income neighbourhoods. The goal is to empower local residents by helping them find food near their homes.

 

Fall 2016, Vol 8 N°4

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