INDIGENOUS PLANTS as Traditional Food, UNIVERCITY, Burnaby, BC.:
I think many will be amazed at how many local plants, right below our feet, are viable foods.
“Food Plants of Coastal First Peoples” by Nancy J. Turner (Royal BC Museum Handbook, Victoria 1995, reprinted 2006) is a great resource with clear descriptions of plants, scientific and common names, traditional uses, pictures, mostly in colour, for each excerpt.
I picked up a copy at the Spirit Gallery on Bay Street in Horseshoe Bay where I was fortunate to talk to the clerk about Soapberry ice cream! Okay, so it is an acquired taste, I heard, but the experience of making ice cream together sounded fun.
I have taken license to repeat portions of the plant summaries, below. For the sake of helping you identify local plants.
Some plants, as you can read in “Food Plants of Coastal First Peoples” (Turner) have been adapted into UniverCity “native” landscaping, and are not particularly found wild.
Beware Clasping Twisted Stalk Lily is NOT edible. It looks similar to the False Solomon’s Seal, listed below.
Red Elderberry (Honeysuckle family): a tall, bushy shrub. “The leaves are compound, having five to seven leaflets, which are ilitpical or lance shaped, pointed and sharply toothed. “Red Elderberries could be steamed overnight in pits lined in Skunk Cabbage” (Turner)
NOTE: “The bark, wood, leaves and roots of Red Elderberry are considered to be poisonous…uncooked elderberry may produce nausea.:(Turner)
Wild Lily-of-the-Valley: (lily family) “berries”
False Solomon’s Seal (lily family): “berries”
Chocolate Lily: “lily bulbs seem to have had the same dietary role for the Coast Salish of the south coast … steamed in pots resemble real rice” (Turner) !!!
I haven’t seen this plant on the mountain top… You can see one in the Burnaby Wildlife Rescue Wildlife Garden, in the native plant garden below the large wooden BWR signage.
Licorice Fern: rhizomes “used medicinally for colds ans sore throats by many coastal groups” these ferns are commonly spotted in our mountain forests growing in trees.
Sword Fern (Fern Family) “the rhizomes were usually dug up in the spring before the new leaves sprouted.
“starvation food only…”!
Calipso (Orchid family): corms. Sampling the corms is not recommended, since it means destroying the entire plant”
Before the Elementary School Grounds were cleared, we had many orchids…
Oregon Grape (Barberry family)…common in landscaped areas at UniverCity: berries
Bunchberry: (Dogwood Family) … the Sechelt name for them means “the one that pretends to be
Salal” “Bunchberries are usually eaten raw in early autumn with Grease and, in recent times, with sugar.” (Turner, etc. etc)
Kinnikinnick (Heather family) common in landscaped areas: “dry and mealy texture” berries …”Before contact with Europans, the Coast Salish of Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland, and the Nuxalk made special pipes from hollowed-out gooseberry stems for this purpose.
Salal “the salal berries are without a doubt the most plentiful and widely used fruit on the coast” “They picked them in clusters in late summer, and ate them fresh or dried them in cakes for winter.”
Labrador Tea (Heather family)… aromatic leaves of this shrub to make tea. The haida picked the young leaves in Spring, before the plants flowered, Mountain Bilberry (Heather family) also called Black Mountain Huckleberry.
Coastal Black Gooseberry: witnessed inside former forest on Elementary School Ground. Sadly gone from the area
White Flowered Currant ?? don’t know if this is found locally.
Red Flowering Currant (Gooseberry Family)
Red Huckleberry: berries
Fireweed: “the inner part of the stem”
Saskatoon Berry (Rose Family): common as landscape plant at UniverCity.
Indian Plum (Rose Family): berries: “Some aboriginal people call them “choke-cherries” because they are bitter and make you pucker, but hey are quite palpable when they are fully ripe.”
Wild Roses: hips not commonly eaten locally….”One Kwakwaka’wakw woman, when asked if her people had eaten rose hips, laughed and said, “Oh no! they would give you an itchy bottom!” The Comox also attributed this effect to the seeds, but ate the outer rind.” (Turner)
Wild Strawberries (Blue Leaf Strawberry) (Rose Family)
Thimbleberry (Rose Family) : berries and young sprouts.
Salmonberry: (Rose Family) sprouts and berries
Sitka Mountain Ash (Rose family)… more for the birds!
Anyway, now that the red-flowering currant is in full bloom at UniverCity we are reminded of the glory of our natural plant diversity here in the community. Usually we are happy to appreciate the lovely colours in spring. It is such a surprise to see that, despite development, we have managed to retain much diversity.
The balance with nature is a difficult one. The diversity is possible with the input of many, planning of the SFU Trust, and local developers who must take care of sensitive plants during development. Of course the ongoing sensitivity of UniverCity residents, who take care not to litter or otherwise disrupt the covenants has great import when considering future vaibility of native plants. Invasives are a continuous issue, brought in by human development. Luckily the natural world has a veracity, as we have witnessed.
The white flowers of the trillium (three leaves and a white flower in centre) in the covenant/SFU right of way between Serenity and Harmony is a treat right now. I recommend taking a walk to view the pretty flowers (though NOT edible). I believe I may have even spotted a False Solomon’s Seal, the rarer cousin to the Clasping Twisted Stalk Lily. Eating from nature can be a tricky venture, I admit. Like I mentioned above: The Clasping Twisted Stalk Lily is NOT edible.
And I’ve heard one venture that may leave a bitter taste. I never quite got! the sweet sugar you could apparently suck from the flowers of clover, a trick showed to me by my dad when I was little.
I am not first nations, but first generation Canadian. Every once and a while I will pick a purple flower of clover from a good location and start sucking the root end of the flower.
Of course you don’t want to eat plants too close to paths were dogs have been!
knowing our neighbourhood plants is a way to take ownership!