Explore the flavours of our land through the Alberta Foraging Network
There is growing interest from the food tourism industry to utilize authentic outdoor activities like fishing, foraging and hunting to connect with and showcase a destination’s culinary landscape. Progressive global regions have incorporated foraging as part of their national tourism strategy, and Alberta is in an ideal position to add and expand foraging experiences as part of the outdoor food tourism positioning.
ACTA has created a foraging network to explore, expand and develop the tourism offerings available in Alberta. The creation of the foraging network allows for knowledge sharing and best practices, along with access to skill-building and training initiatives, which paves the way for tourism development opportunities. It also connects foragers with chefs and restaurants to create a series of new product offerings showcasing foraging and dining adventures, as well as a platform to market their services to consumers.
Learn how to forage in a safe and sustainable manner, where foraging is permitted in Alberta (and where you can’t!), some of the local area plants that you might come across in your explorations, and the passionate foragers who can take you on unforgettable experiences in breathtaking landscapes.
Check out the Alberta Foraging Network.
TOOLS FOR FORAGING
|FOLDING KNIFE||PRUNING SHEARS||HORI HORI KNIFE||CONTAINERS|
|For harvesting mushrooms, peeling bark, preparing foods. Check local bylaws for knives not permitted in public places.||For cutting leaves, twigs, flowers, shoots, fruit, etc.||For digging up roots and tubers. A gardening trowel can also work in its place.||For storing foraged items. Baskets and plastic containers for berries, fruit, leaves. Mesh bags for mushrooms. Fabric bags for nuts, roots and other tough plants.|
As you set out to discover the bounty of Alberta, it is important to be respectful of the environment to reduce the impact that the foraging will have on the landscape and eco-system. Sustainable practices will help to preserve the natural settings for wildlife and future generations. As such, the following are recommended guidelines to help you to ensure that you are harvesting in a manner that enables others to explore many years down the road.
Check Land Use Permissions
Across Alberta, there are a variety of conservation sites where foraging is a permitted activity. There are also select crown and public use lands where you can also forage. However, before you go picking anywhere, do your homework. Make absolute certain that you can forage on that particular piece of land. Some areas, such as national, provincial and most local parks, prohibit foraging of any kind, and others where the laws are in place to help prevent the destruction of protected areas. If you are unsure, check with the landowner or municipalities/counties for direction. Never forage on a piece of land on which you do not have permission to do so.
Respect the Land
When you are exploring the area, be sure to stick to the designated paths as much as possible. Stomping through the bush can destroy delicate plant life and the surrounding area. It should look the same as when you arrived – maybe even better. If you brought it in, you take it out. If you dig any holes, be sure to fill and cover them. Your foraging should not disrupt the natural environment.
Respect the Plant
Never harvest in ways that will prevent the re-growth of the plant. Do not tear the plant – use a sharp knife and brace the plant in your hand as not to put strain on the rest of the plant. When harvesting, only collect from areas where you see a large quantity of that plant (more than seven plants). From those plants, you should only collect a maximum of 10% of what you see, and never all from the same plant. For example, if you see ten plants with ten leaves each, you can collect ten leaves total (10/100 = 10%) and you will want to take maybe one from each plant to ensure its survival. Taking few leaves from many plants helps to maintain the natural balance.
Know the Plant
Never pick a plant that you are not 100% certain of what it is. Many plant varieties found in Alberta have look-a-likes that can be toxic if ingested. Others, like stinging nettle, can cause irritations and rashes if harvested incorrectly. Do your research and check carefully when you are identifying the plants. Make sure that what you are harvesting matches each element of the plant (leaves, stalk, flower, fruit etc.), not just one or two as that may be the difference between life and death.
Stay Aware of Your Surroundings
Test for Reactions
A few others to keep in mind
Foraging & the Alberta Ecology – By Julie Walker
Julie is a naturalist, and has been a hiking guide and outdoor educator since 1987. She brings an ecological perspective to the idea of wild food foraging. Understanding the habitats and eco-regions of Alberta so we can adapt our idea of sustaining nature is key to her teachings.
Alberta contains within it a variety of eco-regions, each one has different soils, tree types, flowers, shrubs and therefore, edible and medicinal plants. For example, Southern Alberta has the Prairie Grasslands, the Foothills, Aspen Parkland and the Rocky Mountains.
Across the province, there are many different users of Alberta’s wild lands. The logging industry, cattle grazing industry, Tourism and Recreation, hunting and fishing, and even Oil and Gas. Each have their own unique demands on the land and leave a different footprint on the land. The provincial government and Alberta Parks manage the land with land use zones and land use policies.
There are the forestry management zones, agricultural zones, provincial recreation areas, provincial parks, wildland parks, provincial grazing leases and public land use zones. Each area may have one, or more, designated uses.
As far as foragers are concerned, the areas where harvesting is allowed, with a permit, is the public land use zones and Crown land. The other users in the same Public land use zones are: commercial logging, commercial cattle grazing, Oil and Gas, fishing, hunting, ATV use and random camping.
Each of these activities intensely uses the landscape, dramatically changing and fragmenting it during each use. As foragers, we become the ecological eyes of the forest floor. The flowering plants, herbs, roots, shrubs and seeds are a foragers dream and we are the few people who are interested in them
No other industry pays as much attention to the flowering plants of the forest floor as foraging does. One of the by-products of these industries you will notice in the forest, is the spread of non-native species. The most common and easily spread non-native is Smooth Brome grass, brought here to feed cattle in the late 1800’s. This grass chokes out most of the flowering plants that make up the understory of each eco-region. Many of these flowering plants are the edible and medicinal species of the Aspen Parkland, Foothills and Rocky Mountain forest areas that we know and love.
I feel tha foraging has a place with these industries. The wild plants are a source of sustainable, climate-adapted natural foods that contain many of the nutrients our bodies need to stay healthy. As we learn more about them and how well they tolerate harvesting, how they work within the plant communities in which they grow and how we ensure a balance is maintained with the wildlife that depend on these plants, we have a real opportunity to bring the value of the forest floor to the forefront. An example of this is a teaching about sage that I received from a Cree woman; “Never take all the tall plants, always take a variety of plant sizes, so you leave older and younger plants in the community.”
Historically, the European value of the forest floor was primarily seen by flower lovers, explorers and medicine foragers. All First Nations people had a deep knowledge as part of their lifelong learning. The wild food concept is growing in Alberta and our role as knowledge keepers of healthy eco-systems is an important one. Learning about the eco-region in which we live is key to understanding the health of that area.
The Blackfoot, the Cree and many other First Nations cultures are re-claiming that knowledge and bringing these teachings back, as well as teaching people in the urban world. Together, we can play a role in the understanding and preservation of the intact eco-regions of Alberta and build on their value as part of our local food culture. I invite you to join me and the many other wild food educators, who are on this journey.
Thank you and enjoy re-weaving yourself into the web of nature!
Interested in learning more about foraging in Alberta? Check out the Alberta Foraging Network.