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.