Wild edibles at your doorstep
By Terra Ciolfe
Under the sign for the Royal Courtyards, just off of King Street East in Bolton, Lisa Yates pulls different plants up from ground.
As cars exit the parking lot and transport trucks pass by, Yates carefully explains each one in detail, from its taste to its history.
Every step seemingly ushers in new wild plants that have a particular use, only known to those who care to learn.
“My best defense to a weed is to eat it,” she said, only partially joking, while holding the leaves from a dandelion.
The nurse practitioner and teacher, who has a PhD in botanical science, partnered with Caledon Community Services (CCS) to offer a “Wild Edibles” walk around town recently.
“The dandelion is one of the most despised plants,” she said to a small audience of five just after stepping out of the CCS office. “It has its mug shot on bottles of herbicides and pesticides.”
But, she continues, the flower is incredibly nutritious.
You can eat it raw in a salad for a source of iron; roast the root for a drink good for the gall bladder; brine the buds, use the seeds to make medicine for liver problems, she said.
“Dandelion gives so much, I could talk about it for hours,” she said to the group. “It is the most abundant, simplest plant out there.”
What started out as a childhood curiosity – similar to that of both her Irish grandmother’s, she said – has blossomed into a passion and career.
“We have forgot how to listen,” she said. “If you listen they teach you.”
People have a fear of trying things that aren’t wrapped in cellophane or that they didn’t buy in the grocery store. However, wild plants are more nutritious than anything you’ll get from the local store, she said. “Lose the fear and get out there and learn,” she continued. “Yes, there are toxic plants out there, but you’ll see the beauty in what’s there to give you.”
While her rallying cry could make the average resident want to start foraging their backyards, it comes with a word of caution. Identify the plant before eating away – and if that’s not possible, try a small bit first to see the reaction. And don’t eat plants near cars or that have been sprayed with pesticide.
As she continues around the green border of the parking lot, no plant is off limits whether it’s a tree, a vine, or a small leafy plant.
“I hope I’ve sparked a curiosity,” she said about the walk. “That they want to know more.”
Which is exactly how the Manager Poverty Reduction for CSS Kim D’eri felt.
“There’s just so much opportunity for us to learn about the wildlife,” she said after the walk. “I loved it.”
While she’ still intimidated at the thought of hunting the Bolton wilds for some food, she’s enthusiastic about starting small.
“I think I’m going to start with the basics,” she said, noting she’ll start with the dandelion.