During my formative years, my father was an avid outdoorsman who trained others how to survive in the Canadian wilderness. I was fortunate for the opportunity to tag along during his survival training excursions, and I still have fond memories of family camping trips throughout the East Coast of Canada. While much of what I’ve learned has faded overtime, I’ve retained bits and pieces of his imparted knowledge and training, including an adeptness for recognizing wild animals (particularly water fowl), an intrinsic sense of woodland navigation, and an knowledge of edible flora.
Nowadays, my work as a holistic nutritionist and plant-based chef has unearthed an underlying interest in edible plants and wild foraging. In that vein, reading Some Useful Wild Plants: A Foraging Guide to Food and Medicine From Nature was a nostalgic, enjoyable and educational experience. Although Dan Jason wrote this book based on his research of wild plants found in British Columbia, it was still relevant to me as a Nova Scotian currently residing in Ontario. Most recently, I referenced Some Useful Wild Plants as I explored the woods and backroads during a vacation in Prince Edward County, Ontario.
This book was originally published in 1971, and the current, revised edition was released in 2017. Jason initially wrote this book as “there weren’t many books on foraging for wild plants back then”. Some Useful Wild Plants provides a wealth of information on plant species including tips for identification, their nutritional profile, and their uses (both culinary and medicinal). Jason’s research included interviews with “First Nations herbalist and Daukhobor wild-crafters” (p.7), visits to libraries, and excursions through the wilderness of southern British Columbia. This book is also peppered with charming (but somewhat impractical) line drawings of featured plants by illustrator Bob Inwood.
The culinary aspect of this book was particularly interesting. Many common plants that we see along roadsides or in the woods are edible. Plants like milk weed, lamb’s quarters or clover, are abundant in many parts of Canada. In fact, I’ve seen all of these in the past few months in both Ontario and Nova Scotia. However, most Canadians would walk by them without knowing they are edible, let alone how to prepare them. Jason provides suggestions on how to incorporate the featured plants into everyday cooking and for therapeutic uses.
Despite being an informative guide for those interested in learning more about wild Canadian plants, it may not be practical for those looking to forage and consume the fruits (or leaves or roots) of their labour. The black and white sketches offer a vintage appeal and down-to-earth authenticity, but lack the detail and clarity that would come with high-resolution photos or colour illustration. For a novice forager with limited knowledge of wild plants, it may be challenging to identify species based on the descriptions alone. The accompanying sketches are dark and not very clear. One might have better luck with a foraging app or even a quick Google image search.
It’s foreseeable that scientific or inquisitive minds would question the information presented in this book. Jason lists medicinal uses and also nutritional benefits of the plants featured, but none of it is referenced or sourced. After reading the book, I personally feel confident in Jason’s research, and I wouldn’t hesitate to consume any of the featured edible plants. In fact, I’m inspired and excited by the prospect! However, I know that not everyone would share my enthusiasm. Without proper referencing, certain claims could be called to question by more vigilant readers.
Despite its shortcomings, Some Useful Wild Plants provides an engaging and accessible introduction to the abundance of edible flora that exists here in Canada. Jason’s expertise of wild plants is evident, and the way he relays it is both admirable and inspiring.
Amy Longard is a registered holistic nutritionist and plant-based chef with formal culinary training from the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York City. As a consultant, speaker, nutritionist and chef she is passionate about making it easy and fun to embrace a plant-based diet. Since founding her company in 2015, she has worked throughout Canada and abroad as a chef and speaker. Please see www.amylongard.com for more information or @amylongard on Instagram.
Amy Longard est nutritionniste holistique et chef spécialisée en cuisine végétalienne. Elle a été officiellement formée au Natural Gourmet Institute à New York. Consultante, conférencière, nutritionniste et chef, Amy s’est investie avec passion pour démontrer à quel point il est facile et agréable d’adopter un régime alimentaire végétalien. Depuis la mise sur pied de son entreprise en 2015, elle a travaillé à titre de chef et de conférencière partout au Canada et à l’étranger. Pour de plus amples renseignements, trouvez-la sur Instagram @amylongard ou veuillez visiter son site : www.amylongard.com.