Spring is here and I am bursting with excitement that the time has come again for hiking and picnics. These two things complement each other quite nicely in my life because I wildcraft herbs pretty frequently. Wildcrafting herbs adds layers of fun to your hiking experience. It is something you can do by yourself, with friends and even your children.
So what is wildcrafting anyway? Put simply, it is gathering any plants or herbs from the wild. When I was in herb school my favourite thing to do with the class was to go on field walks and munch on our chlorophyll filled friends. We learned about the nutritional value of each plant and how to use them in our daily lives. Now whenever I go on a walk into the woods with my son, he too is pointing out all the herbs and knows which ones are good to taste and eat. It’s so much fun!
I would love to share with you some of my favourite herbs to harvest when out hiking. I chose these plants because they are easy to identify and perfectly safe to try.
Plantain- There is two types of plantain, broad leaf and narrow leaf. Both are equally usable. Plantain can be put into salads as it is high in vitamins A, C and is calcium rich too. Not only can you eat this plant as a green but it is also one of the most widely used plants for healing cuts and scrapes! It can help take the itch and swelling down from ant bites and bee stings.
Dandelion- Dandelion is one of the most cherished plants by herbalists and simultaneously viewed as a nuisance of a weed by most suburban Americans. Dandelion leaf is a powerhouse of nutrients! It contains 535% of the daily recommended value of vitamin K which is arguable the most important nutrient known for building bone density. They are high in fiber and contain vitamins A, C, B6 and the minerals calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium. You can eat this raw in a wild salad or you can take some home and steam it into a veggie stir fry or add it to a soup! I like to pluck the flower heads and make teas with them and pull the flowers off and sprinkle them onto my salad too. It’s good for you and looks pretty too!
Lemon balm- This is a plant that I find growing all over the place. You’ll know it is lemonbalm because it will look similar to a mint but smell strongly of refreshing lemons! Lemon balm is known for its soothing effect on our nerves. It can help you to de-stress when made into a fresh tea. When I find it out when hiking I like to pile a bunch into my water bottle and let it infuse. It tastes AMAZING. Lemon also happens to be anti-viral and can be used on cold sores.
Chickweed- I love this plant. It is so beautiful and luscious looking. Of course, it’s nutritious too! Chickweed is another wonderfully mineral rich plant that you can add to salads and stir-frys. Chickweed has good amounts of selenium, silica, manganese and calcium. I also like to use this in conjunction with plantain if I have a bug bite of any kind, especially when accompanied by itching.
Yarrow- Yarrow is a powerful yet gentle herb. Powerful enough to stop bleeding in deep wounds and gentle enough to give to children in times of a fever. In fact, this plants latin binomial is achillia milifolium. It got its name Achillia because the Greeks recognized the importance of this herbs are a potent wound healer. It was said that Achilles used this herb on the battlefield so the Greeks took seeds of yarrow to each battlefield ground and planted the seeds to ensure that they had plenty of yarrow to treat their wounds. This plant is a must have in first aid kits and would be the first plant I would turn to if my loved ones or I suffered a deep cut or laceration. You literally pack the herb into the wound. It is anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and will help stop bleeding.
Pine- Pine trees are everywhere around here and one of the best known nutritional benefits of the pinus genus is how high in Vitamin C they are. Vitamin C is water soluble so it’s best to make a traditional tea or sun tea out of it. They are also fun to just munch on!
Please be sure to identify these plants properly. Grab a good field guide and cross reference. Although I picked plants here that do not have risky look alikes it is still important to always know exactly what you are picking. Once you branch out I promise it’s worth it! I try to encourage all I can to get to know our locals plants and see what useful additions they can make in our lives. It helps to connect us to our environment and recognize its inherent worth.