Posts Tagged ‘foraging’

Walk on the Wild Side: Amber Westfall’s Wild Garden aims to reconnect people and plants

Monday, April 28th, 2014

Weeds: they’re eye sores, right? Problem bits of green that blemish lawns and run riot in food and flower gardens.

Photo: Courtesy of Amber Westfall

All photos courtesy of Amber Westfall

Not so for Amber Westfall. An experienced forager, wild crafter and owner of a wild food and herb CSA farm called The Wild Garden, Amber regards everything from plantain to stinging nettles as valuable sources of food and natural medicine. “Wild plants extend the food season so we don’t have to rely on traditional crops with shorter life spans,” she says. “Learning about wild edibles and medicinal plants has really changed how I think about the environment. What I used to see as random greenery now stands out because I know it has an important role to play in the ecosystem.”

Besides growing wild edible and medicinal plants for her CSA members, she leads plant walks and workshops. This year, she’s offering a 10-session course that will include the basics of plant identification, harvesting, and post-harvest handling and processing.

Amber sat down with Earthward a few weeks ago to talk about her workshops, her farm and her love of the wild plant world.

How did you get interested in foraging and wild crafting?

I’d been dabbling in natural approaches to health since about 2005. At the same time, I was becoming concerned about the depletion of the planet’s natural resources and our tendency as a species to over-consume. To reduce my own footprint, I decided to start eating locally but there weren’t a lot of options for that at the grocery store. The more I learned, the more I realized that wild foods offered the variety I wanted, extended the season for fresh produce and offered a more natural and sustainable approach to health care. I was hooked.

How did The Wild Garden come into being?

I took a wild edible plant course with Ottawa educator and naturalist Martha Webber and did an apprenticeship near Wakefield. In the process, I began accumulating more plants than I could consume and wondered if I could turn my new-found passion into a livelihood. For a few years, I held workshops and led walks on wild edibles. Then, last year, I was thrilled to be able to launch The Wild Garden, stewarding a quarter-acre of land on the Just Food Start-up Farm.

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Tell me more about The Wild Garden CSA.

It’s an herbal CSA, which is a relatively new type of CSA in Canada but has caught on in the U.S. The goal of an herbal-focused CSA is to take subscribers into herbal healing, wellness and learning.

Members can build their supplies of medicinal plants, support local organic agriculture (I’m in the process of getting organic certification for The Wild Garden), eat more nutrient-dense wild foods, and learn about wild plants that grow in the greater Ottawa bio-region. They also benefit from free Wild Garden walks and workshops.

Can you describe what a typical delivery from The Wild Garden contains?

Members receive quarterly deliveries which include herbs for infusion, dried tea blends, herb-infused honey and vinegar, wild seasoning blends, wild food preserves, herbal liqueurs and more.

What does it cost to be a member?

The spring (April to June) CSA is available in 2 versions: the large CSA costs $225 (6 products a month for 3 months), the small CSA costs $160 for 4 products a month for three months. Both are sold out!

Tell me about the walks and workshops you offer.

This year, my plant walks will be set up more like a course, with 10 classes over four months. Classes can be taken individually but will build on previous classes and cover themes and content in more depth.

By the end of the course, participants will have the knowledge and skills to recognize more than 45,000 species of plants by family, as well as to correctly identify many local, edible and medicinal plants and incorporate them into their daily lives. They’ll also learn about harvesting plants in a beneficial way for the environment, and about post-harvest handling, processing and storage.

What kinds of wild plants would people be surprised to learn are edible or medicinal?

Dandelion, for example, is a culinary vegetable in the Middle East. The stinging nettle’s early spring growth contains iron, vitamins and minerals and makes a tasty soup once the prickles have been removed by crushing or drying the plant. The early shoots of the common orange daylily can be used as salad greens and the plant’s tuber tastes like water chestnut.

Many local plants can be used to support health.  Red clover and raspberry leaf make nourishing teas, elderberry is effective against H1N1 flu, plantain and calendula make good salves for cuts and bites, and camomile, blue vervain and cat nip are good for stress.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

It’s such a joy learning about plants. We’re connected to them – and to the environment in general — in a deep, transformative way. I feel honoured to work with plants and to send them out into the community which can then benefit from them.

Amber Westfall’s 2014 Wild Edible & Medicinal Plant Course begins May 7. Register online for 10 ($165) or five ($85) classes. 

Have you ever foraged for wild food? Share your experiences.