Speed Foraging! Video-game Style!

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to go out onto Crown Land and gather as much salad material as you can before the clock runs out!  Should you be late, your vehicle will be impounded for 9 hours.  Your only tool is a small shovel.  You are given five bags, one each for plantain, dandelion, burdock, chickweed, and purslane.  Foraging for any other items does not count toward completion of this mission.

Welcome to:  SPEED FORAGING!

You won’t be on horseback for this particular quest so send Bella back to the stable.  Your assistant will hold your bags and tools but will not slow down.  You must gather what you can ahead of them and only place in the bags what you were able to acquire before they reach your stopping point.  Remember to get back to your launch point before one hour is up!

Click the title of this mission to begin!  May your trails be blessed, and avoid the mosquitoes!


Parts of a local walking trail following a large, popular creek in town, are classified as Crown Lands according to FrontCounterBC’s Crown Land Discovery Tool.  When overlaid on Google Earth, this tool shows various land uses and land interests.  This means that occasionally, lands designated as Crown Land overlap other uses or interests such as school district properties, regional parks, Aboriginal regions, etc.  So it was with pleasant surprise that we discovered this one portion of this local trail is both not on Aboriginal land, nor overlapping other key uses or interests.  We set out to explore and hopefully bring home salad fixings, late Wednesday this week.

We had to walk out past a certain km marker before entering the portion of the trail on Crown Land.  This walk took roughly half an hour with a few side trails being explored along the way.  As we reached the designated marker, the mosquitoes came out in full force!  I’d sprayed myself down with OFF, including my clothing, but my daughter hadn’t, relying on her job as a stable hand to confuse the little flying annoyances.  The designated marker had an info booth with a map on it, so we marked out where we’d be going next.  Part of the trail was marked off as closed due to the potential for falling rock and other hazards, so we dutifully took the higher trail, straining knees on multiple stairs in the process.  This portion of the trail could certainly give another popular park across the lake a run for it’s money!  That one has stairs too, but I’m not sure it has as many. . .

Burdock tuber, leaves and topsAt the top, we found scrub everywhere and very little of the items we’d come to find.  Eventually, we spotted a small burdock specimen and decided to pull out our plastic gardening spade to see if we could get at the root.  When documentation you read says it looks carrot-like, they aren’t kidding!  When they say the root could go down 2 to 3 feet, they aren’t kidding!  What many sources fail to say however, is that the first almost foot’s worth is quite fat!  My daughter dug down just below this tuber then used our tiny rose sheers to snip her way through the inch-thick root (the part the Japanese harvest to sell and cook) to remove the tuber.  This took a bit of time when we realized we should head back before they close the parking lot gate where we left the van.

Dandelion greensWe got back down to our marker when Ashley discovered a whole stand of chokecherry!  She began picking a number of sprigs as quickly as she could.  As we speed-walked back to the van, I told her that anything she spotted ahead that she could grab before I got there, would go in the bag.  So off she went!  You might wonder why this article was started as if beginning a quest in a video game.  Ashley kept remarking as we speedwalked back to the van, that she felt as if she was doing in real life what her characters did in her MMO’s (short for MMPORG or Massive Multiplayer Role Playing Game).  Dandelion rootsApparently in her games, characters can be given quests where they need to gather materials before they can make things.  Some games call these recipes, others call them schematics, etc.  The character has to run around (and they literally run around, not walk) and when the player sees an item they need, they use in-game commands to tell the character to pick up the item.  For some games, you select the item, for others, you choose a tool, then click on the item, for others, you merely come into range and the character picks up the item.  So there was my daughter, running ahead of me, picking up what she could along the path, snapping up this and that on our list.  Before we knew it, we saw the parking lot up ahead!  Somehow, we made the trek back to the van in less than 25 minutes!

Narrow-leaf PlantainWe had a good handful of narrow-leaf plantain, dandelion leaves and a couple roots, chokecherry, a burdock root, a couple burdock leaves and a couple small burdock heads.  Ashley had grabbed a few clover heads along the way as well.  We didn’t spot any chickweed or purslane, and cattails don’t grow along that trail either it seems.  So we drove home with what we had.

Chokecherry leaves and twigsUpon arrival at home, it was time to clean the greens, clean the roots, and learn what to do with the chokecherries.  They literally look like tiny cherries WITH pits!  I did some research and bookmarked a couple sites that shared recipes for chokecherry juice, jams, jellies, bread, muffins, etc.  I need to get my hands on a hand mill of some type because dried chokecherry flour can be added to baking!  I learned that you don’t eat this berry raw due to cayonogenic properties.  You need to sun-dry or boil them to kill these properties.  Our first foray into chokecherry processing then, became an infused vinegar salad dressing.  The chokecherries ended up boiled twice as a result, first to mash them, second to make the salad dressing as the vinegar needed boiling.  The leaves and bark make a nice tea according to some sources, so we kept the leaves and twigs to dry for that purpose.

We’ll have to soften up the burdock root to get the outside bark peeled off.  Trying to attack it with a paring knife cold was met with quite a bit of resistance.  It is possible that we found a 2nd year growth, as those apparently are quite woody compared to first year growth.  I also need to read up more on the use of the green tops and leaves, as apparently they can taste similar to artichoke.  I’ve never eaten artichoke outside of the dip, so I don’t know what to expect raw, but a mature leaf has a very SHARP immediate taste with quite the bitter aftertaste!  May try wilting the leaves in a frying pan and see what happens then.  Maybe that’s the stage at which it tastes more like the veggies in the dip.  Supposedly the flowers taste this way too.  Need more research on that one.

We hoped to come across stinging nettle as well, because of it’s ability to help with dandruff in shampoo.

Our first foray into the world of foraging is done!  Ashley estimates we brought home enough greens for a couple week’s worth of salads.  All we spent was gas to get to the parking lot.  Lifestyle changes aimed at both saving money and eating healthier are not easy and the first step is always the hardest.  That step is now done, and it’s on to the next outing, which will hopefully happen this weekend!

Wild Adventures with Marilynn Dawson

Wild Adventures Part 2 – Taste-tests as the Research Continues

So far in our research and taste-testing, we pretty much have the makings of a spinach salad replacement figured out.  Everyone has taste-tested Dandelion leaves, Dandelion flowers, chickweed, plantain, and purslane.  Based on the research I’ve been putting into these plants and creating a spreadsheet to compare nutritional value, uses, and medicinal value, it will be wise for our salads to rotate among these greens.

CattailsPlants we haven’t taste-tested yet, but that sound both promising and grow in our area, are burdock and cattail.  So far we’ve only had a small burdock in the house when we were preparing the oil infusion for my daughter’s horse.  I didn’t realize at the time, that I unceremoniously tossed food out the window when I was done!

Supposedly, burdock flowers and leaves taste similar to artichoke!  The only way I’ve ever eaten artichoke has been in vegetable dips and I’ve always enjoyed it that way.  This might be a free (minus travel) way to enjoy such a dip at a cheaper price.  The roots are apparently eaten like carrots and cooked in all the various ways carrots are in Japanese recipes.  So there’s a potential carrot replacement.

Speaking of carrot replacements, apparently one can do that with dandelion roots too, although I haven’t tested that theory yet.  Forage educators say not to dig up the roots from areas where pesticides and sprays may have been used over the past 3 – 5 years.  So that eliminates the dandelion roots in our lawn.  However, if we find the plant where there hasn’t been sprays or pesticides, that will be something to test with everyone as well.  If these tests pass, we’ll have a free carrot replacement.  Another carrot replacement is Queen Anne’s Lace, if it grows in this area.  I need to confirm that still.  I believe I’ve seen the poisonous counterpart around (no purple flower in the middle and spread out clumps rather than tight clumps of flowers).  So if those grow here, maybe so does Queen Anne’s Lace?  Have to look that up.  Supposedly, researchers say this plant is the precursor to the modern carrot.

Many articles I’ve read about the cattail boast about it being a multi-food plant that can be enjoyed year-round.  The roots apparently make a decent, gluten-present flour whether by soaking/separating or by pounding to release the starchy contents.  The lower part of the stalk supposedly reminds people of cucumber when eaten as a trail-side snack.  The lower parts of the leaves apparently can be added to salads, and young cattail heads can be cooked and eaten like corn on the cob!  Those heads remind others of asparagus if the plant is really young.  The pollen apparently makes decent flour as well and can replace corn starch and regular flour as a thickener in soups, gravies, stews, etc.  Needless to say, I have to find the time to head out and get a few cattail plants, roots and all, to not only see what the others think of it, but what I think of it too!

If cattails pass the family taste-test, my daughter wants to make wild pasta.  I just ran across a noodle recipe for green pasta using dandelion leaves rather than spinach!  Needless to say, possibilities are playing around that could save us money on buying flour as well!

These various plants have medicinal qualities that we’ve already used as far as Dandelion stems go.  The oil infusion made for Bella is very high in anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties thanks to the burdock, plantain, and chickweed that was used.  Both the narrow-leaf and the broad-leafed plantain can be chewed up and applied on the spot as a poultice to aid in blood-clotting, cleansing, etc for wounds.  One blogger joked that this was great because of how proliferantly it grows around areas where children play!

I’ve found a number of recipes for dishes that use various plants in this list.  Many of the baking recipes could be interesting if regular wheat flour with it’s heightened gluten content is replaced by cattail flour with it’s wild gluten content instead.  I make basmatti rice milk these days and have heard that the pulp is referred to as rice flour.  Imagine drying both cattail and rice flour for use in baking instead???  Cattail pollen added in for good measure?

One researcher I chanced across while busy reading and bookmarking various sites, muses that so-called “Primitive” mankind probably ate far better than so-called “modern” mankind today!

coffee grinderThe fact that many recipes for skincare products have you grinding this and that till it’s very small has me on the lookout now for a hand-grinding flour mill.  It appears there are several designs for sale in ample quantity on eBay and Amazon.  Some users have figured out how to remove a particular bolt on some of them in order to attach a regular hand-drill to speed up the process.  This would mean that if we gather seeds from these various plants, we could add their flour to the mix as well!  It also means that some of the seeds which research revealed have been used by various cultures for spices and flavourings, could be used for that in our house as well.  Just need a grinder!

Those saddle bags I was talking about the other day are now fully-pinned and ready to be sewed together!  Straps to stabilize the bags on the horse’s tack have been made and ready to be fitted as well.  Soon, my daughter will be exercising her horse will foraging for the cupboards in the kitchen.

The sheer number of recipes available for the dandelion plant alone have me eager to find a massive patch of them to harvest!  If we can make the time to go shopping in the forest, and make the time to prepare, preserve, mill, and create, we could save money on skincare, cough medicine, salad greens, carrots, cucumbers, flour, maybe even adding new spices to the mix!

Now to go see that BC list of weeds. . .

Wild Adventures with Marilynn Dawson

Wild Adventures Part 1 – Edible Weeds!

daughter and her horseIt all started innocently enough. . . my daughter’s horse comes down with rain-rot on occasion and unless we want to pump her full of dewormer constantly, we had to come up with alternative methods to kill the fungal infection.  Last year we had some success directly applying in alternating turns, tea tree oil and lavendar oil. This year, while walking through the “Made in Canada” bazaar downtown on Canada Day, we found a booth by a herbalist and thought to inquire what he would do.

edible burdockHe suggested obtaining chickweed, plantain, burdock and optionally, violet and make a double-boiled oil infusion.  We were to use the leaves of three of the plants and the root of the burdock.  No turtle tongues were harmed in the making of this infusion.  Promise!

Off we go trying to identify the apparent weeds in our list.  A week later filled with bouts of online research and visits to the local farmer’s market to hunt down a guy nicknamed “the weed whisperer”, we found ourselves discovering the world of foraging!

Our first discovery was that chickweed is edible!  That was followed quickly by the discovery that so was plantain and the root of the burdock plant being used by the Japanese in cooking, and going by the name gobo!  After doing a little research on the “weed whisperer”, we decided that we’ve been living around food for a long time and never knew it!  We could have been saving ourselves money at the grocery store years ago, simply by shopping in the woods instead!

1024px-Портулак_огородный_-_Portulaca_oleracea_-_Common_Purslane_-_Тученица_-_Gemuse-Portulak_(23184809024)Well, now it was time to see what we all thought of these plants.  My daughter took the plunge first, trying out both broad-leaf and narrow-leaf plantain, and a succulent we discovered in a blog article the night before.  She quickly made an additional discovery that many travelers face when eating foreign foods for the first time.  Her stomach wasn’t used to the wild food and initially didn’t know what to do with it.  A few hours later, it stopped feeling strange and she was fine.  During her system’s recovery, I went next and made a tiny salad of dandelion heads, a couple dandelion leaves, and a few narrow-leaf plantain leaves (as that’s all that grows in our yard).  I added a few rasberries and a bit of canned salmon, then used a vinegrette salad dressing.  I LOVED IT!  But then I had to remind myself that as a child, I used to nibble on clover tops, pine needles (which are also on one blogger’s edible plants infographic), and grass fronds.  Back then I didn’t know pine needles were edible, so I chewed them for the flavour and spit them out.  But my stomach was not anywhere near as upset as my daughter’s, and recovered faster from what little upset it did have.  Clearly eating such things as a child had done something to prep my system that never left.  Next came my son and our boarder.  I made similar tiny salads for them and let them use the salad dressing of their choice.  I was so excited to hear “not bad, it would taste better if it also had. . . /this needs. . . “.  To me, that was a resounding success!

The double-boiled oil infusion for Bella has been made and she had her first topical treatment today.  This mare is discovering trail rides, prompting my daughter to see about making soft-walled saddle bags so she can go on trail rides and collect our grocery greens while she’s at it.  We are now designing these bags, drafting measurements, etc.  These bags will be unique because most of what exists out there for English saddles looks more like glorified hip packs than actual saddle bags.  The closest thing we’ve seen so far for a saddle bag looks for all the world like a purse attached to the two D-rings that occur only on one side of the English saddle.  I guess the idea of balanced loads isn’t as prevalent in English riding as it is in Western.  But suffice to say, this horse that was gifted to my daughter back in the Fall of 2014, will start to “earn her keep” in a way none of us had ever considered before!

According to the “weed whisperer”, he harvests over 300 edible plants between the Okanagan and Revelstoke.  It is now our goal to learn more about the flora and fawna in the area to discover just how much we can reduce our grocery bill by heading into the bush.  I’ve also put in a call to the BC Parks Authority to learn any rules they may have about foraging in BC provincial parks.  I’m not sure if those rules even exist as this weed forager was found foraging at the base of Knox Mountain recently.  I can find them for Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Alberta however.  So hoping to hear if there are any rules for BC provincial parks. We’ll see where this story takes us.

EDIT:  Bella’s rain rot spots are responding quickly!  This blog article was actually written 7 days ago, but not posted till today (July 18th).  Those saddle bags have reached the design, draw and cut out stage with one pinned together already and my daughter is now nibbling on weeds at work rather than going through the granola bars!  Saving money on groceries already and we’re not even into this whole-hog yet!

Change, Affordability, and our Perceptions of “Normal”

Sometimes we have to adjust our perception of “normal” before any true, lasting change can be engaged in or even considered.  Sometimes, “the way we’ve always done it” is no longer the best or most expediant way to do it anymore.  Life has a way of throwing things at us that require change to adequately deal with.  Change is a difficult word for up to a solid third of modern society.  It is a threat for some.  A difficulty for others. Some types of change require time, effort, and/or money to accomplish and those requirements are not always available the moment change barges in.

Change arrives for various reasons:  Someone dies and family or work life must be changed to accommodate the gap left behind.  Health fails and change must take place to function in a manner conducive to healing or simply moving forward in a new way of life.  Locations change because of going to school or accepting a new job and change must take place to accommodate the move.  Prices rise and fall, forcing changes in how available earnings are spent.  These are just a few of the circumstances that tend to force change in a person’s life, whether or not that change is wanted or unwanted.

Over the days spanning the Canada Day long weekend, I’ve found myself reading various local news articles, thoughts and comments that reveal even more starkly, the issues that change can force upon unwitting or unwilling recipients.

The first article was about people living in a mobile home park in town, who have been or will soon be forced to move out due to inspectors ruling that various homes in the park are no longer livable due to mould and mildew having been found.  The park owner has been told these homes are not reparable and must be torn down.  For these poor home renters, health and finances are not on their side because of the rise in rental pricing elsewhere around town.  They can’t stay because of health reasons, yet their finances are not high enough to manage the change to a more expensive place to live.  Regardless of their financial situation, health demands irrevocable change to hopefully better circumstances.

Hours after coming across that article, I came across a photo someone took of a list of foods someone else had made for themselves to avoid.  The comments attached to this photo revealed a battle for change that many nutritionists, dieticians, health food gurus, and others have been trying to win via educating the public for possibly going 2 decades now!  The perception of a normal grocery list screamed quite loud as I saw junk food, sugary foods, and items I’d only consider the occasional splurge on being touted as impossible to give up.  The challenge posted with this photo was asking the public if they could go without these items for 30 days.  I sat mildly shocked as I realized I go without those things for months at a time, generally only engaging in them on special occasions such as Christmas, birthdays, and national holidays such as what we just celebrated this weekend.

This photo was followed a day or so later by yet another article where a local news source was contacted by desperate parents complaining about how expensive it is to live in this town!  This bolsters another article I read earlier in the past week, where Kelowna was ranked the 11th most expensive place to live, and on a per capita basis with regional incomes taken into account, one of the most expensive in terms of rental properties for families.  Both complainers of the recent article had families, but neither could find homes that would accept their kids, in their price range.  This is a research reality on the ground in this town ever since I began looking into it myself back in and 2005.  Rents have increased dramatically over the past 11 years, once again creating the situation where change is being forced on people who don’t have the funds to deal with it.

However, the question rears it’s head for me, are they seriously having trouble affording life in Kelowna due to income versus expenses, or do they think the items on the 30 day challenge are a normal part of everyday life?  If those things are normally part of their weekly or bi-weekly grocery runs, do they also spend money at the local coffee shop every week or every day?  Is a meal caught at local fast food places a normal part of their workday routine?  I work with people who regularly buy their lunch rather than make it at home, so I know there are those out there who think this is normal on their expense list.  Do they go out for dinner once a week or even once a month?  How do they shop for clothes?  Is it important to them to have a different outfit for every occasion, shoes and jewelry included?  Are they offended by people who wear the same outfit two or three days in a row?  How do they handle their errands?  Do they plan routes to save on gas or do they go whereever as needed with no thought of the hit at the gas pump?  In other words, are these people struggling because they are trying to live at financial levels they don’t actually see in the bank account?  Or are they struggling because none of this is normal and they are seriously broke?

Those last two questions are an affront to many people because they don’t want to consider that maybe, just maybe, what they consider normal is not helping their financial situation.  Maybe, just maybe, wearing one outfit for two days, only having one pair of shoes for each type of occasion and wearing the same jewelry might help their financial goals.  Maybe, just maybe, cutting out most of the foods on the 30 day challenge might actually mean other stuff more important can suddenly become affordable.  But for any of these maybes to become reality, change has to take place.  Time is needed to identify the non-essentials that were once thought to be indisputable.  Effort is needed to ensure identified expenses are indeed cut out of the budget to make room for more important necessities.  I know for myself in times past, that doing these exercises has always resulted in better financial coverage across rent, clothing, groceries, hygiene, transportation, and debt payments.

Costs have risen for this author as well.  Income has risen and fallen quite scarily at times and made it difficult to pay the bills.  The financial lessons I’ve learned as a single mother raising two kids in a town such as Kelowna, has not only allowed me to recover from low income periods better, but has opened my eyes to the financial plight of many  in my situation who don’t realize that societal norms are actually harming their ability to make ends meet.  Occasionally someone will come along who like one of the parents complaining to Castanet, will realize that the only way they can make ends meet is to sell stuff and cut back.  While they were cursing the thought of having to do that, I’ve lived that way!  I’ve even contemplated having to do that in more recent times as well.

Change can be an adventure, or it can be a threat.  It can be viewed as a doorway to better things, or the iron gate swinging shut on one’s dreams.  The perspective is entirely up to each person facing it.  Time, effort and finances are freed up for better things when unnecessary stuff is removed from the picture.  Modern society is a slave to materialism.  Toys big and small require maintenance to keep in running condition.  Homes and properties big and small require maintenance to stay healthy and useful.  Special care clothing takes time and money to keep in optimal condition.  The less you own, the less you have to put out on such maintenance.  The less you put out on maintenance, the more you have available for needs, health concerns, and emergencies down the road.  This goes for time, effort and finances.  Change happens so much easier when all three of those criteria are adequately available.

For the daily cost of a trip to Starbucks, and for less than the cost of lunch every day from the store or fast food restaurant, you can learn how to begin changing your own perception of “normal” and discover lost money in the process, by signing up to take my course, “The Poor Man’s Budget (or anyone for that matter): 5 week course – learning to live within your means”.  The first trick a person who feels life is too expensive in Kelowna must do, is find $5 per day, or $125 for the entire 5 week session.  Classes are one hour each Monday to Friday, with timeslots available being 8:30am, 10am, 11:30am or 1pm.  Sometimes, a person won’t know where to find that $5 until they have completed the first week of the course, then it will dawn on them where that money was hiding and they can continue more confidently toward a deeper understanding of where their funds are going, why they are going there, and how to better spend their resources in a manner that comes closer to meeting their daily, weekly and monthly needs.

Kelowna is constantly being touted as a two-income town in order for families to survive here.  My kids are now young adults and one has a head injury he’s recovering from.  Neither are able to move out on their own yet and have found it cheaper to pay the room and board I’m asking, than to attempt getting into a rental situation here.  Yet somehow over the years, I was able to raise them on one income that was generally seen as less than the required amount to live on.  I’m not saying it’s easy to make ends meet in Kelowna, but I am saying with a financial scaple in your hand, it is possible.  All it takes is a shift in perspective regarding what is and isn’t necessary, what is a need versus what is a want, examining spending habits, bills and transportation norms.  Check out my course for yourself.