Gary Beamish, an experienced wildcrafter, made an appearance at Sadleir House October 29 to share his wisdom on how to take nature’s bounty, teaching the audience who came out where, how, and when to find local wild foods.
Humans are surrounded by the edible world that contains nutritious food for the taking, from roots to flowers to leaves. Until the boom of industrialization and modernization, many cultures foraged for wild edibles in order to survive.
Wildcrafting is a knowledge that many people don’t have today, but Beamish is one of the few with years of practical, hands-on experience. He has collected wild plants since he was a little boy and is known to have practically grazed his way through woods and fields.
Beamish feels that it is a subject about which only the pioneers knew better; any present knowledge on wildcrafting is not remotely close to what they knew. He feels that it is valuable information forgotten, so it is important that he shares with people what he knows about the nutritional benefits of the local wild edibles.
“Wildcrafting with Beamish” returned for the sixth time. Beamish directs his sessions according to the interest and questions of his audience, making each talk unique.
During his most recent talk, Beamish started off by sharing a story about the run-in he had with a bear in June. He has had half a dozen bear encounters over the years, but this most recent one happened when he had gone out to pick leeks. Rather than running away, the bear had gone up on its hind legs and set up in an ambush position.
Beamish also informed his audience about another very recent bear attack, where a woman was mauled by an aggressive bear on the trail off the 7th line of Belmont, south of Highway 7.
Bears have been becoming a problem in the wild because there are a lot less people going out into the woods. Bears, who would normally recognize humans, now have little idea who we are. He said we can’t go charging out into the woods like we once used to because there are just so many bears out there and the numbers are only increasing.
Next, Beamish talked about how there are many plants in the wild that can be harvested over the course of the year to make them last throughout the year.
He explained how, in the food industry, smell is normally associated with a certain taste, but in nature, that is not the case. One may be able to catch the marvelous scent of a plant that is extraordinarily bland in terms of taste. Beamish added that, while the leaves of the wintergreen berries smell wonderful, any tea you make out of them will have absolutely no taste. However, it will still have good nutritional value.
Beamish also discussed leeks, which, according to him, are a marvelous vegetable with a smell of an onion. He first picks the leaves in May, then goes back in June after the seeds have dropped to harvest the bulbs.They can be found by walking in the hard woods. Sometimes you can smell them before you even see them. Beamish mentioned that it can be grown from the hairy parts of the bulb or from the little snip at the end of the bulb.
The problem with the leek now is that it is becoming less and less available because people pick them all before they go to seed. If this is happens, they will not regenerate. In certain areas leeks are practically gone.
One of the other wild plants Beamish discussed was chamomile, which he said was one of the easiest to harvest. It can be found anywhere there is a gravel driveway. To harvest, all one has to do is take a pair of scissors and push the dinner plate along and snip it. But because most of it gets chopped off by the lawn mower, Beamish advised his audience to harvest them before cutting the edge of their properties.
He also explained some safety measures that need to be taken while wildcrafting, such as how harvests from the wild have to be treated with moderation when consuming, and to be cautious while picking mushrooms. He explained that, while it may be fine to pick mushrooms from a certain species on the maple tree, it may be dangerous to pick the same species if it were growing on an oak tree because it draws the toxin from the oak tree. He discouraged people from rushing out and picking mushrooms.
Beamish also added that there are many plants found in nature which can be used medicinally. One of the best plants is willow bark, which is used to make Aspirin. While there are side effects for many medications today, there are not many with natural medicines, he said.
“When you’re going into an area for wildcrafting, it’s not like a regular garden where you know where the plants are going to be, or when they are going to be ready. Wild edibles are ready only during certain times of the year. We are not used to doing what the pioneers had to do … when the plants were ready, there was a two- or three-week window to enjoy them fresh, and [the rest were] preserved to enjoy for the rest of the year,” Beamish explained.
The workshop was organized by the Transition Skills Forum, which is an all-volunteer initiative of Transition Town Peterborough sponsored by Sustainable Trent.