Earth Day: gruesome gorse and wild food

It was a busy Earth Day weekend. Saturday I spent grubbing around in the undergrowth of Gorge Park where a community cleanup was underway, in an attempt to control the spread of gorse as well as other invasives familiar to me from my own garden: English ivy, Spurge Laurel (a toxic black-berried invasive, what I’ve heard called daphnea but is really Daphne laureola), Ivy rootsand holly. The Himalayan blackberries were everywhere too but I think we would have needed two or three pairs of the leather gloves they issued the gorse-gatherers to tackle those. Even the ivy had grown to such staggering strength we had to take an axe to some of it to slow its spread. I considered that we were doing invasive species interruption rather than elimination as the problem of escaped garden plants is pretty much out of control. Still, there’s an ongoing series of cleanup parties planned for the Gorge Tillicum parks to try to get a grip on some of it.

Gorge Park cleanup - gorseOne of the Saanich Parks staff who accompanied us glumly observed at one clearing that he’d been there when they had a gorse removal task ten years ago. But, he said, there’s been no funding since then and it wasn’t a priority. Our mission of the day was to try to keep the spread to a minimum by removing flowering plants before they could set seed, and removing what we could without disturbing the soil too much. We were instructed to pull the smallest gorse seedlings and then tamp the earth back down to slow the replacement through buried seed. LarPulling gorse rootger plants have strong taproots and as they mature the roots branch outward and new plants sprout from those. So we were told to cut below the first root nodule, or to flag the plant for someone to pull later. The largest plants will be strategically poisoned: there is a pesticide ban in Saanich but it is sometimes the only route available to parks workers trying to contain well-established invasives.

Nanaimo Wild Food Fest-Cowichan Pasta Nettle fettucineYesterday’s treat was a trip to the third annual Wild Food Festival in Nanaimo. A gorgeous day for it and a good throng already queued up by 11:30, half an hour after it opened. I was able to control my consumer urges by sagely bringing only a little cash, but I managed some fine sampling for the half dozen food tickets I did purchase.

Later I watched a cooking demo with Francois deJong, from Francois deJong - Nanaimo FoodshareNanaimo Foodshare, who was whipping up a generous batch of Nettle Polenta with Blackberry Hazelnut Brown Butter, with a side salad of kale and miner’s lettuce. He had brought along a bag of gleaned local hazelnuts which grow wild and cultivated in the area, and another of stinging nettles, which were the most popular food ingredient at the fair. There was nettle soup, nettle in wild food smoothies, nettle gyoza, nettle pasta and nettle ice cream.

It’s Gougere with wild leaves and salmonberry blossomsa good food with many health benefits, but I think we need to move on and learn to eat a few other things too. So I was happy to see raw blackberry cheesecake; a lovely gougere filled with wild greens and local cheese and apples; and a wild greens salad (chickweed, miner’s lettuce, sorrel and dead nettle) among the offerings. I came away with a bag of delicious Immuni-tea (made from rose hips, wild ginger, peppermint, catnip, elderflower and yarrow) and a few more ideas about turning my weeds into feeds.

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