*authors note: This post not actually affiliated with Doomsday Preppers. No known preppers were witnessed or harmed in the writing of this post. The author is just addicted to the show and found the hike incredibly useful for survival situations.
On Wednesday, May 22, I joined Alaska Community Action on Toxins (ACAT) at Kincaid park to celebrate Rachel Carson’s birthday by participating in a wild edible food hike.
The Kincaid Chalet was pretty packed for the festivities.
ACAT’s Pam Miller gave the opening address, commemorating the legacy of Rachel Carson. Carson’s book, Silent Spring, was a landmark work in revealing the comprehensive biological impacts of pesticides and the policies behind their use. Her writing paved the way for the ban on domestic use of DDT in the United States.
After the opening speech, everyone was split up into groups. Each group was led by a local expert in wild edible foods. My group leader was Allie Barker of Chugach Farms, an expert in medicinal wild edibles (second from right).
Our first stop was at a cottonwood tree (Populus trichocarpa).
The buds of the cottonwood tree can be used to make a balm (similar to Balm of Gilead) which is highly effective at treating burns. When the buds just start to open, pick them and pack them in oil (olive oil etc) for at least six weeks. The oil can then be mixed with beeswax or lard to form a salve.
Growing near the tree were several young willow saplings (Genus Salix). Willow root and the cambium layer of the bark contain the base ingredient for aspirin, salicylic acid. Chewing the leaves and applying the pulp to mosquito bites will soothe the itch.
Hiding under a willow tree, we found a young yarrow plant (Achillea millefolium) pushing up through the ground. Yarrow has many uses, including stopping bleeding. The leaves or flowers can be applied directly to cuts or scratches. It can also be used in the sauna or as part of an herbal steam to help open the respiratory system. Yarrow can be hung in bunches and dried for winter storage.
We then began looping our way back towards the Chalet, stopping at a spruce tree (Genus Picea). The young tips of Spruce can be used in tea much in the same way as mint.
We then found a patch of the very common and oft feared Cow Parsnip (Heracleum maximum). The flowers contain a volatile oil that is activated by light and causes a severe itch when it comes in contact with the skin. Properly handled, the bark can be used with devil’s club to make a homemade Chai tea. Care should be used when trying to harvest Cow Parsnip as it can also be mistaken for Angelica or Poison Hemlock.
The hollow stems of Cow Parsnip can be used for funnels or birch taps.
Finally we stopped at a stand of birch trees. Early in spring, birch trees can be tapped for birch water. The sap can be boiled down for syrup and converted to birch beer. Trees should be at least inches in diameter and be healthy looking for tapping. You also don’t want to tap too many trees in a small area, or the only tree in an area. At the end of the tapping season, holes should be plugged with bee’s wax or cork to prevent the tree from catching any diseases.
That was all the wild edible talk we had time for so we headed back to the Kincaid Chalet, where Rob Kineen of fresh49 was preparing a fun and interactive wild foods dinner.
And live music was provided by Michael Howard.
Overall it was a fun event. The walk was a little shorter than I would have liked, and with the long winter we’ve had there weren’t a lot of plants growing along the trails. However, there were a few good key take away points provided by my trail guide.
[list style=”circle”][list_item]Get a good identification book. There are a variety of them for Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. All have their strengths and weaknesses.[/list_item]
[list_item]Know where you’re harvesting from. Avoid roadsides or areas exposed to traffic and pollution. Know which parks allow wild harvest and which ones forbid it. [/list_item]
[list_item]Consult experts when in doubt, as Alaska does have some poisonous and dangerous plants.[/list_item]
[list_item]It’s better to know a few plants well than to know one thing about all of them. Find plants you like, learn their properties, and experiment.[/list_item][/list]
Most importantly, it stimulated my interest in learning more about what Alaska has to offer in terms of wild foods. I’ve munched on the occasional fiddlehead while hiking trails around Juneau and cooked up the occasional king bolete or shaggy mane mushroom, but that has been the extent of my edible plants experience. I already find myself looking harder at the vegetation I see as I hike around Anchorage now and I can’t wait to get my hands on a good guide book. Who knows, maybe next year I’ll be writing about my first Birch beer experiment or my own wild edibles culinary concoctions. Either way, it’s a fun and healthy hobby, and incredibly useful in case of tyrannical government takeover, or say, a zombie apocalypse…