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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

To eat or not to eat: a plant tour

By Alyssa Evans

After taking a walk through the Sehome Hill Arboretum and finding a spot to rest, a dilemma hits: hunger. Tired from walking and dreading the trek back to the entrance, the realization occurs that all the snacks are gone. It’s almost as if eating a plant is the best choice to make.

Over 30 people came together for a plant walk led by self-proclaimed naturalist Terri Wilde called Can I Eat That? on Saturday, Feb. 27. The event focused on Sehome Hill Arboretum and Western’s Outback Farm. Wilde discussed edible plants, along with plants that are better left untouched.

Throughout the tour, Wilde discussed an abundance of plants as people followed her on narrow paths in the Arboretum. Intrigued by the edible plants, the group stayed focused on what Wilde had to say.

One of the key messages Wilde stressed during the walk was to be conscious of the environment and potential consequences when eating plants.

“Something to be conscious of as a forager [is] we want the plants. They’re what is sustaining us. We want them to thrive, so you really have to pay attention and don’t decimate plants when you’re foraging. If it’s a fruit or a nut, the plant is probably happy for you to be taking it and spreading its seeds around. In which case, the payback would be trying to find good habitat,” Wilde said.

Not all plants are pleasing to look at. So, when it comes to eating plants, it can be surprising to find that some of the least visually appealing plants are also the most useful.

“There’s a lot of really great edible and medicinal, naturalized plants or weeds [and] things that are growing on their own. They’re good to learn too,” Wilde said. “In some ways it might be more ecological to eat the weeds.”

One of the more common edible plants looked at during the tour was dandelions, which are beneficial for liver health. Ways that dandelions can be consumed include using the roots in a detoxifying tea and a coffee substitute.

“If you roast them in the oven for a little while they sweeten up and get this really nice flavor. It comes out to be something a lot like Inka [a coffee substitute],” Wilde said. “You can make a coffee substitute with no caffeine. It’s tasty, nutritious and helpful.”

Another plant of interest was the Oregon grape, which can be used in multiple ways.

The dark purple berries are edible, but very sour. The berries make a nice jam especially if you mix them with other berries, Wilde said. During this time of year, even the flowers of the Oregon grape plant are edible.

One of the most important features about the Oregon grape is its use for creating medicine.

“If you look at the branches of these, down in the root and you scrape a little of it, it has a really bright yellow color. There’s this substance in there called Barberry,” Wilde said. “It’s a pretty powerful herbal medicine that comes out of Oregon grapery. In fact, it’s been thought to be a pretty good substitute for Goldenseal [a herb], which has gotten popular as a strong herbal medicine.”

At the Outback Farm, there are a variety of different plants that are edible including huckleberries, strawberries, wintercress and clover.

“You can throw some [clover] in salads, you can cook with it. You can make tea out of red clover flowers, and white clover flowers,” Wilde said.

After participating in the walk, sophomore Jade Porubek, a biochemistry major, now is more comfortable about eating plants.

“I feel like a lot of people hear about eating plants but they’re scared and I am [too]. It was really great to walk around and like she said, you hear [about] them and maybe next time you’ll come out on another walk and hear some more,” Porubek said.

Sophomore Natasha Motley, an accounting major, found the walk to be enjoyable and intriguing.

“It was definitely interesting getting to see the different plants that we could eat or not eat,” Motley said. “It was fun to get out, explore the Arboretum and have a little snack along the way.”

Wilde hopes people will consider where their food comes from and make changes to help the environment.

“If we’re just getting our food from Safeway and not really thinking about it – going through the drive through – that’s taking a serious toll on the environment,” Wilde said. “If you can change where your salads come from and start participating in your local ecosystem, it can take that strain off of the planet.”

With edible plants to snack on in the Arboretum, Western students have the chance to pick up free snacks between classes.

Wilde will be holding another plant walk, along with an event where participants will learn how to cook with native plants on March 19. To get involved, visit Bellingham Free Skool’s Facebook page.


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