We have a good-sized yard. Much of it is septic field, but there are pockets where this house’s previous owner planted the most beautiful irises, daisies, lilies, camellia, hydrangea, and poppies. Since we bought the house, the garden has become progressively more wild. Noticing all the dandelions and tall grasses, my friend Heather said, with the same awkward kindness upon greeting an ugly baby, “This garden has…potential.”
I was lamenting my inability to grow food. Heather tried to convince me my time would come, that one day I too could parade my home-grown carrots and lettuces with false modesty (what these? oh it was nothing…they grow themselves). But even she remained doubtful, saying in the end, “Hey, at least you support the local farmers by buying their produce.” A fair point.
And then I met Roger Foucher. Roger changed the way I see my garden of wild weeds and pretty flowers. Roger was our Wild Food Walk guide for last Sunday’s Renaissance Women workshop at McAdam Park on the Cowichan River. For the past year, Roger has increased his intake of wild foods, and decreased his reliance on store-bought foods. He still buys “other food”, as he calls it, but as little as possible.
We hadn’t walked twenty feet before Roger stopped to show us what looked like a dandelion growing next to the tennis court fence. “Hairy Cat’s Ear,” he said, passing around the fuzzy leaf at the base of the weed. According to Roger, Hairy Cat’s Ear is full of beneficial oil and smells like chocolate in a jar. “Remember, it’s a dog park,” Heather whispered to me, and in good time too because a small piece of Hairy Cat’s Ear was heading in the direction of my mouth.
Among other things, Roger showed us how to identify Queen Anne’s Lace, otherwise known as Wild Carrot, which I did taste and (aside from the dirt) is just like a turnip. He showed us St. John’s Wort, known for its mood-enhancing effect, to which Sheila asked, “Could this be used as a recreational drug?” I noticed later Sheila had a healthy looking twig of St. John’s Wort poking out of her back pocket.
There is an entire set of plants devoted to oral hygiene: grasses for flossing, the tips of thistles for teeth cleaning, Oregon Grape for toothaches, and wild mint for fresh breath.
With a garden full of Hairy Cat’s Ear and long thirst-quenching wild grasses, I felt a new pride for my wild garden. Not everyone can make a salad of edible weeds just outside their front door (what, this? it was nothing…they grow themselves).
Roger talked about how our taste goal posts have moved. We find natural sugars bland compared with overly sweetened foods we eat every day. In re-educating our palates, we can re-discover amazing flavours all around us. Brings me back to sitting in the schoolyard, chewing on the refreshing ends of long grasses. Or eating a small but succulent locally grown Makaria Farm strawberry. More flavour; less bite.
Roger also gave perspective on our fat North American lifestyles. “We live like kings and queens,” he said, “and it’s only a matter of time before the earth can’t sustain this lifestyle.” I’ve thought that too, especially when I see a family of four living in (i.e. heating) a 4000 sq. ft. home, while shopping at Walmart for the cheapest broom or bed sheets (which need replacing a year later). Or when I buy mass-produced meats and fruit shipped from a near-tropical country to our near-tropical island. One or two royals in a community? Fine. All of us? Unsustainable.
It’s only a matter of time. We’ll know the time has come when McDonald’s starts selling a wild-weed salad combo with fermented St. John’s Wort soda and a side of sourdough fries cooked in Hairy Cat’s Ear oil.
Note: Roger’s day job is educating kids about wild food. He and the kids have created a fabulous garden near the Cow High. I am sure this is not the last we will hear about Roger Foucher.