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Wild Spices of the North

Updated: Jun 14, 2023


I hold out little hope of ever fully trusting someone who adores salads. The meals in my life have very seldom been memorable by the vegetables on the plate. I don't dislike vegetables and wild greens, they're just always kinda there. Never the star of the show. Never a highlight.


However, over the past couple of years, I have started to feel increasingly guilty about my lack of discussion regarding wild edible plants here on the Food Afield Podcast. The reason for this ignorance is two-fold. One, I am not all that interested in wild plants. Vegetables bore me at the best of times as you've already learned. I mean who needs colon health anyway? I just don't get the attraction.


The second reason I don't talk about wild plants all that often is that Kevin does it so well with his brand, From The Wild. What could I possibly talk about that he hasn't already? If you follow his show, you'll already know that his content regarding wild veg is tremendous.



A bowl of pan fried fish, fresh greens and mashed potatoes and gravy.
Northern Pike and Potatoes...with some fresh green flavour added!

Having said all of that, I do feel compelled to make an effort in this regard. Vegetables are good for you, and there are humans who can make them taste good, I guess.


There are indeed some wild veg alternatives that do have taste levels that are elevated slightly above tofu. I'll even admit that I would go out of my way to pick some fiddleheads in the spring. Pickled fern fronds are delicious...although mostly because of all the vinegar and spices. And that is when it hit me! My world has been changed by this new realization.




Spices!


Very few people talk all that much about wild spices and seasonings. I get that most common spices found in folks' kitchen cabinets fall within the "wild" spectrum, but the ones we talk about most often do not grow anywhere near me or my northern hemispheric forests. So, let's spend the year exploring local-to-us, wild food seasoning in addition to all of our game hunting and fly fishing expeditions!


 

a trickle of water splashing down a rocky bank. A fern in the background. Wild raspberry blossoms in the foreground.
There has to be more flavour out there somewhere.

We'll need salt, pepper, and anything else that resembles flavour in the wild. A couple of springs ago, Kevin did introduce me to Alder Catkins. I went along with it thinking that at any moment, he would burst out laughing at my naivety after I ate a few, but no. He never laughed. They were very robust in the baking spice domain actually. Spicy, peppery, nutmeggy even. Super nice, and the first thing I thought about was using them in a raisin-spice muffin. I will still try that. Perhaps I could substitute raisins with those amazing Bog Cranberries that we sometimes find in the spring.


I feel like there is a rather large rabbit hole to descend into with regard to wild spices. It is one thing to pick a green plant-like item, put it in your face, and profile the flavour. My preliminary research tells me that there are nuances to when the items are picked and how they are treated, fermented, dried, and otherwise handled after the harvest. I really want to know more about all of that.


Salt should be fairly easy. I do know of some areas in southern Alberta where there are large flats of salt deposits. Again, last year, Kevin and Melissa explored that a little. The results were promising, albeit a little 'earthy'. How can we process that wild salt into something a little more palatable and aesthetic? Let's find out together!


fresh, green fiddlehead ferns in the palm of a hand.
Fiddleheads...fresh from the wild

Follow along with Season Five of the Food Afield Podcast for this journey of mine to root out all of the best flavours of the northern forests. We won't be focused on any of this to a great degree, but it is definitely a thing that goes along with what we're figuring out with wild game preparation.


It will be fun and should add value to our hunting and fishing expeditions!


Please drop any hints, suggestions, or comments below if you've had any experiences with local, wild spices.


 

a bowl of fiddlehead greens sits on the edge of a boreal forest stream


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