Wild Identity: A Biocultural Relationship


From my very first conscious memory, it was apparent to me that I was imbued with the electricity of the bioregion in which I was conceived. The culture of Cascadia was passed on to me from my grandmother when she led me through her gardens, placed in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains a few miles east of Seattle. As I crawled through the soil, I had vivid experiences of the feeling of the soil beneath my body. I can remember the smell of it and the way it felt between my fingers, and I became fascinated with the way it made me feel inside. It filled me with inspiration, and I became enraptured by its ability to birth those from the botanical world as if from nowhere.

My grandmother, with her warming Midwestern voice, taught me how to have empathy with that which sprouted forth from the soil, to respect and embrace its qualities with reverence, the way that she did. From that first exposure to the wonders of the plant world, it has been one of my greatest passions in life. It is a part of who I am, and when I am consciously trying to develop a relationship with the world around me, I feel whole.

My grandmother is in her nineties now, and whenever we get together, we still talk about plants in a way that nobody else in my family can. Following high school, I had completed formal education with a degree in environmental horticulture, with a focus on arboriculture and native plant healthcare. Today, I am the teacher – discussing what I learned through my studies to my grandmother. It is something that we can relate to, something that is deeply engrained in our cultural identity, and I find no greater joy than walking through the gardens I walked in as a child with her.

The passion of the natural world is something that is a common occurrence within the people who reside in Cascadia. There is a desire in its people that pushes us to preserve that which is wild, to find ways in which we can create a symbiotic relationship with the land. One of the great things about living in such a vibrant and rich environment is that my passion of plants and fungi pass along to all of the other ones. My love for backpacking and foraging lends me to appreciate the bioregion with a greater sense of empathy to preserve it. Many times I have gone out into the wilderness for a few days, bringing only the means to produce clean water, having to rely on my surroundings for sustenance. Deprived of all the creature comforts of the city, I am forced to align myself with the life that impregnates the area.

Wildcrafting is a passion of mine that allows me to develop that relationship with the wild in a manner that I must respect to survive. It brings me closer to the land, but it also brings me closer to myself.  It reminds me that I also am a part of Cascadia, and that I am responsible for its health – at least in part. During school, it was required of me to learn plant identification and Latin nomenclature to be successful, and because of that it became second nature to acquire a working knowledge of every native plant that grows in the region. Using important guidelines in identifying plants down to the minute details is something that I stress greatly, because even though it is easy to identify most native plants, it is extremely easy to bypass some minute detail about a plant that may prove to be fatal, or at the least, severely irritating to your gastrointestinal tract.

A simple rule of thumb when out in the wild: most blue and black berries are edible, some red berries are edible, while yellow and white berries are almost never edible.

If you are unable to identify a plant specifically, a useful tip is to place a piece of the foliage under your arm for fifteen minutes, and if you feel no irritation place a piece under your tongue. Hold that piece under your tongue (without swallowing it!), and if that causes no irritation, consume a small piece of the foliage. Wait half an hour to an hour, and if that does not upset you in any way, it is generally safe to eat in small quantities. Remember that this is in no way applicable to all plants, for there are some that will not show any signs or symptoms of damage until hours or even days later. This is especially true of mushrooms. It is advised that when actively going hiking with the intent of wildcrafting for food that you become well versed not only in potential edible plants and mushrooms, but specifically on ones that are poisonous or deadly poisonous. There are many good foraging guides in print that will help you greatly with this vocation. Personally, I use a deck of info cards that contains all knowledge of edible and poisonous plants in the region, including crucial identification and preparation tips.

 

by Eric Seitz

 

Links to common plants/fungi within Cascadia that I use:

Outdoor edibles – http://outdooredibles.com/

Edible plants of the northwest (flashcards) – http://quizlet.com/2295853/edible-plants-of-the-pacific-northwest-flash-cards/

Non-region specific wildcrafting – http://wildcrafting.net/forage/

Mushroom foraging – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_fwc7aogh04

Northern Bushcraft – http://www.northernbushcraft.com/plants/index.htm