what’s on the menu?

Living here in the Yukon brings you into contact with some hardy types.  The sort who drive their trucks out of the bush on a flat tire by filling the tire with water and letting it freeze solid.  The type who start their truck by re-charging the battery by spinning the alternator with their chainsaw, or drive back to town with heated gopher fat instead of motor oil.

But there is another bunch, and a couple of years ago when the Alaska Hwy shut down because of a landslide, the Super Store in Whitehorse virtually ran out of everything in three days!  I was not there to see it but it must have been pandemonium or chaos or both with a side of bizarro. And this was in summer!

Whitehorse is a city built right on the Yukon River, which contains arctic grayling, northern pike, and in season, king salmon.  The surrounding mountains are quite rich in wild fruit in the summer months.  For game, there is mountain sheep, caribou, moose, black and grizzly bear, elk, bison, in addition to your predators.  Wolverine Helper anyone?  Mushrooms do quite well in a wet year though you have to know your ‘shrooms, as some few may make you quite ill.  But the Panic!

Three days in summer.  Now let’s consider three months in the winter shall we?  A snowslide blocks the Highway.  All consumables must be flown in at great expense.  Well you get the picture.  And as the worlds central banks flirt with negative interest rates, which will certainly devastate pensions and incomes all over the globe, it might make sense to have  a backup plan.

The Alaska Highway from the lower 48 through to Alaska was only constructed around 1947.  Prior to that, native people in the area where I live rarely saw a whiteman.  They lived off the land and obviously were skilled and knowledgeable about how to go about that.  There were no banks, though somewhere earlier in the century a grocery store was founded, supplied by sternwheelers coming up the Teslin River once or twice a year.  My point is, though, that prior to all this people lived off the land without money, stores, banks, highways, cars, iphones, and heat-seeking missiles.  And it could be done again.

If things get even remotely as bad as many think they will it will definitely be handy to know what is edible in the wild.  If being homeless in a large city or in the country is my choice, there is no doubt which one i’d choose.  Many of natures goodies are out there waiting to be pocketed and eaten.  While far from being any kind of expert, I hope some of my experiences with wild edibles may benefit:

One trick I’ve often resorted to when i didn’t know whether a certain thing was edible is to try a little taste and spit it out if its blech.  Obviously i don’t want any legal problems so i can’t recommend the practice of eating just a bit and checking for ill effects, but it has always worked for me.  With 2 exceptions.  One was in northern Saskatchewan on a moose hunt. Walking across a frozen pond i noticed what appeared to be a short section of wild celery.  We had just been discussing this and i decided to give it a try.  After a brief chew i spat it out because it was blechy.  That’s when the troubles began.  My mouth felt like it was full of tiny needles which worked their way into my throat as a desperately tried not to swallow.  Happy ending though; in a few hours the sensation was gone.  Water hemlock?  Maybe.  
But What if i would have chowed down on it?

Second similar experience was in Hawaii on a hike.  Same scenario but this time a little berry-like bulb on a fern sort of thingy.  Don’t eat them.

Other than that word of caution, I’ve learned that the prickly pear cactus in Saskatchewan at least is edible after boiling or burning the needles off.  It is a real green gooey mess when cooked with a flavour like rhubarb and strawberry.  Also the bulbs on the top after flowering I have found to be delicious through experimentation with no ill effects.

Most of the berries I’ve encountered are a different colour than the surrounding foliage.  Why are they bright red, orange, yellow?  Well like the old Indian answered when asked why the salmon turn red in the rivers, “So the bears can find ’em.”

Again, in Saskatchewan, as an experiment I once lived on nothing but chokecherries for three days to a week and this while working full time, hard, and mostly on my feet.  I noticed no ill effects to my health whatsoever. Quite the opposite!

Here in the Yukon, I’ve done rather well on wild raspberries, the tiny wild strawberries, rhubarb which usually appears around old settlements and probably not indigenous, mossberries, high and low-bush cranberries and blueberries.  Also many of you will know that the red berry found on the wild rose after the flower blooms is edible and full of vitamin C.  You may not know that the flower itself is also edible.  “OH honey, they are so Lovely!  Crunch, crunch, munch.  And Tasty!”

Another source of vitamin C is to be found on the spruce, not pine, but spruce tree.  Early in the spring each bough extends new growth which is visible as a lighter shade of green.  This new growth is very edible, and tastes a bit like lemon.  You could try a little and see if it affects you in case of some allergy or other.  But I eat all of it i want.  Spruce also makes an excellent tea.  

What concerns me now i s what I would do for carbohydrates if products ceased to fill the shelves in the store across the highway.  The Yukon is capable of growing oats as  there is at last some agriculture in the region, even as far north as Dawson City.  But what interests me more is the possibility of using wild rice.  It grows in Northern Saskatchewan and I’ve read there may even be some here.  Of course, like all the wild edibles, these things come undistorted by large multi-national corporations who love modifying genetics and start with the letter “M”.

Wild fruits, mushrooms, meat, fish, birds, and worse case wolverine meat, can all be dried for storage or in the more northerly regions buried down near the permafrost for storage.  Personally I like drying as it has the added advantage of increased portability.   Just lift a hindquarter of moose meat next time you get the chance and lift it again when it’s been made into jerky.  You’ll notice less pulling on your shoulder muscles!

So that’s it for now.  Might add some more if there is any interest.  I’ll just add that whether or not the global financial system collapses wild food is a grossly under-utilized resource.  Its fun and enjoyable to harvest these gifts and takes you into some of the most amazing places.  In the process you may disappoint the taxmongers and the credit card people but they’ll get over it.  They always do.

Published by Douglas Martens

"What can you say when your mind is a total blank?"

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