Off the “Eaten” Path: A Lesson in Sustainability

3 edible plant varieties you can incorporate into your summer menu from the forest foodscape

Today, talks about food are front and center at both the dinner table and on the world stage. We’re talking about what to eat, how much to eat, how to make sure everybody has enough to eat, and where to source food from. Growing our food is another question all together: How can we grow food sustainably in the years to come?

(Photo Credit: Phong Tran / Lavery Culinary Group)

Global crop diversity on a whole is decreasing. Monoculture—agriculture that plants a single crop or variety at a time—reduces an ecosystem’s ability to bounce back from environmental damage, disease, and pests. These systems tend to require heavier pesticide use, with these chemicals eventually making their way into local waterways.

But monoculture is a modern concept in North America. For millennia, Indigenous communities were forest engineers, managing their resources through ‘food forests.’ These permaculture operations cultivated plants of all sizes and species in a single area. These productive systems—symbioses of people, land, and plants—are a diverse, stable, and resilient means of food production.

(Photo Credit: Phong Tran / Lavery Culinary Group)

On July 20, The Freshwater Alliance was joined by Andrew Judge, Professor of Indigenous Studies at Conestoga College, who educated event participants on the value of food forests and Indigenous resource management. Katherine Puzara from Growing Chefs joined the walk, provisioning participants with delicious snacks made from foraged ingredients and providing culinary uses of the plants we spotted. Our stroll through the forest by Dan Pulham Field was a fruitful expedition—here are 3 edible plants you can identify on a stroll of your own here in London!

Greater Burdock 

(Arctium lappa)

This tall, biennial plant is easily identified by it’s low, broad leaves in its first year and the purple flowers appearing in its second year. Greater Burdock has a number of culinary applications: young leaves are edible raw, and the roots of the first-year plants are often cooked in soups or stir fries before they age and become too fibrous. 

Wild Bergamot

(Monarda fistulosa)

A member of the bee balms, Wild Bergamot is a perennial plant and member of the mint family with shaggy pale purple (or pink) flowers. Leaves are edible both raw and cooked. Both the leaves and sweet-tasting flowers of Wild Bergamot can be dried and brewed into cold-curing aromatic teas, or often serve as a salad garnish. 

Staghorn Sumac

(Rhus typhina)

Staghorn Sumac is easily identifiable and distinguished from its poisonous cousins by its fruit: the large red crown protruding at the apex of the plant. When sampled, the berries are as sweet as corn on the cob. Sumac berries can also be soaked and strained to produce a refreshing drink or gargle for sore throats, which can be sweetened to taste. 

(Photo Credit: Will Pollard)

These plants are a few of the many edible species that can be spotted here in London and incorporated into the food forest model. Indigenous thinking plans for 7 generations ahead—approximately 150 years into the future. Judge told participants that he has this timeline in mind with his own food farm. How do you think our ideas around food and actions would change if we started planning for 7 generations?

(Photo Credit: Phong Tran / Lavery Culinary Group)

The Freshwater Alliance wants to express a HUGE thank you to Katherine Puzara from Growing Chefs and Andrew Judge from Conestoga College for helping us pull together this awesome event. We’ve spent the summer teaching Londoners how to birdwatch, canoe, fish, and identify edible plants along the Thames River. For our last event, we’ll be diving straight into Lake Erie for an incredible Open Water Swim tutorial at Port Stanley hosted by decorated open water swimmer Josh Reid. Don't miss out on this great event—get your tickets now!

All photos taken by Jade Prévost-Manuel on July 20, 2019 (unless otherwise indicated). More photos of the event can be found here.

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