i’ve gone out on a few specific foraging trips lately & wanted to share some photos (& hopefully see what You’ve been harvesting, wherever you’re at).
so on one of my days off last week, jon & i drove north of town (we live on a smallish island, and there’s only so much road, so we tend to just head out of town a few miles in either direction to get to better stands of wild plants) looking for wild edibles & medicinals. we found great stands of thimbleberry, fireweed, and labrador tea - so that’s what i harvested that day.
here’s some of the thimbleberry:
and the labrador tea (next to a non-blooming look-similar):
i hadn’t smelled labrador tea since we were out deer hunting last fall… and it definitely doesn’t smell as spicy or strong as it does in the interior. it gave me a nostalgic hunger to smell this not-quite-the-same labrador tea, when its aroma was such a quintessential part of our experience of walking though the forests of the kuskokwim valley.
here’s some of the fireweed:
i had to figure out how to conveniently hang up a big armful of it. i don’t have drying screens here, since we’ve lived on a boat for the past year, moved south with very little ‘stuff’, and needed everything to be compact. so for individual leaves that i harvest, i lay out layers of mosquito netting as my ‘screens’…
but for the fireweed, since i found large enough stands to harvest whole stalks, i eventually landed on the idea of stringing them up like chiles, with a big canvas needle & some waxed cotton thread. that way i could just string them up between the supports on our porch & let them wave in the fresh air, and i didn’t have to individually tie each bundle (like i normally do when hanging smaller bundles of stalks). it worked out perfectly.
then i realized that the ribs on the thimbleberry leaves are strong enough, and branch appropriately, to do the same thing…
that worked out pretty well, too. i had harvested a lot of thimbleberry, and the leaves can be pretty huge, so this turned out to be a really efficient way to dry them. otherwise, finding enough horizontal surfaces to lay them out on would have been pretty impossible.
the labrador tea leaves just went on mosquito netting in a large basket to dry. they’ll take a while. i only harvested the newer growth, and no stalks, as it’s not as abundant here & takes a lot longer to grow its woody stalks than the fireweed. it took me a few tries to find a spot that was okay to harvest, as the first few plants i asked permission kept telling me to go further into the patch… apparently the gravel dust from the nearby road spread further than i thought. so i put on my muck boots and headed deeper into the small, lumpy, sink-your-feet-in muskeg to find areas that were happier with being harvested.
here’s a partial view of the porch by the time i was done:
i went out for these herbs not just to replenish my own stocks, but also because i nearly sold out of my ‘happy alaskan tea’ blend at the last little farmer’s market i did here in town. i was really surprised, as when i’ve tried to sell herbal teas in the past people didn’t really go for them. but, there is a pretty strong local/wild foods culture here in ketchikan, so i figured i better have enough dried & ready to go by the next market. it went really well - i made about double the amount of tea blend this time and almost sold out again (and made up a big batch for taste testing, which went over well).
here are some other views from that foraging trip:
a wild bog orchid looking fancy:
views from connell lake, which i hadn’t been to before (wish we had a cabin & canoe there!):
one the supposed ‘look similars’ to labrador tea with its pretty pink flower:
actual labrador tea being beautiful in the sunshine:
some little mint-family widlflower with adorable blue-purple flowers:
and a general view from the back road we were harvesting near.
it was so refreshing to be out and away from town for a few hours. this is the first time i’ve lived in a town/city for more than a few months since 2007, and it’s really wearing on my spirit. jon & i both miss the interior hugely, are sick of the noise & mess of town, and really drank in the lush quiet of these wilder areas, even though it was just for one morning. it felt wonderful to come home and have all these delicious & healthful herbs to hang up. rain threatened a day or two later, so i ended up having to string them up inside, & it has made our home smell fantastic.