By Robin Mayo
“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” This quote from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry neatly sums up the Wild Plants Weekend we recently hosted at Kenny Lake Community Hall. Eighteen wild plants enthusiasts, some local and some from across Alaska, foraged in local gardens, fields, and woods, then concocted a wide variety of foods and medicinal preparations from our harvest.
Many of the plants we used were humble ones, commonly considered weeds, nuisances, or even dangerous. At this time of year most gardens are not yet producing much food, but in at a Chitina home we harvested abundant chickweed, lambsquarter, fireweed, and mint. Devils Club is common in the temperate rainforest south of the Chugach, but a few plants can be found in the Chitina area, and we harvested that as well.
Janice Schofield, who led the workshop, learned to wildcraft foods while living in a remote area of the Kenai Peninsula. Gardening proved to be challenging, but she found in her dooryard, the surrounding forest, and the beaches a multitude of friendly plants. In 1989 Janice published “Discovering Wild Plants” which is considered by many to be the bible for Alaskan wildcrafting. She now lives in New Zealand, but visits Alaska often to teach, learn from local traditions, and revisit her old stomping grounds. Her work includes wisdom from Alaska Native traditions.
At the end of the weekend we shared an abundant feast, including chiming bell spring rolls, dandelion fritters, and spruce tip salsa. Students also made insect repellant, salves, lotions, tinctures, and decoctions. In this case, what was essential was under our feet, just waiting to be discovered.
Photo on Left- Janice Schofield explains the benefits of Arnica, which is abundant this year in the area.
Photo on Right- Michael Moody, Cynthia Buchanan, and Darlene Wright and Darlene write work on processing a tableful of locally harvested wild plants
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.