Rebecca Kehl, Guest Blogger: What to Expect on a Walk with Julie Walker of Full Circle Adventures!
We couldn’t believe our luck when Rebecca Kehl, a volunteer at our 2018 Environmental Gathering (she activated the afternoon with a salsa dance lesson!) approached us to share her experience of a Spring Edible Plant Walk by Julie Walker of Full Circle Adventures, one of our Big Ideas for Alberta’s Future presenters at this year’s gathering.
Sunday May 20th Spring Edible Plant Walk at Edworthy Park
Author: Rebecca Kehl
There is only one Julie Walker of Full Circle Adventures, and we are fortunate to have her in Calgary! Although she does walks and hikes all around southern Alberta outside the city, many of her walks take place right in Calgary’s historic wildland parks.
Julie enjoys taking urbanite plant and nature lovers from all backgrounds and differing knowledge levels, out to learn about local berries, bushes, trees, and plants. Julie brings human history, geography and wildlife interactions alive on these walks. Come alongside!
At the crossroads of TransCanada Highway, Shaganappi Trail, and Bowness Road NW, the seven of us met at Angel’s Café, a trailer-based café with lawn chairs strewn in half circle clusters all around it. It was the kind of place you might find in a small town or beside a main highway in the middle of nowhere.
After a short circle of self-intros, we walked across the bridge and turned left. She began with a respectful call to the indigenous traditions, in the way she learned from them, with a prayer and tobacco. And that was the start of our walk together on May 20th this spring in Edworthy Park.
Julie began presenting names and information of bushes we have all seen over the years, but never knew their names or uses:
“Willow is adapted to moist habitats – it grows best along rivers and streams. Willow bark contains Salicin, which is used for relieving pain,” Julie began. “In Banff National Park an old collared boar, (a male bear) died of natural causes. Parks decided to do an autopsy. In their search they found the bear had an abscessed tooth, and in the infected area the bear had a wad of chewed up willow bark tucked inside it.”
Farther up the path we arrived at a carpet of Kinnikinnick. It’s a hard-leafed ground cover that likes and can handle dry, south facing slopes. Kinnikinnick is an emergency food, and was one of many ingredients in the old traditional smoking mixture. Some plants included in the mixture are sage, red dogwood bark, and others.
“Sage was burned as a cleansing smudge, and can be used to cleanse and heal spaces where sick people are or have been. Earlier newcomers thought the natives strange and superstitious for burning it to clear the “bad spirits”. But today, we know the scientific follow-up; burning such dried plants and allowing it to waft around the room in fact kills the harmful resting and airborne bacteria. They knew what they were doing, and it wasn’t by chance or from superstition. Animals likewise…they just know the plant they need.”
Aside from the educational stories she told that helped us to nail home plant names and uses, we learned what berries to eat and which to avoid. There was a poem she taught us:
White, don’t bite,
Red, use your head.
Black and blue,
It’s good for you!
Julie soon found out the literal kind of brain I have and told me to stay away from all the red and white berries! I simply cannot wait for saskatoon berry season! Which brings us to one last teaching on picking:
When it comes to flower petals, and buds, only pick one petal per flower. Flowers need to be pollenated for the fruit and seeds to form. It is also important to leave 95% of the berries you are harvesting. As Julie learned this year, “the spring birds arrived to 2 ft of snow! Last year’s berries still on the bushes were the only food source available.”
We don’t know what kind of season it’ll be for the plants, or the kind of winter it’ll be for the animals in the area. They just might need a late winter snack if the winter is particularly long. Of equal importance, how does a plant reproduce? What parts does it need for fertilization, flowering, and producing fruit? Imagine if someone cuts off all the flowers of a plant in spring for a bouquet or tea? How is that plant going to reproduce in summer? That’s the equivalent of no sex all summer long, and then waiting through the winter until next year. If the plant is healthy enough, it may grow some of these parts back, but if people pluck everything two years in a row? Might be tough and it starts to look like a doomed situation for a plant’s continued growth. But, I’ll give it to you, we don’t think of these things before having been told.
So. Here’s to being officially in the know when it comes to collecting parts of plants for eating and for teas, killing pain in the wilderness with willow, and the benefits of smudge!
It was an absolute honor and a blessing to spend time around a knowledge carrier. Thank you, Julie, for the work you are doing with us on your walks, and it is my pleasure to help you spread the pollen! Er, facts! Can’t wait for more!