Manitoba maple syrup … on tap!

I love maple syrup.  I mean, real maple syrup.  I remember my grade 3 teacher cooking maple syrup on the staff room stove and then drizzling it onto fresh snow for us to eat.  We plunged our faces into the snow and delighted in the deliciously sweet, hardened taffy.  Years later, a friend and I tried to replicate the experience by pouring corn syrup on the snow, but it just wasn’t the same. I wished sugar maples grew in Manitoba.

When I learned that our very own Manitoba maple (Acer negundo), also known as boxelder, could be tapped for maple syrup, I was pumped! Manitoba maples are commonly planted as shelter belt trees, and my yard was full of them!

maple tapping using bird bone (640x480)Rather than buying special taps for gathering the sap, I decided to experiment with taps made from natural materials found around me.  Over the years, I have used the hollow stems of cane grass (Phragmites communtatis), shards of deer leg bones, and various bird bones, which are naturally hollow (photo). I’ve also used high bush cranberry stems, which have a pithy center that can be removed by slicing the stems length-wise and scraping it out, forming a channel for the sap to run down.

Maple syrup runs best when overnight temperatures drop below freezing and daytime temperatures reach 5 – 10 degrees Celsius.  You can score the trees with a knife or drill holes with a hand or cordless drill.  Place your taps on the south sides of the trees and make sure they fit snugly in the holes or you will find the sap running down the tree instead of your tap.  Honey pails attached to the trees with bands of bicycle inner tube make for easy removal and replacement when the pails need to be emptied. Just make sure that the band is tight so it doesn’t stretch too much as the pail gets heavy with sap.

Gather the sap before the leaves and flowers appear for the best run and flavour.  Once the buds break open, the sap tends to taste more woody.

To boil the sap, strain it through a clean cloth to remove flies and bits of bark (a piece cut from pantyhose works well), pour it into flat pans or any kind of pot and boil it down.  It takes 40 litres of sap to make 1 litre of syrup, so be sure to do this outside!  (Some sugar evaporates with the water and it will coat everything in your house!)  I’ve used an old cookstove in my summer house, where I could open large windows for good air flow, or a wood-fired cauldron.

boiling maple sap (640x480)Boiling maple sap can be very time-consuming, but is well worth it!  You can speed the process up by removing the ice from partially frozen sap. The ice contains little to no sugar, leaving the liquid with a higher sugar concentration. Don’t throw the ice out!  Melt it and drink it.  If you don’t have time to process the sap you’ve collected, freeze it and use it later to make tea.  Manitoba maple syrup contains the equivalent of 1 – 1.5 teaspoons of sugar per cup, which makes the perfect, naturally sweetened cup of tea!

You don’t need a lot of taps to get a decent amount of syrup.  I have tapped as few as 5 trees and gathered enough sap to make a litre or two of syrup.  There is something incredibly grounding about drinking sap straight from a tree, so even if you can only tap a few trees, go for it and enjoy the sap and all of its nutrients, including calcium and potassium, straight up!

Laura Reeves’ Guide to Useful Plants – From acorns to zoom sticks

Laura Reeves' Guide to Useful PlantsFor over 20 years, I have been striving to incorporate as many wild plants into my daily life as possible.  This 216-page book is a collection of my experiences with over 65 wild plants and mushrooms.  It is packed full of stories of my experiments (some successful and some not), accidental discoveries, recipes, and directions for using plants for food, medicine, wilderness survival, and just plain fun.

Want to know how to make the best roasted dandelion roots ever? Wondering which plant will be your best friend during cold and flu season? With over 285 colour photos and 30 recipes, Laura Reeves’ Guide to Useful Plants will bring you up to speed on identifying, sustainably harvesting and skillfully preparing some of the most intriguing wild plants and mushrooms of the northern prairie and boreal forest – from acorns to zoomsticks!

Price: $24.95

8 weeks on the Winnipeg Bestsellers list!

[Your book] is quite lovely. Definitely one of the best publications by a local author I’ve had the pleasure to stock.” – Megan Ross, University of Saskatchewan Bookstore

I just wanted to thank you so much for your incredible book. My daughter and I have been using it extensively and house it with our favourite reference books. Each day we go for a walk somewhere on our 230 acre property and try to identify, taste, and marvel at all the wild plants. My daughter picked wild ginger today for the first time. She is so excited to go out seeking each day. Your writing is so approachable; a great mix of botanical info and your personal reflections and stories. It is a joy to read and learn from each day. ” – Judi Vinni, Kaministiquia, ON

Order now and have it delivered or scroll down for store locations

I would love to sign your book! Please indicate who it’s for in the message space provided at checkout.

To order a single copy, click this button and I will mail it to you. (Shipping is $5.) Canadian and U.S. destinations only.

For 2-5 copies, please use this button. (Shipping is $13.) Canadian destinations only.

For 6-10 copies, please click here. (Shipping is $15.) Canadian destinations only.

For multiple copies to U.S. destinations, email

If you’d rather pay by cheque, please make it out to “Prairie Shore Botanicals” and mail it to:

Laura’s Guide
Prairie Shore Botanicals
Box 65
Gardenton, MB
R0A 0M0

Laura Reeves’ Guide to Useful Plants – From Acorns to Zoom Sticks is now at the following locations in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Ontario:

In Manitoba:


Aurora Farm

Chapters (Empress Street – in the “Local Interest” section)

Coles Bookstore (Kildonan Place)

FortWhyte Alive! (McCreary Road)

Generation Green (Main St. at Bannatyne Ave.)

Hollow Reed Holistic (875 Corydon Ave.)

Indigo (Kenaston Commons – in the “Local Interest” and “Nature” sections)

McNally Robinson Booksellers (Grant Park mall)

Motio Massage Therapy (Cityplace Mall)

Sage Garden Herbs (3410 St. Mary’s Road)

The Manitoba Museum (Main and Rupert)

The Preferred Perch (4-1604 St. Mary’s Rd.)

Winnipeg Public Libraries


Altona Public Library

Boissevain area

Room to Grow Guesthouse 


Coles (Shoppers Mall)

Hedley’s Health Hut (Shoppers Mall)

Riverbank Discovery Centre

Clear Lake/Wasagaming

The Nature Shop (Friends of Riding Mountain National Park)

East Braintree/Falcon Lake

South Moon Studio (# 42088 Wye Rd.)

Falcon Trails Resort


Miami Public Library


Minnedosa Public Library


Morden Public Library


Herbs for Health

Neepawa Public Library

Viscount Cultural Centre

Plum Coulee

Prairie Foods

Portage la Prairie

Honeybee Health Foods

Portage la Prairie Public Library

Roseau River

Reimer Concrete and Building Supplies


Souris Public Library


Mennonite Heritage Museum

Sparrow’s Lane (191 Reimer Ave.)

St. Pierre-Jolys

St. Pierre Public Library


Can-Am Country Corner (Hwys. 59 and 201)


Dueck Drug Store


Winkler Public Library

In Saskatchewan:



McNally Robinson Booksellers

University of Saskatchewan

In Ontario:


Misty River Alternatives


Lake of the Woods Museum

Thunder Bay


Kelly’s Nutrition Centre

Vitality Natural Food Market

Willow Springs Creative Centre

Email info@psbotanicals for more options

Chaga (Inonotus obliquus)

Update: Prairie Shore Botanicals is no longer offering chaga because of concerns that it is being over-harvested and improperly used.

Chaga is a white rot fungus that infects birch trees.  It has a long history of being used to strengthen the immune system, eliminate toxins from the body and to treat various digestive disorders.  It is anti-microbial, anti-viral and anti-inflammatory.  Chaga is well known for its anti-tumor properties, as well as its ability to regulate blood sugar levels.  It produces no side effects, even when used on a regular, long term basis.  It has a long history of use in Russia and has been certified and approved by the Russian Medical Research Council.  Chaga is currently being used to treat HIV and stage 4 cancers.

Extensive research has shown that the effectiveness of chaga is due to numerous active compounds:

Betulin and betulinic acid – induces programmed cell death in tumors with no harm to normal cells.

Melanin – antioxidant; protects cell components against free radicals.  The antioxidant level of chaga is at least 10 times higher than all other medicinal mushrooms.

Phytosterols (inotodiol and lanosterol) – anti-viral; effective against influenza, HIV and some cancers.

Polysaccharides, beta-D-glucans – modulate the immune system (and inhibit mutagenic and immune-modulating effects of cancerous tumors), regulate cholesterol levels, and boost brain, liver and digestive functions.

Triterpenes – can lower cholesterol and treat asthma, cough, chronic bronchitis and hepatitis

Germanium – prevents tumors, normalizes blood pressure and cleanses the blood.

Chaga does not look like a stereotypical mushroom.  It appears more like a black “explosion” on the trunks of live birch trees, often taking years to attain a size suitable for harvest. Though not rare, it is not particularly common, occurring on only one in maybe 400-800 trees.  Once it is removed from a tree, chaga may continue to grow, but it can take several years before it reaches a decent size again.

Chaga has three major components – an outer black crust, a brown, corky inside, and white mycelium (fungal “roots”).  Each part contains different concentrations of the mostly water soluble compounds.  (The outer black crust, for example, has the highest concentration of melanin.)  Tea made from ground chaga provides the best combination of these compounds. Note: Do not grind chaga in a regular kitchen blender! The black crust is very hard and can do severe damage to the machine.

Chaga is also known as the “tinder fungus”.  The dry, corky inside of the fungus can catch a spark and carry an ember as well as char cloth, which makes it a very valuable resource for starting fires.


For more information on chaga’s medicinal properties and how it works, check out 340 research papers.

Also check out the many websites dedicated to chaga, including

Sap ‘n’ Salvy Healing Salve

Sap ‘n’ Salvy

This is Balm of Gilead with a twist!  Sap ‘n’ Salvy is a combination of balsam poplar leaf bud extract (Populus balsamifera) and white spruce (Picea alba) sap.  Both are known for their anti-microbial properties and abilities to promote healing. In addition, white spruce has a history of being used to draw out infection. This wonderful, forest-scented salve has been used effectively to heal raw, open wounds, burns, and dry, chapped skin.  It also provides quick relief from insect bites and stings, poison ivy, psoriasis, “weird” rashes and other itchy skin conditions. Extra virgin olive oil helps to draw the active components into deeper tissues, thus promoting healing from the inside out.

Sap ‘n’ Salvy is hand-crafted in small batches using locally and sustainably harvested white spruce sap, balsam poplar leaf buds and beeswax. Ingredients: Organic extra virgin olive oil, white spruce sap, balsam poplar leaf bud extract, beeswax.

What people are saying:                                       

“[A]s a nurse, I have never seen such an effective, all natural, versatile product to keep in my medicine cupboard. It smells like a forest-in-a-jar. I use it for myself and family on small cuts /scrapes, chapped skin, sinus congestion (a little dabbed under the nose), bug bites–just about anything. I don’t even have to keep it away from my toddler nor do I need to wash it off my hands when I’m finished applying it–just rub it in to my hands!” — Connie

“My dad is using Sap ‘n’ Salvy for his dry skin condition.  It is the only thing that works for him.  He tried medicated creams etc. and well… Sap ‘n’ Salvy works.  He use to wake up in the middle of the night all itchy and the only thing that was working was to take a shower.  Now with your salve he can get through the night.” — Michelle

“When Dave arrived, he was in pain with some kind of rash. Over a few days [Sap ‘n’ Salvy] healed him and he found relief quite quickly so he could play that night at our Summer Folk Fest.”   –Linda

“My thumb was raw and seeping….it had blistered after it had burned, and the blister had now popped. It was actually quite nasty.  I put on Sap ‘n’ Salvy, and overnight it formed a completely new layer of skin! It is still slightly tender but it is totally dried up and I have been able to put pressure on it. [Sap ‘n’ Salvy] really is amazing stuff!” — Wilma

“Huge praise for Laura’s Sap n’ Salvy – I woke up without a lot of pain, and the redness is really down. Just one massive blister to baby for a while and I’ll be good as new.” — Kris (after dumping ~3 cups of boiling water on her hand and wrist the night before).

“Everyone was nervous when Harold got stung by a wasp. (The last two times, he had severe swelling that lasted several hours.)  This time, he rubbed Sap ‘n’ Salvy into the sting, which was already swelling up and turning red.  Within 10 minutes, the swelling was completely gone, and over the next two hours, the redness disappeared, too.” — Laura

“For two weeks, our dog, Taffy, kept scratching at a sore on her face until it was a raw, bloody wound.  I applied Sap ‘n’ Salvy and within a minute, she stopped scratching.  Within a couple of days, the sore had dried out and was healing nicely.” — Carol

“Your salve is wonderful.  If I feel mentally fatigued, stressed from too much work I put a bit under my nose and it really clears my head.  Racing thoughts disappear, so add one more beautiful thing about your healing salve.  Thank you.” — Tangi

It’s awesome stuff! We use it on ourselves, our dogs, cats, chickens and goats! Heals everybody!” — Aagaard Farms

A gardener’s delight for dry and cracked cuticles. Great stuff!“– Liz  

The sap ‘n’ salvy worked amazing! Took care of my husbands head cold! He was able to breath clearly again. Totally cleared his sinuses!” — Carole

My son had a small patch of heat rash between his legs that was getting progressively worse. After a day, he was walking oddly and by day three he was in tears. One treatment of Sap ‘n’ Salvy fixed it overnight.”  — Michelle

Just wanted to mention again that your spruce schmeah works very well on poison ivy itch. This is the 3rd time I’ve used it on poison ivy. This spot of poison ivy is small (size of a loonie) but intense! No it does not spread the rash and sometimes I have to wait about 3 minutes for it to kick in. I make sure I wash it with soap a couple of times a day and I reapply the schmeah as needed which is not a problem ’cause it smells delightful.”  — Lydia

I purchased your Sap n’ Salvy this past Saturday. I just wanted to say how amazing it is! My allergies have caused excessive nose blowing, to the point where it was cracking and bleeding. Your product in 3 applications has almost completely taken away the cracks and all of the pain. Thanks for making such a great, natural product!”  — Michelle

When I showed Sap ‘n’ Salvy to my wilderness survival instructor, he said, “This is exactly what you want in your herbal first aid kit!” — Christina

I used your salve before and after work and you NEED to go on Dragon’s Den and market this stuff. The cut I showed you is sealed, doesn’t hurt any more and is healing nicely (and I am not a paid spokesperson! ) It’s far superior to anything in a pharmacy. Best prize ever!” — Dave   (Dave’s fingertips have persistent, painful cuts from constantly handling cold items at his job. He sent me this email the day after I gave him the salve, which he won for his participation in my Winter Plant Identification Quiz.)

“I’ve never had a salve work so well!!!  It is so great!! My daughter got into poison oak at the lake, my son got hives at the lake, and my husband reacted to surgical tape. (My daughters poison oak was terrible, the doctor said it was the worst case that she had ever seen and it cleared it up within days.) I also use it on my feet for cracks. It is so versatile!! It’s our go-to salve!!” — Kelly

To date, we have only discovered the magic of Sap ‘n’ Salvy on mosquito bites. The bites swell and itch like crazy on me but this salve immediately calms the swelling and takes away the itch. It’s like magic. 🙂 … I LOVE IT! Will now pick up your book and several small gift jars of Sap’n’ Salvy for friends.” — Lynda

“It heals the deep fissures I get around my nails (from dryness) like a charm. It’s quite amazing. Fissures that took 10 days to heal in the past (i.e. stop bleeding, stop hurting, and start closing up) now take only 2 days, with the bleeding and pain stopping after the first day. It’s like a miracle salve.” — N.G.

“Laura, your Sap ‘n’ Salvy is amazing! Completely healed a cut/infection on my finger that I couldn’t get rid of with weeks of cleansing and Polysporin. As soon as I put the stuff on, I could tell it was helping as it felt so soothing. ❤️” — Jen

“When my mom gave me the salve, I was skeptical. I had two cuts on my hand, so I put Sap ‘n’ Salvy on one and nothing on the other. The cut with the Sap ‘n’ Salvy healed 3 days sooner!” — Josh

“My sister has been battling a staph infection on her skin for some time. She recently tried your salve and found it helped more than anything else she has tried. Thank you! –Naomi


The Story Behind the Salve

Several years ago, I took a nasty spill and split my shin open.  The gash was deep and I could see my bone. Since I freak out at the sight of needles, stitches weren’t an option for me.  At first, I used butterfly bandages to hold it together, but these clearly weren’t enough.  A friend suggested I use spruce sap on it, so I immediately went out and harvested some from one of my trees.  With sap in hand, and fingers sticking to everything I touched, I quickly realized that applying this sticky mass directly to an open wound was a bad idea, and I cringed at the thought of removing it!  I knew there had to be another way, but not knowing what it was, I put the sap aside and reached for the acorn shells.  I made a strong tea from them and poured it over the gash.  Within 30 minutes, the tissues started to dry out and pull together.  It was a good start, but I needed something else to follow this process – something that would continue to mend the tissues without drying them out completely.  I knew the spruce sap was the answer, but I didn’t know how to use it. My leg healed with a big scar. For years, the desire to find a way to use the spruce sap for healing wounds stuck with me.  When the topic of spruce extracts came up on an herb mentoring website, I asked my question.  It was ignored.  I finally realized that I needed to figure out how to use it, myself.  I spent the rest of the day concocting a balsam poplar and white spruce ointment and was ecstatic about the result! I just knew that this salve had amazing potential, and I wanted to share it with as many people as possible. Every time someone tells me what Sap ‘n’ Salvy has done for them, I am grateful to the point of tears, and I thank the trees again for their amazing medicine.

Where can I get Sap ‘n’ Salvy?



Cornelia Bean (417 Academy Rd.)

Cree-Ations and Artist Showcase (586 Main St.)

FortWhyte Alive! (McCreary Rd.)

Generation Green (Main St. at Bannatyne)

Hollow Reed Holistic (3-875 Corydon Ave.)

McNally Robinson Booksellers (Grant Park Mall) – pending

Motio Massage Therapy (Cityplace shopping centre, downtown)

Organic Planet (877 Westminster Ave.)

Sage Garden Herbs (3410 St. Mary’s Road)

T & T Seeds Garden Centre (7724 Roblin Blvd., Headingley)

The Manitoba Museum (Main and Rupert)

The Preferred Perch (4 – 1604 St. Mary’s Rd.)


Spirit of the Boreal Botanicals (Park Ave.)

Boissevain area

Room to Grow Guesthouse (Max Lake Road)


Hedley’s Health Hut

Leo Demers (find him at various markets)

Clear Lake/Wasagaming

The Nature Shop (Friends of Riding Mountain National Park)


Poor Michael’s Emporium

Plum  Coulee

Prairie Foods

Roseau River

Reimer Concrete and Building Supplies


Mennonite Heritage Village

Sparrow’s Lane (191 Reimer Ave.)


Can-Am Country Corner


Dueck Drug Store


Emo, ON

Misty River Alternatives

Thunder Bay, ON

Kelly’s Nutrition Centre (820 Red River Road)

Vitality Natural Food Market (160 Waterloo St.)

Tim’s Whole Health (160 Waterloo St.)

Prairie Shore Botanicals: 25 ml – $10.00 (order 5 or more for only $9 each) 60 ml – $20.00 (order 5 or more for only $18 each) Please specify size, quantity, and your postal code and I will get back to you with the total cost, including shipping and GST.  (For destinations within Canada, shipping averages $12 for 1-9 25ml jars.)

Oak for Food and Medicine

It was that distinctive sound of something small and dense falling through the tree canopy and landing on the forest floor that caused me to hop on my bike and head to town.  After riding or walking through the local park and some friends’ yards, checking the ground around dozens of oak trees, I was surprised to find that only 1 tree had what I was looking for – large, healthy acorns!  But one was all I needed.  One productive tree can produce way more acorns than I need.  I returned the next day with a bucket in hand and gathered 4 gallons of acorns in a little over an hour.

Why all the excitement over acorns?

We all know that acorns are an important food source for animals (squirrels, deer, bear, and weevils) as they prepare for the cold winter months, but few people realize that acorns are a good source of both fat and protein that are worthy of human consumption.  Acorns can be ground into a delicious, healthful flour that can be added to almost anything.  They also contain tannic acid, an astringent that works wonders on drying and closing wounds that don’t seem to want to heal on their own.

Acorns are easily collected from the ground as they fall off the trees in the fall (September – October).   The sooner they are collected, the less damage will have been done to them by acorn worms (weevil larvae).  A small, round hole in the shell means that the larva(e) have eaten their fill and made their exit.  I leave these ones on the ground. I also leave any nuts that look anything other than “perfect”, since those with scarring on them usually still have worms inside.

There are many ways to shell acorns but I have so far found the easiest being to roast them in an oven or next to a fire until the shells crack easily when pressed with a hard object.  (Roasting also takes care of any worms that might be in them.)  I like to put the acorns on a flat surface, place a wooden spoon on top (concave side down) and then whack or press the spoon with my hand.  The spoon prevents pieces from flying all over the place.  Once shelled, they can be ground into flour.  I put them through a food processor and then transfer them to a blender. (I do not recommend putting dried acorns in either appliance, as they make a dreadful racket and are very hard on the machines.)   Even if the flour is not powder fine, it will work well in many recipes.  I then spread the flour on a cookie sheet and dry it in the oven at a low temperature (or in a dehydrator).  If it roasts a bit, that’s okay, too.

I add acorn flour to muffins and pancakes (acorn-blueberry are my favourite), usually in addition to the amount of flour already specified.  If a recipe calls for nuts, add acorn flour instead.  Muffins in which I used a large proportion of acorn flour to grain flour turned out quite tasty, but very dense (and ugly enough to cause others to politely decline the offer).

Instructions for preparing acorn flour often include a step that involves removing the astringent tannic acid from the nuts, either by repeated boilings or cold-water leaching.  It is important to know that there are two types of oak trees – red oaks and white oaks. Red oaks contain a very high concentration of tannic acid, which is very astringent and unpleasant to eat.  With red oaks, the leaching process is very important. However, the bur oak (the only oak that grows in Manitoba) is a type of white oak.  White oaks have a much lower concentration of tannic acid and I have found through experience that acorns gleaned from the bur oak do not require this extra process.

Tannic acid collected by boiling oak bark, acorn shells or the acorns, themselves, works wonders for drying out and closing open wounds, poison ivy sores and other skin eruptions.  With repeated applications of tannic acid tea, results can be seen in very little time.  I used a strong tannic acid tea to help close a deep gash I had in my leg.  In less than an hour, the effects were indisputable.  I also use it to soothe sore feet after walking barefoot through places where I should have known better.

I always save at least a gallon of acorn shells to use for this purpose.  They can also be used to make a tea that will sustain kombucha or manchurian “mushrooms”.  With the addition of wild ginger root and Labrador tea, you can make your very own ginger-ale-flavoured drink!

Tannic acid is so called because of its history as a hide tanning agent.  For this purpose, slabs of oak bark were soaked in water.  Animal hides were added to the brew and allowed to soak for several months.

July 7 Wild Edible Adventure

It’s been over 10 years since I convinced a friend of mine to try milkweed fritters with me after reading about them in one of Euell Gibbons’s books.  We enjoyed them so much, we made an annual event out of it. Over the next few years, a meal consisting entirely of deep-fried foods evolved into a full-course potluck where every dish contained wild edibles. As word got out and more people expressed an interest in sharing this experience, Laura’s “You can eat that?!” Wild Edible Adventures came to life. The summer workshop continues to be scheduled around the milkweed flowering season.

A wide variety of wild edibles is available at this time of year. The July 7th “shopping list” contained 14 above-ground plant parts that would lead participants into several different habitats, including riverbottom forest, upland prairie, marsh, woodland edge,  domestic gardens and yard sites.  Our list included:

wild grape leaves, purple prairie clover, wild mint, bugleweed, giant hyssop, wild bergamot, wild caraway seeds, lamb’s-quarters, pigweed, portulaca (a.k.a. purslane), wood-sorrel, chickweed and, of course, milkweed flowers and flower buds.

While exploring the marsh, we also discovered the wonderfully acidic flavour of the swamp smartweed, and gathered that, too.  We also paused to enjoy a patch of ripe saskatoons, one of the few patches that actually produced berries this year.  All of these distractions cost us some time, but in the end, this fun and diverse group of 12 produced the most delicious Wild Edible Adventure meal that I can remember.

In addition to what we gathered, I provided some sassafras roots to make an experimental sassafras cake.  (I mean,what could be better than a cake that tastes like root beer?)  I also had some cattail flower tops to add to the main dish.

This is what our menu looked like:



Wild salad (Portulaca, Lamb’s-quarters, Smartweed and Wood-sorrel) with Chickweed Dressing

Wild Grape leaf soup

Wild green lentils with Cattail tops

Milkweed fritters

Blanched Milkweed flower buds

Wild pizza pita pockets

Dandelion Wild Mint cake

Sassafras cake

Bugleweed and Hyssop teas


As usual, not everything turned out according to plan, which was great.  Several recipe modifications have come from the creativity and accidents that occur in the kitchen during these workshops.  (Like the time wild mint accidentally got mixed in with the stinging nettle and ended up being a great addition to the stinging nettle soup!)

The experimental sassafras cake tasted wonderful, but  (mental note) the powdered roots should be put through a fine sieve first.


Calamus Root (Acorus americanus)

Calamus (also called sweet flag or wikay) is widely used to treat cold symptoms, upset stomach, toothache, headache, rheumatism, muscle pain, tonsilitis and intestinal worms. This Manitoba-harvested species (Acorus americanus) is believed to be free of the two carcinogenic and mutagenic constituents (beta asarone and eugenol methyl ether) that are found in the Asian and European species (Acorus calamus).

If you have ever chewed on the root of calamus, you may be wondering how anyone could have come up with the name “sweet flag” for such a bitter-tasting plant!  But chew on the leaves, and you will discover the sweet flavour of orange creamsicles!

I was very excited when I discovered wikay growing very close to me.  Knowing how powerful a medicine it is, I felt very protective of the patch.  I’ve always been interested in using plants for healing people.  Though I’ve always wanted to be an herbalist of sorts, over the years I’ve come to realize that my role in herbal medicine is more of a gatherer.  When I walk across a landscape, I am constantly updating my mental map of medicine areas, so that when someone asks for something, I’ll know where to find it.

A few years ago. I walked into Hollow Reed Holistic in Winnipeg and asked Chad Cornell if there were any wild medicines that I could gather for him.  I left with a strong purpose to help heal the people who were constantly coming through the door seeking relief from so many illnesses.  I returned to the wikay patch and asked for its help.

I have often heard that plants want to help people – that they thrive when they are doing what they were put here on Earth to do.  I wasn’t sure I believed this.  I started digging for roots, mindful of my thoughts and actions, while soaking in the sounds and smells of the early spring marsh. I welcomed the warmth of the sun on my back as my hands searched for roots in the ice-cold water.  I’d only ever gathered for myself before, and as I got beyond what I would normally harvest, I found myself wondering if I was getting greedy and taking too much.  I returned to check on the patch in the fall, afraid of what I might find.  Afraid that, despite my care and mindfulness, I might have severely damaged the very plants I had sought to protect.  As I approached the area where I had gathered roots from only months earlier, I could hardly believe my eyes. In all the years I’d been visiting this patch of wikay, I had never before seen so many plants!  I stood there, completely humbled, as tears of thanksgiving streamed down my face.

Now, as a botanist, I know that there are scientific explanations for what happened in that wikay patch, but over the years I have come to realize that I am not a scientist at heart.


I have wikay available in 15-gram bags for $10.  Larger lots are also available upon request.  To place an order, please click here.

May 12 Wild Edible Adventure

This was the most amazing spring Wild Edible Adventure to date!  Abnormal weather conditions resulted in a greater diversity of available wild edibles than usual.  Roots and tubers are usually the focus at this time of year, but wild greens were sprouting up all over the place and, true to my nature, I felt compelled to add as many as possible to the dinner menu. I knew it was a tall order, but I also had a good feeling about the group coming out  – and confidence that they would work as a team to pull it off.

They did.

After introductions over acorn squash muffins and lavender-spiked dandelion coffee, the group was briefed on plant identification and harvesting tips.  By 11:00, everyone was ready to head out and put their knowledge to action.

We gathered 14 edible plant parts from 12 different species, including:
cattail roots, cattail shoots, burdock roots, sweet cicely roots, caraway roots, dandelion roots, dandelion flowers, stinging nettle, goosefoot, lamb’s-quarters, milkweed shoots, caragana flowers, basswood leaves and stinkweed shoots.

When we got back to base camp, this eager and enthusiastic team didn’t miss a beat putting the menu items together.  I offered additional wild greens and mushrooms that I had gathered earlier.  The result was a phenomenal wild dinner that included 19 different wild edibles! Check out our menu!


Basswood, lamb’s-quarters and caragana salad (stinkweed optional)

Cattail shoots

Stinging nettle, goosefoot and fiddlehead soup

Curried chickpeas with cattail tops and lamb’s-quarters

Burdock root in vinegar sauce

Milkweed shoots (cooked)

Caraway roots (cooked)

Dandelion fritters with sweet cicely honey

Cattail pancakes with Manitoba maple syrup

Dandelion wild spearmint cake

Sweet cicely tea


If you would like to sign up for the next “You can eat that?!” Wild Edible Adventure, click here!

Photos taken by Cindy Balkwill Photography.


Burdock – A Great Cleanser

Gather burdock roots with a long, narrow spade.

Burdock (Arctium spp.) is one of my favourite plants.  It is both a satisfying edible and effective medicinal.  Though it looks like rhubarb from a distance, burdock is hairy and has green stalks.  It is a biennial plant, meaning that it flowers every second year.  The flowering stalks bear clusters of beautiful bright pink flowers that seem to explode out of a green globe, which is covered in hook-tipped spines.

Though the stems and stalks are edible, my favourite part of this plant is the roots.  Burdock roots are known for their “blood purifying” or cleansing properties, and help to eliminate toxins from the body.  They are also very nourishing.  These properties can be detected with just a few sips of the root “tea”, which tends to turn a beautiful bluish green when left to steep overnight.  The cooked roots are also a great addition to stir fry, soups, or just on their own.

When gathering in the fall, harvest only the first year roots.  Second year plants use the energy and nutrients stored in the roots for reproduction and tend to get tough or mushy.  In the spring, any plants are fair game, as long as no seed stalks are apparent.  The roots may be a foot or more long, depending on soil conditions, so use a long, narrow spade to avoid breaking them off half way down.

Large, thick patches of burdock are cool places to hang out – literally!  Just duck down below the leaves and you’ll feel like you’re in another world!

To make a decoction from the roots of first-year plants place the chopped root in cold water, bringing to a boil and allow it to simmer on low for about 20 minutes. Use about ½ cup of dried roots to 1 quart of water. Drink a small amount (1-2 ounces) twice a day. First-year roots, cultivated and referred to as “gobo” in Asian countries, make a great dish when cooked in a sweet vinegar and soy broth. These make a great snack and I always make enough for the next few days or off-season, freezing what I can’t eat right away.

Burdock Root in Sweet Vinegar BrothBurdock root in sweet vinegar sauce.

4 large burdock roots from first year plants
½ tsp vinegar (1st amount)

1 ½ tbsp soy sauce
½ cup broth (your choice)
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp vinegar (2nd amount)

Scrape skin off burdock roots and cut roots into thin diagonal slices or julienne. To prevent flesh from discolouring during preparation, place slices immediately into cold water, soak for 5 minutes and drain. Cover with water, add vinegar (1st amount), bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 8-10 minutes and drain. In a saucepan combine all remaining ingredients, add the burdock and cook over moderate heat for 10-15 minutes. Serves 4-6.

I dry and save the scraped off peel to make tea, as the peel contains most of the medicinal qualities. It doesn’t take much root peel to make a decent tea. If it’s too strong for your taste, simply dilute it with more water.





Why use wild plants at all?

Gathering wild caraway rootsWhether we reside in a rural community or urban center, edible, medicinal and otherwise useful plants abound.

Most of the plants we consider noxious or nuisance weeds are not only edible, but tasty and nutritious, offering stiff competition to our domestic garden vegetables.  Many are also capable of treating or curing common ills that plague our society.  Stinging nettle, for example, is super rich in calcium, while burdock is well known as a “blood purifier” and is used in herbal cancer remedies.

I am a big proponent of the health benefits that come from eating or using wild plants.  However, I am equally convinced that there are many additional health benefits that come from simply getting out there and gathering plants.

There is something liberating about harvesting wild plants and incorporating them into meals, medicines, baskets, cordage or any myriad of things.  Yes, it is free, but above all, it is freeing.  When I buy anything from a store, I feel little or no connection to it or its origins, and the memory of getting it is often one of haste and overwhelm from marketing pressures and the rush of people around me.   When I gather wild plants, I feel connected to nature.  I feel alive, relaxed and thankful for what I’m harvesting.  I also have a sense of being at least somewhat self-sufficient.  When I prepare food, weave a basket or make a salve from these plants, I c
ontinue to feel a connection to nature.  And every time I eat this food, or use this basket or salve, I relive the gathering experience.  I remember, clearly, the sweet yet medicinal smell of the balsam poplars that thickened the spring air, the cheerful sound of the song sparrow singing its heart out in the tree next to me, the reflection of sun and clouds in a tiny pool of crystal clear water, the shocking coolness of a frog on my foot, the porcupine waddling noisily by, and the refreshing flavour of wild mint joyfully plucked from an ephemeral wetland.

It takes time to secure food, medicines and all of the other things we need to live – whether it’s time spent at our jobs earning money for trade, or time spent gathering and preparing things, ourselves.  I hope that, through my website, you will be enticed to spend more time in fields and forests experiencing the joys and benefits of harvesting and using wild plants, yourself.