Today we bring you a Q & A with the fabulous Laura Reeves who has written a series of articles for Domestic Diva on wildcrafting. If you’ve been wanting to learn how -and why- to eat and heal with what grows in your own backyard, the woods and the fields around you, well, here’s your chance to steep in it with a woman who has spent her life doing just that…
Laura will soon have a book on wild edibles available on our site. For now, enjoy getting to know her…
Who is Laura Reeves?
I grew up in East St. Paul, Manitoba where I spent a lot of time exploring the local fields and woods, learning what the local plants were and watching the animals.
When I was 12, I started reading books by Canadian wildlife biologist, R.D. Lawrence, and I dreamed of being just like him, spending my time outdoors, studying wildlife. I continued to work toward this goal and, in 1997, I graduated from the University of Manitoba with a Bachelor of Science (Botany).
Since 1994, I have worked for the Manitoba Tall Grass Prairie Preserve, conducting plant surveys and monitoring the effects of both weather and management activities on plants and their habitats. I have taken eight courses from Tom Brown’s Tracking, Nature and Wilderness Survival School in New Jersey and am currently enrolled in the Kamana Naturalist Training Program with Wilderness Awareness School, based out of Washington.
How did you get started gathering wild edibles?
I have been eating wild plants since I can remember, taking after my dad, who was always gathering berries for jams and jellies or snacking on various plants while walking through fields and woods.
As I grew older, my interest in wild edible and medicinal plants increased, much to the dismay of my mother, who often voiced her frustration at trying to work around my pans of herbs drying on the kitchen counters. I looked forward to the freedom of moving out on my own and dedicating space in my kitchen for wild edibles.
When I found my own place, I began incorporating increasing amounts and varieties of wild edibles into my diet, making personal vows to completely substitute wild foods for regular fare. As a result, wild edibles became a necessary part of my diet. For instance, when I realized how many local plants contain vitamin C, I suddenly saw the absurdity of buying orange juice that had been shipped all the way from the southern states and beyond. I cut store-bought juices from my diet completely, knowing that I would be forced to learn more about the local plants and gather enough to get me through the long Manitoba winters.
It’s kind of strange that even when something is really important to us, we often have to create a need for it in order to do it. But that’s what I did. I created a need for wild edibles.
How much of your diet is wild?
Today, I have no need for the produce section of the grocery store. All of my produce comes from a combination of garden and wild harvests. I refrain from buying fresh produce, even in the winter, depending instead on my stores of fresh, frozen, dried and canned foods, much like people did for thousands of years. I have wild roots, tubers, greens, seeds, spices, nuts, seeds and berries that I incorporate into every meal, including breads, main dishes, desserts and beverages.
Why gather wild edibles?
There are many benefits to gathering wild edibles. For the most part, they are free, local, organic and have a higher nutrient content than domestic produce. However, I believe that the greatest benefits come from the process of gathering them. While harvesting wild foods, we can’t help but notice how the seasons and weather affect the things we are harvesting. We also notice how different species of plants, insects and animals relate to each other. As we explore our communities, observe where things grow and ask our neighbours if we can have that pigweed growing in their flower bed, we learn more about our local community.
By simply being outside, we become aware of our surroundings and in tune with nature. By pausing to say good morning to the robin, admire a flower or hunt down the source of a particular scent in the air, our awareness extends far beyond our selves. We feel, if only for a moment, a child-like excitement, or an awareness of our primal selves. We feel a connection to the earth. And we find ourselves developing empathy that reaches far beyond the plants that we are gathering.
What are some of the things you most love about doing this?
There was a long period when I despised the idea that people can’t or won’t care about wild things until they find a use for them. I found this rather self-centered.
As I learned how to use wild plants for food, shelter, water, fire, medicines, and many other things, I began to understand how it is that one cares more deeply for something (or someone) that they have a personal relationship with.
When we have a need for something, we will go out of our way to protect it. I have a developed a close relationship to the plants I gather, whether they are for food, fire, baskets, or medicine. They take care of me, and I take care of them. This connection goes beyond the physical and can only be understood through experience. It is this connection to the plants that I love most, and the reason why they are an integral part of my life.