We are thrilled to introduce you to Carmelle, who is a wonderful person and acupuncturist. Read on to learn how old Carmelle was when she won her first pumpkin growing contest, and what she most looks forward to foraging each year.
Please start by telling us a bit about yourself, and your business.
I’m a registered acupuncturist with a solo practice focused on Japanese style acupuncture in the community of Fernwood, Victoria. I have a background in mental health and addiction work as well as folk herbalism. I’ve run urban farming, herbalism and medicine making programs for youth at risk and for restorative justice projects. Time in nature, foraging and medicine making are how I ground and connect to myself, and part of what I advocate to my clients.
What do you most look forward to foraging each year, and why?
Ohh, that’s a hard one. I feel like I have many plants that are special to me that I look forward to but also get enamored by meeting new plants each year. Yarrow and Nootka rose are two of my yearly favourites, as well as thimble and salmon berry. This year I’m really enjoying wild violets, wild greens and was fortunate to harvest, on a trip down to the desert in March, ocotillo, desert sage, and desert lavender.
How did you learn to forage, and are there resources or people that you would recommend to those interested in learning more?
I have a background in folk herbalism so I’ve taken many courses and workshops on medicinal plants and botany and have been fortunate to learn from Indigenous knowledge keepers in the area. My biggest learning has been spending a lot of time on the land noticing what was around me. Admittedly there was a lot of trial and error. I’ve definitely misidentified plants and eaten things I probably shouldn’t have. For those starting out I would recommend reading books, online resources and asking people you know who are into plants to go for a walk together to exchange knowledge. People of the older generations tend to have a lot of plant wisdom to share.
Books: “Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Northwest” and “Braiding Sweetgrass.”
What is one piece of advice you would offer to someone interested in foraging for food?
Always be respectful of the ecosystems to which you are a guest. Some edible and medicinal plants are threatened by habitat loss and over harvesting. Only take what you need and leave the rest for the wild. Educate yourself about whose Indigenous land you are harvesting from and respectful practices around that.
The phrase, “you are what you eat,” is often used to describe how food is a determinant of health. However, both humans and food are much more complex and nuanced than that. So, what does the phrase, “you are what you eat,” mean to you?
I think to me, in the context of wild food and foraging, it helps to remind us of the interrelatedness of land and body and the importance of protecting the health of both.
What food do you think is most underrated?
WEEDS! Hands down. Dandelion, chickweed, fireweed, miner’s lettuce, cleavers, flax, etc., are all delicious, accessible and nutrient dense.
Are there cookbooks or books about food you are currently enamored with and/or often revisit? What are they, and why do you love them?
I love the field guide to medical and edible plants by MacKinnon for identifying plants while foraging and “The Wild Crafted Cocktail,” by Ellen Zachos for ideas and inspiration.
What is your comfort food?
Chocolate! I eat it first thing every morning.
What is your earliest food memory?
Being in the garden with my mom. I was in charge of watering the pumpkins and won my first growing contest at 3!
What is your fondest food memory?
My favourite food memories are of eating while travelling. Food is such a beautiful and important part of experiencing culture and history.
When you cook, you are ________.
Who would you most want in your kitchen? Are they cooking for you, are you cooking together, or are you cooking for them?
Family and friends: Cooking together with wine.
Do you have a food goal or cooking aspiration?
I want to do a medicinal and foraged cocktail event or pop-up, and a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) dinner party.
What is your staple dish for a potluck? What do you love about it?
It depends on the occasion, but I love incorporating wild food into potluck dishes because it gets people excited about nature. I once made a nettle, borage and kelp cornbread with plum blossom balsamic that was a real crowd pleaser.
What is on your grocery list?
Usually, there is a combination of chicken and veggies.
What do you feel like eating for dinner tonight?
I just ate halibut and salad with a flowering currant dressing from the flowers we picked together.
Where do you love to eat in Victoria?
I’m a picnic kinda girl, especially this time of year. So, usually the beach or my secret mountain spot in the highlands.
As a way to connect with others, and celebrate food, we decided to organize a recipe exchange of your favourite sweet treats.
COVID-19 has illuminated many of the existing problems in our society, including food insecurity. We wanted to learn more about who is most affected, and discuss why these conversations are necessary, especially in the health and wellness world.
Ariel and Jess Reyes Barton are the creators of Palenke Greens, which is a burlap sack gardening initiative aimed at assisting people of African descent facing food insecurity. Not only do they provide all of the supplies to create a burlap sack garden, they also help to install it, and have exciting ideas for the future.