Walking in the forests and woods is good. Coming back with a small harvest of wild plants that you can tenderly simmer is even better. You still need to know what to harvest, when, under what conditions. And have some recipes in reserve. A red pine flour cake, for example. A wild hazelnut crisp. Or a land creeper pesto.
This is what Isabelle Simard proposes in a book published these days by Flammarion Quebec, The four seasons of the native picker. The title is revealing: the author presents her findings according to the harvest periods.
“It’s my idea,” says Isabelle Simard. I found this missing in other plant identification books because they are often presented in alphabetical order or jumbled up. In my book, they are presented by season, but also according to the order in which they grow. After this plant, this one comes, then this one, until the end of the season. »
It is therefore a picking calendar, but without dates, since these vary according to the region.
Isabelle Simard is an accountant by training, but she grew up in a family that loved nature. From an early age, she learned to pick with her grandparents, parents, uncles and aunts. She continued her self-taught apprenticeship, then took a herbalism course in Maryland.
“I wanted to learn a little more about the properties of medicinal plants,” she explains.
During her outings in the forest, she observed that in general, people knew little about plants, but that they were very interested in knowing a little more.
But when Flammarion contacted her and offered to help her, she accepted.
What was the hardest part of the writing process? “It was to hold myself back because there are so many beautiful things to say that I could have written a book on every plant!” »
She still devotes long texts to each one in which she describes its characteristics, the ways of harvesting it, the possible uses, while recounting some anecdotes or childhood memories. She also took the photos that adorn the book.
“I was able to put my flavor in the photos, with my own eye, how I see the plants. »
Isabelle Simard particularly enjoyed developing the recipes. “These are recipes that I often made on the fly, by eye. I didn’t measure my quantities, I went with my picking finds. There, I liked the fact of putting together recipes that will stay, that I will be able to pass on to my children later, rather than having them only in my head. »
The pennywort is a good example. This undergrowth plant can add a special scent to a spring herbal tea.
“How can we harvest it without affecting it too much or depleting it? First, we are careful not to pull on the stem, because we would tear out its roots, writes the author. It is better to have a pair of scissors with you, in order to remove just the upper part of the foliage, and only from one plant out of four. In September, it would be wise and kind to return to the place of our picking to scatter a few seeds around the tiller in order to enlarge it. »
On the other hand, we can go there cheerfully with invasive plants, such as garlic mustard. “You have to pick it and don’t be shy because it will help slow the spread of this exotic plant introduced to Canada in the 19th century. »
In particular, she offers a recipe for old-fashioned mustard with garlic mustard seeds to encourage this harvest.
For Isabelle Simard, picking is a great activity to do with friends, as a couple or with children. “It’s innate in us to be hunter or gatherer, but we have forgotten that. Going for something wild that we pick ourselves, that we put on our plate, is very rewarding. »
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