• Stuart Benson

There’s food in them thar Hills

Local foragers denounce wild garlic thieves


Local foraging aficionados Celine Perrier and Suzi Jensen have nearly 35 years of combined experience identifying and foraging for wild edibles and a shared passion for conservation and sustainability. Their passion is why incidents like the one reported by Le Droit on May 11, where 7,000 wild garlic bulbs that have been confiscated from smugglers in Gatineau Park since the beginning of May, is so upsetting.


Celine Perrier (right) and Suzi Jensen have nearly 35 years of combined experience foraging around the Hills. Thanks to Perrier’s wild garden, which includes naturally occurring violets, fiddlehead ferns, and wild ginger, they can collect much of their daily food staples from Perrier’s front yard. Stuart Benson photo
Celine Perrier (right) and Suzi Jensen have nearly 35 years of combined experience foraging around the Hills. Thanks to Perrier’s wild garden, which includes naturally occurring violets, fiddlehead ferns, and wild ginger, they can collect much of their daily food staples from Perrier’s front yard. Stuart Benson photo

The province declared wild garlic a vulnerable species in 1995; it banned the commercial sales of the plant, as well as forbidding harvesting of more than 50 bulbs per year for personal consumption. Unfortunately, illegal harvesting remains a yearly concern, especially in the Outaouais, as wild garlic is not protected in Ontario where its sale is legal.


On May 24, the top posts on Kijiji for “wild garlic” in Ottawa were offering plants sold by the gallon or nine gallons for $800.


Thanks to the black market value of the plants, Perrier said the local populations have been “picked and ravaged.” This has left only 47 of the more than 370 identified populations of wild garlic in the province considered to be in “good to excellent quality” and 15 considered “extinct,” according to the Quebec Ministry of the Environment and the Fight Against Climate Change.


Perrier explained that wild garlic can take up to 10 years from the time it’s initially planted until it finally produces a new seed.


While illegal poaching of protected species is of particular concern, so is irresponsible ‘legal’ foraging — just because you can, doesn’t mean you should, according to Perrier.


“Some people take for granted the area that they live in,” Perrier explained. “If [you] were in the Amazon, you wouldn't just start grabbing flowers or mushrooms and start eating, so why assume that you can do that here?”


Perrier and Jensen are both active members of a number of local foraging groups on Facebook and have noticed instances of people posting images of different mushrooms they’ve found, announcing that they “think” they know what kinds they are and that they are taking them home for dinner.


“There are poisonous things; you can't just pick stuff up,” Jensen cautioned. “I don't want to scare anybody, but it's about respect for what is around you.”


Jensen and Perrier clarified that they don’t want to discourage newcomers to foraging, but to remind them that “we aren't starving to death,” Perrier said.


Speaking of “starving to death” — foraging isn’t just confined to fruits and vegetables. As Perrier explained, she gets all of the protein she needs from the grouse, wild turkey, and deer her partner Matt Leach ‘forages’.


“I define foraging as ‘anything useful to you that comes from the wild through investigation,’” Leach explained, which includes hunting. Perrier and Leach also raise chickens and harvest honey from beehives on their property.


Foraging can even provide all you might require for a fancy afternoon tea, complete with violet lemonade made with fresh violet flower syrup from Perrier’s naturally occurring “garden” and Jensen’s homemade muffins made with yellow Lamium, Japanese knotweed, and dandelions.


Full disclosure: This reporter very much enjoyed both the lemonade and the muffin — it was probably the healthiest meal he’s eaten in recent memory.