The Alaska Way-of-Life 4-H learned of wild edible food in Sitka! The 4-H members spent six weeks gaining knowledge of edible plants such as huckleberries, mushrooms, and rosehips. 4-Hers learned how to preserve local foods by making jam and fruit leather. They also enjoyed huckleberry granola bars and pine needle tea. Each 4-H member recorded the processes and recipes in their journals so they can make these wild edibles at home. Understanding the local bounty is an essential skill of the Alaskan Way-of-Life.
Our first foraging adventure this fall took place on three different trails in Sitka on the search of red huckleberries! 4-Hers learned how to identify the plant by its square stem and observing the leaves and distribution of berries. We practiced respect for the forest and conservation by leaving enough berries for the plant, animals, and other humans.
During our second week, 4-Hers learned the processing of preserving berries by transforming them into jam. Many kids were surprised that the recipe only called for four ingredients: berries, lemon juice, pectin, and sugar.
4-H members kept recipe jourals of ingredients and directions throughout the series on how to make jam, fruit leather, huckleberry granola bars, and pine needle tea.
Kitty LaBounty, UAS biology professor and mycologist, joined 4-H as a special guest speaker on the 4H mushroom hunt during our third week of Wild Edibles. We were able to find winter chanterelles and various russulas and identified their cap, stalk, teeth or gills. The kids learned how the fungi work with forest in decomposition and were amazed to hear the uses of some mushrooms, such as tie-dye!
The wild rose grows in many parts of Alaska, including Sitka’s gardens. Many parts of the this plant are edible: shoots in a spring salad, petals in tea in the summer, or rose hips in the fall. Rose hips are the bright red fruit of rose, which can be eaten as a snack, or used in jelly or fruit leather.
Halfway through the Wild Edibles series, our Alaska Way-of-Life 4H club learned how to harvest rosehips and preserve them into fruit leather. The kids worked hard mashing the rose hips in a food mill to create a puree which was then dehydrated for the fruit leather.
4-Hers explored the Tongass and learned of even more Wild Edible food during a day hike. Fiddlehead ferns, pine tree needles, licorice root and spruce tips were identified. We also discussed uses of mosses for insulation or dressings, skunk cabbage for salmon smoking, and hemlock for herring roe.
4-H enjoyed pine needle tea from muskeg pine trees and granola bars which featured huckleberries from our first harvest.
We concluded the series by giving our hands to larger service by giving our jam back to community members.
The Alaska Way-of-Life 4Hers are learning by doing and giving back to the community. The more experiences they have in our Tongass National Forest, the more appreciation they will have for the Alaska way-of-life. They harvested from the land and built community while making new friends during our series. Since they have their own recipes books, the 4-Hers will be able to share their knowledge with family and friends. These 4-H members are now able to identify the plants in the muskeg, forest, urban settings, and make food from what they find. It was wonderful to see their thoughtfulness while giving to community members at the Sitka Pioneer’s Home and those who helped make this series possible.