Scott Moran will never starve if he gets lost in the woods.
He might have to become a vegetarian, but he won’t go hungry, because he sees food all around him when he goes for a walk in the wild.
He’s the Okanagan’s first commercial forager.
Now 22, Moran was known as the ‘mushroom man’ two years ago when he sold mushrooms at the farmer’s markets and to local chefs—edible fungi he scoured the hills and woods for.
He still picks mushrooms, but he’s added a wide variety of wild plants to his inventory as well, from pepperwort to dandelion greens; wild rose petals to wild mint; sheep sorrel to lamb’s quarters.
Top chefs don’t care about their odd names. They’re just delighted to be able to garnish a high-end salad with a few buds of pineappleweed, also known as wild chamomile, or to be able to add a few bitter leaves of sheep’s sorrel to a dish, even though the latter is considered a noxious weed in B.C.
It’s all part of providing fresh, local, seasonal produce to customers, and Moran says such wildcrafting also ensures their customers get the best nutritional bang for the buck, because we’ve bred the nutrients out of many of our garden plants over the years.
It all began when he was a kid and his family would go on mushroom picking forays. After a wildfire in Salmon Arm, they picked hundreds of pounds of morels in 2000.
His older brother is a chef who has worked in top restaurants in Europe and B.C., but they used to pick porcini mushrooms when camping as kids and cook them up, instead of roasting marshmallows over the campfire.
“I was actually a fussy eater until I was about 12, but we’d work hard out all day picking mushrooms and those mushrooms being cooked up smelled really good. I really began to enjoy eating,” he recalls.
Today, he eats healthy and organic, he says.
He now enjoys cooking as well as foraging and eating the results of his labour, and his research and experience tell him that eating different herbs affects how you feel, as well as your health.
After a successful season selling mushrooms in 2011, he had enough money to head to Paris to visit his brother.
From that, he ended up with a job with a professional forager in Britain where he learned about more than 100 different types of wild herbs, collecting them for high-end, Michelin-starred restaurants.
He foraged all over England for wild edibles, working both for restaurants and for the forager, and most of the plants he learned about also grow wild here at home, he says.
Mostly, he forages in the wild, though lots of edible plants grow on disturbed sites as well. He never picks beside highways, and would not pick where he wouldn’t eat the plants himself.
In the past couple of months since he returned home from abroad, he’s found 25 different species that are edible and he sells to the best restaurants in the Central Okanagan.
Sometimes, he says what he offers them challenges the chefs to come up with dishes that feature those flavours, and he says he cooks with all the plants he picks as well, experimenting a lot along the way.
With less common plants he makes sure he leaves some where he picks, so he can come back to a healthy plant community another year or even later in the year, when they’ve multiplied.
Some plants are particularly useful, providing roots, stems, leaves, flowers and seeds that are edible throughout the season.
As wild mushrooms become available he’ll also pick them, but fall is the most productive mushroom season, except for morels which tend to grow where fires have gone through the year before.
However, he did pick 70 pounds of mushrooms in the Aspen Grove area a few days ago.
As he forages, he picks plants to sustain himself, or as a pick-me-up, so he seldom goes hungry in the woods.