Herb Lake Foragers
By Linda Butler
Euell Gbbons (1911-1975) a writer who encouraged his readers to harvest wild edible plants, said that foraging is harvesting where you did not sow. My first experience with foragers was when I was a little girl in the now ghost town of Herb Lake in Northern Manitoba. Jobs were scarce after the mine closure, the community was isolated and many families struggled. Foraging and gardening were the lifestyle.
My parents were storekeepers and we originally lived in the back section of the store, but when Bill Marshall, the blacksmith, moved to Wekusko Falls, we rented his house. He was an avid gardener and grew mostly vegetables but a few poppies popped up to brighten the landscape.
The last summer I was at Herb Lake, when I was four, some girls asked Mom if they could collect the flower seeds from the poppies. She agreed and the girls tied paper bags to the flower heads. When the seeds ripened and had fallen into the bags, the girls returned and broke off the flower heads and took the bags home. I wanted to know what the girls were doing with the seeds and Mom told me that they were saving seeds to plant their own flowers the following year.
Years have passed and I recently read the book, The Deerholme Foraging Book, by Bill Jones, who describes collecting wild seeds for baking: Wild seeds are packed with nutrition and flavor. I particularly like to save onion, dock, and mustard seeds along with abundant poppy seeds from the garden to make thin and delicious crackers. Sesame seeds are also a nice addition to the mix.
After reading this passage I thought of the girls in Bill Marshall’s garden and now realize that they were gathering poppy seeds for baking, not for planting. I am grateful to these girls as they inspired me to be a gardener and forager all my life. I have always loved plants and part of my fascination goes back to those times.
Herb Lake is gone, the mine failed, the people scattered and the buildings collapsed. The land has returned to bush, but poppies seed themselves year after year, and there is still a chance that there are poppies blowing in the weeds where Bill Marshall’s garden once grew.