Spring has been slow to take hold in many parts of the province. Deep snow still blanketing heavily treed areas and below zero nighttime temperatures make for a state of limbo for foraging. Don’t let that fool you into thinking that you must wait for warmer weeks to start though; there is more to spring foraging than poplar buds, morels and fiddleheads – but those are all highly anticipated once the weather does finally co-operate.
When we are in between seasons, so to speak, for foraging, collecting lodgepole pine needles is one the easiest things a person can do. Finding a stand of trees ensures you can harvest a small amount from each tree, minimizing your impact. When searching for the resin, keep in mind the appearance of it building up on the bark of a tree is its response to a wound. Finding a tree that already has resin built up on it (and scraping a small amount off into a jar, being careful not to cut into the tree itself) is a responsible way to harvest from the tree without damaging it any further.
Another plant that is easily foraged for this time of year is willow. The willow family is a large one and can be found throughout the province. The inner bark of willow is said to provide a multitude of benefits and early spring makes it easy to peel off the thicker outer bark to access it.
Combined with some witch hazel and allowed to infuse for a couple months, you can make a liniment out of pine needles/resin and willow inner bark to later use on sore muscles (make it now and use it during the fall hunting season after a long day in the field!) as all the plant matter is said to soothe aching muscles.
To make boreal liniment, you will need
2 parts pine needles
2 parts willow inner bark
1 part pine resin
Add pine needles, resin and willow inner bark to a mason jar. Pour over enough witch hazel to cover the plant matter. Cover and leave to infuse for two to three months. Keep the jar in a convenient location and shake daily. It is important to label the jar as this is for external use only. Once you are ready to use the liniment, strain the liquid into a spray bottle.
Note: Before you head out, be sure to have a knowledgeable mentor with you or a good plant identification book. Pick areas that are free from pollution or pesticides to harvest from, and only take what you need – keep the one-third rule in mind (never take more than one third of the leaves/berries/etc. from a single plant or patch.) Utilize care and caution before using any plant for the first time, particularly if you a pregnant or taking medication.
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