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Little Known Treasures Found in the Pass

March 1, 2023

In The Crowsnest Pass, we’re all lovers of nature. While we all might come from different walks of life, we were all drawn to the Pass by its breathtaking beauty, tight-kit community and promise of adventure. Snowshoeing or skating in the winter and hiking or exploring in the summer, we are all inspired by the natural world around us.

This is especially true for Pass-resident and local forager, Tiffany Ritchie. Eight years ago, Tiffany moved to the Pass, excited to explore the environment around her. Coming from a Métis family, she was taught traditional basics of foraging in her childhood, which sparked a lifelong interest in her.

So, What is Foraging?

Tiffany says foraging is more than just finding plants and herbs in the wilderness, and “it isn’t just picking out weeds haphazardly”. It takes preparation, research and respect for the land and plants themselves. It’s understanding our relationship with nature – lack of knowledge can result in destroyed patches, damaged ecosystems, or poisoning.

Using what she forages in her everyday life, she makes forest to table recipes, a variety of soothing teas, salves for muscle aches or cuts or bruises all with 100 per cent food safe ingredients so that she can use them on her pets, as well.

She shared that Dandelion is a versatile plant and it grows invasively through the Pass. Tiffany says when used medicinally it “can help with loss of appetite, upset stomach, gas, constipation, joint pain and when the milk is applied topically it can get rid of warts.” She shared that the Dandelion recipes are endless, including wine and jellies!

Photo: Dandelion Jelly, source unknown

What in the Pass is Forgeable?

The best finds Tiffany says she found while foraging in Crowsnest Pass are morels, local herbs for seasoning, and edible flowers like violets and wild roses. While foraging you can also spot beautiful, living jewel orchids and lilies such as Spotted Coral Root, Fairy Lady Slipper, Mountain Lady Slipper, Tiger Lily, Glacier Lily and Mariposa. But these are delicate species that should be left as they are, even if edible. Common finds in the Pass are Saskatoon Berries, Elderberry and Mint.

Beyond food and florals, though, Tiffany says she has found some prehistoric artifacts from past hunters and gatherers walking through the hundreds of recorded prehistoric sites in the Pass.

Photo: Erin Miller, Crowsnest Pass Wild Plants & Foraging

Five Foraging Tips, from our Local Expert

1. Always do your research! Pick a plant you’re not sure is edible? Look it up online or in foraging books before ingesting. Better yet – don't pick up anything you’re not 100% certain about.

2. Always consider the plants' fragility in the ecosystem before picking. While the rewards from foraging are abundant, we must remember to respect the land first.

3. Make sure your foraging pack is equipped with a Fiskars Big Grip Garden Knife, a tough pair of kitchen shears or knife and gloves with latex palms for plants that are thorned or sappy. (Fun fact: Tiffany and her husband run locally known Ritchie Parts & Mechanical, in Blairmore, where you may be able to find some handy tools for your own adventures or garden!)

4. Always make sure that someone knows where you are and do not lose sight of the fact that you are in the wilderness and wildlife can be abundant. Don’t underestimate the risks of foraging. Maintain a healthy respect for the fact that even if you are sticking close to back roads, you are in the wild!

5. Your foraging kit should include bear spray, a way to call for help, antihistamines if you are reactive and a basic emergency kit to survive overnight. Exposure is a huge factor so make sure you have appropriate clothing and footwear, and your kit is always with you.

Photo: Morgan Tiegen, Crowsnest Pass Wild Plant & Foraging, Facebook

Other than where her foraging adventures may take her, we asked Tiffany where else she enjoys exploring in the Pass, or if there are any local gems she treasures.

Here's what she had to say:

The Pass in general is awesome. See all the things!

If I focus on options that showcase a bit of that hunter gatherer history of the Pass though, Encounters Wine Bar and Small Plate Kitchen in Coleman usually has some local flavour on the menu. Pass Beer in Blairmore has a wild crafted Gin by Lost Things Distillery out of Pincher Creek. The Crowsnest Pantry in Blairmore and Crockets in Bellevue have a selection of local made goods, some using plants and berries from the area.

You will not regret taking the time to see Star Creek Falls, Rainbow falls, Allison Lake or any of the other small hikes around the Pass.

Launstein Imagery in Blairmore features the work of an internationally recognized, local family of photographers.

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