West Coast Wild Harvest Issue 1 Spring/Summer 2016 - Page 12

EDIBLE IMPOSTOR Holly or Oregon Grape? Save the holly for the holidays WORDS BREANNE ROGERS F or the savvy forager, the natural habitats of the West Coast offer a plethora of wild plants and herbs that can be used to treat minor medical issues or to provide a source of food. But sometimes the vegetation in the verdant forests and trails of the Pacific Northwest can look the same, as is the case with European holly and Oregon grape. Mistaking one for the other can have some uncomfortable consequences, so it’s best to be certain which plant is which. When you think of holly, it is likely an image of European holly that comes to mind. European holly (Ilex aquifolium) is an evergreen and deciduous plant that was likely brought over to North America by the early European settlers. The shrubs and trees have distinctive dark green foliage with spiny leaves that are slightly lighter in colour underneath. It is most commonly used for aesthetic purposes in gardens and parks, and is a staple in the wreaths and garlands of Christmas decorations. The plant is not, however, a source for food for humans; though not fatal, the berries can be difficult for humans to digest, and so their consumption in large quantities can cause nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. Unfortunately this holly is sometimes mistaken for Oregon grape. Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium) is the state flower for Oregon, and grows primarily in western North America. Though the plant is not classified as a holly, its leaves are very similar in shape and colour to those of European holly and many other plants in the Aquifoliaceae family: shiny, lush green, spiny, and curved into a number of pointed tips. Oregon grape, unlike European holly, can be a source of food. Many Indigenous peoples, including the Kwakwaka’wakw, Secwepemc, Squamish, and Straits Salish, have incorporated the berries into their diets, often mixed with sweeter fruits. The juice 12 WEST COAST WILD HARVEST JIM CHAMPION HANS PETE JOHN POYSER