Wintergreen, Saskatoon Berries, and Northern Bedstraw

The season was drawing for a close at Northern BC Heli-fishing Adventures on the Nakina, so my son and I took advantage of an afternoon left alone in camp. After fishing for a while down at the Home Pool and the kid catching a rainbow trout, we decided to hike along the trail above camp to the east and see how far we could get. I was especially curious as the trail curled north along the Nakina towards the country I used to work in for another big-game outfitter over a decade ago.

We hiked along the narrow path through the woods above camp, skipping over top of some old bear scat and puffing our way up a steep incline making joyful noise. A little Canadian coo-eeing and yodeling may or may not have been happening. What can I say, you got a keep a kid entertained and scare the lurking critters in the bushes away!

Further along the path, down in a more boggy section I spotted a low stalk of delicate pinky flowers nearly hidden by the greenery surrounding it. I didn’t have my plant identification book with me, and because of the shape of the petals, I thought it was an orchid called Elephants Head or something of the same nature because of the spike that extended down from the petals that looked like an elephants trunk.

Common Pink Wintergreen

Common Pink Wintergreen

It was only when I was back in Alberta taking a walk through the gardens of the Canadian Danish National Museum near Dickson, that I saw a marker beside another bloom that looked exactly the same and realized that what I had seen on the path to the Nakina was actually Common Pink Wintergreen, not an orchid.

Looking into Pink Wintergreen (Pyrola asarifolia), I found that the leaves, which stay green through the winter, can be moistened or chewed for a natural source of painkiller since they are high in methyl salicylate. You can chew the leaves up into a paste and then put on a wound or around an area that is hurting. The Native people have used wintergreen to make decoctions of the leaves or roots to treat a variety of ailments from rheumatism, shin splints, and an effective eye wash, to coughing up blood and liver or kidney complaints. One thing about the flowers that I will have to watch for next time I come across them, is that the flowers will open and then close up daily. And though they are humble in their uses compared to some of the other wildflowers I came across up there, there little pink petals were a very beautiful and delicate addition to the forest path I was walking along.

Not much further along we came to a steep gully that we had to scramble down and cross a nearly dry creek that was shrouded in heavy greenery. Here I stooped for a closer look at wee little stars-like flowers sprayed against the lush green of the leaves around it.

Northern Bedstraw

Northern Bedstraw, note the translucent spider just below the middle of the picture on the one of the blossoms.

Northern Bedstraw, named so for the fact that it was used to stuff mattresses because it’s hollow stems don’t crush so easily and it gives off a pleasant newly-mown hay scent when dried. This plant’s leaves are edible and can be eaten raw or cooked and a tea can be made from it’s flowering stems as a weight loss aid that is said to speed up metabolism of stored fat. Actually, this plant is related to that other popular hot drink, coffee and it’s said you can dry, roast and grind it’s seeds like coffee beans to make a drink in substitute. Though continual use can irritate the mouth and people with poor circulation or diabetes should avoid the plant.

The Bedstraw plant was used to make hot compresses that smelled sweet to stop bleeding and bring relief to aching sore muscles. That sweet scent it gives off comes from the chemical asperuloside which can be converted into hormone-like compounds that affect the uterus and blood vessels. This little innocuous plant is great interest to the pharmaceutical companies. Of course I didn’t know any of this at the time and I just admired the fragile beauty of the tiny blossoms that would soon fade in real life but stay imprinted on my SD card and give me a chance to look up their profile when I was back at home with access to books and Google.

My son was already half-way up the other side of the gully before I caught up to him. We broke free of the heavy brush onto the side of a steep hillside that rose sharply above us and dropped steeply below us to the surging Nakina River. The path continued straight ahead around the corner of the hill, urging us to check out what was around the corner.

The Kid on the hillside checking out the scenery

The Kid on the hillside checking out the scenery

The hillside was covered with low Saskatoon berry bushes and we scavenged for berries as we worked our way along the path. In another couple of days the berries would be out in full force, but we would be heading back in the helicopter for civilization, so we made due with the few berries that were already ripe. I’m sure in a few days as well the bears would be out feasting on the hillside too.

Saskatoon Berries a few days before prime picking season

Saskatoon Berries a few days before prime picking season

I know Saskatoons well, having grown up on the prairies in Alberta where they grow abundantly on bushes in the cool of gullies and beside rivers. A bit of a woody-textured berry compared to the blueberry, but I still find it’s sweet/tart taste a delight, especially when you are foraging in the wild. When I lived up in Yellowknife I was amazed to see what I thought grew only on low bushes, thriving in tall tree-like plants that were bigger than some of the houses they were planted beside. I couldn’t believe my eyes that there was such a thing as a Saskatoon tree! However, on that hillside we encountered only the low bush variety of Saskatoons.

The Kid showing off a double berry just before he tossed them in his mouth.

The Kid showing off a double berry just before he tossed them in his mouth.

Eventually we rounded the corner of the hillside and the path dropped steeply down into a tangle of bush and trees to the river and it was obvious it hadn’t been cut out in a while. There was no point in going any further. I looked northward towards the mountain far in the distance––a mountain I had ridden in search of goats years before––and a part of me yearned to keep on walking.

The backside of the mountain that years before I had ridden in search of mountain goats

The backside of the mountain that years before I had ridden in search of mountain goats

Instead, we turned back for camp and in the swampy part just past the gully I realized that I had lost the lens cap for my camera as I stopped to take a picture of pinky, bell-shaped Twinflowers draped over a rotting log and crowned by dwarf Dogwood. So we hiked back up to the hillside watching carefully for the sign of a round black disc lodged somewhere in all the vegetation and rocks along the trail. It was of no use and we turned back again, running a bit late for dinner preparations, my hands carefully shielding my exposed camera lens. I would have to figure out some sort of device to protect it, until I returned to civilization, where I would find myself picking Saskatoons grown in a U-Pick Orchard with no worry of a bumping into a bear, or the lure of a mountain yonder.

Twinflowers and Dwarf Dogwood

Twinflowers and Dwarf Dogwood

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