Flavour adventure: what does Stanley Park taste like?

The Stanley Park Ecology Society is putting on a Brew Your Own Bitters workshop to celebrate the flavours of the park in the winter

Harvesting plants from the park is prohibited

Rose hips were used as one of the ingredients at the Brew Your Own Bitters workshop. (CBC/Matt Humphrey)

The Stanley Park Ecology Society is rolling out a seasonal workshop meant to give people a whole new way to appreciate the park.

It's common for Vancouver's nature lovers to walk through the park and appreciate its many sights and sounds, but park-goers don't typically experience all the tastes that can be found in the protected environment.

For example, the taste of western hemlock  — not to be confused with the poisonous water hemlock — is sour and very similar to the taste of lemons.

Brew Your Own Bitters is a workshop put on by the society that will show participants how that lemony hemlock flavour can be distilled and turned into bitters for cocktail flavouring.

Diverse foliage 

The hope is that workshop participants will learn about the diverse foliage in the park by mixing cocktails using plant ingredients prevalent in B.C. 

"We can have these Stanley Park cocktails that are completely different from any of the ingredients that we've had to import from really far away," said Celina Starnes, public education and outreach manager with the society.

"You like lemon in your cocktail? No problem.We've got hemlock."

The society — working with B.C. company Tailored Spirits — selected non-toxic plants that grow all over Stanley Park which can also be found throughout B.C.

Max Smith, with Tailored Spirits, collected the plants from other areas of B.C., because harvesting is not permitted in the park.

Both Smith and Starnes stressed the importance of not harvesting plants from the wild on your own. Many plants can be harmful when ingested.

Used as a herbal medicine for centuries, Oregon grape root also apparently lends itself quite nicely to a cocktail. (CBC/Matt Humphrey)

Smith said the plant ingredients used in the bitters workshop were immersed in alcohol, macerated, and then slowly filtered out. The finished product is diluted, potable bitters — similar to commercial bitters found at a grocery store.

In winter, many plants draw their sugars and flavours into their roots. Those flavourful roots will be used in the winter bitters workshop. As the seasons change, the foliage in the park will change. For that reason, a new workshop will be held every season to celebrate the new flavours.

Starnes said the spring workshop with use flowers and the summer workshop will use berries.

The Stanley Park Ecology Society is putting on a Brew Your Own Bitters workshop to celebrate the flavours of the park in the winter 4:46

"Im really motivated to help people experience the park in different ways," said Starnes. 

"Why don't we make flavours ... Then we can experience them not with our eyes or our hands, but with our sense of taste."

The ingredients used in the winter workshop include: western hemlock, devil's club, stinging nettle, chamomile, Douglas fir, rose hips, licorice fern, Oregon grape root and blackberry.

Of the ingredients, the blackberry is the only one not native to B.C., blackberry is an invasive species that has proliferated across the province.

The winter Brew Your Own Bitters workshop is on Thursday night.

With files from The Early Edition