Can you eat that? Yukon tours teach what's edible in the wild

It's an outdoor classroom: The Yukon Conservation Society and Environment Yukon are hosting walks to teach people about edible and otherwise useful plants.

Guides teach the difference between soapberry, juniper, kinnickinick and other species

Tessie Aujla shows off a lodgepole pine during a guided walk. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

People are learning the difference between soapberry, juniper, kinnickinick and other local plants in Yukon. 

Guided walks have been proving popular in Whitehorse this summer. Guides point out which plants are edible and how plants were traditionally used by local Indigenous people.

Sarjana Amin is a trail guide with the Yukon Conservation Society. This is her second summer guiding walks around Miles Canyon.

Sarjana Amin shows people around trails near Miles Canyon. Guided walks help people identify plants and know what's edible. (Philippe Morin/CBC )

"We get a lot of tourists and people who are new to the territory. People are always really shocked to learn about the plants because we all kind of forget these plants have different uses. You can do so much with them. They're not just these stationary objects," she says.  

One example is the juniper berries. While not particularly good to eat, the berries can be dried and put in a pepper grinder and used as a seasoning for wild game or fish. 

Amin calls Yukon fireweed 'wild asparagus' and says it can be eaten in a salad or stir-fry. 

However she warns people to watch out for kinnikinnick. The berries resemble a cranberry but are toxic if eaten in too large a quantity. 

A close-up of a soapberry. The berries are bitter but are indeed edible. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

On August 4, the Yukon Conservation Society's walk had about 40 people tagging along.

Tessie Aujla is another of the guides who has learned to identify and point out different species of trees. "We have the white spruce here and a lot of people here are surprised when I tell them you can use the white spruce tips to make beer," she says.  

The Conservation Society's walks last about an hour. There is no fee for admission through tips are accepted. The Conservation Society says the idea fits with their mandate of promoting conservation and appreciation for the local environment. 

The Yukon Conservation Society isn't the only group with this idea.

Environment Yukon is also hosting it's first educational berry walk in Whitehorse this week near the Robert Service campground. The department also hosts local mushroom walks and other guided tours. 

Carrie McLelland, a wildlife biologist with Environment Yukon, says the tours are designed to talk about the ecology of berries in the Yukon and their importance in the food web.

Environment Yukon's guided berry walk begins Tuesday at 10 a.m. at Bert Law Park which is located on a small island in the Yukon river.