British Columbia

Cowichan Valley chef, cookbook author says foraging requires knowledge

"People say that it's free food, but it has a cost, and that cost is knowledge," says Bill Jones, a French-trained chef who makes tea out of grand fir needles.

Bill Jones, a French-trained chef, makes tea out of grand fir needles, and forages for mushrooms and more

Grand fir needles (which can be used to make tea), and wild morel mushrooms collected by trained chef and foraging expert Bill Jones. (Sheila Peacock/CBC)

When chef and cookbook author Bill Jones lived in Calgary he used to frequently go on long hikes in the Rocky Mountains and the more he went on trips, often for 10 days or more, the more he began to supplement his typical "backpack meals" with other foods that he foraged from the wild, like wild onions.

"After a while you get tired of freeze-dried foods," Jones told North by Northwest host Sheryl MacKay.

One of the many books Bill Jones has written. (Bill Jones)

These days Jones, who lives on a farm in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island, is acknowledged as a local expert of wild foods and foraging.

On Deerholme Farm Jones and his wife have several gardens dedicated to different fruits and vegetables but he has also written a number of books on foraging — one dedicated to mushrooms, and others to other plants — and also teaches classes.

Tea from grand fir needles

On the day that North by Northwest visited his farm, Jones made tea from grand fir needles — something he said can be done anytime of the year.

"You can make them just as a green tea … or you can actually toast them, so you dry toast them in a frying pan and they become more black tea-like," he said, adding that the needles are high in Vitamin C even after being boiled, and have antiseptic value.

North by Northwest host Sheryl MacKay speaks to Bill Jones at his home on Deerholme Farm in the Cowichan Valley. (Sheila Peacock/CBC)

"It's very good for sore throats or colds, it's really good for your lungs and chest in general. We drink it quite a lot — it's a staple in the winter time here, and then in the summer we make ice tea out of it."

Jones said his knowledge grew from the time he spent apprenticing as a chef in Alsace, France, where he discovered the world of mushroom foraging.

He also extensively researched the subject, and owns 200 guidebooks on mushrooms and wild plants.

"I am still very cautious. There's things that I won't eat that other people do eat," he said. "People say that it's free food, but it has a cost, and that cost is knowledge.

"You have to learn, and someone showing you is the fast-track to learning."

Jones said he also teaches people that foraging often has a direct connection to environmentalism.

"If something is contaminated by heavy metals or pesticides, that is readily available in the mushrooms and plants that that are growing there," he said.

"My rule of thumb is that the farther you get away from people, the cleaner the source of food will be," he said, laughing.

With files from CBC's North by Northwest


To hear the full story listen to the audio labelled: Cowichan Valley chef, cookbook author runs foraging workshops

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