Reclaiming the wild with words

Beverley Gray has a passion for wild plants. And it's something the herbalist and owner of Aroma Borealis wants to share. er new book, The Boreal Herbal: Wild Food and Medicine Plants of the North, will help facilitate a larger discussion about wild plants and herbs.

Beverley Gray has a passion for wild plants.

And it’s something the herbalist and owner of Aroma Borealis wants to share.

Her new book, The Boreal Herbal: Wild Food and Medicine Plants of the North, will help facilitate a larger discussion about wild plants and herbs, or so she hopes.

“Not two generations ago, I think everybody used herbs as food and medicine,” she said. “It’s been lost in so many ways for so many reasons, and I feel like it has to be reclaimed.

With that in mind, Gray worked to make the book as user friendly as possible.

It includes full-colour photographs, sketches and botanical descriptions of 55 different boreal plants.

The book details how to preserve those plants and turn them into medicine, or food.

There is even a chart in the back so readers can look plants up based on their medicinal or nutritional value.

Gray only included easily identifiable plants.

There is no danger any of them could be confused with a poisonous cousin.

At 440 pages, the book looks extensive, but it’s really just a primer.

“This is just a little drop in the bucket of the information that’s out there,” she said. “I really want it to be a reminder to people about the abundance in the boreal.”

Gray has been a certified herbalist for 13 years, but she’s been at it much longer.

She was 12 years old when she first started experimenting with herbal concoctions.

“We used to get the roll on lip balms, and I ran out,” she said. “I had no money, so I put cooking oil and vanilla extract and shook it.”

Her father was in the army and her family moved around a lot.

She found her “peace” in the woods.

“I went to the woods and felt that’s where home was,” she said. “Wherever the trees were, I was home.”

While Gray has had several careers – working as a journalist, running a recycling centre in Yellowknife – she was meant to be an herbalist.

“It’s my calling,” she said.

Despite her lifelong passion for herbs, it wasn’t until she had her first child that she really became serious about it as a profession.

“When I got pregnant with my first child, I opened my eyes,” she said. “I was living in Yellowknife and felt I needed to know more about how to care for myself and care for my child.”

It’s a profession that’s runs in her family.

Her great-great-grandfather was also an herbalist.

He manufactured and sold his own herbal remedy, dubbed “Mitchell’s Genuine Balsam.”

“It skipped a generation, but here I am providing the same thing,” she said.

In writing the book, Gray hopes she can inspire people and help them discover the abundance in their backyard.

“I believe that it’s important for people to empower themselves by going out and gathering what they need for the winter,” she said.

It’s really something that anyone can do.

“I used to think that it was every community that needed an herbalist,” she said. Now I think it’s every household needs an herbalist.”

The official book launch is on Monday at the Old Fire Hall.

The party is going to feature an herbal cocktail bar, and Gray’s nephew, a chef, is coming in from Saskatchewan to prepare food.

There will be wild weed spanakopita, pine bark bread with local goat cheese and cranberry chutney, dandelion ice cream and more.

All of it will feature wild plants and herbs from the Yukon.

While the book officially launches next week, it’s already on sale at her shop and Mac’s Fireweed Books.

So far, sales have been stronger than expected.

In the first couple days they had sold 10 per cent of the stock.

Having spent two years writing the book, Gray is ready to take a break. But she’s already planning a book tour.

“I think when you’re meant to do something it really does come easy,” she said. “I just feel so blessed that I’m able to do what I love.”

Contact Josh Kerr at joshk@yukon-news.com

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