Vancouver is known for its proximity to nature, but many residents think plants used for food or medicine can only be found outside the city’s limits. Urban herbalist Lori Snyder wants to change that. What we might see as weeds she sees as “people food.” When Snyder meets a new plant, the first thing she asks is, “How can I create a relationship with you?”
“We’re one of the luckiest cities in the world,” Snyder tells the Straight over the phone. “My vision is to create landscapes that are more medicinal and edible.”
This Sunday (August 13), Snyder will be bringing her knowledge and her plant-based creations to Stanley Park for a session called Urban Foraging, as part of the Vines Art Festival. She’s been making Oregon grape jelly and some plant-based salves, and she’s bringing samples along with her so people can get a taste of what they can create from the plants found in our parks and front yards.
These include invasive weeds like dandelion and plantain—both of which are highly edible, are rich in nutrients, and can be found in urban areas across the city. Another is English ivy. Although it is often regarded as a pest, Snyder sees this plant’s potential.
“Here’s this plant that’s strangling our forests, but we could be taking her out and using her for weaving,” Snyder says.
Snyder, who is Metis, draws her teaching from traditional Indigenous values that avoid wastefulness and recognize plants as allies. In her studies as an aboriginal historian, Snyder discovered that although dandelions and plantains arrived in B.C. with colonists, First Nations incorporated these newcomer plants into their diets anyway.
“First Nations people used those plants. They didn’t discriminate,” Snyder says. “Can you imagine if the colonists had taken our point of view, where the planet could be right now? That’s why our First Nations teachings are so vital.”
Snyder is a plant-identifying expert, but she doesn’t want people to be overwhelmed by the information presented in her sessions. She has had people come back again to learn more from her, and she is content if participants leave with just one plant’s story up their sleeve.
“I always tell people in this session: 'Get to know one plant. Next session, another one. But start somewhere.' "
Snyder envisions a city where people can access food, medicine, and their creativity by building a relationship with the plants that live all around us. It’s a world that once existed on Vancouver’s still unceded territory, and it’s one that Snyder believes we can build up again.
“Prior to the last 100 years in western medicine, the place we used to access our health was outside our door. And I just say, 'Wow, how did we used to do this, and how could we do it again?' ”
More information on Urban Foraging can be found here.