After some email and phone exchanges, the day finally arrived for this Culinary and Holistic Nutritional Professional to connect in nature with a local Wild Chef for a wild food adventure. From start to finish, the midday adventure with my love and some dear friends was informative, entertaining and nourishing in every way.
Health Benefits of Time in Nature
Spending time in nature has a multitude of benefits for health and well-being:
- Reduced stress
- Reduced anxiety
- Reduced depression
- Better sleep
- Greater happiness and well-being
- Increased social connectedness
- Lower blood pressure
- Enhanced immune function
- Reduced obesity
- Improved chronic pain control
Scandinavians have an expression, called friluftsliv (pronounced free-loofts-liv), that translates as “open-air living”. The term was popularized by the Norwegian poet and playwright Henrik Ibsen in the 1850s. Ibsen used the term friluftsliv to described the value of being in nature and remote locations for one’s well-being (1).
I don’t know if Chef Sean Laceby from Gourmet by Nature is aware of this term, but after spending a couple of hours with him and listening to his stories, I’m pretty sure that this one word could be his life’s motto.
My love and I along with three of our friends met Sean in Baxter’s Harbour, NS, on the Bay of Fundy, home of the world’s highest tides, for a Gourmet by Nature foraging and gourmet lunch on the ocean floor during low tide. Because we were foraging and dining on the ocean floor, our adventure had to be timed with the tides. We arrived at 11:00am as the tide was still going out and I struggled to decide where to look first as I took in the sights of the lovely bright colored pots surrounding the fire in the rocks, the pristine white tablecloth covered table that Sean had set up, the spectacular view of the beautiful blue sky and calm ocean water, or the glorious waterfall flowing into a small pool of water.
Chef Sean introduced us to the area, shared a bit of history of how Baxter’s Harbour got its name, and offered us all some hot chaga tea from chaga mushrooms he had harvested himself. From our first introduction to Sean it was clear that he has a respect and reverence for nature and what it has to offer, and recognizes the importance of using only what is needed.
What is Chaga?
Chaga is a fungus that grows on birch trees throughout the Northern hemisphere. It has been harvested for centuries to be used as traditional medicine. Traditionally chaga was grated and the fine powder brewed to make tea. Chaga has grown in popularity in recent years and can now be found in health food stores in small, dark brown chunks that look like charcoal. You can harvest your own if it grows in your area and you know what to look for. Chaga is typically harvested in late fall. As Chef Sean reminded us on our adventure, chaga is slow growing, so be conscious of not harvesting excessive amounts of chaga at once.
Health Benefits of Chaga
- Chaga mushrooms are one of the best sources of antioxidants.
- They have anti-viral properties.
- They help to reduce inflammation.
- Chaga mushrooms have been shown to reduce the risk of cancer progression.
- They promote cognitive function.
- Chaga tea is a delicious hot drink to replace caffeinated coffee or tea.
As we all have a unique bio individual chemistry, consuming chaga in large quantities may not be a good choice for everyone. People with autoimmune conditions should limit their consumption of chaga because of its excitatory effect on the immune system. In combination with diabetic medications, it may cause blood sugar levels to drop too low. If you are taking blood thinners, chaga can increase the risk of bleeding.
Sampling new health promoting foods is a great practice, but never overindulge without doing a bit of research if you have any kind of health condition.
We sipped our chaga tea as Sean showed us how to find the periwinkles and whelks under the rockweed, and how to harvest the rockweed so that it continues to grow. We explored the landscape, peeked under long, thick clumps of seaweed, and managed to harvest enough sea snails to sample the harvest.
Chef Sean knew the harvest of sea snails and seaweed was not going to be enough to sustain us all, so he had also prepared freshly made pumpkin pasta as the main course. As we sat round the fire watching Sean effortlessly work his magic, he toasted some of his fresh sourdough bread for us to enjoy with balsamic vinegar and oil.
Sean cooked the periwinkles, whelks and seaweed in olive oil, fresh garlic, and some local wine. We watched as the rockweed started to turn a beautiful bright green as it cooked.
Health Benefits of Seaweed
- Seaweed is one of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet.
- Seaweed is an excellent source of tyrosine and iodine to support thyroid function.
- It is a good source of folate, calcium, magnesium, selenium, iron and zinc.
- Seaweed contains protective antioxidants, including vitamins A, C and E, flavonoids and carotenoids.
- It contains preformed omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, making it a good source of omega-3 for vegetarians.
- Seaweed contains fiber, prebiotics and polysaccharides to support gut health
Once the periwinkles were lightly steamed Chef Sean showed everyone how to eat them.
He then continued cooking and sharing stories as the appetizers were being enjoyed.
The gourmet main course started with olive oil, garlic and red onions. Then Sean added finely sliced and chopped parsnips that had overwintered in his garden, wild mushrooms that he and his young son had harvested and frozen last fall, and his own fresh oregano.
Then tomatoes, oregano that Sean had grown and dried himself, and our harvested rockweed were added to the pot.
Time to heat up the fresh pumpkin pasta to combine with the beautiful vegetable combination.
Chef Sean brought fried parsnip ribbons and rockweed he had harvested while he scouted our location to garnish the dishes. Everyone sampled them when we first arrived and all agreed that in addition to being garnishes, they would be delicious snacks on their own as well.
The final topping for the dish was fresh coriander from Sean’s garden. If there was only such thing as taste-o-vision so you could know how fabulous this pasta dish tasted.
Let’s re-cap this dish: fresh pumpkin pasta, with garlic, red onion, oregano, parsnips, wild mushrooms, tomatoes, and our freshly harvested seaweed, topped with fried parsnip strips, fried seaweed and fresh coriander. All this with a slice of fresh sourdough bread drizzled with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
What a spectacularly nourishing day of social connections with people I care about, enjoying the beauty and the bounty of nature and whole foods.
Wild Chef Sean Laceby provided us with a Gourmet by Nature experience like no other. Our adventure was primarily plant based, by request, but Sean is also a licensed hunting and fishing guide, so just imagine what you’d experience if your adventure started with hunting or fishing for your food! Sean also goes to private homes to prepare wild food dinner parties. Delicious local whole foods enjoyed on the ocean floor, the epitome of friluftsliv.