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Uncover Secrets of the Forest

Uncover Secrets of the Forest

Featured Image: TVOKids Host Taviss Edwards courtesy of Fifth Ground Entertainment

In the lush green forest of Harrison Park, Owen Sound, Anishinaabe chef Zach Keeshig shows 10-year-old Taviss Edwards how to pick cedar tree leaves, which Indigenous peoples use to make tea.

Keeshig smiles as he recalls his grandmother simmering the leaves until the liquid became very potent.

“They would over-steep it until it was almost black and then put it in a jar and put a bit more cedar in there,” Keeshig recalls. “We were supposed to sip it as our vitamin C of the day.”

Keeshig says that he doesn’t boil his tea as long as previous generations of Indigenous peoples. He also likes to add natural sweeteners like maple syrup or honey to make the drink more flavourful.

Anishinaabe chef Zach Keeshig courtesy of Fifth Ground Entertainment

“I didn’t know that there were plants in the forest that you can eat,” says Edwards, host of TVOKids’ original live-action series, Secrets of the Forest. “I thought all plants were not good for you. So, when I learned that you could eat plants in the forest, that was probably the coolest thing ever.”

Produced by Raj Panikkar and Chris Szarka of Fifth Ground Entertainment, with executive producer and director Melissa Peters, Secrets of the Forest follows Edwards as she visits parks and forests across Canada. Joining her are scientists, ecologists and experts who teach her about this country’s fascinating and mysterious ecosystems.

In an already-released episode, Keeshig teaches Edwards about Indigenous plant medicine, foraging and invasive species.

“So much stuff was brought over by early settlers to be used as a food source, and they didn’t realize that these things would become invasive,” explains Keeshig. “We can do our part by eating some of this stuff because it honestly tastes amazing.”

Keeshig, who is from the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation, was inspired to create a progressive style of Indigenous food and uncover what the Anishinaabe along the Georgian Bay area were eating.

From using locally sourced lake fish, deer and geese to foraging from spring to fall, Keeshig created “Naagan,” an upscale, creative nine-course menu that incorporates techniques learned from working in Michelin-starred restaurants.

“I wanted to try to modernize old Indigenous recipes from my aunts and my grandmother,” explains Keeshig. “Because of colonialism, there’s nothing passed down or handed down.”

Keeshig recognizes the importance of passing down knowledge from generation to generation. “Now that I’ve shown Taviss, hopefully she’ll go and show somebody else and then they will show somebody else and – not just my legacy – but my heritage’s legacy lives on for years to come,” says Keeshig. Passing on information is easier when it is fun and engaging, which is why the series is land-based and experiential.

Series director Melissa Peters courtesy of Fifth Ground Entertainment.

Edwards explains that nature shows are mostly told through visuals accompanied by voiceovers, but Secrets of the Forest is told through a child’s eyes.

“In every episode, there’s a fun factor just to keep the audience going, to keep me going – and we actually do things,” says Taviss. “We actually get to experience what’s happening and we get to see and feel and taste what’s happening.”

The 26-episode series is divided into three sections: trees, plants and other science.

“I tried to make sure that there was enough in each episode so that there would be a wide variety,” says Peters. “I still have 20 story ideas that we didn’t get to do. The opportunities are basically endless.”

Secrets of the Forest airs on TVOKids and is released every Monday until October. “Foraged Feast,” starring Keeshig and Edwards, is available to stream on the TVOKids website.

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About The Author

Racine Bebamikawe

Racine Bebamikawe is a citizen of the Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory on Manitoulin Island.

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