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1 way to deal with invasive snails in B.C. is… to eat them?

Foraging for Roman snails, which are cooked in fancy dishes globally as escargot

The plants are still dewy as the young couple with buckets searches the underbrush in Revelstoke, B.C. They look beneath oxeye daisies, pineapple weeds and dandelions. Occasionally one of them yelps in excitement as they spot a Roman snail — the signature item in the French dish escargot.

“It’s like hunting for mushrooms,” said Susie Kathol, biologist.

Roman snails, or Helix pomatia, are invasive to Canada and edible. Although the species is native to the Balkan region of Europe, the ancient Romans spread them across the continent as they liked to eat them. To date, the snail has only been found in three places in Canada: Montrose and Revelstoke (since 2014) in B.C. and Sarnia, ON.

Kathol became curious when she saw other people posting locally online about foraging their own escargot. So, she decided to give it a try.

“I think it will be really interesting,” she said, holding the snail in the palm of her hand. Roman snails are larger than any native species in Canada.

Where did it come from?

It’s unknown how the creature got to Revelstoke, but the province suspects it could have hitched a ride on imported soil or perhaps was intentionally moved or imported to eat, but escaped and multiplied. So far, most of the sightings in Revelstoke have been near the ambulance station and beside the Illecillewaet River.

Although Roman snails are native to the Balkan region of Europe, the ancient Romans spread them across the continent as they liked to eat them. To date, the snail has only been found in three places in Canada: Montrose and Revelstoke (since 2014) in B.C. and Sarnia, ON. (Liam Harrap - Revelstoke Review)

The province said the species appears to not be highly invasive, however little is known about their potential impacts. The European brown garden snail is another local invasive snail and is a big threat to gardens.

“It can take down an entire vegetable patch,” said Sue Davies-McGill from the Columbia Shuswap Invasive Species Society.

While this is the first time Kathol has foraged for snails, she’s eaten many other invasive species. Native to Asia, Japanese knotweed is regarded as one of the world’s worst invasive species. Its intense root systems damage concrete foundations and roads.

However, Kathol said the plant’s hollow green stems are delightful in stir fries and fruit crumbles.

“It’s like rhubarb, but not as sweet.”

Kathol said eating invasive species is one way to help keep their numbers in check, as long as people are careful not to spread them further by composting scraps or releasing them back into the woods when the chef gets sentimental.

Gail Wallin, executive director of the Invasive Species Council of BC, said most invasive species are released into the wild intentionally. Originally from China, goldfish are one of the most widespread invasive fish in North America as pet owners release them into ponds, thinking it kinder than killing them.

“It’s problematic,” she said.

The ornate fish can completely take over ecosystems by eating native fish eggs, juveniles, insects, vegetation and — if the goldfish population grows too high — disturb sediment and cloud water, which prevents vegetation from growing and covers up fish spawning beds.

“If it isn’t found in the wild, don’t let it go,” said Wallin.

Bon appétit

Resident Hailey Ross was one of the first people to learn of the new snail in Revelstoke. Over the years, she’s feasted on the species. However, it’s quite the process.

Although the process to prepare the snails is long, Revelstoke resident Hailey Ross said they are mighty tasty. (Contributed)

After collecting, it’s important to purge their digestive systems of parasites. Ross washes the snails daily, feeding them carrots, waiting until their poop turns orange, which usually takes a week or two.

Eventually, the snails are de-slimed in lemon and salt, followed by a several day brine. Finally, when it’s time to eat, Ross bakes them in a tomato, bacon and red wine sauce.

“Then we’ll eat them with an expensive bottle of white wine,” she said with a laugh.

“They’re very good. I was surprised.”

Although it can take weeks until the snails are ready, Ross said the entire process helps build one’s connection to place.

“It’s one way to form respect for nature and even chefs.”

While foraging, Kathol spots some oyster mushrooms on a nearby log. Somehow the fungi have dried out completely and appears untouched by insects. She picks several, carrying them in her shirt.

“I think these will go with the snail dinner quite lovely,” she said.

After a couple hours, Kathol and her husband have almost 30 snails.

“I do wonder why they haven’t spread all over town,” said Kathol as she spots another and drops it in her bucket.

“Then again, they do move slow.”

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