Foraging tips

Canada's countryside offers an abundance of wild edibles just waiting to be scooped up by anyone who knows where—and when—to look. Why not take advantage of nature’s bounty by harvesting some of the exotic delicacies in your area? With more than 350 different species of wild edibles across the country, it shouldn’t be hard to find something that meets your tastes. Here are just some of the free goodies to be had.

Tips:

Planning to bring home some wild edibles the next time you return from the field? Great idea. If it’s your first time foraging, however, do not rely on the following list of edible plants. This is meant only as a brief overview of what’s out there, not a comprehensive guide.

When looking for wild plants to bring home to the kitchen, always follow this important rule of thumb: never pick (let alone eat) anything if you’re not 100 per cent sure what it is. Simply, if you eat the wrong plant you could become seriously ill, or even die. To be certain, consult authoritative guides such as the great online resource provided by the Nova Scotia Museum.

Blueberry

Vaccinium species

What to look for: Small, round and bluish purple

Where to find: Low-lying bushes throughout Atlantic Canada, Quebec and Ontario

When to look: Mid- to late July is the peak season/>
Eating tips: Rinse and eat raw, add to salads, make salsa, use for jam or bake in pies

Goes well with: Grilled or smoked salmon; venison

Watercress

Nasturtium officinale

What to look for: Sparse-looking floating or creeping plant with small white flowers

Where to find: Streams, rivers, ponds and marshy areas throughout Canada

When to look: Early spring through to late fall/>
Eating tips: Rinse leaves well if eating raw, or boil and eat as greens

Goes well with: Salad greens or wild leek and morel soup

Morels

Morchella species

What to look for: Sponge-like holes and ridges in hollow black, white or yellow caps

Where to find: In fields, abandoned orchards and forests (especially after fires) throughout Canada

When to look: Early spring for black morels; late spring for white/>
Eating tips: Cannot be eaten raw; sauté or grill

Goes well with: Wild rice; or add to soup

Wild leek

Allium species

What to look for: Long, green, onion-like leaves that are broad and flat

Where to find: Woodlands throughout Canada

When to look: Early spring and late fall/>
Eating tips: Rinse and cut off root; can be eaten raw but usually sautéed or steamed

Goes well in: Salads or soup

Asparagus

Asparagus officinalis

What to look for: 6- to 10-inch, purplish green shoots

Where to find: Fields and open, well-lit areas throughout Canada

When to look: Mid-spring to early summer/>
Eating tips: Rinse and boil, steam or sauté

Goes well with: Smoked salmon

Dandelion

Taraxacum officinale

What to look for: Stemless green leaves with single yellow flower

Where to find: Meadows, fields and grasslands throughout Canada

When to look: Before the flowers open, pick the leaves; in late fall, harvest the roots/>
Eating tips: Rinse leaves for use in salads or as wraps; flowers can be used to make wine or jam; use roots to make tea

Goes well with: Other wild edibles, such as onion, garlic and leek

Hickory

Carya species

What to look for: Light grey, odd-shaped nut beneath brown shell

Where to find: Hardwood and mixed forests throughout Canada

When to look: Autumn, as they fall from the trees/>
Eating tips: Dehusk to remove hulls, wash and dry in sun for a few days before cracking; eat raw or toasted

Goes well in: Salad, nut bread or other desserts

Hazelnut

Corylus species

What to look for: Furry, green husk on branch tips

Where to find: Hardwood and mixed forests throughout Canada

When to look: September, when the husks turn brown/>
Eating tips: Dry before cracking open; can be eaten raw or toasted

Goes well with: Fruit, salad greens or dessert

Wild rice

Zizania species

What to look for: Resembles stands of ornamental grass

Where to find: The Great Lakes Region

When to look: Early autumn/>
Eating tips: Dry; remove husks before cooking

Goes well with: Fish or in a morel risotto; or in place of domestic rice

Stinging nettle

Urtica dioica

What to look for: Prickly, dark-green leaves, white flower clusters

Where to find: Meadows throughout Canada

When to look: Spring, before the flowers appear; pick the shoots/>
Eating tips: Use as an herb, or boil and eat as greens

Goes well in: Salad or soup; or use on vegetables

High-bush cranberry

Viburnum trilobum

What to look for: Large, red, round berries

Where to find: Bordering fields and roadsides across Canada

When to look: Early November after a few frosts/>
Eating tips: Can be eaten raw, but usually cooked in syrup or dried

Goes well with: Wild turkey, as wine or a relish

Oxeye daisy

Chrysanthemum leucanthemum

What to look for: Yellow-centred flower with white petals

Where to find: Fields and roadsides across Canada

When to look: Spring, before the flower buds open/>
Eating tips: Wash unopened flower buds; sauté or pickle

Goes well with: Wild garlic, lemon and oil in a sauté

Elderberry

Sambucus canadensis

What to look for: Clusters of red to dark purple berries

Where to find: Bordering fields and forests throughout Canada

When to look: Early fall/>
Eating tips: Do not eat raw; use in jams, pies or wine

Goes well with: Rabbit

Black walnut

Juglans nigra

What to look for: Very large, round, light green, skinned nuts

Where to find: Along rivers in central Canada

When to look: August, as they fall from the trees/>
Eating tips: Remove green husk and dry

Goes well in: Salad or dessert

Fiddleheads

Matteuccia struthiopteris

What to look for: Tips of curled fronds, green with brown paper-like casing (also called ostrich ferns)

Where to find: Forests and alongside streams throughout Canada

When to look: Mid-spring before they’ve fully opened/>
Eating tips: Wash and remove brown casing; boil, steam or sauté

Goes well with: Panfried or grilled salmon or trout; or sauté with wild garlic