Many wildlife species spend much of their time foraging. Foraging means to spend time searching in the wild for food. For as long humans have been around, we’ve been foraging too.
Foraging isn’t as common now that it is easy to access a variety of foods in the grocery store, but it still has many benefits. It’s free, there are lots of great nutrients in some of the plants, it helps diversify what you are eating, and… it’s fun!
Before you start foraging, it is important to decide where you are going to collect and what plants you are looking to harvest. Depending where you go, you might need to ask permission. This will help you have more success and keep you safe.
Rules to Remember
There are four GOLDEN RULES for picking wild edibles:
1. Be sure you’ve got the right plant species, some can be tricky to identify. Use a guidebook, photos, or talk to an expert.
2. Never pick a whole plant. Only pick a small portion, no more than 5-10% from one plant.
3. Never pick from every plant you find. If you see 10 plants of the same species, only pick from 2-3 of them.
4. Only take what you will use. If you’re trying something for the first time and not sure if you’ll like it, take a very small amount to just taste.
When you’re foraging in the forest, avoid any toxic plants such as poison ivy which can cause rashes or irritation on skin when touched. It is also very important to make sure that you are foraging for the correct plants, as many plants or parts of plants are inedible or dangerous. Don’t eat something unless you are sure that it is safe, and don’t collect a plant if it has any signs of fungus or disease, or is in a polluted area. When trying something new for the first time, only eat a small amount.
Remember that plants are part of an ecosystem and need to be harvested with respect.
These are common plants in the Georgian Bay Biosphere that are often foraged for food. See how many you can find!
Bonus: Have you seen the Kids in the Biosphere Edible Plants Activity Sheet? Download it now for more tasty fun!
ID: Large bushes with toothed leaves and thorns on the stem. White flowers which die back when red berries grow. When the berries turn black, they are ripe and ready to eat.
How to Find: Blackberries grow from June to September in sunny areas, along the side of roads, bodies of water, and forests, and in open areas such as meadows and fields.
How to Harvest: Blackberries can be hand-picked off the plant. They are sweet, and can be eaten raw or used in many recipes.
ID: Bushes have toothed leaves and small thorns on the stem. White or pinkish flower which dies back before green berries grow. When the berries turn red they are ready to eat.
How to Find: Raspberries grow in partially shaded to sunny areas from July to August. They can be found along the side of roads, bodies of water, and forests, or in open areas such as meadows and fields.
How to Harvest: Raspberries can be hand-picked off the stem. They are sweet and can be eaten raw or used in many recipes.
Blueberry and Huckleberry
ID: Blueberries are a short shrub with thin branches and small green leaves. Small blue or black berries grow in clusters. Huckleberries look similar, but are usually taller and the berries are darker.
How to Find: Blueberries and huckleberries can be found from June to August. Blueberries grow in cool areas with moist soil and lots of sunlight. They can typically be found around rocky open areas and near Georgian bay.
How to Harvest: Blueberries can be picked off the stem. Blueberries are sweet, and Huckleberries are sweet and bitter. They can both be eaten raw or used in many recipes.
ID: Wild strawberry plants grow on vines close to the ground. They have sets of three green, serrated leaves, white flowers and small red berries.
How to Find: Strawberries can be found from June to October. They prefer areas with lots of sun such as clearings or sides of roads.
How to Harvest: Strawberries can be hand-picked off the stem. They are sweet and can be eaten raw or used in many recipes.
ID: Dandelions have long, toothed leaves, and a single, yellow flowers on each stems.
How to Find: Dandelions grow from March to October. They grow best in open areas such as fields, roadsides, and yards.
How to Harvest: Young dandelion leaves can be picked and eaten in salads. The flowers can be eaten raw. The roots can be washed and peeled, then eaten raw or prepared like carrots.
ID: Plantain has large oval leaves which grow in a circle. Stalks covered in small white flowers grow from the center.
How to Find: Plantain grows from April to September. It grows best in disturbed areas and fields.
How to Harvest: The leaves can be eaten raw in salads, or cooked which gives the leaves a similar flavor to swiss chard. The leaves can also be steeped into a soothing tea.
ID: Sumac tall shrub with 11-13 long oval leaflets on each leaf. Creamish to green flowers grow develop into red berries, growing in large, fuzzy, clusters. *Some sumacs in southern Ontario have white berries which can be poisonous. Only harvest from sumac trees with red berries*
How to Find: Sumacs fruit in July or August and this fruit can last through to winter. They grow along the edges of forest, fields, and roadsides.
How to Harvest: The fruits can be made into a sweet lemonade-like drink or eaten raw. The flowers can be used in jams.
ID: Cattails have tall green stalks with long brown cylindrical flower heads. Stiff green leaves grow tall from the base of the stem.
How to Find: Cattails can be harvested from March to October. They typically grow in marshy areas such as near bodies of water and in ditches.
How to Harvest: The shoots and the white section at the base of the leaves can be roasted, boiled, or eaten raw. If picked while still green, cattail flowers can be cooked and eaten like corn on the cob. The roots can be harvested and eaten at all times of the year.