Hello fellow foragers. It has been a long hot summer and my cooking is light these days. I had the opportunity to join an expert forager into the woods of urban Ottawa to learn about edible plants. It was a fascinating learning experience in a hiking area just ten minutes from my home. Not only have I started to recognize wild food sources, I have recognized some as ‘weeds’ in my own backyard.
If you are interested in these sorts of foraging, please refer to guide books, or get yourself an actual human expert guide — you need to be careful what you eat in the wild! This post should hopefully entice you to research more. However, I thought it would be interesting to share some of the plants that were pointed out during our three-hour walk.
This plant is called a pineapple weed. The little florets smells faintly like pineapple when crushed. It is good for flavouring homemade sodas, making teas and adding to salad dressings.
Below is the yellow-flowered wood sorrel. It can add an herby flavour to salad dressings (it is also all over my garden beds at home).
These are called bunch berries. They are edible fresh or dried. Even the leaves are tasty. When ready to propagate, it catapults its pollen from its little white flowers — guess I’ll have to return earlier next season to see that!
These cute little plants with the white teardrop flower are wintergreen or teaberry. And the leaves do taste minty.
This birch bark on a stick was placed there by our guide to mark a spot he wanted to turn to show us some unique plants. A natural version of a street sign!
The white pine is Ontario’s provincial tree. The needles are in clusters of five. These pine needles are used for flavouring and beer brewing. The sap can be used for cough syrup and the cones are also used for flavouring.
This beautiful plant is white yarrow. It has pain-killing qualities. Use just the leaf for vinegar flavouring as it has a floral aroma. Can be recognized by it’s alternate-pattern fern-like leaves (not to be confused with poison hemlock which looks like it).
Cattails are one of my favourite plants to admire when I walk through marsh areas. They have many uses. Their rounded stalks can be dried and used to make baskets and mats. Their tender shoots at the base are edible. In June while they are flowering, there is an upper sheath above that fuzzy elongated area that are like little corn-on-the-cobs and then the pollen can be used for flour.
This plant is called curly dock (note the curly leaves in the right photo) or yellow dock. It has a very sour taste. The root is used for yellow dyes. The seeds (with the husks on) can be ground and used as a gluten-free flour.
Cedars — recognizable everywhere. Can be used for sodas and flavouring.
The Juniper bush with those little juniper berries. Did you know they are not really berries but actually a cone? They can be used for meat seasoning. And the plant tips can be put in salads.
Common Mullein also known as a candlestick plant. The unique spike occurs in the second year growth of the plant. The first year plant is also called lambs’ ear because of it’s soft fuzzy texture. The picture on the right shows the first and second year plants growing side by side. The roots are used medicinally. The leaves of the first year plant can be used for tea, and the yellow flowers of the second year spike can be added to teas to add earthiness in flavour.
Common milkweed. These are more mature plants ready to burst and spread its fluffy seeds. When they are younger, the shoots can be eaten and the flower buds taste like broccoli. When the milkweed pods are young and small, they can be blanched and added to pasta. They can also be pickled or stuffed and baked.
This is called an Indian pipe plant or ghost plant (because of its lack of chlorophyll). It belongs to the blueberry family. It has a parasitic relationship as it taps into the nutrients of the tree root system — however if you are foraging for mushrooms, finding these ghost plants is a clue that there are mushrooms around.
Plantain plant — leaves can be baked like kale chips. The leaves also have anti-bacterial properties and can be chewed up and placed on a wound (if you are out in the middle of nowhere). This is called a ‘spit’ poultice.
Purple flowering thimbleberries on the left, growing alongside with wild raspberries on the right.
Catnip — stem is actually square instead of rounded. Would to nice to have some of this for my cat, Mocha.
Mother wort is used for various herbal remedies.
Gooseberry or prickly current.
Very recognizable wild apple tree.
Edible chokecherries. Very sour when they are red; will sweeten as they ripen and turn black.
Mugwort can be used for beer brewing. Also as a herb or seasoning; use as you would sage.
Wild grape vine. You can eat the tendrils. Make grape jam & juice out of fruit. Large leaves can be used for stuffing and making dolmades. If you freeze the leaves first, they will tenderize before stuffing. There are vine lookalikes — the Virginia creeper and the moonseed, both of which are poisonous so study your plants well.
I hope you enjoyed your tour of some of the local edible plants. I have so much more to learn. Enjoy the beautiful outdoors!