Foraging is gaining popularity again as more people learn about the nutritional wild foods that grow in their backyards, parks, and communities. Here are 10 foods you can forage this spring! These wild edibles are great for beginner foragers because they are easy to identify and grow abundantly throughout many parts of North America.
Morels are early spring mushrooms found from April to June. They have a meaty texture and an earthy and nutty taste. They should be cooked before consumption. Morels pair great with venison and red meats, especially as a gravy or sauce. They are packed with iron, potassium, calcium, and vitamin D. You can often buy them at farmer’s markets but they can be expensive.
The poisonous false morel can confuse beginner foragers but it’s quite easy to distinguish once you know what you are looking for. Beginner foragers should always consult a reputable guide.
Chanterelles are late spring mushrooms. They are commonly found in hardwood forests of maple, oak, and birch. They have a peppery flavour and are best eaten cooked. Chanterelles are great sautéed in butter or made into a cream sauce. They are a good source of protein, dietary fiber, vitamin D, iron, and copper.
Wild mushrooms often contain a lot of dirt and debris. Carefully clean them using a small brush before cooking. Like morels, chanterelles have a lookalike that can be poisonous.
Here in Ontario, the common blue violet grows abundantly. Many people can identify this plant but few are aware that its leaves and flowers are edible. Violets are high in vitamin A and C. The bluish-purple flowers make attractive garnishes on pastries and cakes. They also add a pop of colour to salads.
Violets often grow in shady locations. They bloom early spring and their flowers will die away as the heat becomes more intense.
I first learned that red clover was edible when a local vendor sold me a bag of mixed greens with clover flowers inside. I’ve been eating them ever since. The flower heads are composed of many small flowers that can be separated and used as tiny garnish pieces. The flowers are easier to digest if they are soaked beforehand. You can also eat the leaves.
Red clover grows commonly in fields, lawns and on roadsides. As with all wild edibles, make sure you find them in locations that are free from harmful herbicides, pesticides, and other chemicals.
Stinging nettle is a beautiful plant and one of my favourites on this list in terms of flavour. I tried it for the first time last summer when it made its way into my garden as a “weed.” Nettle is versatile and can be used in teas, pestos, soups, and baked into bread. This plant is high in vitamin A, magnesium, and calcium.
As its name suggests, these plants will sting you if you don’t handle them carefully. Use gloves to gather nettle. If you, like me, find this plant in your garden, transplant it into a container because it will quickly take over.
Wild mustard can be found in fields, pastures, and the edge of rivers. This plant is not native to Canada and is considered invasive in Ontario. This is because it will crowd out native plants like our provincial flower – the trillium. In this province, people have been encouraged to haul up wild mustard when they see it. It’s an added bonus that it’s delicious. The flowers, seeds, and young leaves are edible.
Wild mustard has beautiful yellow flowers. You can also harvest garlic mustard. It looks similar but its flowers are white. Both plants are rich in vitamin A and C.
Fiddleheads are coiled up ferns that emerge in the early spring. They should only be eaten when they are still curled tightly and they must be cooked before consumption. They taste like a nutty and more earthy asparagus. In Nova Scotia, fiddleheads are sold abundantly in farmer’s markets. They are boiled and then fried in a skillet with oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. They contain vitamin C, potassium, and niacin.
Ramps are super tasty and are one of the first forageable plants in spring. They taste like a garlic and onion fusion which makes them perfect for cooking with. Ramps are commonly found throughout Eastern Canada.
Unfortunately, here in Ontario, we have a serious problem with over-harvesting. Commercial harvesting in this province has decimated many areas where ramps used to grow abundantly. Always check the status of the wild foods you harvest. I’ve noticed several signs telling people not to forage ramps. If you are lucky enough to live in an area where you can forage them, don’t over-harvest and pick plants when they are mature to ensure conservation.
Maple Blossoms and Syrup
I wrote an entire post about the edible qualities of maple trees. Notably, the young spring leaves can be eaten cooked or raw. You can also drink the sap or turn it into delicious maple syrup.
Making maple syrup is a lot of work but it can be fun to do with friends. My friends make it a day-long activity where they boil down the sap over a campfire. It’s a lot of work tending the fire all day but they look forward to it each year. The next day they are rewarded for their efforts with homemade maple syrup. Yum!
Spruce and Pine Tips
Spruce and pine needles can be used for tea year round. But, in the springtime, spruce and pine tips are tender and can be eaten raw or cooked. I like their taste but many people find them too strong to eat raw. I recommend using small quantities in salads, making tea with them, or candying them to cut down on the bitter taste. They are packed with vitamin C.
You should always consult a local expert or reputable field guide to properly identify plants. Some plants and mushrooms are poisonous when ingested. Many local farmer’s markets sell these wild edibles. If you are unsure about foraging yourself, this can be a great way to familiarize yourself with local wild edibles.
What are your favourite wild foods to forage in the springtime?