Most of us have experienced forest foods, whether we’ve collected fiddleheads or picked wild raspberries as a trailside snack. Ontario Nature’s recent “Foraging Week” events in Thunder Bay expanded on these experiences, showing participants how easy it is to find and use wild foods from our northern forests. As one Indigenous blueberry picker told us, “If it’s good for the bears, it’s good for us!”
“Foraging Week” offers a variety of hikes and presentations focused on the culinary uses of forest plants. The weather was on our side all week, giving us a blue-sky backdrop as we hiked local trails searching for delicious forest treasures. Our workshops were led by edible wild plant experts who imparted the many benefits of foraging and the need for harvesting in a sustainable manner. I learned an incredible amount from this year’s workshops, and added to my growing list of species that I feel comfortable identifying and eating!
One of my favourite workshops was our wild foods cooking class, which turned the plants we found into simple and delicious dishes. During our three hours in the kitchen, we created and sampled seven different recipes. From wild greens pesto pizza to dandelion muffin tops, this course proved that foraged foods are just as versatile (and tasty) as any from the grocery store.
I took advantage of the chance to chat with people at the workshops. It was great to see so many familiar faces from last year’s sessions in the crowd alongside many first time foragers. Several participants were veteran foragers who were happy to share their experiences and recipe ideas with the rest of the group. It was exciting to feel the enthusiasm and community spirit that has become a key part of “Foraging Week”.
Even though “Foraging Week” has wrapped up for another year, there’s still plenty of opportunity to enjoy a few more wild treats. Rosehips, goldenrod and numerous mushrooms are among the edibles available in late summer and early fall. Take inspiration from “Foraging Week” on your next hike – have fun and go wild!
Note: Ontario Nature’s Foraging work is intended for northern, not southern Ontario. To be sustainable, foraging is only appropriate in specific places using careful techniques. Responsible foragers ensure they do not harm the long-term survival of the plants by harvesting no more than 5 percent of an individual patch, limiting the harvest of roots to increase the chances that the plant regenerates, avoiding some rare plants altogether and not picking in areas where foraging is prohibited. Improper harvesting techniques and over-harvesting can have a significant negative impact on the ability of a species to reproduce.
We must share the stewardship responsibility as the growing interest in foraging increases pressure on this shared resource, potentially diminishing the quality and quantity of wild plants. We must take it upon ourselves to learn how to harvest responsibly. By understanding both the impact our actions have on various plant and mushroom species, and the recommended foraging approaches, we can make informed choices and contribute to sustaining the plants that we love and other species rely on.
We’d like to thank TD Friends of the Environment Foundation for their generous support of this initiative.
Mallory Vanier was Ontario Nature’s Boreal Program intern.