Embrace the foraging spirit

L: L: A ring of Giant puffball mushrooms ready to be foraged. R: Now that's a puffball! (Photos: JR Leo)

By JR Leo, Stewardship Project Manager and Marina Queirolo, Food Program Manager

As we work to build a sustainable food system, we begin to understand a strong local food economy is a fusion of many parts, from local Farmers’ Markets and CSAs, to urban farming infrastructure and (increasingly) foraging.

Humans have been foraging for food, medicine and shelter for centuries and today, it’s a way for eco-conscious foodies to find food in their own backyards.

With prime foraging season quickly approaching, we put together some tips for you to keep in mind, as well as a list of common wild species you can find in the GTA.

To learn even more about foraging, sign up for our Foraged Foods cooking workshop on May 17. Featuring Jonathan Forbes from Forbes Wild Foods, the workshop will tell you everything you need to know to begin your own foraging adventures and embrace the call of the wild!

10 Tips for Responsible Foraging

  1. Know what you are foraging and use all resources available! Be 100-percent positive of identification and use at least two field guides.
  2. Eat small quantities at first, as you never know if you are allergic or how your body might react.
  3. Have the right equipment and bring a compass if you are going into the wild.
  4. Take into account the gathering parameters, and avoid gathering wild foods from polluted or sprayed areas.
  5. Only forage in areas you are allowed to and feel comfortable in. Always be aware of private property, environmentally sensitive/significant and protected areas, and of gathering policies on public land. Any plant that is locally threatened should not be harvested.
  6. Always leave your “picking spot" as if you have never been there.
  7. Never pick more than what you are going to use and remember animals rely on this food for survival.
  8. Plants are edible at different times of year and/or in different stages of development so be aware of what season you are foraging in.
  9. Engage in preserving the wild lands. Volunteer or advocate.
  10. Involve your children. They will be the future ambassadors.

Common Species

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Where to find it: Everywhere
When to harvest: Tastes better before buds and flowers appear.
Notes: This plant is everywhere. Coke wishes it had the kind of global market penetration this simple plant does! Virtually all parts of the dandelion are edible, but young leaves and immature flower buds are taste the best. This plant can be eaten raw, cooked like spinach, boiled, pickled and even made into wine. It is also incredibly healthy to eat, with a high source of vitamin A and C and calcium. Mix it in your wild greens for a spring salad!

Chicory (Cichorium intybus)
Where to find it: Roadside and fields
When to harvest: Summer/fall
Notes: From the aster family (sunflowers, daisies etc.), chicory is a very common plant with distinguishable purple blue flowers that appear in the late summer/fall. The young leaves are edible raw, while older leaves are better cooked. The roots can also be dried and ground up as a coffee substitute, which was popular with World War II vets during food shortages.

Wild leek (Allium tricoccum)
Where to find it: Woodlands and forest
When to harvest: Spring/summer
Notes: This is a more specialized plant that can be found in large colonies. A part of the onion family, this native leek is a perfect substitute for its commercial cousin. Instead of the large white stock, wild leek is best used whole including the fleshy green leaves and small white stock or shoot.