Three Wild Foods in Season Right Now
We reached out to our friends at Free Spirit Tours to see if their foraging expert Brian McLellan-Tuck aka Barefoot Brian would share some of his expertise about foraging wild food that is in season right now in our area.
Brian has given us a great lesson below including some history of each plant, how to identify and some helpful suggestions for usage. Brian has also provided us with some ethical foraging guidelines that we hope everyone will follow.
Garlic Mustard Alliaria petiolata
A very common invasive plant of our woodlands. This plant was brought here from early European settlers as an edible herb and now runs rampant so harvesting and eating this plant is doing a service for our forests! Beware for those who are not accustomed to having bitters in their diet- this plant is bitter! Though fairly bitter this herb packed with nutrients. It is high in fiber, beta-carotene, vitimin C, vitimin E, Calcium , Iron, Zinc and Manganese.
Identification: First year herb produces a basal growth of round shaped leaves with large rounded teeth and has a deeply heart shaped leaf base. Second Year Produces a stalk to 1 meter tall with triangular shaped leaves. There is a faint garlic smell when leaves are crushed.
Uses: Greens or flowers- potherb or chopped sparingly into salads. My favourite use is pesto, just mix with milder greens to taste.
Wild leek/ramp Allium tricoccum
A popular, easy to recognise, native wild food. This is a bit of a touchy subject whether leeks should be foraged or not. I believe when done properly they can be collected sustainably. It takes roughly 7 years for a ramp to go from seed to producing its own seed so digging up patches is destructive and best done by selectively harvesting bulbs throughout the patch since collecting the bulbs kills the plant. A better option is simply collecting just the leaves (one per plant) and throughout the patch as well.
Identification: A spring ephemeral with 2-3 simple green leaves growing from a bulb. This herb will die back for the season in June. It will smell like an onion.
Uses: Same uses as an onion.
Yellow Trout Lily Erythronium americanum
This is another native spring ephemeral found alongside wild leek. Trout lilies are found in abundance carpeting the forest floor throughout spring. Though abundant they have a similar lifecycle as the wild leek so foraging practices should be in place here.
Identification: 1-2 simple leaves per plant. Leaves have a rubbery feel and have a greenish purple mottled trout pattern making them fairly distinct. When I begun identifying herbs I sometimes confused them with wild leek though not a bad mistake!
Caution: Trout lily is considered an emetic herb when eaten in large amounts!
Uses: Greens and bulb can be eaten raw or cooked. The bulbs are small and have a mildly sweet taste and crunchy texture. Greens are mildly bitter but make a nice addition to salads.
Ethical foraging practices: There are no official rules or laws regarding foraging practices however, the following are a few points to keep in mind:
- Use a reliable guidebook to identify herbs (or take a foraging workshop with me!)
- If in doubt do not pick and eat - be 100% sure of what you are eating.
- Only harvest what you will use.
- Only harvest up to 25% of a wild patch or 10% if it’s an unfamiliar patch, no more than 5% for at risk plants. Leave the rest for wildlife, reproduction, and other foragers.
- Get permission if foraging on private land.
- Be mindful of where you harvest from. Stay away from polluted sites, i.e. roadsides, edges of sprayed crop fields, train tracks, industrial areas and toxic contaminated areas.
- Spread out your harvesting in a patch. Don’t take all from one section of the patch
- Be mindful of where you walk. Avoid trampling and destroying other vegetation. Leave No Trace!
Brian has been with Free Spirit Tours for 8 seasons now and works mainly on the Beaver River and offers foraging experiences through Free Spirit Tours. Click this link to follow Brain on Facebook or follow him on Instragram @barefoot_brian89.