Spring is here and another season of delicious edible treats have emerged in our local forests.
I have been looking forward to a renewed dedication to spending time in Waterloo Region’s amazing natural areas. Foraging has been gaining popularity over the past few years as folks discover the marketplace that exists in their backyards. I want to share some tips about what to look for, learning resources about foraging and what to create with your finds.
The most important thing to keep in mind while looking for edible plants is to forage responsibly. The rules I follow when I’m foraging are:
1) Never harvest more than one third of what you can see. This is to make sure you’re not harming the population or ecosystem around it. Ethical harvesting will change with each species as all plants reproduce differently. If you notice another forager has already collected a share from a certain area, consider a different site to gather your own.
2) Do your research. Only harvest plants that you can positively identify. There are also many people who have spent lifetimes learning from our land—find experienced foragers and learn from them.
3) Only forage from land where you’re allowed. This means respecting private property, following marked paths and making an effort not to trample other plants as you are harvesting. It also means acknowledging the Indigenous peoples that have cared for the land throughout history.
Ramps, or wild leeks, are often the first and most popular edible wild plant available in the spring. However, they’re incredibly sensitive to over harvesting, due to their slow reproduction. Luckily, if you come across ramps, you are definitely near some garlic mustard! This herb is non-native to North America, extremely invasive, and easily identifiable. It has scalloped, kidney-shaped green leaves (with reddish tips in its first year). Each plant can produce up to 500 seeds, doubling the size of a patch every couple of years. Its uncontrolled spread endangers other species, like trilliums, trout lilies and some fungi. I encourage you to pick as much as you can each foraging trip to limit the spread.
There are loads of options to prepare your freshly pickled garlic mustard, after a good wash in some clean cold water. It tastes – just as its name states – like a spicy, garlicky, bitter green! For starters, garlic mustard leaves are a sharp, tasty, and easy addition to a green salad or sauteed vegetables. They can be chopped and sprinkled on a pizza or pasta, or folded into an omelette. The roots have a flavour reminiscent of horseradish. After cleaning them, blend them in a food processor with a bit of vinegar for a homemade canned horseradish replacement! You can find a delicious pesto recipe at the end of this article, it’s my favourite way to prepare and preserve garlic mustard.
There are countless resources available online and at your local library to research and take with you on your foraging adventures. I have listed a few of my favourites to get you started!
Garlic Mustard Pesto
1 packed cup garlic mustard leaves, washed and dried
1 ½ cup kale, washed and dried
½ cup ground almonds/almond flour (substitutions: walnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds)
¼ cup grated parmesan (sub nutritional yeast for vegan option)
2 tbsp olive oil
¼ cup neutral oil (vegetable, avocado, canola)
1 tbsp honey or agave
Zest and juice of one medium lemon
1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed
Pinch of chili flakes
Fresh cracked pepper and kosher salt, to taste
Add all ingredients to a food processor or blend with a hand blender. Adjust seasoning if necessary, or add a splash of water. This pesto is great as a pizza base, pasta topping, burger condiment or mixed with some yogurt as a vegetable dip. This recipe can be increased and frozen!
For more resources, watch the documentary Forage on CBC Gem, visit Ontario Nature Forest Foraging Guide or download the apps iNaturalist and Plant Snap. You can also follow Alexis Nikole (@blackforager) and Anishinaabe plant medicine educator Joe Pitawanakwat (@creators.garden) on Instagram or add the Peterson Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants to your library.