Edible Wild: Purple Flowering Raspberries

The Purple Flowering Raspberry, or Rubus odoratus, is kind of the secret raspberry.  Might as well be called Rubus secretum, as no one seems to know of it.   While many a forager might be out picking Red Raspberries and Blackberries, these brambles tend to go unnoticed, but it’s not for a lack of trying.

Purple Flowering Raspberries

Purple Flowering Raspberries

The large maple-like leaves and purple rose-like flowers make this plant easy to spot, even from some distance.  While most plants in this family (Rosaceae) seem to flower in the spring (including cherries, apples etc), lose their petals and then fruit in July-August (or later), this plant holds onto some of its flowers even as the fruit are available. I was obviously a bit late to this party, as you can see most of the ripe berries had already fallen to the ground by the time I got to them on this rainy day in early August.

The fruit is slightly dry and tart compared to Red Raspberries

The fruit is slightly dry and tart compared to Red Raspberries

Compared to the Red Raspberry, of which you are no doubt familiar, or the Dwarf Raspberry for that matter, the fruit of this plant is a little drier and slightly sour/tart, but still quite edible and still available at the unbeatable price of free.   In Southern Ontario the fruit appears in mid to late July and some can still be found even now in mid-August.  Look for it along the edge of trails and woods.

Here are two great resources to bring on your hikes to help you with plant identification:
•    Forest Plants of Central Ontario; Lone Pine Publishing
•    Peterson Field Guides – Edible Wild Plants, Eastern/Central North America

As with any wild plant:
•    harvest/consume only those that you can identify positively
•    when in doubt ask an expert in the area
•    Learn to distinguish from any similar poisonous plant (if applicable)
•    Sample sparingly at first to gauge individual sensitivities/allergies
•    Understand which parts of which plants may be consumed as many edible plants have toxic parts/structures
•    Harvest only when/where abundant
•    Do not harvest plants that are endangered or in need of protection

Happy Trails!

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Wild Edibles: Chokecherry

The Chokecherry, Prunus virginiana, also called Wild Black Cherry, is one of the many edible wild fruits from the Rosaceae family.  I have already featured some other wild edibles from this family such as the Serviceberry, dwarf raspberry, wild strawberry and the blueberry.

Chokecherry - Prunus virginiana

Chokecherry – Prunus virginiana

This deciduous shrub generally grows from 2-3m.  The ovate leaves are finely toothed and slightly wider above the middle.  The ripe fruit are nearly black, 8-10mm in diameter and contain a single stone, or pit, that is considered toxic (just like a cultivated cherry pit).  If yours have several tiny seeds then you may have found yourself some Chokeberries, also of the Roseceae family, but another topic….

a rice bold filled with chokecherries

a small rice bowl filled with chokecherries

I came across a stand of Chokecherries as I was biking along a trail.  I didn’t have any ziplock bags with me so I used my empty water bottle to collect the cherries.  In just a few minutes I had half filled the bottle and was on my way.

The name Chokecherry comes from the rather astringent flavour of the fruit, making one’s mouth pucker.  Rarely are these fruit eaten out of hand.  It is more common to make jams and jellies with Chokecherries.  I turned mine into a big tray of Jello!  🙂

These plants have a wide range across North America.  In my area they tend to ripen around mid-August.  I meant to write this post a few weeks ago but some SUP Camping got happily in the way.

Here are two great resources to bring on your hikes to help you with plant identification:
•    Forest Plants of Central Ontario; Lone Pine Publishing
•    Peterson Field Guides – Edible Wild Plants, Eastern/Central North America

As with any wild plant:
•    harvest/consume only those that you can identify positively
•    when in doubt ask an expert in the area
•    Learn to distinguish from any similar poisonous plant (if applicable)
•    Sample sparingly at first to gauge individual sensitivities/allergies
•    Understand which parts of which plants may be consumed as many edible plants have toxic parts/structures
•    Harvest only when/where abundant
•    Do not harvest plants that are endangered or in need of protection

•    If you want to know even more about the difference between chokecherries and chokeberries (Aronia melanocarpa) check out Aronia in America!

Happy Trails!

Wild Edibles: Wild Strawberry

In the area of the Kawarthas where I usually hike, Wild Strawberries are a very rare delicacy.  I am lucky to find 1 every year!  Well, this past weekend, amongst all of the other abundant edibles, I was lucky enough to find a single Wild Strawberry bearing fruit.

Woodland Strawberry

Woodland Strawberry

This plant, a member of the Rose family, tends to grow to 3-5 inches.  Its 3 leaves are coarsely toothed with hairy stalks.  There are two varieties, the Common Strawberry
and the Woodland Strawberry, Fragaria virginiana and Fragaria vesca respectively.  If you care to distinguish them, you can do so by their fruit and the tooth at the end of the leaves.

This tiny fruit packs  big flavour compared to domestic strawberries

Common Strawberry
Common Strawberry

The Common Strawberry has seeds that rest in little pits on the surface, and the tooth at the end of their leaves is shorter than those on either side.  The Woodland Strawberry,
by contrast, has seeds that sit slightly raised on the fruit’s surface, and the tooth at the end of their leaves are slightly longer than the teeth on either side.

The fruit are tiny compared to domestic Strawberries, but they taste much better!  Adding to its taste, at least for me, is the fact that I’ve had to work to find one, and since I find them so seldomly where I hike and camp, I eat it mindfully, savouring it for as long as its flavour will last.

Here are two great resources to bring on your hikes to help you with plant identification:
•    Forest Plants of Central Ontario; Lone Pine Publishing
•    Peterson Field Guides – Edible Wild Plants, Eastern/Central North America

As with any wild plant:
•    harvest/consume only those that you can identify positively
•    when in doubt ask an expert in the area
•    Learn to distinguish from any similar poisonous plant (if applicable)
•    Sample sparingly at first to gauge individual sensitivities/allergies
•    Understand which parts of which plants may be consumed as many edible plants have toxic parts/structures
•    Harvest only when/where abundant
•    Do not harvest plants that are endangered or in need of protection

Happy Trails!

Wild Edibles: Serviceberry

service_berry

Smooth Serviceberry – Amelanchier laevis??

One of the current items in nature’s cupboard is the Serviceberry, also known as Juneberry, since they ripen in June.  There are several wild varieties (Amelanchier spp.), but in less you are looking to plant some in your garden, the differences seem irrelevant as all are edible.  Like the strawberry and dwarf raspberries, that I was also picking this past weekend, these are members of the Rose family (and the fruit is referred to as a pome if anyone asks).

This perennial shrub seldom seems to exceed 1m in this area

This perennial shrub seldom seems to exceed 1m in this area

According to my Peterson Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants, this perrenial shrub can grow up to 10m tall.  Where I hike I’ve never seen it grow higher than 1m (3 feet) and I tend to find it along open rocky sites, growing in amongst blueberries and one of my other favorites, Sweetfern.

This is an unappreciated fruit, to say the least.  The ripe fruit are round, blue, dark purple or almost black when ripe and are slightly juicier, sweeter and larger than wild blueberries, at about 8-12mm.

service_berry (3)

Amelanchier canadensis?

Here are two great resources to bring on your hikes to help you with plant identification:
•    Forest Plants of Central Ontario; Lone Pine Publishing
•    Peterson Field Guides – Edible Wild Plants, Eastern/Central North America

As with any wild plant:
•    harvest/consume only those that you can identify positively
•    when in doubt ask an expert in the area
•    Learn to distinguish from any similar poisonous plant (if applicable)
•    Sample sparingly at first to gauge individual sensitivities/allergies
•    Understand which parts of which plants may be consumed as many edible plants have toxic parts/structures
•    Harvest only when/where abundant
•    Do not harvest plants that are endangered or in need of protection

Happy Trails!

Wild Edibles: Dwarf Raspberry

The prickly, shoulder high Wild Red Raspberry bush that you may be familiar with won’t bear fruit in our cottage country for 4-6 more weeks, but the dwarf raspberry is ready for the picking, if you know where to look and what to look for.

IMG_5342
“Leaves of three – let it be”?  That’s a good rule to keep your kids away from poison ivy, but there are so many plants with 3 leaves out there that it is worth getting to know a few of them.  The Dwarf Raspberry, Rubus pubescens, is one such example.  This low, trailing member of the Rose family tends to grow to about 3-5 inches in height and with its 3 sharply toothed leaves it is easily mistaken for a wild Strawberry.  I tend to find them in shaded woods in moist soils.  Their tiny fruit is smaller than the Wild Red Raspberry and more difficult to harvest, as it tends to cling to the stem more fiercely, and of course, since the plant is so small, there tends to be only 1 berry per plant.  They are ripening right now, so don’t delay!

IMG_5426

Here are two great resources to bring on your hikes to help you with plant identification:
•    Forest Plants of Central Ontario; Lone Pine Publishing
•    Peterson Field Guides – Edible Wild Plants, Eastern/Central North America

As with any wild plant:
•    harvest/consume only those that you can identify positively
•    when in doubt ask an expert in the area
•    Learn to distinguish from any similar poisonous plant (if applicable)
•    Sample sparingly at first to gauge individual sensitivities/allergies
•    Understand which parts of which plants may be consumed as many edible plants have toxic parts/structures
•    Harvest only when/where abundant
•    Do not harvest plants that are endangered or in need of protection

Happy Trails!

Wild Edibles: Blueberries

Blueberry

We went for a hike this past weekend on Crown Land just south of the Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park.  Blueberries tend to be in season around Canada Day, but with some seasonal variation you just never know if you might be too early or too late to take advantage.  30 minutes into our hike, as the trail lead us out of the moist and shaded woods and up onto some exposed rock we found some blueberry plants at last.  Most of the berries were just tiny green nubs though.  We marched on.  We were about to sit down for lunch when we found a patch of blueberries that has been receiving a lot of sun.  We were in luck at last!  We collected berries in a coffee mug and after a few minutes we had all that we needed and settled down for lunch, saving the berries for dessert.

Cup full of blueberries

Cup full of blueberries for dessert

In our area blueberries tend to ripen in late June to mid July.  They can be found in dry, acidic soils and need some direct sunlight.  Find them near pine stands, edge of thickets, and in sandy soil.  Get to know this low deciduous shrub from the Heath family.  There are a couple of varieties to be found and they are all edible.  Serviceberries tend to grow right along side the blueberries, ripening at around the same time, so get to know them as well and mix them all together.  Sweet-fern tends to grow in amongst the blueberries also, making the blueberry patch your one stop shop.

I’ve posted about Sweet-fern before, but that was in the fall when the leaves are already dry.  This time of year you can throw the leaves fresh into your pot or you can dry them quickly over a fire before steeping:

Step 1: Harvest Sweet-fern leaves

Step 1: Harvest Sweet-fern leaves

Sweet-fern step 1: Harvest

Step 2: Dry leaves over coals or low fire

IMG_5397

Step 3: Steep leaves for several minutes (preferably covered)

Here are two great resources to bring on your hikes to help you with plant identification:
•    Forest Plants of Central Ontario; Lone Pine Publishing
•    Peterson Field Guides – Edible Wild Plants, Eastern/Central North America

As with any wild plant:
•    harvest/consume only those that you can identify positively
•    when in doubt ask an expert in the area
•    Learn to distinguish from any similar poisonous plant (if applicable)
•    Sample sparingly at first to gauge individual sensitivities/allergies
•    Understand which parts of which plants may be consumed as many edible plants have toxic parts/structures
•    Harvest only when/where abundant
•    Do not harvest plants that are endangered or in need of protection

Happy Trails!

Wild Edibles: Fiddlehead greens

Spring is off to a bit of a slow start this year which means you may not have missed your chance for a tasty spring time delicacy, the Fiddlehead.

Fiddlehead greens

Fiddlehead greens

Fiddlehead greens are the tightly curled, young shoots of the Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris).  They first appear from late April to early May, depending on your location and weather.  Look for them in moist or wet soils, especially along the banks of creeks, rivers and swamps, throughout Ontario, the Maritime provinces and Northeastern United States.  Other varieties in your area may be toxic, so get to known your plants!

fiddlehead_on_fork_1

When harvesting, choose Fiddleheads that are no more than 6-8inches tall, beyond that they begin to get tough/fibrous and lose their delicate flavour.  Cut plants close to the ground and take only a couple from each plant (clump of Fiddleheads) to allow the plant to continue producing.  Remove the brown skin, if present, and boil in one change of water until tender.  Serve with butter.IMG_1738

So if you need another great reason to try spring camping besides avoiding the crowds and the bugs here it is – first dibs on a true delicacy.  I picked these along a beaver dam  just south of the Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park, at the end of April last year.  They were delicious, nutritious and free!

Here are two great resources to bring on your hikes to help you with plant identification:
•    Forest Plants of Central Ontario; Lone Pine Publishing
•    Peterson Field Guides – Edible Wild Plants, Eastern/Central North America

As with any wild plant:

  • harvest/consume only those that you can identify positively
  • when in doubt ask an expert in the area
  • Learn to distinguish from any similar poisonous plant (if applicable)
  • Sample sparingly at first to gauge individual sensitivities/allergies
  • Understand which parts of which plants may be consumed as many edible plants have toxic parts/structures
  • Harvest only when/where abundant
  • Do not harvest plants that are endangered or in need of protection

Wild Edibles: Sweet Fern

Perhaps after a few days in the woods you’re getting a little tired of the Peppermint Tea that you packed for your canoe trip and are looking for some variety, or you just like to sample from what nature has to offer.  One of my personal favorite beverages (herbal infusions) in the wild is steeped Sweet Fern leaves.   This time of year is best as the leaves have already dried on the plant so the flavour, when steeped, comes out immediately, and they are easy to harvest.

Sweet Fern (Comptonia peregrina) is a deciduous shrub with fern-like leaves that reaches about 2-3 feet high (the Peterson Field Guide to Edible Plants describes it as 3-5 ft tall although I have personally never seen it grow that tall in my region).  It grows best in dry soil so you will tend to find it growing right along side blueberries and service berries.  The autumn is the best time to harvest Sweet Fern as the leaves have dried on the plant and are easily picked.  Just grasp the stem gently and drag your grip up the stem pulling the leaves off.  You can have enough leaves for several pots in a matter of seconds.  Stuff the leaves into a zip-lock bag and take it back to camp.

For a quick look at how easy these leaves are to collect have a look at my very short youtube video.

Preparation is easy.  Bring a pot of water to a boil and remove from heat.  Place a handful of dried leaves into the water and allow to steep for 3-4 minutes and serve.  I generally pour using the pot lid as a strainer, either that or you can just pick the leaves out of your teeth later (it’s camping, no one’s looking).

Yes, earlier in the season you can harvest the green leaves.  While camping I might dry the green leaves briefly over the fire so that the flavour is more potent once steeped, but you can use the green leaves fresh as well.

Here are two great resources to bring on your hikes to help you with plant identification:
•    Forest Plants of Central Ontario; Lone Pine Publishing
•    Peterson Field Guides – Edible Wild Plants, Eastern/Central North America

As with any wild plant:

  • harvest/consume only those that you can identify positively
  • when in doubt ask an expert in the area
  • Learn to distinguish from any similar poisonous plant (if applicable)
  • Sample sparingly at first to gauge individual sensitivities/allergies
  • Understand which parts of which plants may be consumed as many edible plants have toxic parts/structures
  • Harvest only when/where abundant
  • Do not harvest plants that are endangered or in need of protection

Happy trails!

Wild Edibles: Mulberries – get ’em before they’re gone!

Picking Mulberries in Toronto

Oh what to do for my first post I wondered as I walked…  I had been putting it off for a while when I noticed the stained sidewalk beneath my feet, under a Mulberry tree.  Every June/July each Mulberry tree drops thousands of berries, and few take notice of nature’s gift but for the blue stain upon the sidewalk or the berries stuck beneath their shoes.

While there are nearly a dozen varieties worldwide, the trees of interest here for the forager are the Red Mulberry (Morus rubra) and the Black Mulberry (Morus nigra).  The Red Mulberry is indigenous to eastern North America and is an endangered species due to regular hybridization with the other Mulberry varieties imported from Asia (mostly black and white Mulberry).  You will find both the Red and Black Mulberry in Toronto, staining our streets and filling the bellies and baskets of the local forager.  The fruit from both trees, when ripe, looks very much like a blackberry, although slightly longer, and not quite as sweet. Eat them out of hand, make into jam, bake into pies and muffins etc. but as with any food being introduced do not consume unless you can positively identify the plant and collect/consume only the ripe berries.

Here’s what the MNR has to say about them: http://www.mnr.gov.on.ca/stdprodconsume/groups/lr/@mnr/@species/documents/document/stdprod_070903.pdf

I know of at least 6 trees in town that I have come across in my travels.  The addresses of others are posted on urbantoronto.ca if you are interested, but I cannot confirm their accuracy.  Here are a couple of trees to get you started with on your next bike ride:

1 – Don Trail: If you’re heading south along the path, say from Eglinton, past (under) Overlea Blvd, take the trail to the left towards the junction with the Lower Don Recreational Trail.  This trail briefly takes you north east as you pass under Don Mills Rd (for the 1st time) on a slated wooden foot bridge.  This Mulberry tree hangs over the path half way up the wooden bridge.  If you have continued up the bridge and over the train tracks then you have gone a bit too far….

2 – Royal York Rd – on the west side of Royal York Rd, north of Dundas St W and about 100m south of Lambeth Rd.  This tree hangs over the sidewalk and provides easy pickins’

Ride safe and happy foraging!