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!

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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!

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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!

Canoeing in the Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park

The Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park (KHPP) is a relatively new provincial park, home to 108 back-country camp sites and spread out over nearly 38000 hectares!  All sites are accessible by canoe.  It’s only about 90min from Toronto so we decided it was time to check it out. We planned an easy route for our first visit, packed up our rental car and hit the road, okay first we stopped at Starbucks, but then we hit the road!

The rocky shores of Long Lake in the Kawarthas

We entered the park via the Long Lake access point.  From there, our canoe route took us along Long Lake for about 4km, past a dozen or more cottages and, after about an hour or so of spectacular views of the Canadian shield, to the Buzzard Lake portage.  This portage is 340m and with no real hills, is a relatively easy one, as portages go.  I love hiking.  I love canoeing.  Call me crazy but I don’t love hiking with an 80lbs rental canoe on my head with the yoke mounted several inches from where it ought to be.  Long story short, rent wisely!  And that means renting from a reputable outfitter.  We chose the convenient option and had a miserable portage.  So do NOT rent from Long Lake Lodge unless you’re just doing a portage-free trip…  If you’re going to rent, pick up your canoe on your way to the park with a quick stop in Peterborough at Wild Rock Outfitters or in Lakefield at Adventure Outfitters.  We have rented from Wild Rock before and may try them again.  Adventure Outfitters in Lakefield appears to be the cheapest option but I’ve never used their services.  Of course there’s always Mountain Equipment Co-op in Toronto.  MEC has great weekend rental deals, but I’d forgotten that they rent equipment until just a moment ago.  If you know of another spot to rent in the area, or care to comment on an outfitter, please post it in the comments section.

We could see our site, #420, from the end of the portage so we only had a few minutes before it was time to unpack again. Our site had a picnic table, 4 tent pads, a fire ring with a grill and, about 50ft into the woods, a privy box.  This is 4-star back-country camping!  With day time highs expected near 28C and overnight temperatures dropping to 14C we picked a site facing east to take advantage of the rising sun.  This also positioned us to be shaded from the hot afternoon sun so it worked out really well.

If you’re going to spend some time swimming, you might as well have a destination.  From our site there was a small island to swim to that was only about 100ft away so we made regular visits to it during our stay.

The sunrise on Buzzard Lake from site 420

We would start each morning with a coffee by the campfire before heading out in the canoe for a tour before breakfast.  There was much to explore.  I have a short video on youtube highlighting the morning view:

crooked action shot 🙂

Take your camera, take your time and you’re bound to see some wildlife.  We saw a number of beavers, lots of loons and, among other things, this turtle about to go for a swim after we got too close.

One morning we did get down to Vixen Lake.  The portage is just 207m.  It had started to rain so we just walked the trail to check out the view of Vixen before paddling back to camp, where we discovered that it only takes about 40min to get from one end of Buzzard to the other if you’re hungry, getting wet and going in a straight line 🙂

Booking a site in the KHPP is easy now that they’ve added a new online reservation option.  You can see where each site is on the map and if it will be available during your intended stay:  https://reservations.ontarioparks.com/KawarthaHighlands?Map

The map will look a little something like this:

You can click on a site, get a full description and browse a few photos to help you decide.  So, plan your route carefully, choose your site wisely, rent wisely and you too will be a Happy Camper!  🙂