Ontario’s Wild Ground Breakers

Foraged food has been a trend on restaurant plates for almost a decade — but did you know it’s something you can easily replicate at home? All you need is a little guts and a little knowledge, and you’re good to go.

The first wild edibles are just starting to poke their heads out of the ground now. We like to call these the ground breakers, because, well, we’re all pretty darn ready for spring. Look for these wild morsels in woodlands, fields and ravines across the province.


A Note On Responsibility: It is all of our jobs to protect our wild spaces. Please forage responsibly. Never take the whole plant and always leave enough for future growth. Be aware of private property and public parks policies in your area.


1 : Winter Cress, also called Yellow Rocket

Yellow rocket 1

SPOT THEM : Winter cress looks a lot like arugula when it’s young. The leaves are small and round extend from central stalks. Once it matures, it can be distinguished by one tabular stalk crowned with golden flowers. If the winter season is not too severe, this plant can be found and collected all year long. Sometimes it even stays green underneath the snow!

FIND THEM : Winter cress can be found in meadows, pastures, amongst crops and fields, gardens, vacant lots, construction sites, along roadsides, throughout waste areas… so just about every where!

USE THEM : The leaves are really only palatable in early spring, when they’re tender and lack the bitterness of mature winter cress. Pluck them gently from the plant, wash them and toss them into your favorite salad.


2 : Trout Lily

trout lily bulbsSPOT THEM : Its brown-mottled leaves are one of the first things out of the ground come spring. It’s found in sizable colonies, droves even. Trout lily has no stem until it flowers later in the year.

FIND THEM : You’ll have to head to the woods for these beauties. They only grow in woodlands, often near ponds or marshy areas.

USE THEM : It’s the corms of the plant you are looking for — that bulb like bit between the leaf and root — but be careful. Too many will make you vomit. In small-ish quantities they taste much like cucumbers and can be used the same way.


3 : Fiddleheads

Uxbridge_Foraging

SPOT THEM : The term “fiddleheads” refers to the unfurling young sprouts of ferns. Although many species of ferns are “edible” as fiddleheads, Ostrich Ferns are what you want to be looking for in Ontario. They are edible only in their early growth phase first thing in the spring. Never, ever, take every curl from the base cluster. 

FIND THEM : In marshy woodlands, near rivers. Ostrich ferns like things wet. 

USE THEM : You’ll need to clean them of their papery husk first and foremost. Chop off any black bits and throw them in a pot of boiling water. Fiddleheads should be blanched but can them be treated any way you wish. Pickle ‘em, fry ‘em, saute ‘em, deep fry ‘em! The world is your oyster… errr, fiddlehead fern.


4 : Wild Ginger

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SPOT THEM : Wild ginger has distinct heart shaped leaves that are easily identifiable in the summer months, with spring flowers close to the soil. The flowers can be brown, purple or pink. You can also recognize the fuzzy stalks of this spicy plant. Wild ginger is cumbersome to harvest, because you’re looking for the fatty root tuber — the rhizomes –under the soil – but they’re very much worth the effort. We love this video that shows you how!

FIND THEM : Wild ginger like moist shaded environments and conifer trees. Spreads slowly by rhizomes, so you’ll often see them in large patches covering a significant area of the forest floor.

USE THEM : Wash the root stalks well and then they can be a ginger substitute. You can candy them, flavour syrups and ice creams with them — or bake them into cookies!


5 : Young Nettles

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This lovely specimen was found by the kitchen crew at Actinolite Restaurant in Toronto. We can’t wait to see where it ends up! Follow @actinoliterestaurant

SPOT THEM : Sharp, stinging, tiny hairs encompass the entire plant. Stinging nettles have tiny, fuzzy-like white flowers, but in early spring you won’t see them. When collecting stinging nettle always cover up any exposed skin, lest you enjoy the stinging pain this plant is name for.

FIND THEM : You can find nettles just about anywhere! In early spring, it will crop up alongside greenhouses and buildings where it’s warmest. Nettles generally appear in the same locations every year, so keep track when you do spot them. They where it’s moist — in thickets, disturbed areas and along riversides.

USE THEM : You can eat the leaves, stems and roots of a nettle plant, but make sure to blanch them first. Blanching wilts their sharp spines. Once blanched, use them like spinach or dry them and brew tea!


And remember, always be sure what you find is what you think it is! Take a guidebook, download an app or travel with someone who knows how to forage. Happy hunting!

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