Ontario’s forests, meadows and waters provide an incredible range of nutritious and delicious edible wild plants. Ontario Nature has prepared this foraging guide as an introduction to this local resource, and to encourage people to get outside and experience the wonders the natural world provides.

The trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants and fungi listed in this guide are a sample of some of the abundant local species that can be harvested sustainably, though there are many other wild edibles to explore. The guide is intended to be a starting point for people interested in foraging for edible wild plants and should not be considered to be a definitive resource for their identification and use.


Basic Rules for Harvesting | Sustainable Harvesting | Caution | Disclaimer | Acknowledgments | Resources


Trees | Shrubs | Herbaceous Plants | Fungi


Basic Rules for Foraging

Raphael Moses with Mountain Ash Leaves
Raphael Moses with Mountain Ash Leaves

Harvesting edible wild plants can be a fun, educational and sustainable activity for all ages if it is done properly. Ontario Nature has identified some basic rules for harvesting wild plants to ensure the safety of participants and the sustainability of plants involved.

  • Be sure you know what you are harvesting, and eat only plants you can positively identify as edible. Learning about plants from a local expert, consulting books and taking courses or workshops are recommended (see the resources at the end of this guide).
  • Harvest plants in areas where you know the risk of contamination from industrial and other pollution is low.
  • Eat only a small quantity of any plant you have not eaten before and assess how it affects you before eating more.
  • Although foraging for edible plants is permitted on most public land in Ontario, obtain permission from the owner before collecting plants on private property. Another best practice is to obtain permission from the local First Nation community before harvesting on traditional territory.
  • Most importantly, take only what you can use and use what you take. Edible wild plants are a shared resource. Users of them must take responsibility for ensuring that they will continue to thrive year after year.

Sustainable Harvesting

Karen Stephenson discussing sarsaparilla
Karen Stephenson discussing sarsaparilla © Mallory Vanier

Improper harvesting techniques and overharvesting can have a significant negative impact on the ability of a species to reproduce. For example, wild American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) is endangered in Ontario mainly due to a long history of overharvesting. This practice can lead to the disappearance of a species from an area and the loss of a local food source, affecting both humans and other species. A general rule is to collect only 5 percent of any individual patch of a given species within a maximum of 25 percent of an area. Following this guideline helps ensure that the plants are able to reproduce. For plants that have a long life cycle and take many years to grow to maturity, sustainable harvesting entails picking even less.

Ideally, people will become exceptional stewards of Ontario’s natural areas. Sustainable harvesting methods relating to trees, shrubs, plants and fungi vary, so in some cases additional research may be required to ensure sustainability. The timing of harvesting is also important, as some parts of a plant (such as flowers or fruit) are not available year-round, while others (such as tree needles) are. Not taking more than is needed at one time is also important, as taking too much reduces available resources for other users and contributes to increased waste of these resources. Harvesting too much can also impact a species’ ability to grow and reproduce.

Practicing sustainable methods of harvesting the species listed in this guide is crucial to minimizing human impact on them and other species that rely on them. Such methods contribute to increased food security and independence, which are particularly important in communities where healthy foods are not always available or easy to obtain.


Foraging Caution

Dave St. Amand with Mushroom
Dave St. Amand

If you are uncertain about the identification of a species, before consuming it consult additional field guides and expert sources to confirm what it is. Experts suggest that if you have not eaten a plant before, try only a small sample of it; people’s responses to even known edible species may vary. When you use a plant for the first time, allergic reactions or other sensitivities may occur; if they do, consult a medical professional. Aboriginal peoples have traditional medicinal uses for some of the plants mentioned in this guide, and many of these uses have been included in the text. Consult a medical professional or expert Indigenous knowledge holder before using any plant for medicinal purposes.


Foraging Disclaimer

Ontario Nature Group photo

Ontario Nature takes no responsibility whatsoever for any adverse health effects due to the consumption or other use of any plant described in this guide. It is intended to provide general information only. Check with your healthcare provider before using wild plants to treat any medical condition. Before consuming any wild plants, you should be absolutely certain of their identification. Seek expert advice and use at least two reputable field guides to confirm the identification of a species. Be extremely cautious about look-alike and poisonous species.


Trees

Cedar (Thuja spp.)

Identification
  • Large conifer tree with rough, crumbly bark
  • Leaves scaly and very fragrant
Location
  • Moist areas in forests and swamps or near water
Harvesting Time
  • Year-round

Eastern white cedar leaves
Eastern white cedar © Dave Logan istock
Eastern white cedar
Eastern white cedar © Noah Cole
Uses and Related Information
  • Tea made from the leaves soothes the throat, and tea made from the bark and branches aids kidney function
  • Soaking in bath water containing cedar leaves can help soothe rashes, skin irritation and shingles
  • Cedar oil can be produced by putting the cedar buds/tips in a jar with olive oil and letting it sit, sealed, for 4-6 weeks. This oil can be used to treat warts and cold sores, as well as being a natural insect repellent
Cautions
  • Consume only a small quantity, because cedar leaves release small amounts of toxins

Jack Pine (Pinus banksiana)

Identification
  • Short needles in clusters of two that are not twisted together
  • Cones closed and tight to the branches
Location
  • Throughout boreal forest, but also in some open areas
Harvesting Time
  • Year-round
Jack pine needles and boughs
Jack pine © Allie KF CC BY-SA 2.0
Jack pine cone on a branch
Jack pine © FungusGuy CC BY-SA 2.0
Uses and Related Information
  • Needles can be used to prepare tea high in vitamin C (honey or cinnamon may be added to mask the bitter taste)
  • Raw pitch can be chewed to treat sore throats
  • Sap can be warmed and applied externally as a salve to relieve joint and muscle pain, swelling, bites, burns and irritations
Cautions
  • Do not eat this plant if you are pregnant (can cause miscarriage)

Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera)

Identification
  • Older bark white and papery, younger bark smooth
  • Triangular leaves with toothed margins
Location
  • Sunny, moist areas
Harvesting Time
  • Spring to fall
Paper birch tree
Paper birch © Dani CC BY-NC 2.0
White paper birch tree with lush green foliage.
Paper birch © Nikamata iStockphoto
Uses and Related Information
  • Sap can boiled to reduce it to a syrup, which has half the sugar of maple syrup and is more savoury (tastes similar to soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce) 
  • Inner bark can be added to soups and stews or dried and powdered to use as a flour
  • Catkins and leaves can be added raw to salads or cooked in vegetable side dishes
  • Tea can be made from the twigs and leaves
Cautions

  • Harvest the inner bark only from recently downed branches or small branches clipped from the main tree to minimize the impact on overall tree health and growth


Shrubs

Cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos and macrocarpon)

Red cranberries on branches
Cranberry © Per Verdonk CC-BY-NC 2.0
Identification
  • Mostly under 20 cm in height
  • Flowers pink, berries red/purple
Location
  • Wet areas and near bogs, ponds and lakes
Harvesting Time
  • September to November (best after first frost)
Uses and Related Information
  • Berries can be eaten raw or processed into jams or jellies, juices, sauces or teas
  • Berries can also be added to both sweet or savoury foods, such as pies, muffins, soups, stews or salads
  • The health benefits of cranberries are said to include reduced risk of the formation of kidney stones, and relief from bladder infections, cramps and nausea
  • Tannins in the cranberries are said to improve heart health and reduce both tooth decay and the formation of plaque on teeth
Cautions
  • Consume only in moderation to avoid possible irritation of stomach

Far away shot of red cranberries on branches
Cranberry © Oskar Gran CC-BY-SA-2.0


Common Red Raspberry (Rubus idaeus)

Red raspberries on branches
Common red raspberries © Mako CC-BY 2.0
Identification
  • Up to 2 m in height
  • Prickly spreading stems, becoming smoother with age
  • Alternate compound leaves on prickly stalks, usually with three to five leaflets per leaf
  • Flowers white/green
Location
  • Moist, temperate regions
Harvesting Time
  • Summer
Uses and Related Information
  • Berries can be eaten raw, made into jams, jellies, or juices or added to desserts
  • Young, peeled stems are edible in both raw or cooked preparations
  • Some people boil the leaves into a tea to treat diarrhea and cramps
Cautions

  • Do not consume wilted leaves, which can be toxic

Small red raspberries on branches surrounded by leaves
Common red raspberries © Mako CC-BY 2.0

Northern Bush-Honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera)

Green leaves of a northern bush-honeysuckle
Northern Bush-Honeysuckle
Identification
  • 1 m or less in height
  • Leaves usually oval but pointed at end (edges tend to curl inwards)
  • Flowers yellow for most of the season, turning orange by late summer
Location
  • Sunny to moderately shady wet or dry areas, edge habitat

Harvesting Time
  • June to July
Uses and Related Information
  • Infusions made from the bark and stems are said to flush toxins from the body and improve kidney health
  • This plant was used in traditional Aboriginal medicine, though this use is not common today
Close up shot of a northern bus-honeysuckle flower surrounded by green leaves.
Northern Bush-Honeysuckle © Homer Edward Price CC-BY-2

Prickly Rose (Rosa acicularis)

A prickly rose branch with red buds and small green leaves
Prickly Rose © Malcolm Manners CC-BY 2.0
Identification
  • Up to 1.5 m in height with prickly stems and branches
  • Red hips (fruit) usually 1 or 2 cm in length, flowers pink
Location
  • Open woods, thickets, rocky slopes
Harvesting Time
  • Spring to winter
Uses and Related Information
  • Raw petals can be added to salads, teas and jellies are said to soothe headaches, mouth sores and indigestion
  • Buds, young shoots and leaves can be eaten raw or sautéed with other vegetables
  • Rosehips are high in vitamins and nutrients and can be dried or boiled in teas, or preserved in jams or jellies (though this can be very time-consuming due to their small size and the large number required to make a medium sized batch of jam)
  • Three rosehips are said to contain the same amount of vitamin C as one orange
Cautions

  • Use only whole rosehips or their fleshy outside layer, as the seeds can cause intestinal discomfort

A prickly rose branch with a pink flower, red buds and small green leaves
Prickly Rose © Malcolm Manners Flickr

Willow (Salix spp.)

Close up of a branch with emerging willow cones
Willow © whatwhenwhere CC-BY-ND 2.0
Identification
  • Willow can exceed 10 m in height depending on species
  • Four buds completely encircling the stem
  • Flower shape, size and colour variable, depending on species
Location
  • Variable depending on species, but usually near moist areas or near water
Harvesting Time
  • Spring to summer (bark and catkins best in spring, leaves best in summer)
Uses and Related Information
  • Shoots are watery in taste and texture, and can be used similarly to cucumber
  • Catkins can be cooked with other vegetables or added to soups for a boost of vitamin C
  • Bark contains salicin (similar to Aspirin or acetylsalicylic acid) and can be chewed or made into a tea that is said to relieve pain, inflammation and digestive problems
  • Leaves and twigs can be boiled to make a rinse that is said to increase the shininess of hair and reduce dandruff
Cautions

  • Do not consume willow if you have a known sensitivity to Aspirin

Willow twigs on blue sky background
Willow © Alina MD iStockphoto

Herbaceous Plants

Bluebead Lily (Clintonia borealis)

Bluebead lily plant with long green leaves and small round blueberries
Bluebead lily © Peupleloup CC-BY-SA2.0
Identification
  • Up to 40 cm in height
  • Leaves large with parallel veins and smooth margins
  • Yellow-green flowers and blue berries on long stalks
Location
  • Forests with open understory
Harvesting Time
  • Spring

Uses and Related Information
  • Leaves can be eaten raw or cooked and taste similar to cucumber
  • A poultice made from the leaves can be used on wounds and bruises and is said to prevent infection and promote healing
Cautions

  • Do not eat the berries, which are toxic

Small blueberry flowers surrounded by large green leaves
Bluebead lily © Eleanor S Saulys

Burdock (Arctium spp.)

Burdock plant with pint blooming flower
Burdock © Ted CC-BY-SA 2.0
Identification
  • 0.5 to 1.5 m in height (on average, will vary by species)
  • Pink/purple flowers with large burrs
  • Heart-shaped hairy green leaves with soft white undersides
Location
  • Roadsides, disturbed areas
Harvesting Time
  • August to October
Uses and Related Information
  • Young leaves (picked in spring or early summer) can be added raw to salads, cooked in soups and stews, or boiled (one or two changes of water may be needed to reduce the bitter quality of the leaves)
  • Peeled roots can be boiled, stir-fried or pickled
  • Medicinal teas made from the leaves are thought to help purify the blood and improve liver and kidney function
Cautions

  • Do not consume if you are pregnant (can cause spotting or miscarriage) or diabetic (can affect blood sugar levels)

Green burdock leaves
Burdock ©iStockphoto

Cattail (Typha spp.)

cattails in front of a lake
Cattails © Dan Keck CC-BY 0.0
Identification
  • 1 to 3 m in height
  • Leaves long, slender and stiff
  • Flowers forming tight cylindrical clusters
Location
  • Marshes, lakes and streams with calm waters
Harvesting Time
  • Spring for flowers and pollen, fall to early spring for roots and shoots
Uses and Related Information
  • The core of tastes similar to cucumber and can be eaten raw, boiled sautéed or fried
  • When green, flower heads can be steamed or roasted once the stalk and papery outer layer are removed
  • The pollen can be collected by shaking the flower head into a bag then sifting the contents to separate the pollen, and can be used in both savoury and sweet recipes
Cautions
  • Ensure that you have correctly identified this plant before eating it, because young cattails may be mistaken for some members of the Iris family, which are poisonous.
  • Avoid cattails growing in stagnant water area due to their unappealing taste and uptake of contaminants.
  • Do not eat brown flower heads
Cattail leaves on the lake
Early cattail leaves
© Liz West CC-BY 2.0

Common Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Yellow dandelions with dark green leaves
Common dandelion © Toshiyuki IMAI CC-BY-SA 2.0
Identification
  • 5 to 45 cm in height, with a long taproot
  • Rubbery stem containing a milky white liquid
  • Bright yellow flower at the end of the stalk
Location
  • Disturbed areas, roadsides, lawns, gardens and meadows
Harvesting Time
  • May to August (flowers increasingly bitter later in the season)
Uses and Related Information
  • Leaves can be eaten fresh in salads, cooked in soups and stews, or dried and used to make tea (young leaves are preferable as older leaves become bitter)
  • When roasted in the oven for several hours, the roots develop a coffee/cocoa-like flavour and when ground are good for making tea or using in baking
  • Stems can be boiled and used as a substitute for pasta
  • Flowers can be added to salads
  • Dandelion is thought to reduce blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol
  • The leaves of dandelions grown in shady areas are less bitter than the leaves of plants grown in sunny areas
  • Drying or freezing of dandelion leaves best preserves them for later use
Cautions

  • Avoid eating dandelions from lawns or urban landscapes on which pesticides and pollutants may have been deposited

dandelion flower surrounded by dark green leaves
Dandelion flower
© Ginny Flicker

Common Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis)

Two yellow evening primrose flowers with green leaves
Evening primrose © Terry Howes CC-BY-SA-NC 2.0
Identification
  • 0.5 to 1.5 m in height with a hairy stem
  • Leaves slightly toothed at margins and attached directly to the stem
  • Leafy spike of large yellow flowers at the top of the plant
Location
  • Moderately dry, open sites, roadsides
Harvesting Time
  • June to August
Uses and Related Information
  • Roots, which are similar in taste and texture to parsnips, can be eaten raw or boiled for two hours (changing the water several times lessens the peppery flavour)
  • Cooked roots can be fried, pickled, roasted and served as a side dish, added to soups or stews and candied in syrup
  • Young leaves, flower buds and green pods can all be boiled like leafy greens (changing the water several times)
A bush filled with yellow prime roses
Evening primrose © Charles de Mille-Isles Flickr

Common Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)

Common mullein plants
Common mullein © Katja Schulz CC-BY 2.0
Identification
  • First year of growth produces soft woolly leaves similar to lamb’s ears
  • Second year of growth produces a flowering stalk up to 1.8 m in height with yellow flowers
Location
  • Dry, sunny disturbed areas such as roadsides, open fields and areas near railways
Harvesting Time
  • July to September
Uses and Related Information
  • Leaves and flowers can be used in salads or teas, though teas must be strained to remove seeds
  • Teas made with flowers and leaves are said to be useful in treating colds and diarrhea, while teas made with the stalks are said to be useful in treating cramps and fevers
  • Some people use the leaves in a poultice to treat ulcers and hemorrhoids
  • Mullein contains a variety of vitamins and nutrients essential for healthy growth and development
  • Campers know this plant as “cowboy’s toilet paper”, but when used as such it may irritate sensitive skin
Cautions

  • Before consuming tea made from mullein, strain out the seeds, as the seed hairs may irritate the throat

mullein with yellow flowers in field
Mullein © iStockphoto

Common Plantain (Plantago major)

Green common plantain leaves
Common plantain © Archivos de Planeta Agronómico CC-BY-SA 2.0
Identification
  • Up to 15 cm in height
  • Leaves egg-shaped with wavy margins and almost parallel veins
Location
  • Disturbed areas, clearings, roadsides, edge habitats
Harvesting Time
  • Summer to early fall
Uses and Related Information
  • Leaves can be eaten raw or in salads, steamed or sautéed, or tossed in oil and cooked in the oven (prepared like kale chips)
  • Some people use the leaves in a poultice to treat insect bites and stings
  • Some people make tea from the leaves which is said to soothe toothaches, coughs, sore throats and breathing problems
  • To preserve the taste, texture and nutritional properties of the leaves, plantain should be stored in a dark place
Green common plantain leaves
Common plantain © Epp CC-BY 2.0


Common Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

white common yarrow flowers over a blurry background of leaves
Common yarrow © Anne Tanne CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0
Identification
  • 10 to 80 cm in height
  • Leaves long and slender, similar in appearance to a fern
  • Flowers yellow, white or pink, forming in flat clusters
Location
  • Meadows, disturbed areas, roadsides, waste areas
Harvesting Time
  • June to September
Uses and Related Information
  • Leaves can be eaten raw or cooked, but young leaves are best in raw preparations like salad
  • Tea made from boiling the flowers is said to be useful in treating sore throats, colds and fevers
  • Some people use the leaves as a poultice to stop bleeding, as well as a natural band aid due to the plant’s antibacterial properties
  • Hang the plant to dry at room temperature, away from direct sunlight
Cautions

  • Do not consume this plant if you are pregnant

white common yarrow flowers over a blurry background of leaves
Common yarrow © Getty Images/Signature Collection/Victor Kitaykin

Field Horsetail (Equisetum arvense)

Horsetail plant
Horsetail © Manuel CC-BY 2.0
Identification
  • Two forms of growth: in spring, stiff branchless stem (10 to 20 cm in height); from summer to early fall, flexible, green, feather-like plant (10 to 80 cm in height)
  • Usually growing in large clusters
Location
  • Clearings, open areas, in conifer and mixed-wood forests, roadsides, and disturbed areas
Harvesting Time
  • Early summer
Uses and Related Information
  • Some people use the leaves and shoots to prepare tea which is said to be useful in treating kidney stones and inflammation; this tea can also be used as a hair rise for shinier hair
  • Shoots, which contain essential nutrients, can be cooked thoroughly with other vegetables
  • The whole plant can be used as a steel wool substitute when camping because of the high levels of silica in them stem and leaves
  • Outer layers are tough and fibrous and should be removed before use
  • Because horsetail contains high levels of silica, it is said to strengthen hair, nails and bones when consumed
Cautions
  • Do not consume horsetail growing in contaminated soil, because these plants can absorb toxins from it
  • Because horsetail contains silica, the kidneys cannot process large amounts of it, consume only small amounts of this plant
Horsetail plant
Horsetail © Alan Tobey iStockphoto.com

Goldenrod (Solidago spp.)

Yellow goldenrod plant over a blurry forest background
Goldenrod © Julie Falk CC-BY-SA 2.0
Identification
  • 30 to 150 cm in height, depending on species
  • Long slender leaves with sharply toothed margins
  • Long clusters of yellow flowers at the top of the plant
Location
  • Moist areas, forests, fields, roadsides, disturbed areas
Harvesting Time
  • July to September for flowers and leaves, fall or early spring for roots
Uses and Related Information
  • Flowers can be added to salads, and leaves can be cooked like spinach or added to soups, stews or casseroles
  • Some people boil the flowers and leaves to make a tea which is said to be useful in treating cold or flu symptoms, gas, cramps and headaches
  • Blanched leaves can be frozen and used at a later date
  • When eaten raw or cooked, goldenrod has a licorice-like flavour
  • Roots contain inulin, which is said to promote healthy stomach bacteria
Note

Many people believe they are allergic to insect-pollinated goldenrod, but usually it is ragweed (which is wind-pollinated) that causes their symptoms.

Blooming goldenrod plant on blue sky background
Goldenrod © Elenathewise/Essentials Collection/Getty Images

Lamb’s Quarters (Chenopodium album)

Closeup of green lamb's quarters plants
Lamb’s quarters © Daniel CC-BY-SA 2.0
Identification
  • Stems 30 cm to 1 m in height
  • Leaves variable in shape, with a white coating on the underside
  • Flowers forming long green clusters
Location
  • Gardens, disturbed areas, areas near agricultural activity
Harvesting Time
  • Summer
Uses and Related Information
  • Fresh young leaves are best and can be eaten raw or in salads or added to smoothies and soups or other cooked preparations
  • Leaves are similar in taste and preparation to spinach, with four times as much calcium and 50% more protein – six cups of raw leaves cook down to about a 1/2 cup
  • The plant produces small seeds in the late summer or fall, similar in appearance to quinoa (as the plants are relatives), which can be sprinkled on salads
Cautions
  • Because it contains some oxalic acid, consume only small amounts of this plant
  • Do not consume large amounts of seeds, due to the saponins they contain
Lambs quarters leaves
Lambs Quarters © iStockphoto.com

Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris)

large ostrich fern plant
Ostrich Fern © Anita Gould CC-BY-NC 2.0
Identification
  • Approximately 1 m in height
  • Two forms of fronds: long feather-like green fronds and short brown fronds
  • Bright green emerging fronds (fiddleheads) tightly coiled with a scaly brown paper-like covering and a U-shaped groove in celery like stem
Location
  • Moist areas, near water (streams, lakes), swamp edges, some open forests
Harvesting Time
  • Mid-spring
Uses and Related Information
  • A popular way to prepare fiddleheads is to boil them and then fry or sauteé with butter and seasoning
  • Cooked fiddleheads can be added to salads or soups and taste similar to asparagus
  • Fiddleheads should be collected when less than 15 cm in height and still tightly curled
  • They keep in the fridge for about two weeks or can be stored either dried or frozen
Cautions
  • Consume only cooked ostrich ferns, because raw preparations may cause stomach irritation
  • To ensure the plants survival take no more than half the fiddleheads on it
Young plant ostrich fern in the spring
Ostrich Fern © iStockphoto.com Vblinov

Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea)

Small white pearly everlasting flowers and green thin leaves
Pearly everlasting © Corry CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0
 Identification
  • 10 to 90 cm in height, covered in smooth white hairs
  • Leaves long, narrow and hairy on the undersides
  • Flowers small and white with yellow eyes, usually clustered at the top of the plant
Location
  • Sunny open areas, disturbed areas, edge habitat
Harvesting Time
  • July to September
Uses and Related Information
  • Some people use the leaves as a tea which is said to relieve sore throats, indigestion, nausea or diarrhea (younger leaves are more palatable than older leaves)
  • A poultice made from the leaves is said to relieve joint pain or arthritis
  • Aboriginal peoples smoked the dried leaves of this plant both to relieve headaches and breathing problems, and also used the leaves in traditional smudging ceremonies to promote health and wellness
Cautions

  • Use only the leaves in medicinal applications as they contain the beneficial nutritional and medicinal properties

A group of white pearly everlasting flowers
Pearly everlasting © Jay Sturner CC-BY 2.0

Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)

A single red clover flower surrounded by green leaves
Red Clover © Kim Starr CC-BY 2.0
Identification
  • 5 to 40 cm in height with hairy stems
  • Classic clover leaf with three leaflets
  • Light green V-shaped mark on each leaf
  • Flower round and pink
Location
  • Fields, pastures, roadsides, backyards
Harvesting Time
  • Late spring to fall
Uses and Related Information
  • Flowers can be eaten raw in salads, made into a detoxifying tea or lightly battered and deep-fried
  • Clover is said to relieve premenstrual syndrome symptoms, such as cramping and hot flashes, and is thought to reduce bad cholesterol and plaque that causes heart disease
  • The flowers can be dried and stored for later use
Cautions
  • Consume the flowers and leaves in moderation, because they may cause bloating
  • Do not consume clover if you are pregnant or nursing as it can affect the hormonal balance of the body/li>
A single red clover flower with green leaves
Red clover with leaves © Chushkin iStockphoto.com

Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)

A bunch of stinging nettles
Stinging nettle © Joan Simon CC-BY-SA 2.0
Identification
  • From to 1 m to 2 m in height and covered in stiff “guard hairs”
  • Flowers green, sometimes with a pinkish hue
Location
  • Disturbed areas, hillsides, stream banks, moist woodlands
Harvesting Time
  • Spring to early summer
Uses and Related Information
  • Leaves are very similar to spinach and can be boiled as a side dish, sautéed
  • with other vegetables or (like carrot or zucchini) chopped and added to muffins
  • and breads
  • Fibres from the stem can be made into twine for fishnets, snares and so on
  • Boiling the leaves (as if making a tea) creates a rinse that improves the shininess of hair
  • Cooking, crushing, drying and soaking the plant eliminates the stinging hairs, making the leaves safe to eat
  • The health benefits of the plant are said to include relief from muscle and joint pain, as well as cleansing of the kidneys and liver
Cautions
  • Wear thick gloves when harvesting this plant – the hairs on it can pierce through latex gloves and inject chemicals that cause skin to burn and itch
  • Do not consume this plant if you are pregnant (stimulates the uterus and can cause miscarriage) or diabetic (affects blood sugar levels)
Close up of stinging nettles under sunshine
Stinging nettle © davidmartyn
/Essentials Collection/Getty Images

Wild Mint (Mentha spp.)

Wild mint branches with green leaves
Wild mint © Noah Cole
Identification
  • 15 to 75 cm in height
  • Square stem with opposite toothed leaves ending in sharp point
  • Strong peppermint smell
Location
  • Low-lying areas, near marshes or swamps, near beaver dams
Harvesting Time
  • Steeping a small handful of leaves and stems for 15 minutes creates a delicious tea that is said to be useful in treating menstrual cramps
  • Dried, ground mint can be added to a variety of sweet and savoury dishes such as cakes, scones, pastas, pestos and so on
Cautions
  • Do not use the plant if it is covered in white mold (typically in fall)
Close up of a wild mint plant
Wild mint © Ontario nature


Wild Sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis)

Wild sarsaparilla leaves
Wild sarsaparilla © Dendroica Cerulea CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0
Identification
  • Up to 50 cm in height
  • Leaves pointed at the tip and compound, with three to five leaflets per leaf
  • Flowers small and green or white
Location
  • Moist areas, uplands, usually mature forest stands, often near oak trees
Harvesting Time
  • Late summer through fall
Uses and Related Information
  • Roots can be prepared and cooked like potatoes, or boiled down to make a tea with a mild bite
  • Some people use the roots as poultices for skin problems and tinctures for stomach and joint pain
  • Sarsaparilla roots are a traditional ingredient in root beer
Cautions
  • Do not consume the berries, which have an unpleasant taste and may cause illness
  • Do not confuse sarsaparilla with poison ivy, which has similarly shaped leaves; the stem of poison ivy is non-woody unlike the stem of sarsaparilla
Wild sarsaparilla leaves
Wild sarsaparilla © Dendroica Cerulea CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0

Woodland Strawberry (Fragaria vesca)

Small woodland strawberries on branches with big green leaves
Wild strawberry © Anne Tanne CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0
Identification
  • 7.5 to 15 cm in height
  • Trailing plant with dark green leaves in groups of three
  • Flowers small and white with five petals; bloom in spring
Location
  • Trails, roadsides, meadows, forest edges, clearings
Harvesting Time
  • Late spring to early summer
Uses and Related Information
  • The fruit, which ripens in June, can be made into jam, but doing so is highly labour intensive due to their small size and the large number required to make a medium sized batch of jam
  • Leaves are high in vitamin C and can be used to make a subtly flavoured tea
Cautions

  • Do not consume wilted leaves, which may be toxic

Close up picture of wild strawberries
Wild Strawberry ©iStockphoto.com_Mantonature

Fungi

Chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius)

Two yellow chanterelle  mushrooms surrounded by branches and grass
Chanterelle © Sandra Cohen CC-BY-2.0
Identification
  • Caps 2 to 5 cm in diameter
  • Cap edge wavy (instead of smooth and flat)
  • Caps and gills (long, thin tissues found under the cap) yellow to dark yellow in colour, stalk generally paler
Location
  • Moist, shaded areas, near hardwoods
Harvesting Time
  • Spring to summer
Uses and Related Information
  • Chanterelles can be added to any dish in which mushrooms are used
  • Drying chanterelles makes them tough and chewy, fresh or frozen preparations are recommended
  • These mushrooms keep best if boiled in salt water and then frozen
Cautions

  • Do not confuse the chanterelle with the false chanterelle (Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca), which has a significantly skinnier stalk and is orange rather than yellow

Two yellow chanterelles surrounded by dark green leaves
Chanterelle © Stefan Holm iStockphoto

Lobster Mushroom (Hypomyces lactifluorum)

Yellow lobster mushroom surrounded by foliage
Lobster mushroom © Terry Howes CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0
Identification
  • Cap size around 5 to 12 cm, though this is based on the original mushroom parasitized
  • Bright orange mushroom with firm cap and stem
  • Irregular or semi-deformed appearance
  • Lobster mushrooms result from a relationship between Lactarius mushrooms and a parasite; this parasite turns the mushrooms bright orange and affects the shape and growth
Location
  • Wooded areas
Harvesting Time
  • Midsummer
Uses and Related Information
  • Lobster mushrooms can be sliced and pan-fried in butter, and pair well with soy sauce or other Asian sauces
  • They should be firm and white inside, not grey, soft or spotted
  • Part of the mushroom cap may need to be removed to get rid of all dirt
  • They can be dried and stored
Lobster mushroom surrounded by foliage
Lobster Mushroom © Ontario Nature

Morel (Morchella spp.)

Morel surrounded by small green leaves
Morel © George P Macklin CC-BY-SA 2.0
Identification
  • Heads are long (conical or ellipsoid in shape) with a series of ridges and pitted chambers
  • Hollow inside from tip of cap to bottom of stalk
Location
  • Forests, open meadows and highly disturbed (burned or grazed) landscapes
Harvesting Time
  • Spring
Uses and Related Information
  • Morels, which have a meaty flavour even when they have been dried, make great stuffed mushrooms and pair well with butter or light cream sauces
  • Dried morels can be stored for a relative long amount of time and should be rehydrated in hot water before use
Cautions
  • Do not confuse the morel with the false morel, which is poisonous; always confirm identification by consulting guides, images and experts
  • Do not eat raw morels
  • Cook morels very thoroughly, to avoid any stomach pain or discomfort
Morel surrounded by small green leaves
Morel © Jello5700/Signature Collection/Getty Images

Foraging Acknowledgements

Wild chives

Ontario Nature would like to acknowledge all of the experts consulted during the preparation of this guide. They are listed at the back of the guide, along with other resources. Additionally, the guide includes Indigenous knowledge about using and preparing plants, and Ontario Nature acknowledges the sharing and inclusion of this knowledge.

Forest Foraging Guide Resources

bowl of blueberries

Experts Consulted

  • Gammond, Pete: Wild food enthusiast, who focuses on edible and practical applications of plants
  • Moses, Raphael: Traditional elder in northwestern Ontario, who focuses on traditional uses of plants (both medicinal and edible) by Indigenous people
  • Reeves, Laura: Botanist/wild food enthusiast, who focuses on increasing public knowledge of and respect for the beauty, diversity and usefulness of wild plants
  • St. Amand, Dave: Local mushroom expert, who focuses on edible wild mushroomsStephenson, Karen: Owner of ediblewildfood.com, who focuses on nutritional aspects of plants, as well as both medicinal and edible applications
  • Stephenson, Karen: Owner of ediblewildfood.com, who focuses on nutritional aspects of plants, as well as both medicinal and edible applications

Publications

  • Barron, G. 1999. Mushrooms of Ontario and Eastern Canada. Lone Pine Publishing. Edmonton, Alberta.
  • Boulet, A. et al. 2014. Beyond the Fields: The value of forest and freshwater foods in northern Ontario. Ontario Nature.
  • Evergreen. 2014. Can Plan.can-plant.ca.
  • Freedman, L. 1991. Wild about Mushrooms: The Mycological Society of San Francisco cookbook. Addison-Wesley. mssf.org/cookbook.
  • Gibson, W.H. 1895. Our Edible Toadstools and Mushrooms and How to Distinguish Them. Library of Alexandria Publishing. Ithaca, New York.
  • Gray, B. 2011. The Boreal Herbal: Wild food and medicine plants of the north (A guide to harvesting, preserving and preparing). Aroma Borealis Press. Whitehorse, Yukon.
  • Legasy, K., S. Labelle-Beadman and B. Chambers. 1995. Forest Plants of Northeastern Ontario. Lone Pine Publishing. Edmonton, Alberta.
  • Lincoff, G. 2011. The Complete Mushroom Hunter: An illustrated guide to finding, harvesting and enjoying wild mushrooms. Quarry Books. Beverly, Massachusetts.
  • MacKinnon, A., L. Kershaw, J.T. Arnason, P. Owen, A. Karst and F. Hamersley Chambers. 2009. Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada. Lone Pine Publishing. Edmonton, Alberta.
  • Minnesota Forest Stewardship Program et al. Balsam Bough – Careful Harvest Fact Sheet. U.S. Forest Service. files.dnr.state.mn.us/forestry/um/carefulharvest_brochure.pdf.
  • Reeves, L. 2011. Laura’s Guide to Useful Plants: From acorns to zoom sticks. Laura Reeves. Manitoba.
  • Stephenson, K. 2012. Fields of Nutrition. Ontario.