This article was written and compiled in 2002 and distributed as a marketing tool for BarK throughout Muskoka at trade shows, markets, workshops, and seminars. Updated and printed in 2005 for the Edible Algonquin Summer Workshop series.*
We all know the joys of harvesting wild fruit such as Strawberries, Raspberries, Blueberries, Cranberries or Crab Apples. There are also many well-known wild vegetables like the Wild Leek and ‘Wild’ Asparagus along with a wide array of nuts and seeds. By learning the virtues of the lesser-known edibles found throughout Central Ontario, we may become encouraged to invite more indigenous and naturalized plants into our lives.
Perhaps with this new dimension of understanding, our native plants and our variety of ‘weeds’ will seem more acceptable or attractive to us and be allowed to remain in our yards.
Their presence in our ecosystems increases botanical diversity. Diversity means more options. It opens new doors of taste exploration and nutritional alternatives for us, as well as the surrounding natural community.
The following pages include recipes that utilize some of these lesser-known plant species that can be found throughout this great garden that we call Muskoka, Haliburton, and Parry-Sound.
As we live in this enormously productive system, we need to respect both the power and fragility of its components. Remember when harvesting:
- to be absolutely certain of your I.D. skills.
- Always leave enough behind to regenerate for the wildlife that appreciates this bounty as much as you, your family and your friends. Most importantly,
- wild foods should only be consumed in moderation and with great respect for their energy and strength. Take care, and enjoy!
HABITAT: Thrives under open conifer stands where the sun penetrates the forest floor. Best used to create a blend from forest edge into lawn, pathway or any other open space. Ideal for under pines.
Berries are produced in late summer. Delicate in flavor, this fruit is an excellent reason to stop and eat when on a hike or enjoying a sunny day in the yard. Seeds can be swallowed whole. Planting the creeping member of the Dogwood family along a pine-fringed edge of the yard give you a great reason not to mow the outskirts of the lawn (if grass grew there in the first place) and will encourage songbirds to feast right in front of you!
With new pesticide by-laws popping up like dandelions in communities across Canada we may as well re-learn the new/ old ways to deal with these ‘weeds’. High in vitamin A, and also packing iron and folic acid, dandelions provide a plethora of healthful foods that have been forgotten and eventually lost throughout the chemical revolution of the mid 20th century. So let us raise our mugs of dandelion coffee and make a toast: Here’s to improved health! For your yard, garden and body!
Like lettuce, tomatoes and asparagus, in fact, like all of our fruits and vegetables, dandelion greens are best when gathered at just the right stage. It must be done before a flower forms in the crown of the plant. As soon as the plant starts sending up bloom stalks, the dandelion season is over as far as the vegetable portions are concerned.
The first harvest should occur long before the last frost of spring when there is a “slightly reddish tangle” of leaves poking out through the grass. Use a narrow shovel or spade to pry out the plant, roots and all. Voila! Weedin’ and eatin’!
Dandelion greens harvested from grass that have been allowed to grow longer, or from edge habitats or fencerows, taste better than those found in a frequently mowed lawn.
The roots of the dandelion can be peeled like a potato or carrot, thinly sliced crosswise, and then boiled in two waters (dumping the first water once boiling, then adding more boiling water and continue to boil until tender) with a pinch of soda added to the first water. Garnish accordingly.
Dandelion roots can also be slow roasted at 120oC (250oF) for 4 hours or until the roots snap drily and appear dark brown in the centre. Grind or fracture and store.
Then you can Steep 1 palm-full of grounds to every cup of water for a tea or coffee substitute adding milk or sugar as you wish. Roots for this purpose can be gathered any time of the year; however they will be most potent before any energy is put into greening up or flower production.
Between the roots and the greens of the dandelion plant are the dandelion crowns. Remove the root in a way that allows the crown to stay in one piece and remove the greens where they begin to, well, green. These make a fine nibble cooked (boiled for 5 minutes, drain and season) or raw.
Dandelion flower buds can be harvested before they open and can be fried until they start to pop and jump in the pan. These can be added to eggs for a wonderful omelet.
(Hemercallis fulva or H. flava)
HABITAT: Plant in full sun for best flower production.
Gather unopened flower buds. When eaten raw, they impart a slight aftertaste, like a very mild onion.
You may also boil a few minutes, butter, season, and serve.
Unopened flower buds may also be dipped into a rich egg batter and flash-fried in very hot fat until golden brown.
Unopened flower buds or wilted day-after flowers can be added to soups or stews during the last few minutes of cooking. They will create a gumbo-like consistency similar to okra. Both can be used fresh, or can be dried in a warm place for about a week and then stored for future use. The buds will require more drying time than the wilts, perhaps they could be sliced in half. Dry and store the buds and expired flowers separately.
Hemerocallis tubers are also edible. Clean bulbous sections of the rootstock from the rhizomes and root hairs. Wash and boil in salted water for about 15 minutes. Older tubers are soft and inedible. When dug in spring there will be many young tubers fresh and white. These can be eaten raw.
HABITAT: Edge habitat particularly wetland edge. Full sun without full exposure to the elements. Prefers moist soils by ditches, the water’s edge, or beneath roof runoff.
Note: There aren’t enough large colonies of Sambucus Canadensis in Muskoka to support commercial human use, the berries are best left for the wildlife who need them, so it is best to purchase and grow your own colonies before you use them for yourself. Identification can be assured this way too.
The stems, roots, leaves and unripe berries will cause stomach upset. Not recommended for people with known food allergies.
* UPDATE Not recommended for use against COVID-19 as the immune response from this plant medicine is in fact triggered from slight inflammation and COVID thrives within inflamed human bodies.
ELDERBERRY SYRUP FOR IMMUNITY BOOSTING
Use Sambucus Canadensis only (Canada Elderberry) not Red, Black, Narrow or Blue Elder.
- 2 cups of Canada Elderberries (Sambucus canadensis)
- 1 cup of rosehips
- 1/2 cup Echinacea purpurea root chunked
- 1/4 cup Chicory root chunked
- 1/4 cup chunked and bruised ginger root
- 1 Cinnamon stick
- 5 whole cloves
- Zest of 1/2 a lemon
- 1/4 cup of honey
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
- Add 5 cups of water (or unsweetened sumac-ade) to the fruit and roots (See below for sumac-ade directions)
- Heat to a simmer and continue gently for 10 minutes, mashing the fruit, roots and spices, and simmer for 10 minutes more.
- Pour the contents of the saucepan through a ‘jelly bag’ made of several layers of cheesecloth, twist up the mash once the liquid has strained into the container, and squeeze out the remaining juice. You can place a plate with a rock press on the bag and allow to strain further for an hour or two and add that to the batch before dividing into jars.
- Add the honey to the warm liquid while it is still hot so it dissolves.
- Add another cup of sumac-ade and pour into mason jars for storage in the refrigerator.
You can make a canning bath for this recipe by speeding the final mash squish step, but it is best fresh anyhow.
Use Sambucus Canadensis only (Canada Elderberry) not Red, Black, Narrow or Blue Elder. Canada elderberries flower in late July and ripen to a deep purple in late August early September. This recipe works best if mixed with other fruit that have more acidic juice and higher pectin content than the elderberry.
- Crab apples (for pectin)
- Place crab apples whole into a kettle and cover with water.
- Boil until tender (20 min) than strain off juice. This will be very watery.
- Put aside
- Elderberries (and other fruits of choice)
- Add 1 cup of water (or sumac-ade) to each quart of fruit.
- Simmer gently for 10 minutes, mash the fruit, and simmer for 10 minutes more.
- Pour into jelly bag made of several layers of cheesecloth and squeeze out the juice.
To make the jelly, blend 3 cups of the elderberry mix with 3 cups of the crab apple juice. Choose your alternate juice (in this case crabapple) for your taste. As long as you use AT LEAST 50% PECTIN-RICH JUICE.
Add 6 cups of sugar and boil until the jelly test tells you it will jell when cooled in the glasses.
JELLY TEST (WORKS FOR ALL OF THE JELLY RECIPES FOUND HERE):
After mixture has reached a hard boil take up a small amount with the stirring spoon, wave over the kettle until the juice cools slightly, pour back into the pot. If it runs off like water it is far from done. If it drips off in two places it is approaching the jelly point. When the last two drops run together, sheet off the spoon, and seem to break at the edge of the spoon when they drop, remove immediately. Best stored in sterilized half-pint jars with two-piece lids.
WILDER ELDERBERRY JELLY
For a true wild jelly you could try using 50% elderberry juice and 50% sumac-ade (Rhus typhina) creating a jelly lighter in colour and tarter in taste. But then you would have to add 1 packet of pectin to 2 cups of elderberry juice and 2 cups of sumac juice rather than the 3 cups of each required in the previous recipe.
Bring to a boil then add 5 cups of sugar. Again, bring to a hard boil. Allow to roll for 1 minute. Remove from heat, skim it, pour into sterilized jars and seal immediately.
HIGH BUSH CRANBERRY
HABITAT: Full sun to part shade locations. Found along stream banks, wet thickets, moist woodlands and fencerows. Does not like to bake in hot full day sun.
Highbush Cranberry Jelly
If berries are gathered after frost, pectin may not be required in this recipe. Easiest if large seeds are removed from pulp before beginning the process. When cooking, add lemon or orange peel shavings to eliminate any bad odor the berries may produce.
Cover several quarts of berries with water in a kettle. Add outer peels of 2 lemons or oranges. Bring to a boil and simmer 5 minutes. Mash thoroughly and simmer another minute or two. Force the juice and pulp through a coarse strainer to remove any missed seeds and citrus peel.
Add 1 package of pectin to 4 cups of strained fruit. Bring to a boil then add 5 cups of sugar. Boil again for 1 minute and seal in sterile jars or refrigerate.
WILD RIVERBANK OR FROST GRAPE
HABITAT: Full sun locations, usually edge habitats: fencerows, trailside, roadside or open forest. Can become invasive in southern Ontario if left to naturalize; climbing trees upwards of 5 meters to gain more sunlight for fruit production. Vines easily controlled with regular maintenance. Can be a fantastic privacy buffer when allowed to climb an arbola, or when trained to an espalier. Prefers moist, sedimentary soils.
Gather grape leaves in June, when they are full-sized yet still tender. They can be preserved with salt for use at other times of the year. To preserve the leaves, lay each grape leaf flat in a covered dish and sprinkle each leaf liberally with salt. Continue until the jar is full, then cover and keep in a cool place. To use, wash gently several times in fresh water and use as fresh leaves for rolling or other purposes.
The fruit becomes fully ripe September and October. True to its name, the Frost Grape is sweetest after first frost.
Stuffed Wild Grape Leaves
1 Cup rice to 2 Cups cold water together in a saucepan with a dash of salt and oil.
Bring to a boil then turn heat to low and cook until the water is absorbed (15-40min depending on rice type).
Mix partially cooked rice with ½ pound ground meat and add 1 package of spaghetti sauce mix or 1 can of sauce.
Place 1 tablespoon of the meat-rice mixture on each grape leaf and roll from the base toward the point, carefully tuck in the ends. Steam for 1 hour in a covered kettle then serve hot.
HABITAT: Full sun. Will do well in any soil on the drier side. Will block your view (grows upwards of 8 feet tall).
You will only need a few yards (1 yard = 9ft2) of rootstock to produce enough Helianthus for many years. Once you plant this species, you may not be able to rid yourself of it. Give it lots of room in the garden or its own solitary patch of ground. Forage in the fall. Do not dig until after frost. The nutrition will have sunk back to the roots by this time. They have as much food value as the potato but most of the starch is in the form of inulin, making this tuber valuable for those who require a low-starch diet.
Use in place of potatoes in any recipe, however do not expect potato texture. These tubers are more like turnips. They will not become crisp when fried.
Jerusalem Artichoke Casserole
4 Cups boiled and mashed Jerusalem artichoke tubers.
2 Cups of fine bread crumbs
½ Cup melted butter
2 beaten eggs
Black pepper to taste
Combine and pack into a casserole dish. Bake covered for 30 minutes in a medium oven (325-350oF). Uncover for the last 10 minutes to brown the top and serve hot. Sprinkle grated cheddar cheese, parsley and breadcrumbs over the top when out of oven to uncover.
HABITAT: Deciduous woods on south-facing slopes (sunny and warm in the spring). Prefers loamy, rich soils.
This species emerges and unfolds its parasol during the full sun of spring when deciduous trees have not yet begun to leaf out. Later, the dappled shade of the forest is ideal for the remainder of the summer until the fruit are ripe and the umbrella-like leaves die back to prepare for the winter. Thrives where one would find White Trillium and Wild Leek. WARNING: All parts of the Mayapple other than the RIPE fruit are toxic. Juice from the leaves and roots may cause dermatitis in some.
The fruit are ripe when they are yellow and the leaves of the plant begin to yellow for dormancy. The fruit should practically fall into your hand (if they haven’t already fallen into the mouth of a chipmunk). REMEMBER TO REMOVE THE SEEDS BEFORE PROCESSING.
- Early autumn brings the ripening of the May Apple. Gather ½ gallon of RIPE Mayapples.
- Remove the stem and blossom ends.
- Cut into quarters, REMOVE THE SEEDS, and place in a suitably sized kettle.
- Add 1 Cup of water and simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep pulp from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
- When the fruit is soft enough to mash easily, push it through a colander to remove the skins and any missed seeds.
- To 4 Cups of this pulp, add 1 package of commercial pectin and bring to a boil.
- Once boiling, add 5 cups of sugar.
- Stir constantly while it raises to a hard boil and maintain for one minute.
- Skim off foam and pour immediately into sterilized half-pint jars and seal.
This fruit has been adored for centuries and is considered a delicacy. If harvested and processed appropriately it is perfectly safe and enjoyable.
Another common lawn weed that can be easily prepared as a spinach substitute! Gather the youngest, unblemished leaves. Add to a pot, cover with water and boil for 15 minutes. Drain, garnish and serve! Can also be eaten raw, added to a domestic or wild salad.
Plantain seeds can be winnowed, slow roasted, ground and added to butter as a fine peanut butter substitute.
(Swamp, Bristly, Smooth & the cultivated Rugosa)(Rosa palustris, R. acicularis, R. blanda & R. rugosa)
HABITAT: Full sun, well-drained soil (swamp rose prefers ditches or swales). Will even do well in hot, dry sandy habitat where other plants would sizzle, but the bush shape and hips will tend to dwarf under these conditions.
Wild rose petals perfume your mouth when picked and eaten fresh. When added to tea, you can be assured that your guests will never forget the occasion. They can be added to ice cubes for refreshments to bring memories of summer in the dead of winter. The cheery splash of rose petals in a salad will brighten any setting.
Rose Petal Jam
2 Cups sugar
½ Cup water
2 Cups fresh rose petals
1TBSP lemon juice
1 TBSP orange juice
Dissolve sugar in water and add remaining ingredients. Place in a pan over LOW heat. Stir constantly of ½ hour or until sugar has dissolved. Cool, pour into clean class jars and store.
Wild rose hips can be eaten raw or dried. They are very high in vitamin C. To prepare, remove stems and bract ends as well as the bristly seeds. At this stage they can be jellied or dried.
Rose Hip Jelly
2 Cups juice
3 ½ Cups sugar
¼ Cup lemon juice
1 pouch liquid fruit pectin
To 4 cups of prepared rose hips add 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil and simmer for ½ hour, covered. Strain. Measure 2 cups of juice into a large saucepan. Add extra water to make 2 cups. Add lemon juice. Add sugar to juice in saucepan; mix well. Place over high heat and bring to a boil stirring constantly. Stir in pectin immediately. Bring to a full roll, then boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim off foam with a metal spoon. Pour quickly into warm sterile jars, filling up to ¼ inch from rim. Seal while hot with sterile lids with new centers.
HABITAT: Prefers sandy, well-drained soils in full sun. Will eventually grow into thickets unsurpassed by most shrubs. Sumac colonies are appreciated by all forms of wildlife and bring gorgeous colour change to the landscape throughout every season!
Collect the red, fuzzy berry clusters when they are deep red and ripe before heavy rains wash away the acidity. Place the heads in cold water and lightly bruise between hands. Allow to soak for 10-15 minutes then remove the flower heads. Strain the remaining liquid through a cheesecloth filter to remove the acidic hairs. Sweeten to taste.
Stalking the Wild Asparagus by Euell Gibbons. 1976.
Tom Brown Jr’s Guide to Wild Edibles & Medicinal Plants by Tom Brown Jr. 1986.
Foxfire 2, edited by Eliot Wigginton. 1973.
Harrowsmith Magazine. Issues through 1978-1989.
Through conversation and correspondence with elders et al. following presentations to the many Horticulture Societies in Ontario District 18: Muskoka/ Parry-Sound, workshops and seminars.
Compiled by Rebecca Krawczyk, 2002. The above recipes are guidelines for educational and landscaping purposes only. Responsibility for collection, preparation and consumption of the aforementioned ingredients falls solely upon those collecting, preparing and consuming.
BarK Ecologic Gardens & Nursery will not be held responsible for any injury that may occur while utilizing this literature as a guideline.
May the forest be with you.
*Botanigal no longer gives large public seminars about wild edibles due to the risk of over-harvesting by humans, which can degrade existing wild forage populations for wildlife.
Private tours on privately owned property are available upon request.