Hiking is not only a wonderful way to connect with nature but also an opportunity to discover the hidden culinary treasures that Mother Earth has to offer. Edible plants and berries found along hiking trails can add a delicious and nutritious touch to your outdoor adventures. While foraging requires caution and knowledge, identifying safe and delectable wild edibles can enhance the hiking experience. In this article, we explore some of the commonly found edible plants and berries that you can pick and enjoy while hiking.
- Wild Strawberries (Fragaria vesca):
Hiking through meadows and forest edges, you might come across wild strawberries. These tiny ruby-red delights are not only sweet and juicy but also rich in vitamin C, manganese, and antioxidants. Look for low-growing plants with trifoliate leaves and small white flowers. Be sure to identify them correctly, as some wild berries can be toxic. When found, gently pluck the strawberries and savor them straight from the bush or add them to your trail mix. Although the leaves of this plant are deciduous, they stay green throughout winter, so viewers must pay close attention to tell if they are seeing “initial growth” or last year’s leaves. Little active development takes place in the early spring, when the snow is melting and before the grass turns green. When you notice strawberry leaves, they most likely date from the previous year. To be sure, check back the following week. You’ll probably notice strawberries greening up at the same time the grass begins to turn green. Look under the old leaves for new, fresh growth. On the data sheet, “initial growth” is described as leaves; flowers begin to emerge in May, and fruits start to appear in June.
- Blackberries (Rubus fruticosus):
Blackberry bushes are commonly found along hiking trails, often near moist areas. These dark purple, juicy berries are not only delicious but also packed with vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber. Look for shrubs with thorny stems and clusters of ripening berries. The ripe berries will easily detach from the plant with a gentle tug, indicating their readiness to be picked and enjoyed. If you’ve ever been on an off-road trek in the woods and come across wild blackberry bushes, you know how delightfully tasty the plump, darkly coloured berries are directly off the bush.
If they don’t naturally grow in your region, you may get the berries year-round from local grocery store’s produce or freezer section, or even at a farmers market in the spring and summer. Blackberries grow and mature from late spring to early fall, although the Canadian harvest season spans from July to August, starting sooner in Southern regions and later in the Northwest.
- Blueberries (Vaccinium spp.):
Blueberries are a hiking favorite, offering a burst of sweetness and antioxidants. These small, round, bluish-purple berries are often found in forests and open fields. The leaves of the blueberry bush are simple and elliptical, and the berries grow in clusters. Picking blueberries is a rewarding activity that allows you to connect with nature while enjoying their delightful flavor.
Lowbush and highbush are the two primary varieties in Canada. Lowbush blueberries are natural in certain areas of the province, although they are also sparingly cultivated. Highbush blueberries have a height of 6 to 8 feet and are simpler to pluck. They have been grown in this region of the world since 1976.Look for berries that are pretty solid, have a delicious aroma, and don’t have any mould or mildew.The tint of the blueberry must range from dark blue to nearly black. The fruit should be a uniform shade of blue without any purple or pink undertones. July to August is typically blueberry season, but that can vary based on the weather. When hunting for your perfect spot, look in high, sunny areas. Check barren areas, rocks and cliffs, trails and hills, and if you find some crunchy, dried out moss, there’s likely blueberries nearby.
- Raspberries (Rubus idaeus):
Raspberries are another hiking treat, known for their vibrant red hue and sweet-tart flavor. They grow on shrubs with thorny stems, and their distinctive appearance makes them easy to spot along the trail. These delectable berries are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, making them a nutritious and satisfying snack during your hike. In Canada, red raspberries are a mainstay of the summer. They originated in Europe and were brought to North America in the late 1700s. Today, they are thriving in both the wild and in yards. The berries mature and are available to pick starting in June in warm regions, and in July and August in cooler regions. The white blooms appear in mid to late spring or early summer.
5. Nettles (Urtica dioica):
Despite their stinging reputation, nettles are edible and highly nutritious. Young nettle leaves can be picked carefully, avoiding the stinging hairs, and blanched or sautéed like spinach. Nettles are rich in vitamins A, C, and K, as well as iron and calcium. The greatest time to eat nettles is in the spring when they are still fresh and sensitive. You can harvest them as soon as they reach 6 or 8 inches in height; they make a delightful and wholesome spring tonic. Then, in late April, you can harvest them once again. According to most publications, you should only pick the fragile tops. You chop them back, keeping 8 to 12 inch stems since I want to consume and dry part of them. You can trim the plants down again to 10- or 12-inches when doing final summer harvest. Simply cut off the blooming tops, which are typically between 12 and 15 inches below the last set of flowers. Although some people describe this third harvest of top leaves as coarse and hulking, You can eat them. They are not as sweet and soft green as the fresh, early spring leaves, but they are not particularly bitter or abrasive, so blend them with other foods.
6. Hawthorn (Crataegus)
Hawthorn, a tiny, Rosaceae (rose) family (Crataegus) deciduous tree or shrub. Hawthorns often feature thick thorns (modified branches) and spectacular clusters of fragrant, insect-pollinated white, pink, or occasionally crimson blooms. In the fall, the leaves turn vivid colours and are lobed or serrated. The fleshy, red fruit resembles an apple and includes one to five bony seeds. The north temperate zone is where most species are found. Hawthorns are widespread and come in numerous species in eastern Canada; they are less prevalent in the west. Native Canadians and early immigrants in Canada used the berries and utilized them medicinally; they also produced hawthorn wine. Hawthorns are decorative plants that are utilized as trees or hedges in landscaping.
7. Cornelian Cherry ( Cornus Mass)
The fruit of this plant is the only delectable edible dogwood in Canada. Commonly referred to as the Cornelian Cherry, its Latin name “cornus mass” indicates that it has dogwood roots. All of the cornus species (dogwoods) that Canadian nurseries are now selling are solely decorative choices made based on leaf colour, etc. Cornelian Cherry is native to Southern Europe but was introduced to Canadians in the 1800 and now many gardens, parks and some hiking trails will have this delicious fruit that can be eaten fresh, made to juice or even to marmalade.
8. Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis)
Sambucus canadensis, sometimes known as American elderberry, is a stunning natural shrub that thrives in the wild throughout Canada. Elderberries can be eaten, but you must use caution since unripe elderberries are hazardous. They have a somewhat harsh flavour when consumed uncooked and might cause stomach pain. But if you prepare them, they’re really tasty and completely secure! For elegant mimosas or pancake syrup, bake elderberries into pastries and pies, or take the traditional route and make jams and jellies out of them. Elderberry plant can be harvested even before the elderberries show up. You can harvest the flowers and you can make a delicious syrup. This juice type is very popular in Europe so next time you go to IKEA pick up one or two Fläder Dryck if you don’t find any elderberry flowers on your hike. This shrub usually begins to bloom in late May and June and it begins bearing fruit between mid-August and mid-September. A mature shrub can produce as much as 12″“15 pounds of fruit!
9. Wild Mint (Mentha arvensis)
This plant has a particular flavour and many people associate it with revitalizing refreshment on sweltering summer days. Wild mint leaves offer a crisp, fresh flavour to meals when cooked, and when crushed, emit a strong mint aroma. As you stroll along the fringes of riparian habitats or through damp lowlands, keep an eye out for this pungent-smelling shrub. Wild mint may be consumed and is a good foraging food for people. Menthol, the chemical that gives it its distinctive flavour and aroma, is an ingredient in numerous goods. Mint is a crucial source of food for pollinators since it may bloom all during the growing season. Natural remedies made from mint leaves may be used to cure everything from headaches to anxiety. The mint plant or its leaves form a lovely ground cover in gardens and may be used as a natural insecticide or air freshener.
10. Fiddleheads (Pteretis pensylvanica)
These delectable treats may be found in wet places near rivers and marshes. The tightly coiling, emerald-green fiddleheads of the ostrich fern are its young. When they are still tightly coiled and less than six inches high, gather them. Once unfolded, they are inedible. Use as a side vegetable or in salads. Only the ostrich fern’s furled fronds should be collected since other ferns could be poisonous. Keep a look out throughout the summer for a patch of plainly identifiable ostrich ferns, and keep the location in mind for spring to ensure diversity.
Safety and Ethical Foraging:
While foraging for wild edibles can be a delightful experience, it is essential to follow some guidelines to ensure your safety and protect the environment:
- Educate Yourself: Invest time in learning about edible plants and berries, as well as their toxic look-alikes. Using a field guide or consulting with an experienced forager can be helpful.
- Leave No Trace: Practice ethical foraging by only picking what you need and leaving the rest for wildlife and other foragers.
- Avoid Endangered Species: Refrain from picking rare or endangered plants to preserve biodiversity.
- Avoid Polluted Areas: Steer clear of foraging near roadsides, industrial areas, or places with potential contamination.
Foraging for edible plants and berries while hiking adds an exciting dimension to your outdoor experience. However, always prioritize safety and environmental stewardship. Proper identification, ethical practices, and respect for nature will enable you to savor the delicious gifts that the wilderness has to offer while preserving it for generations to come. So, the next time you hit the hiking trail, keep an eye out for these delightful and nutritious wild edibles that can make your journey even more memorable.