May 9, 2023 9:20 am

Wild food foraging is a fast-growing hobby and lifestyle here in Nova Scotia and throughout N. America. Foragers are driven by a desire to connect with nature’s offerings, to cultivate self-sufficiency, to reduce food costs and to supplement their diets with nutrient dense and natural foods. Some hard-core -foragers I know consume a diet of 80-100% wild food, including plants, berries and other fruits, mushrooms, seaweeds, fish, foul and game.

Before agricultural practices and food storage technologies shaped our modern food culture, our ancestors relied on wild foods for their survival; there was no choice but to tune into the seasons and seek out what nature provided. Foraging for food and medicine is deeply embedded in the traditional practices of the Mi’kmaq.

My grandmother grew up in extreme poverty in Pictou Co., Nova Scotia; wild food comprised the bulk of her family’s diet, out of necessity. This was also the case for many living on the eastern shore, including during my upbringing in the 70s and 80s.

Foraging for food is fun and exciting; discovering the abundance of local wild food is an eye opener, sparking a deeper appreciation for nature and the diversity of plants in our region, and in our own back yards.

As a herbalist, I am focused primarily on finding medicinal plants in the wild; however, there is a cross-over between food and medicine, about a third of the medicines I forage are also edible. I have encountered at least 250 wild edible and medicinal plants in Nova Scotia. 

May brings an abundance of edible wild greens to our landscapes. They are tender when young and rich in minerals, fibre and flavour. They can be eaten raw in salads or added to soups, sandwiches and omelettes. The following are the greens currently growing in my yard, usually referred to as weeds, that I include in my wild salads:

  • Dandelion
  • Plantain
  • Ground ivy
  • Sorrel
  • Blueberry leaves
  • Tansy
  • Various seaweeds

Later in the month I’ll be seeking out a Nova Scotian favourite – fiddle heads, new spruce and fir tips, and the young stems of Japanese knotweed are ready for harvest over the coming weeks, while they are below knee high and before the leaves develop. 

My three main tips for new foragers are 1) make a positive identification before consuming anything wild 2) avoid contaminated areas such as roadsides and where herbicides and pesticides have been used 3) respect the land by only harvesting what is needed, not taking more than 1/3 from any given plant patch.

The easiest place to start is in your own yard, I bet you’ve got dandelions popping up everywhere. A great book on the subject is called Eating Wild in Eastern Canada: A Guide to Foraging the Forests, Fields, and Shorelines, by Jamie Simpson