Spring Foraging

By Raeanne O’Meara

The first rainfall of the season graced us with its presence over the weekend, causing spring to have really “sprung” up on us. That rain has brought about a flush of green grass, but nighttime temperatures have kept other growth dormant and at bay for the moment. It’s weather like this that gets a person itching to be outside; while it may be a tad early here for the major foraging events of the season that are just around the corner, like fiddleheads, morels and fireweed shoots, there are still plenty of forest goods to find.

One that inevitably seems to pass in the blink of an eye is dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) root. The flowers arrive quickly and the root is best harvested in the springtime before this happens. Despite its reputation for being a weed, dandelion has many uses – the root can be prepared for food use like other root vegetables or roasted and ground up into a coffee like drink. NOTE: Folks with a sensitivity to the Asteraceae family should be cautious and/or avoid consuming dandelion.



If you don’t mind getting your hands sticky, this is the perfect time of year to harvest the buds of balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera). This is another one of those blink-and-you’ll-miss-it type windows of opportunity for picking, unless you try in different areas where the trees may not be as far along as others. One of the most popular uses for the buds is to make balm of Gilead, which you can do by placing the harvested buds in a mason jar, adding in just enough oil to cover them and allowing them to infuse for at least several weeks. Covering the jar with cheesecloth lets some of the moisture release. Before using on yourself, be sure to do a spot test in a small area as people can be allergic to the sap.



With a plethora of different species of willow (Salix sp.) occurring throughout the province, this is a prolific plant to harvest from. Spring, when the sap starts to run, is the optimum time to harvest the inner bark for use. The inner bark is said to have both analgesic and antiseptic properties and can be used in a multitude of ways. For those outdoorsmen and women who are also gardeners, water that has had willows shoots soaking in it for several days is said to help your plants grow solid roots.


Before heading out: Having a good plant identification book on hand with you is a good practice to get into the habit of, and even better is if you can find a mentor who is familiar with the different plant species that grow in your region. Implementing ethical harvesting practices, such as taking only a small amount of material from each plant, is a critical part of being a good steward of the land. Be aware of environmental pollutants that may have impacted plant material and, as always, use caution when consuming something for the first time or before using it on your body.

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