For wild edibles, look to the trees
To recognize the bounty of wild food resources in Manitoba, look to the trees.
While Delta Marsh hosts a wide variety of edible plants, the Jack pine stands in dry, sandy lands of southeastern Manitoba offer different foods. But the richest sources of wild edibles are in the Aspen parklands and prairies throughout the province’s agricultural zone.
- Manitoba forests and eco-regions (Mb Forestry Branch)
There are about 13,500 privately owned woodlots and family forests in Manitoba, covering 2.4-million acres, mostly in the Aspen parklands and prairie regions. The owners of these wooded lands—many of them farmers—have immediate access to wild edibles, if they know what to look for.
Manitoba is also blessed with vast forested Crown lands, but it is the rich deciduous forests along the major rivers and streams that offer the riches abundance of edibles. These include: chokecherries, saskatoons, raspberries, wild grape and dogwood for fruits; wood nettle golden rod and ostrich fern for greens; false Solomon’s seal, woundwort and cinquefoil for roots; hazelnuts; and Manitoba maples for syrup. Aspen groves and thickets are plentiful in Manitoba’s agricultural zone, and they offer a wide range of edibles, including saskatoons, chokecherries, pincherries, raspberries, strawberries, rosehips and golden rod. Fungi can be found just about anywhere fallen trees are rotting, but some, like chaga, are specific to birch stands.
For a useful overview of wild edibles in Manitoba, check out this Northern Bushcraft website.
It provides good descriptions, notes on what parts of plants can be consumed and how to prepare them. It also provides warnings about potentially negative health effects. For Manitoba, the site lists 22 kinds of berries, 80 plants and 16 kinds of mushrooms.
Can Manitoba develop a wild food industry?
Wooded lands in Manitoba’s agricultural zone are rich with foods, and offer an untapped opportunity for economic diversity. In 2014/2015, WAM undertook consultation, research and analysis into the question of whether Manitoba can support a wild food industry. The answer is “yes”, with consideration given to the key challenges to developing such an industry.
The result is the report, Wild Food Foraging and Farming: building a wild food industry in Manitoba. It clearly identifies the challenges and offers recommendations on how to address them.
Other articles of interest on wild foods:
- Report on wild food industry suggests the need for a cooperative (Manitoba Cooperator, January 2016)
- Woodland-based “crop” opportunities (Top Crop Manager, October 2015)
- Assessing the validity of wild food production in Manitoba (Manitoba Co-operator, April 29, 2015)
- Woodland foods project identifies need for community cooperatives (The Manitoba Woodlot, December 2014)
- Harvesting wooded lands for foods (The Manitoba Woodlot, October 2014)
The Woodland Farm Food Project (WFF) co-leaders, Mike James and Ken Fosty, have evaluated previous efforts in wild food development in Manitoba. While there was some limited success in developing and marketing wild foods, the biggest challenge proved to be the gap between harvesters and potential markets.
Manitoba’s agricultural zone boasts 987,000 ha (2.4 million acres) of privately owned wooded land, shared by approximately 13,500 landowners with holdings ranging from 4–4,000 ha (10-10,000 acres). These lands are closer to markets and can be the source of a multitude of consumables, including:
- Wild nuts and berries
- Forest honey
- Birch and maple syrup
- Edible fungi
- Herbal tea sources
- Essential oil sources
- Wild salad ingredients
- …and so much more.
If you have a woodlot, mixed farmland, access to Crown land, an urban treed lot—or even a garden—and are interested in growing and harvesting wild foods to supplement your income, the Wild Food Foraging and Farming report will be food for thought.
If you want to know more:
Contact: Mike James, Woodland Farm Food Project
The Woodland Farm Food Project was funded by the Canada and Manitoba governments through Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative.