May – Boreal Foraging Calendar

I am opening up field classes May 13th, 2020. They will be very small to start, with only a handful of students allowed for each day. The classes will be held Monday/ Wednesday/ Friday starting at noon until 4. Those that are interested, please contact me via email at to register. Now enjoy the 3rd addition of the Boreal Foraging Calendar.

Remembering that there are overlaps of Calendars – The following is a list that starts now until the end of May. This includes previously cataloged Edibles like Fiddleheads, Wild Ramps, Oyster Mushrooms, Wild Carrot, Cleavers and so on. Keep the ‘Also Found’ and ‘Coming Next’ lists handy as you forage. As edibles go out of season they are removed from those lists with new items added each time. You will also notice many edibles have repeat roll outs highlighting different edible aspects as the tree/plant matures. For example: Common Sorrel early spring greens to late summer dried fruit collection for flour production OR Horseradish early spring roots and greens to late summer/fall matured greens and flowers.

Fresh Spring Spruce Tips
Fresh Spring Spruce Tips

Spruce – Picea Glauca ( White Spruce) – Picea Mariana (Black Spruce).

Did you know that Spruce tips have high levels of Beta Carotene, Vitamin C, Starch and natural sugars? I harvest enough of these for my favorite dishes and infusions to last year round. They taste bright, yummy and pack an incredible amount of vitamin C. So much so, that early settlers used Spruce Tips to ward off Scurvy. Parts of the tree are used for medicinal purposes. Like the Pitch ( Sap/ dried Sap) found on the exterior of the tree for it’s antibacterial properties. A Spruce Pitch Salve recipe will be posted in the Blog next week for those who want to try their hand at it.

4 Different Spruce Tip recipes (Fermented Honey, Pickled, Infused Salts & Jelly)
4 Different Spruce Tip recipes (Fermented Honey, Pickled, Infused Salts & Jelly)

Spruce Tips offer up a lot of different uses and has been used to make Beer, Teas, Jellies, Infused Salts and a variety of other preservations for year long use. However, they are also delicious fresh in salads, smoothies, soups, pizza and gravies. A personal favorite is Spruce Tip Ice Cream. A sweetened bright Pine flavoring and a light glimmer of green. It is a delicate dish anyone can make at home. I first heard about this recipe through a fellow forager and have since altered it with locally sourced ingredients and method.

Spruce Tip Growth Chart
Spruce Tip Growth Chart

You will want to harvest the early Spring growth on the end of each branch/twig. Pictured is the early to late growth – all of which can be used. While still tender and bright in color for fresh uses the older season needles and twigs can be used for other applications. In the Pine Family (Pinaceae), the botanical description for White Spruce ( Picea Glauca) has smooth bark with rows of horizontal branches forming a conical crown with smaller at tree line. It can grow to a height of 30 m with a girth (diameter) of 50cm. It has the ability to grow in a variety of different soils.

Spruce Tree with Tips
Spruce Tree with Tips

Its’ habitat is a true indicator of a Boreal Forest. Mostly growing across Canada and upwards into Alaska. Black Spruce (Picea Mariana) is also known as ‘Bog Spruce’ or Swamp Spruce’. A dead give away as to their habitat by those names only but is also a indicator of the Northern Boreal Forest like the White Spruce. With slightly varying structure, it is a slow growing tree in treed wetlands, bogs (including Peats), poorly drained clays & coniferous forests. It has rough scaly bark with open, irregular, conical crown of short, horizontal or slightly drooping branches. Grows only up to around 18 m with a girth (trunk diameter) of 30cm. IN THE SPRUCE FAMILY -Norway Spruce ( Picea Abies) grows only in regions of Northern Europe and Red Spruce (Picea Rubens) only growing in a small section of Eastern upper USA and is a known ornamental.

Spruce Tip Ice Cream
Spruce Tip Ice Cream

Spruce Tip Ice Cream Ingredients

  • 3 cups 35% heavy cream
  • 1 cup fresh spruce tips
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1 cup super fine sugar
  • pinch of sea salt


  • Bring the heavy cream with the vanilla bean to steaming point in a large pan. Remove from heat. Whisk together the sugar, salt and egg yolks until pale and fluffy. Gradually add the hot milk to the egg mixture stirring continuously until it thickens slightly.
  • Transfer the mixture to a bowl and allow to cool to room temperature completely. Pull out vanilla bean
  • When the mixture is cool, chop the spruce tips well, then add to the food processor and puree until very smooth. It takes a bit of horsepower to break down the needles, for the best flavor you really need them finely blended. I add the cooled mixture a bit at time until the Spruce Tips are fully pureed.
  • When the mixture is pureed place in the bowl of an ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturers directions. Mine usually takes about 30 minutes.
M. Crassipes – Yellow Morel
M. Crassipes Yellow Morel Mushrooms

Morel MushroomsMorchella Esculenta

Morchella is from the French Morille, in turn derived from the Latin Mauricula. This is the feminine diminutive of Maurus or ‘Little Moor’, in reference to the Moors, who settled in Spain & North Africa – in describing the mushroom’s yellowish-brown cap. In Italian ‘Morello’ – Means Blackish in also referring to the coloring of the Cap. Esculenta is Latin for Edible •The Mohawk name for Morels is ‘Land-fish’ •The Onondaga call them uya’ga”da’ meaning ‘Penis’.

Any Fungus of the phylum Ascomycota division in which Spores (ascopores) are formed inside a club-shaped cell (ascus) and are expelled (shot out) •The group includes yeast, penicillium, aspergillus, truffles, certain mildews and Morel mushrooms Word OriginAsco – indicating a bladder or Sac •Mycete – Indicating a fungus.

A little background on the incredible array of the Morchellaceae Family

BURN SITE MORELS are Morchella capitate,Morchella tomentosa, Morchella sextelata and Morchella septimelata. Morchella capitate is one of three very similar morel species that appear in western North America’s conifer burn sites (a fourth burn-site species, Morchella tomentosa, has densely fuzzy surfaces and is easily separated). Unlike the apparently inseparable Morchella sextelata and Morchella septimelata, however, Morchella capitata appears to have some physical features separating it: its stem is often chambered and layered internally, and the elements on its sterile ridges, under the microscope, are “capitate,” which means they have roundish swollen ends.

FALSE MORELS – The half-free morels, Morchella punctipes and Morchella populiphila, have caps that are attached about halfway down the stem, creating a substantial overhang where the margin of the cap hangs around the stem. Though the two species cannot be separated on the basis of their physical features, they are separated by geography; Morchella punctipes appears in hardwood forests from the Great Plains eastward, while Morchella populiphila appears under black cottonwoods in northwestern North America.

Morel Mushroom Halved
Morel Mushroom Halved

TRUE MORELS – EASTERN CANADA This is the most widely distributed and common morel in North America, fairly easily identified. Morchella esculentoides is a yellow morel–which means it has ridges that do not darken to brown or black with maturity, and a cap that is attached to the stem without a significant groove or channel. Among the yellow morels it can be distinguished on the basis of its medium to large size, its egg-shaped cap, the random orientation of its pits and ridges, and the fact that its surfaces do not normally bruise reddish when fresh.

Basket full of Morels & Pheasant Back mushrooms, Spruce Tips, Asparagus, Dandelion and Nettle leaves
Basket full of Morels & Pheasant Back mushrooms, Spruce Tips, Asparagus, Dandelion and Nettle leaves

In Ontario, Morchella esculentoides is more common within our region. Ecology: Possibly saprobic and mycorrhizal at different points in its life cycle; growing alone, scattered, or gregariously in a variety of ecosystems: under hardwoods (especially living white ash and green ash, and dead or dying American elm, but also with many other hardwoods), under apple trees in old, untended orchards, and occasionally under conifers; widely distributed and common east of the Rocky Mountains; in western North America common under hardwoods in river bottoms or in urban settings in association with ash or apple plantings; spring (March through June, depending on latitude and altitude).

Morel Mushroom Ketchup
Morel Mushroom Ketchup

What to do with all your Morel Mushrooms you ask? Well, I am a Stage 5 Condiment collector. So admittedly, everything I forage is somehow made into a condiment one way or another. When I was little, my sisters teased me about this and now my roommate is annoyed by the lack of fridge & counter space from all the varying bottles, large jarred fermentations and pickling. However, anyway you look at it, any simple dish (right down to a basic cheese sandwich) can be dressed up with an amazing ‘Top Shelf’ condiment like Morel Mushroom Ketchup.

Morel Mushroom Ketchup

This condiment is not new. It has been used for centuries and can be added almost anywhere you would use Soy or Worcestershire. It works like a flavor enhancer, offering a kick of umami where it is needed like gravies, stir-fries, stews, soups or simply drizzled over steak or lamb. This sauce offers a seriously intense mushroom flavor.

  • 3 pounds fresh picked Morel mushroom
  • 1 tablespoon of fine sea salt
  • 2/3 cup of cold water
  • 1 sweet onion – finely chopped
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • sprig of rosemary
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 5 cloves
  • 5 allspice berries

Wipe clean the fresh mushrooms (do not wash) and rough chop them into small chunks. toss them in a bowl with the salt. Cover and set aside. After 24 hours, transfer the mushrooms (and juices) into a saucepan. Put the rosemary, cinnamon, cloves & allspice berries in a cheese clothe sachet and tie off tight. Add all remaining ingredients plus the sachet to saucepan. Bring to boil then simmer for about an hour. With the heat turned off, I pull out the sachet and puree the remaining ingredients. Some pull the mushrooms out at his stage but I like the sauce to be thick. Turn back on the heat and reduce the overall liquid by one third. I then pour into sterilized bottles and put sealed bottles into boiling water bath for 10 minutes. You can also pressure can them at this point.

Lilac Botanical Illustration
Lilac Botanical Illustration

Lilac/Common LilacSyringa Vulgaris

I am writing EARLY about Lilacs because harvest is essential before the flower buds fully open. This year I expect Lilacs to bloom a few weeks earlier then last year which was end of May. There is very little written about this particular flowering shrub. It is not considered Native nor is it included in any of my resources for either flowers or trees. I retrieved its full botanical description after much research work. The flowers are edible and can be used fresh in salads and pastries but it holds its structure very well to sugaring. I add it regularly to dishes in the early spring as garnish but my absolute favorite is Syrup. You can use this in salad dressings, on fancy crepes, in Sodas to Cocktails (it’s very nice with Gin). It tastes like lemon and lychee with floral aromas. Partly due to the fact that it has so much natural sugar, I find I never have to add extra in order for the syrup to set. (Recipe Below)

Lilac Flower Syrup

This species of flowering plant is in the olive family Oleaceae, native to the Balkan Peninsula, where it grows on rocky hills. Grown for its scented pink flowers in spring, this large shrub or small tree is widely cultivated and has been naturalized in parts of Europe and North America. It is not regarded as an aggressive species, found in the wild in widely scattered sites, usually in the vicinity of past or present human habitations.

Fresh Lilac production line
Lilac Production line

Syringa vulgaris is a large deciduous shrub or multi stemmed small tree, growing to 6–7 m (20–23 ft) high. It produces secondary shoots (suckers) from the base or roots, with stem diameters up to 20 cm (8 in), which in the course of decades may produce a small clonal thicket. The bark is grey to grey-brown, smooth on young stems, longitudinally furrowed, and flaking on older stems. The leaves are simple, 4–12 cm (2–5 in) and 3–8 cm broad, light green to glaucous, oval to cordate, with pinnate leaf venation, a mucronate apex, and an entire margin. They are arranged in opposite pairs or occasionally in whorls of three. The flowers have a tubular base to the corolla 6–10 mm long with an open four-lobed apex 5–8 mm across, usually lilac to mauve, occasionally white. They are arranged in dense, terminal panicles 8–18 cm (3–7 in) long. The fruit is a dry, smooth, brown capsule, 1–2 cm long, splitting in two to release the two-winged seeds.

Processed Lilac flower ready for cold infusion

Lilac Flower Syrup

  • 2 loosely packed liters of destemmed Lilac Flower buds (from almost opened to just opened)
  • 2 liters of distilled water


De-stem the flowers removing as much of the green growth as possible as this will make your syrup bitter. Cover flowers with all the water and seal the container. Checking daily – stir the flowers in the water ensuring the top flowers get mixed in well. In 4 to 5 days you’ll notice the color (especially the dark purple Lilacs) start to fade. It is at this point the flowers need to be pulled out. I pour the flowers and liquid through a cheese clothe into a large pot. Bring the liquid up to a boil and simmer for an hour. Taste and add sugar at this point if you would like. Reduce to one third and pour into sanitized bottles. Once sealed, boil bottles for 10 minutes to fully seal (or do a pressure seal).

Pheasant Back Mushrooms in amongst some Trout Lilly
Pheasant Back Mushrooms in amongst some Trout Lilly

Pheasant Back Polypore – Polyporus Squamosus: Elegans

As one of the early mushrooms you’ll find while looking for your Morels, it is important to know when to harvest Pheasant Back. While maturity denotes wisdom in a world of knowledge and insight. This philosophy, unfortunately, will only give you tough and buggy mushrooms. While Morels and Chanterelles need a few weeks (in most cases but not all) to grow large. The thought of picking those when the season first falls on us requires a certain amount of patience. Knowing that difference can greatly help in the harvest process in the different species. Ageism does exist in the mushroom harvesters world and especially with Pheasant Backs.

Young Pheasant Back Polypore
Young Pheasant Back Polypore

Pheasant Back is best when young and nubile. Pictured are the fresh sprouting Pheasant back mushrooms that I have harvested this Spring. Just after their caps form they are easy to slice at the base of the stem. Their aroma is similar to Cucumber/ Honey Dew Melon. They should be fully white with a spongy texture at the cut end. When julienned, these mushrooms are amazing in stir-fry’s or in salads. It should be noted that these mushrooms should only be sautéed fast in thin slices in a super hot skillet. Over cooking them can make them tough. Another suggestion is to thinly slice them into rounds and dehydrate them into mushroom crisps.

To identify them, look for overlapping clusters on the wounds of dead hardwood trees. They are super common in Eastern Canada and I find them mostly close to a water source (still or moving). Usually in flooded forests in the Spring. Most times I find them where I harvest my fiddleheads. The season for these goes from May to November.

Full grown Pheasant Back Polypore
Full grown Pheasant Back Polypore

Like Oyster mushrooms, Pheasant back is considered a parasitic fungus. These can cause intensive white rot in trees and is a sign that (if still living) the tree is on its way out. The Cap can be anywhere from 5 to 30 cm across. Initially circular or fan shaped with whitish to ochraceous cream. The surface is covered in concentric dark brown hairy scales and layered decurrently. The older the mushroom the darker and firmer the stem attachment becomes. The spore print is white.

Woolly Blue Violet

Woolly Blue Violet – Viola Sororia – Violaceae family

Violets are everywhere in early Spring. Especially the wild unruly Woolly Blue which can literally be found in moist meadows, open woodlands, forests and disturbed sites … like our gardens. Years ago, my sister gave me some plants from her garden. By the end of the summer my yard was over taken by violets. The soil her plants were in were full of Violet rhizomes that thrived well and it was then I started to learn of their uses. Visually, they can often be confused for Wild Garlic Mustard while in its early stages of 2nd year growth. However, the similarities stop there. It’s comforting to know both species are edible but don’t be surprised if you harvest some Violet leaves for a salad and some have a garlicy taste to them.

Violet Illustration

Violet Sororia (formerly Odorata) description is a perennial on long stolons, 10 – 15 cm tall. The leaves basal, long-stalked, up to 10 cm wide, ovate to round kidney-shaped with heart shaped bases and round margins. Flowers deep purple to mauve ( sometimes white), spurred solitary on long slender stalks. spurred petal smooth, the 2 lateral petals bearded with long hairs to the base. Petal-less, closed, self pollinating flowers are born on the long erect stalks. It flowers May to July.

Violets are known for a high vitamin C content and have very delicate taste profile. The flowers are used for its color in culinary uses. Most popular are infusions or Simple syrups. Soaking the flower petals in vinegar softens the acidity while eliciting a gorgeous deep purpled finishing condiment. A simple syrup is made using a hot process by pouring boiled water over the flowers and leaving overnight to infuse. Adding sugar after the petals have been removed and doing a final 10 minute high boil before bottling. You can choose not to add sugar and further condense the liquid for a naturally created confection or cocktail coloring. Something I’ve recently discovered is:


Purple Violet Candied Pears

Join me later this Summer for a fully interactive Online cooking series ‘Cook with Wild Feast’ to learn how to turn the beautiful pear into a dazzling stain glassed edible dessert.

Also Found in May

  • Purple Dead Nettle – Lamium Purpureum
  • Stinging Nettle – Urtica Dioca
  • Wild Parsnip Tap roots – Pastinaca Sativa – safe harvest will be covered in in the next Calendar Mid- May.
  • Dandelion – Taraxacum Officinale
  • Marsh Marigold – Caltha Palustris
  • Horseradish – Cochlearia Armoracia
  • Wood Ear- Auricularia Auricula-Judae
  • Common Sorrel – Rumex Acetosella
  • Coltsfoot – Petasites Frididus
  • Bittercress – Cardamine Hirsuta
  • Scarlet Elf Cap – Sarcoscypha Austriaca
  • Spring Beauty – Claytonia Spp
  • Hopniss – Apios Americana
  • Wild Pursulane – Portulaca Oleracea
  • Garlic Mustard – Alliaria Petiolata
  • Orchard Fruit Flowers

Coming up Next

  • Cattail Hearts
  • Nettles
  • Asparagus
  • Hostas
  • Identifying early growth of summer edibles like Wild Ginger

References: Kuo, M. (2012, November). The Morchellaceae: True morels and verpas. Retrieved from the MushroomExpert.Com. Alfred A. Knopf (1980 – July) National Audubon Society Field Guide to Trees. Loudon, Arboretum (1838:49), noted in R.T. Gunther, Early British Botanists and their Gardens (Oxford: Frederick Hall) 1922:339.