Rooting Around at the Farm

We spent the afternoon and evening at my parents farm on Sunday harvesting dandelion and burdock roots as well as sugar maple logs for growing edible mushrooms outdoors. There were some wild edible and medicinals that are "almost" ready: stinging nettles, selfheal, poplar buds, cattail roots, wild salad greens, and elderflowers!

There are half a dozen old black elders with very thick trunks growing around the barn on the farm. They are all covered in these beautiful but alien-looking flower buds. Here's hoping there is no cold snap to kill them this year so I can make elderflower soda, elderflower fritters, and my own elderflower liqueur...

*crosses fingers and toes*

We tried digging for burdock roots where the remnants of last years plants had been, but they were all rotted out. Tiny furry leaves nearby looked like miniature versions of burdock so I dug one up with the dandelion roots I was already harvesting and discovered "yep, these are burdock." Alex harvested a good sized grocery bag of them to take home and play with for recipes.

I went home with an overstuffed bag of fat dandelion roots. They contain the most medicinal properties in spring before they give their energy and nutrients over to flower production. If you wanted to make candy, ice cream, or brownies etc with the roots, they are sweeter when harvested in the fall. Soon their sunny yellow flowers will be everywhere and then it is time for dandelion wine and syrup and jelly...

I did a lot of wandering all over the farm to see what was growing. Trilliums are starting to show their leaves, the wild prickly gooseberries are budding, the stinging nettles are popping up but are still too tiny to work with yet. We saw bumblebees, stink bugs, garter snakes, grouse, geese, and porcupines. Frogs croaked from the cattail marsh. Spring is most definitely and finally here!

Dad cleaned out his sugar shack today. It's too warm now and the sap is bitter. I think he said he got 70 litres of maple syrup. The felled sugar maple pictured above is the first living tree my dad has cut down since moving to the farm ten years ago. His arch nemesis, the giant golden (and possibly mythological) porcupine, ate the bark all the way around and it was doomed for death. Now it has a better fate of firewood and turning into outdoor growing logs for edible oyster and lion's mane mushrooms.

My dad has been after that old porcupine for years as it keeps killing his hemlock and sugar maple trees. It's all very Moby Dick chasing his white whale... The storyteller in me will turn this into a family legend.

Alex found scarlet elf cups (Sarcoscypha austriaca / dudleyi) in the deep forest. It means mushroom season has officially begun in the Ottawa valley! These brilliant red mushrooms are a good sign that morels are coming soon. 

We vended our wares at the local Killaloe Farmers' Market on Saturday and had a great turn out and a lot of interest in wild edibles. We sold out of the jerusalem artichokes Alex harvested and the puffball mushroom bannock I fried up in bacon fat. We are so excited to have our market table covered in wild mushrooms and other wild edibles in the near future, I can't even express to you how itchy these foraging fingers are! Maybe we will see you at the next market with morels, nettles, fiddleheads, and greens from the garden.

~ Sarah


  • Great idea. Thanks again!

  • Hi Hanna, I just use a pitchfork to loosen the soil around them, a regular old shovel to dig them out, and then my hands to gently break up the dirt to free the roots without breaking them. It’s easiest to dig roots when the ground is wet from rain or snowmelt or look for places that already have nice loose soil.

  • Would you share your expertise on harvesting dandelion root.. please? Do you have a special tool you like to use etc? Thank you!!!


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