How to Eat a Pine Tree

& Other Facts about Foraging

Written by Alanna Burns, Illustration by Jaclyn Simon

You might be wondering why on earth would you go rooting around in your local woods for ingredients when you can simply purchase them from your local grocery store, but there is some serious satisfaction in finding your own food. There is a community in foraging and it’s a way to get to learn about the wild food in your area. You may surprise yourself. Foraging is for anyone willing to get outside and try, you just have to know what to look for. Educating yourself on the wild edible food you can find in your area is a good place to start your journey into foraging. 

Foraging is a year-round activity. Winter isn’t commonly associated with bountiful harvests like spring or fall, but there are still plenty of nutritious and surprising foods for you to find. Some of the more commonly known ingredients that you can forage during the winter months (depending on where you live) include rosehips, pine needles (and other parts of the tree), spruce tips, mushrooms and crabapples. 

Rosehips are a fantastic source of vitamin C and are especially important during the winter months when your body can benefit from more of it.  Found on wild rose bushes, they can be harvested all throughout winter and into spring. The best way to consume them is to boil them into a tea but they can be eaten fresh, although, be warned, they aren’t for the faint of heart. 

Did you know that every part of a pine tree is edible? No, seriously, every part of the tree can technically be consumed. It’s not recommended that the bark be harvested from healthy living trees as this can potentially kill the tree, but when taken from a felled tree, the bark can be prepared for many ailments. Pine needles are another rich source of vitamin C and can be brewed into a delicious tea.. The needles can also be added to bath salts to help relieve muscle pain and treat skin irritation. Medicinally, pine is astringent and a powerful antioxidant. Pine trees were used by First Nations in many different ways, but they used parts of the trees to make tea that helped relieve coughs. Today, many of the cough syrups on the market utilise the same ingredients. 

Mushrooms are commonly associated with foraging. There are many types of mushrooms that you can forage, but not all of them are edible and will mess you up if you’re not careful. It’s highly recommended to familiarise yourself with the types of mushrooms safe for eating before you venture out to forage for your dinner. Some types of mushrooms you can find in winter include oyster, chaga, witches butter and turkey tail. 

Spruce tips are yet another source of vitamin C (a surprising amount of vitamin C can be found in the forest, no?). This nutrient rich part of the spruce tree is used by First Nations as a cold remedy. It is also rich in potassium, magnesium, chlorophyll and other phytonutrients.  A more festive preparation includes making a spruce tip beer – a unique and delicious beverage that tastes like trees, if that’s your thing. 

Crabapples are one of the most common wild edibles favoured by foragers. Part of the Rosacea (rose) family, this fruit is super high in pectin making it perfect for preserves. Crab apples are the wild counterpart to the cultivated apples that you can buy in a grocery store. They’re sharp in flavour but can be eaten raw so if you do come across one in the wild feel free to tuck in if you’re looking for a snack. 

Foraging is not for everyone. Everyone can do it, but trekking around outside in nature looking for food just isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. That being said, if you’re at all interested in foraging there are plenty of places you can start. An internet search will direct you to local groups in your area you can meet up with and to resources to start the education process. You’ll be surprised at what you’ll learn along the way about the wild food you can find in your area and about yourself. Any time spent outside in nature is never time wasted. Foraging is just one of many ways to get outside more and get in touch with the natural world