Spring is an exciting time of year on Manitoulin Island when the forests, fields and shorelines burst with life that was patiently sitting dormant over winter. This area boasts plentiful and diverse wild edibles and with spring comes whispers about favorite harvesting spots.
One of the first foods readily available to us is gifted from the conifers every spring as the trees wake up. Many conifer tips are edible but the spruce tree’s tips are most famous for their lemony citrus flavor. Spruce tips have an herbal quality similar to rosemary and can be used in savory and sweet dishes. They can be chopped raw and added to a salad, cooked or pickled. Spruce tips are an exceptional source of Vitamin C and their flavonoids have antioxidant properties.
The Spruce tips should be foraged in early spring as soon as the bright lime-green buds emerge from their brown papery casings. This is when they are most tender and their slight resinous flavor is minimal. Timing will change from year to year but we can share that last year, we were harvesting spruce tips early May in the northeastern areas of Manitoulin.
As you venture out to gather this food, keep in mind that, just like any other wild harvested or cultivated food, there is always a way to ensure sustainability of the source. Make sure not to over harvest one tree, pick around the edges and leave plenty where they are. Never pick the new growth at the top of a small tree, these branches are essential for vertical growth. Only harvest what you will use – know how you will be using your harvest prior to foraging and check recipes for amounts.
Written by Kristin Bickell, Local Food Manitoulin