Tips on spring foraging: Don't venture to B.C.'s provincial parks

Chef and forager Robin Kort has a laundry list of plants to harvest this spring, but says following the rules are key to sustainability.

Vancouver chef Robin Kort suggests heading to Crown land instead

Elderflower is ready to be harvested around the Lower Mainland, but ask permission before picking on private property, says Vancouver-based chef and forager, Robin Kort. (En Bouton, Flikr)

Each spring, fiddlehead ferns poke out of the dirt across B.C., tempting foragers into the woods.

But be warned, there's zero harvesting allowed in B.C.'s provincial parks.

Removing materials from a park is illegal and can land you a fine from a conservation officer.

Robin Kort,  a chef and owner of a company that provides culinary tours in the B.C. woods, suggests foraging on Crown land — and making friends with a farmer.

"I've knocked on lots of farmers' doors and been like 'I see a bunch of stinging nettle, can I get rid of your stinging nettle for you?' " she told Sheryl MacKay, host of CBC's North by Northwest.

For those just learning to identify local edible delicacies, Kort, who owns Swallow Tail Culinary Adventures for Food and Wine Lovers, said taking walking tours through the parks can be helpful to practice. But don't be tempted by the buffet.

Sweet and simple

Kort tells people new to foraging to start with easily identifiable plants.

"The ones that are really safe, that a two year old could identify, that's where you want to start."

Right now is a great time for fiddleheads, which are the young tips of ferns, but there are some inedible local species of fiddleheads, Kort said.

She suggests beginners try to identify and cook with the false lily of the valley.

"That one is so tasty. You can make a stir-fry or something like that and just wrap it up, put a little hoisin on and it's like a lettuce wrap. It's crispy and fresh and a little bit peppery."

Morels are one of the few edible springtime mushrooms, but Kort said the cold, early season has postponed their arrival as well.

Edible trees are also in season

"Things like fir tips, spruce tips, pine tips, all the green tips that come out on the conifers are edible and full of vitamin C and taste like the forest," said Kort.

The weather hasn't stopped some edible flowers such as flowering currant and elderflower from blooming.

"Elderflower, I tend to use a lot for drinks of for infusions. You can make it into a beautiful tea, you can rub it into salt so you have a floral salt to use on anything," said Kort.

 Kort advises to cook your fiddleheads and never eat anything you can't identify with 100 per cent certainly.

With files from North by Northwest