I am thinking ahead to spring already and as a result I thought I would add last year’s list of free fermentables that can be found in the great outdoors surrounding our area. Last year we covered Spruce tips, mulberries, wild grapes, sumac and juniper. If you need refresher, the link to last year’s article can be found below.
This one needs no instruction on how to find it. Everyone knows of this hard to kill and utterly frustrating weed. Just for posterity’s sake the instruction for finding this flower is go outside and look down at the grass, chances are there will be a dandelion or a few hundred nearby. This entire plant is edible. The leaves can be used in salad to add a nice bitter note. The roots can be dried and used to make tea. The flower of course can be used to make wine or beer. I used fresh dandelion flowers in a beer last year. I found it added a sweet floral note that reminded me of honey… go figure. The flowers can also be dried and used in a similar fashion to whole leaf hops. So next time you are frustrated with your lawn stop pick some flowers for your next brew.
Also known as a Saskatoon berry or June berry. These blueberry sized fruits grow on medium to large shrubs and can be found in a variety of areas. They can be picked in late June. The plant can be identified by it’s elliptical leaves with fine teeth along the edges. The berries grow in clusters with long stems and turn dark purple when ripe.They are a little less sweet than a blueberry but the taste is similar. The main difference is they have a large seed in the middle. The seed contains a cyanide like toxin that is destroyed when the fruit is cooked or dried. This fruit goes very well in pale ales or sours. The juice is not as dark as a blueberry, it tends to make the beer a light pink colour.
These are pretty straight forward to identify as they look the same as strawberries you find in the grocery store, just smaller. They are also much sweeter than the kind you would find in your supermarket. Those strawberries are grown more for size and shelf life than flavor. The Woodland wild strawberries that grow in our area are more similar to the fresh Ontario cultivated strawberries vs imported varieties. The woodland variety likes shady areas. They can often be found growing alongside trails and in shaded ditches. The main problem with this fruit is finding a large enough patch to get enough fruit to brew with. Most of mine don’t make it home as I end up eating them all. These are generally found around mid June and all the way into September.
This is not a fruit you often see on grocery store shelves as it is a pretty sour fruit. They are often used for jams or dried and put into baked goods. They grow on small shrubs and can be in abundance around bogs and wetlands. They will also grow well in moist soil near ponds. The leaves on the shrubs look similar to maple leaves. If you break a branch on the shrub, some varieties will smell skunky. The fruits grown in clusters of five or more berries Red and gold currants are ready late summer with black currant following a couple weeks later. These fruits go very well in sours, wheat or pale ales. Since they are sour on their own, use them sparingly to start and add to taste in secondary.
I don’t really need to say much about these as everyone should know what a raspberry looks like. The wild varieties can come in either red or black. Just like with cultivated raspberries wear gloves when picking them as the plant is covered in little prickly spines. The shrub can be upwards of 2 meters tall. The fruits are ripe in late summer to early fall and they can be found just about anywhere. As for putting them in beer, use your imagination. They probably go well in just about anything.
Cattails are the pantry plant of nature. There is something edible on this plant and every point of the year. The shoots in early spring are edible and taste like cucumbers. In early summer while the flower is still green, it can be eaten like corn on the cob. Once it does turn brown in late summer the pollen can be used as a thickener in soups. But in the fall is where this thing has potential in brewing. I say potential as I have yet to try it and I have not found any instance of anyone giving it a try. The roots have an outer shell of sorts that surrounds a white, starchy fibrous core. Pound for pound the core of the roots have ten times the starch as an average potato. They can be harvested in early fall. Once harvested and separated from their outside shell they can be dried and pounded into starch. There are other ways to prepare the root but I think the drying method would be the best option as you can add the dried starch into your mash. The roots taste similar to potatoes so I think they would go well in a stout. Not to add much flavor but to bump up the ABV. When searching for cattails, only harvest them from areas with clean water. Not from your roadside ditch. Also be careful if harvesting from immature plants as they can be mistaken for the Western Blue Flag Iris which are toxic.
In conclusion I am going to reiterate my closing statement from last year’s blog. For those either interested or just starting out foraging get the free app PlantSnap. This can help identify some plants. It’s not perfect but it is a good resource. Northern bush craft also has a complete list of edible plants in Ontario which is very helpful. Once again if you are not sure about a plant DO NOT test it by putting it in your mouth.
Cheers and good hunting!