Biologist and naturalist Kate MacQuarrie is passionate about foraging. At a recent presentation in Charlottetown, she encouraged participants to learn about different edible plants present in P.E.I. Caitlin Coombes, Local Journalism Initiative reporterCaitlin Coombes

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. — Kate Quarrie’s top tip for amateur foragers in P.E.I.? Don’t eat “fuzzy” plants.

With spring approaching, greenery has begun to reappear across the province, including a variety of plants people can forage for.

“Whether you’re in beaches, salt marshes or forests or developed areas, there’s plants that you can find and use,” MacQuarrie told more than a dozen enthusiasts during a March 13 presentation on safe foraging practices in P.E.I.

During a classroom in Charlottetown, MacQuarrie shared some overview guidelines for safe foraging and distinct examples from all P.E.I. environments – from salt marshes to forests.

Did you know?

• Mushroom forager Rene Lestan holds information sessions and educational foraging outings throughout mushroom season, as well as class-style information sessions on foraging and growing mushrooms in a garden.

• Red Island Mushroom Hunter’s next event is April 12, at the Beaconsfield Carriage House in Charlottetown.

• Kate MacQuarrie also has upcoming events for foraging with a guided foraging hike scheduled for May 25.

With more than 1,000 species of plants growing across the province, MacQuarrie said edible and healthy plants are everywhere – just look in the right places.

The biologist also warned attendees about taking too much of any foraged plant. Overharvesting regularly from plants can negatively impact the plant’s regeneration and reproduction.

MacQuarrie recommends foragers keep in mind what they can realistically use when out foraging to combat the temptation to take more.

“The rule of thumb is to take no more than half from any one clump (of plants), and less is always better,” MacQuarrie said.

Fiddleheads, yellow wood sorrel and elderberries are all available across the province in abundance, but cautious harvesting by foragers will help maintain this quantity as well as the health of the ecosystem.

P.E.I. is also home to various toxic plants, unsafe for human digestion, many of which fall into the “fuzzy” category.

Some plants, such as poison ivy and giant hogweed, can harm would-be foragers who handle the plants, she said. Other plants, such as marsh arrowgrass, are toxic to consume and should be avoided in favour of safe, edible alternatives.

“Plants, in my view, are never something to be afraid of, but it’s important to be aware of them,” MacQuarrie said.

Ghost pipe is an edible and medicinal plant found in P.E.I., and can act as a tonic for pain management. Like all medicinal plants ghost pipe should not be used as an alternative to conventional medicine. Kate MacQuarrie • Special to the Guardian

Foraging for Fungi

Rene Lestan from Red Island Mushroom Hunter said foraging for fungi can make Islanders particularly apprehensive.

Lestan told SaltWire on March 14 that the majority of safe and edible mushrooms appear after Canada Day in July and can be found across P.E.I. until mid-October.

Lestan said she would prefer foragers assume every mushroom encountered is toxic and work backwards to assess if it is edible.

This is a much safer way to assess fungi found in the wild, rather than risking digesting something toxic, especially due to some wide-spread yet misleading myths. Lestan said that the most dangerous of these myths perhaps originated from button mushrooms found in grocery stores.

“People think that white mushrooms are safe to eat, and actually the most toxic mushroom that we have here is a white mushroom, and one of them can kill eight adults.” Lestan said.

The mushroom Lestan refers to is called destroying angel and can be identified by a bulb under the soil on the stalk of the mushroom. Lestan described the bulb as appearing like a foot in a sock.

Despite their danger, the most toxic mushrooms found in Canada can be taste-tested – but not swallowed – with the real danger coming only after ingestion.

“With mushrooms you have to actually digest them to be poisoned by them because they basically work by destroying the liver, so if it doesn’t pass through your liver, it’ll be OK,” Lestan said.

Caitlin Coombes is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter, a position funded by the federal government. She can be reached by email at and followed on X @caitlin_coombes.

By Caitlin Coombes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Mar 25, 2024 at 05:53

This item reprinted with permission from   The Guardian   Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
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