When a person has access to enough safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs, they are considered food secure. Food insecurity is on the rise with millions of Canadians already having trouble putting good food on the table. Recently, the availability and access of nutritious food has been undermined as food costs rise in response to inflation and the impacts of climate change on our global food system.
Food insecurity is a multifaceted problem often requiring policy intervention; however, one way we can improve local availability and access to food is through the urban forest! Edible plants can be planted in backyards, along boulevards and in shared spaces like community gardens and parks. Native shrubs are a great option given their smaller footprint and evolutionary adaptation to local climate and soil conditions. This means they are typically hardier and require less maintenance than some of the more familiar, non-native edible plants.
There are many edible native shrubs to choose from, but here are our top four hardiest and most nutritious.
American hazelnut (Corylus americana)
This tall-growing native shrub produces highly nutritious nuts that are rich in protein. The hazelnuts are smaller in size but comparable in taste to the familiar European hazelnut (Corylus avellana) that is found in store. The nuts can be stored over winter and can be eaten raw, boiled or roasted. They can also be ground and made into flour for bread and other baked goods. American hazelnuts are ideally planted in multiples to encourage more nut production.
Common elderberry (Sambucus canadensis)
This medium-growing native shrub produces drupes (berry-like fruits with hard seed stones in the middle) rich in antioxidants, vitamins A and C, potassium, iron, folate, calcium and fiber. In fact, elderberries contain a higher concentration of vitamin C than oranges! Unlike the American hazelnut whose nuts can be stored and eaten raw, fresh elderberries do not store well and typically require processing before consumption. After removing stems and leaves, elderberries can be cooked and added to pies, jams and jellies or made into juice, wine or syrup. The common elderberry is self-pollinating and produces fruit when planted by itself.
Black chokeberry (Aronia melancarpa)
This medium-growing native shrub produces superfood pomes (fleshy fruit consisting of a central core holding several small seeds) with the highest level of recorded antioxidants of any temperate plant! Antioxidants are prized for their ability to reduce the risk of cancer, inflammation and heart disease. When eaten raw, the dark purple berries are astringent, so it is best to process them into jams, jellies and juices. When juicing, you can blend it with other fruit juices like cranberry, apple or grape. The black chokeberry is self-pollinating and produces fruit when planted by itself.
Serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis)
This tall-growing native shrub produces berry-like pomes that are high in iron, copper, calcium, manganese, magnesium and fiber. Unlike the black chokeberry, the sweet-tasting serviceberry fruit can be eaten right from the shrub. The fresh fruit does not keep for long and should be dried, cooked, frozen or refrigerated to preserve it. The fruit can be added to pies or made into tasty jam. The serviceberry is self-pollinating and produces fruit when planted by itself.
Edible shrubs come in many shapes and forms and are a wonderful addition to residential backyards and the urban forest. With food insecurity on the rise, urban forests can help increase the access and availability of nutritious foods. LEAF offers a range of edible, native shrubs for delivery including the American hazelnut, black chokeberry, common elderberry and serviceberry. Our edible shrubs can be purchased individually or as part of our mix-and-match Edible Shrub Bundle, which includes any four edible shrubs, delivery, mulch, planting and care guide and a specialized factsheet for only 100 +HST! Interested in planting some edible shrubs this year? Visit our Shrubs, Garden Kits and Pawpaws page or Contact us to order today!
Jess Wilkin is the Residential Planting Programs Operations Supervisor and an ISA certified arborist at LEAF.
LEAF offers a subsidized Backyard Tree Planting Program for private property. The program is supported by the City of Toronto, the Regional Municipality of York, the City of Markham, the Town of Newmarket, the Regional Municipality of Durham, the Town of Ajax, the Township of Brock, the Municipality of Clarington, the City of Oshawa, the City of Pickering, the Township of Scugog, the Town of Whitby and Ontario Power Generation.