Vancouver Island is nestled in the world’s largest temperate rainforest. Coastal areas offer subspecies of cedar and Douglas fir, and lush inland vegetation fills nearly every square inch of terrain with baffling diversity.
A short distance from Tofino proper, we hiked into this wealth of natural beauty. With fall chill in full force, our foraging trek began with the morning dew still lingering on the foliage and thin fingers of sunlight breaking through the branches.
Only pick what is abundant. Do not strip a site bare. Use a knife instead of pulling or uprooting. Grow it yourself when possible. These four principles underpin the efforts of local foragers to ensure what is taken today doesn’t sacrifice tomorrow.
Foraging is an age-old practice, and modern gatherers continue to perform these rituals with a keen sense of responsibility by gathering native species in season and without jeopardizing sustainability.
Our GuideAlexander McNaughton, who quickly became a friend, led the small group. He carried a small basket and simple plastic bucket tucked into the crook of his arm to collect the edibles.Alexander McNaughton, who quickly became a friend, led the small group. He carried a small basket and simple plastic bucket tucked into the crook of his arm to collect the edibles.
Alexander McNaughton, who quickly became a friend, led the small group. He carried a small basket and simple plastic bucket tucked into the crook of his arm to collect the edibles.
Well known in the area, McNaughton offers foraging tours and supplies ingredients to local restaurants and specialty markets. For the next few hours, he was a man on a mission as he revealed a few of his favorite delicacies found near the loamy trail and along the rocky coast.
To get started, McNaughton zeroed in on some of the most readily-available edibles: red berries filled our palms and the bucket with plump tartness as the haul grew.
Farther down the trail, quietly, reverently, McNaughton knelt at the base of a cedar to reveal a chanterelle mushroom from where it was camouflaged by fallen needles and leaves. Inside, the buttery yellow flesh promised to delight.
Once more we rose and began heading toward the Pacific Ocean less than 300 yards away. McNaughton’s colorful commentary had our heads spinning and eyes darting to explore the ground and the branches high above.
Fifty yards past the trail’s end, the Pacific pulsed with the ebbing tide. Coastal rocks pockmarked by tidal pools revealed an abundant garden, exposing morsels to be stewed, sautéed, or consumed raw.
The Wickaninnish Inn perched above was a reminder of how chefs like Warren Barr at the Wick’s Pointe Restaurant use such foraged ingredients. Pulling out his knife, McNaughton carved razor-thin slices from some beached bull kelp to give us our first taste of the sea.
A Man on a Mission
With a flash of a smile and slouching cap, McNaughton left us to forage in well-guarded forest clearings between Tofino and his home base in Ucluelet.
It came as no surprise that McNaughton had been out already that day — several times, in fact. What we foraged was only a fraction of the day’s harvest. Yet our day felt full already, and it was only morning.