Can I eat what a moose eats?

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Imagine you are a moose. You have big ears, a soft nose and a stomach with four parts to digest your cellulose-rich food. From hoof to shoulder, you measure 1.8 metres and weigh 1,000 pounds. You have a calf beside you and you are teaching them how to survive in winter. This shouldn’t be too difficult because the Algonquin forest in winter is like an appetizing salad bar (thank you Leigh for the salad bar description). In fact, the name “Moose” comes from the Algonquin word “mooswa” meaning “twig-eater” or “the animal that strips bark off of trees.” My question is, “Can I eat what a moose eats?”

On Sunday, February 11th the moose-terious winter food choices of a Mom and a Calf moose became clear while trailing them in Algonquin Park.

Let’s dig in…

Sugar Maple Browse, Moose

The first forage: salty snow near the road (a.k.a. “The salad dressing”). I could eat this but I choose not to.

Red and Sugar Maple

Near the roadside, the moose were browsing on Red and Sugar Maple.

Linda Runyon, author of “Eat the Trees” says that sugar maple and red maple seeds can be eaten raw or pressed into “maple cakes”. She also says that twigs and young leaves can be used for tea or eaten as emergency food. The leaves are high in minerals, beta carotene and vegetable protein. Of course, the sweet sap is edible (and highly nutritious) as well. Maple cakes sound delicious.


Dani helped me identify the next moose-favoured plant: Meadowsweet. In the book Forest Plants of Central Ontario, this plant looks most like Broad-leaved Meadow-Sweet or Spiraea latifolia. This is a native species of Meadowsweet. Most herbal resources speak to the European Meadow-sweet Filipendula ulmaria which has vast medicinal properties. The native Meadow-Sweet is reported to have “limited” use as a tea. Interestingly, it is reported that the name “Meadow-Sweet” did not originate from the word “meadow” at all, but from “mead-wort,” and its use for flavouring home-brewed mead. If you have experience with this plant, please share below!

Hemlock and Balsam Fir

Eastern Hemlock Browse, Moose

As the moose moved deeper into the forest, they nibbled on Hemlock and Balsam Fir.

Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) makes a delicious tea that is rich in vitamin C. Balsam Fir can also be made into a tea that is a good source of Vitamin C. In Peterson’s Field Guide to Edible Plants, I read that the inner bark of Balsam Fir and Eastern Hemlock can be dried, ground into meal and added to flour. Apparently, the resin-filled blisters on the smooth bark of balsam fir are edible but not palatable.


Moose Maple

Moose Maple Browse, Moose

Evening Grosbeaks chattered loudly from a perch high above as I observed the moose-chewed twigs of a Moose Maple next. I think of the Moose Maples as a kind of “Tree Cactus” due to the large amount of moisture held in the wood. For that reason, I avoid it when looking for firewood on canoe trips. Moose Maple (a.k.a. Striped Maple because of the stripy bark) is reported to have no known edible uses and limited medicinal uses. The book Forest Plants of Central Ontario indicates that Moose Maple bark has been used historically in a tea to treat coughs and colds. If you have experience with this plant, please share below!

Hobblebush and Beaked Hazel

Hobblebush Browse, Moose

The praying hands of Hobblebush caught my attention next. The moose had browsed the tips of the branches. According to Forest Plants of Central Ontario, the leaves and bark of Hobblebush bark have historically been used as a medicinal tea. The fruit can be eaten raw or cooked and it tastes like raisins.

As we neared the roadside again, Alexis pointed out a Beaked Hazelnut shrub (Corylus cornuta) that had been browsed by the moose. Euell Gibbons in “Stalking the Good Life” and local wildcrafter, Laura Gilmour from Wild Muskoka Botanicals recommend harvesting beaked hazelnuts in late summer by removing the husk, revealing the nut and then cracking the nut between two rocks. I have eaten these without processing them further and they were yummy. Euell Gibbons writes, “They are small, round, sweet, and easily shelled, with all the goodness of cultivated Filberts if not more.” An astringent or “tissue tightening” tea can also be made from the leaves and bark and used as a medicine for digestive upset.

Beaked Hazel Browse, Moose

In my readings for this blog post, I learned that moose eat approximately nine thousand twigs (15-20 kg) every day. This is how they survive the winter. Thank goodness the Algonquin forest salad bar is a bountiful buffet.

Interesting to note is that the moose avoided eating spruce and beech trees. Considering the pointy, needle-like leaves of spruce and equally sharp buds of beech trees, I completely understand.

Mom and Calf Moose Beds after eating at the Algonquin Salad bar Buffet

Mom Moose Bed, Algonquin Park

Calf Moose Bed, Algonquin Park

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