Winter Wild Edibles – Five Great Plants for Foraging

Winter is a time where most plants starting to lose their leaves and go dormant. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t great winter wild edibles to be found. Here are five great plants to forage for in the winter that you probably have in your own backyard!

Enjoy foraging through all the seasons. Just because there is snow on the ground doesn’t mean that plants aren’t still growing and providing great nutrients.

Equipment recommendations:

Winter foraging is a little more work than foraging at other times of the year. Be prepared for the weather you have to deal with wisely. Make sure temperatures are such that you won’t hurt yourself by being outside for a prolonged period of time. Keep warm with gloves that you can wear while digging up roots or cutting leaves. Don’t end up like me, getting chapped and raw hands from forgetting gloves!

Also be sure to bring a good knife, shovel for removing snow and frozen earth, and a mason jar or basket to carry your foraged finds back home.

“The woods and fields are a table always spread.” – Henry David Thoreau

Burdock

burdock leaf and flowers

A common weed found at the edge of yards and fields, burdock is most commonly found in winter as a short and stout plant with prickly burrs that stick to your clothes. The leaves are heart-shaped and wavy, growing up to 20 inches in length. Often this plant is mistaken for it’s cultivated lookalike rhubarb, you can tell the difference easily by cutting open the stem. Burdock is hollow, whereas rhubarb stems are solid.

It is known for its holistic medicinal properties, being high in antioxidants and making an excellent diuretic and digestive aid.

Burdock has a tuber root system, which makes it a hardy plant for winter foragers. You will want to make sure the roots are peeled and scrubbed to remove dirt as well as the bitter rind. Then, cook by boiling for about 20 minutes. Burdock is a heavy starch and carbohydrate food, which will make a great base for a meat and potatoes style winter meal. Check out The Druid’s Garden, who used her Burdock Root in a pesto and feta pasta dish. The leaves and stems are also edible, but won’t be found in the dead of winter.

Rose hips

rose hips

Rose hips are an amazing wild edible hiding in plain sight! These red “berries” are left behind after the roses have died and begin to go dormant for the winter. Rose hips are the rose’s seed pods that can be collected as wild edibles. If you still have any that you’ve collected in the spring, you can plant them for new rose bushes.

Rose hips do not taste like what you’d imagine. The flavor lies more along the lines of hibiscus and citrus. This may come from the fact that they are extremely high in vitamin C, with up to 40 times as much as oranges. Rose hips also contain a good amount of vitamins D, E, calcium and a load of antioxidants.

Rose hip tea and rose hip soup (Nyponsoppa) have been a staple in Sweden for hundreds of years. They can also be made into jam, syrup, vinaigrette, and lots of other recipes. But why not start by learning how to make wild rose hip tea.

Juniper Berries

Juniper “berries” are actually seed cones, more comparable to pine cones than true berries. But it is true that these little seeds sprouting from Junipers look like small blueberries ripe for the picking.

Juniper berries are the primary flavor in gin and the spicy tree flavor can take your dish to the next level of wild cuisine. You can also make a juniper tea, which has been used to treat digestive issues, bloating, intestinal worms, urinary tract infections, and kidney and bladder stones. Learn how to make your own winter gin from Cook Forage Ferment.

Wild Onions (Allium Family)

Wild onions and members of the allium family are perhaps the easiest winter wild edibles to find. The plants of the allium family (onion, garlic, and ramps) stand tall and green even in the dead of winter. Because these plants are often hard to tell apart, because they are very similar, I will just be referring to all of these plants as wild onion. If you find a bunch of these grass-like shoots, simply smell the patch and determine if you’ve found wild onion. No poisonous look-alikes will SMELL like onions.

The whole wild onion plant is edible, but make sure you leave enough to pick next time. Overpicking is very easy with this plant since you take the entire plant–bulb and all. If your patch isn’t too abundant, try just taking the green shoots and using them as you would green onions. The more of the plant you leave, the quicker it will grow back.

Cattails

Every part of the cattails is edible at some part of the year, but the part you’ll want in winter is the cattail root. The root is a rhizome, which is comparable to a tender artichoke. Cattails are such a well known and hardy plant that grow along the edges of still or slow moving water. They often obscure the edges of a bank to the point you might miss step and fall in while walking through the cattail stalks.

When foraging cattails the most important part is to assure that the water source around your cattails is clean. Cattails pop up often by the side of the road in ditches, but these are not places you should be picking your wild edibles from. Cattails are a natural water filtering plant, which means that any contaminants in the area will be filtered through the rhizome. Make sure that the area you are picking from is a clean water source.

Cattails are an excellent survival food full of starches and carbohydrates. They also contain vitamins A, B, C, and potassium.

Remove the rhizomes from the ground with your hands or a small shovel. Trim away the smaller roots; these won’t be tender enough to eat. Wash your rhizomes and peel them to remove the fibrous outer layer. Then bake, boil , or fry until tender. Think of them like a strange potato.

Wild Edibles Disclaimer:

Do you know how to tell the difference between a good forager and a bad one? A good forager is still alive.

While this particular list doesn’t have any deadly look alikes, be sure to have positive identification on anything before you eat something out of the wild. Be sure to consult a field guide or local expert about plants in your area if you have any doubts. Also be sure not to collect near roadsides or other areas of heavily polluted areas. Specifically for suburban foragers, be sure that the wild foods you are collecting haven’t been sprayed with any chemical treatments. If in doubt, don’t stick it in your mouth.


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edible wild plants

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