Wild food foraging isn’t just limited to warm weather. You can find all manner of foods, from salad greens to nuts that can be ground into flour, even during the snowiest parts of winter. Here are 10 wild winter edibles that can be eaten raw, used to make tea or jam, or added to soups.
Remember, when harvesting wild foods: be sure to have positive identification using a good field guide, learn about any poisonous lookalikes in your area, don’t collect near roads or other potentially polluted places, and eat only small amounts of wild foods that are new to you. If in doubt, don’t eat it.
(images via: red junason)
Not only do rose hips provide a pop of color in the winter landscape, they’re also full of sweet pulp that can be eaten raw or boiled down for syrup, jam or tea. During World War II, British citizens were encouraged to gather rose hips to make vitamin C syrup for children. Rose hips have an herbal flavor that’s suggestive of roses without tasting floral. Just boil 12-15 of them for 3-5 minutes, smash them open with a spoon and let them steep for 20 minutes. Strain and serve.
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More flavorful than supermarket watercress, wild watercress actually tastes sweeter in winter. Even during the snowiest days of winter, watercress can be found growing in tight, bright green bunches near water. This delicate vegetable is very tasty raw, whether added to salads or used as a garnish on sandwiches. Consume it quickly after picking it, and always be sure to only pick it from bodies of water that aren’t compromised by industrial or agricultural pollution.
(images via: rachel kramer)
The tea extracted from pine needles is very high in vitamin C, making it a great remedy for the common cold. It also contains vitamin A and beta-carotene. While most varieties of pine are safe, always make absolutely sure that you don’t harvest the needles from yew, Norfolk Island Pine or Ponderosa Pine, all of which are poisonous. Get tea-making instructions at Dave’s Garden.
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Did you know that cattails are edible? It’s not the fuzzy characteristic flower heads that you want to eat, but rather, the rhizomes and lower stalks. Cattail rhizomes are starchy and sweet, with a very mild flavor and scent, and they’re packed with vitamin C, potassium and phosphorous. Learn more at Eat the Weeds.
(image via: mike gras)
Wild garlic and wild onions can both be found poking up out of the grass year-round, especially in more temperate regions like the Mid-Atlantic states. When you harvest either of these plants, you’ll be able to identify them by smelling the root. The poisonous lookalike, daffodil, won’t have an onion or garlic smell – double check using photo identification.
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Known as wild rhubarb, burdock has large, woolly, heart-shaped leaves and reddish stems. The roots can get a little bit woody in winter, but a little extra boiling will make them tender. New York Times Urban Forager Ava Chin says they “tasted like a cross between parsnips and carrots, with just a hint of muddy goodness to remind you where they came from.”
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North America has approximately 300 species of freshwater clams, and finding them is as easy as running your gloved hand over the bottom of a creek or river bed. It’s of paramount importance that you research the types of mussels that grow in your area, because many species are endangered and federally protected. Only harvest mussels from pristine waters, and boil them thoroughly to kill parasites. The smaller, younger ones are more tender. Learn more at Eat the Weeds.
(images via: dendroica cerulea)
A weed that can be found virtually all over, chickweed sticks around throughout the entirety of winter, even in cold climates. Stellaria media has a tender, mild flavor with just a little bit of tartness, and it’s delicious raw. With its little star-like white flowers, it’s also easy to identify. Look for it in open, sunny areas, lawns or in your own garden beds, where it’s often ripped out without thought for its nutritional value.
(image via: vince alongi)
Bright yellow dandelions are easy to spot in warm weather, but when they’re covered in snow, that doesn’t mean they have disappeared. Their roots are still underground, and though they’re best harvested in the fall, they can still be found. In warmer areas, you can still find their leaves, as well, though they might be rather tough. The roots are bitter, and make a good substitute for coffee. Learn more about how to use them at Sacred Earth.
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Acorns have been called ‘the ultimate survivor food’, packed with fats and nutrition. Along with black walnuts, butternut walnuts, pecans, hickories, beechnuts, hazelnuts and pine nuts, acorns can be gathered from the ground. They must be soaked in warm water to remove irritating, bitter tannic acids, and then they can be ground into flour.