We don’t often consider winter as a time when we can find wild foods in our forests and fields, but there’s more out there than you think
Winter foraging is a wonderful way to access essential vitamins and nutrients to get our bodies through the colder season—and although it’s not an easy practice, it’s well worth the hunt.
A reminder that any foraging should be done responsibly and ethically for the maintenance and regeneration of the land and for the wild creatures that rely on the foods. As abundant as certain plants and fungi may seem, it’s important to only take what you need (never more than one-third of the supply), and leave the rest to feed wildlife through the winter.
For personal safety, make sure to always forage with a friend, know how to properly identify plants before consuming, and consult a professional when consuming wild plants, especially if you are taking any medications.
Foraging can be great fun (and greatly beneficial to our bodies and the planet), but we need to be mindful of our consumption.
Here are some of the delicious foods we can forage this winter...
These walnuts are more popular throughout autumn, but still abundant during the winter. Though they’re tough to crack, they're worth it. For black walnuts, you’ll have to remove the tough outer black shell (be careful, the dye will stain anything it touches), and crack the secondary shell with a hammer or nutcracker. They’re delicious roasted, and are high in unsaturated fat and protein.
Even with snow on the ground, you’re likely to see this stock sticking up. Curly dock and yellow dock are common weeds that are foraged in the spring and summer for their greens, but come winter they produce seeds that resemble buckwheat and can even be made into a flour.
AcornsPhoto by Alexander Klarmann on Unsplash
Acorns were once a staple food in many countries around the world, and there are more than 60 recipes updated on how to use them in the modern day. They require a bit of processing to make them edible, but once you try acorn flour, you may be hooked.
Fresh fruit is hard to come by in the winter, but rose hips keep on the bushes all winter and well into spring. They’re a great way to source your vitamin C and can be used for jams, immune-supporting teas, jelly and syrups.
These have been compared to a cross between rose hips and crabapples and can be eaten fresh (not the seeds, the seeds are toxic), or made into jam and jelly as they’re high in pectin.
These small fruits come from the wintergreen plant, and both the leaves and berries are edible. You can make an extract or tea out of the leaves, which was once used as aspirin.
The birds will leave the more bitter fruit, so be sure to taste one before harvesting an entire pouch full. This is a popular winter foraging berry and can be used in any recipes where you would otherwise use cranberries.
Photo by Markus Spiske on UnsplashThe needles of our favourite winter “evergreens” (pine, spruce and fir) make a tea that is high in vitamin C. Most conifers are edible, except needles from the yew tree, which are toxic, so be sure to properly identify before ingesting.
These grow in zones 4 to 10, so odds are you’ll find them where you live. Juniper berries are best known as the flavouring agent in gin, but you can also use them for a medicinal tea or to make a wild yeast starter in fermenting.
Mushrooms are on the advanced side of foraging, so it’s important to be certain in your identification and bring along an expert if you’re still new to mushrooms. Once you know your stuff, you’ll be able to find tasty winter chanterelles and oyster mushrooms, or medicinal chaga and turkey tail mushrooms all winter long.
You can find winter greens that grow right through the coldest parts of the year, even in zones 3 or 4. You’ll be able to find watercress, daisy greens, chickweed and others. Some, like yarrow, dandelion, miner’s lettuce and nettle will only grow in mild climates or closer to early spring.
Winter roots are easiest to harvest when the ground isn’t frozen and are important to our caloric intake for winter. Closer to the end of winter, you’ll be able to forage for burdock, Jerusalem artichoke, cattail, chicory and dandelion root, all of which are edible and medicinal.
SeaweedPhoto by Rosie Steggles on Unsplash
If you’re a coastal dweller, seaweed is a nutritious and delicious food to forage at any time of the year. Dulse is a reddish colour and one of the tastiest seaweeds, whereas kelp is a wonderful addition to soups and stews for added minerals.
There is so much food that awaits us in wild areas through the winter, and what a wonderful way to connect with nature in the cooler months while supplying ourselves with nutritious and delicious foods.