January 03, 2012
Survival Skills: Finding Wild Edible Plants in Winter - 4
by Tim MacWelch
Despite the cold winter weather, and contrary to what you would expect, the winter landscape does contain a decent number of wild edible plants throughout the frosty season.
A personal favorite of mine, the persimmon fruit is one of the best tasting things in winter, that is if you can beat the animals to this dwindling crop. As the temperatures turn colder, these orange-colored fruits sweeten and become even more attractive to wildlife. Here in Virginia, I still find them hanging on the tree in January; but once they turn from bitter to sweet, the supply disappears quickly.
Another great winter edible plant part is the wild rose hip. These red fruits don’t have much inside them besides the indigestible seeds; however, the skin and a little bit of pulp contain a significant amount of vitamin C and a good sweet flavor. The pulp often reminds me of fruit leather and apples.
Another vitamin C powerhouse is the pine needle. Positively identify pine, chop up a tablespoon of needles, and soak them in scalding hot water for ten minutes to get 4 to 5 times your daily requirement of “C.” Just make sure you skip the loblolly pine and ponderosa pine, as these may be toxic. And don’t consume pine needle tea if you are pregnant, as it may cause premature birth. If you have an abundance of pine and a shortage of food, the bark can be eaten too, as we mentioned in a previous post.
Craving a salad? No problem. There are numerous greens that can be found in winter. Many of them even taste better during the shorter days and cold weather. Wild onion, various cresses and wild mustards can add a lot of flavor to a meal in the wild, or a meal at home.
Don’t forget the root crops as wild edibles. If the ground isn’t frozen too hard to dig, you can look for a few frost-hardy leaves to point you toward burdock, wild carrot, thistle and other earthy-tasting roots. Just be careful what you dig, and make sure you have a 100-percent positive match for the edible plant you are foraging. Some roots, like poison hemlock and fool’s parsley, are deadly poisonous.
But don’t let a few bad plants scare you away from gathering wild foods. Just take a respectable field guide with you, and use it. My top recommendation is Peterson’s Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants. Although it is advertised as an eastern plant book, it works well on the West Coast, too. In fact, many of the plants in this book are non-native to America, and are scattered across the globe.
Tell us about your favorite wild plant to eat in winter in the comments.
Photo: Rose hips from the multiflora rose