Foraging for Edibles in the Fall and Winter

Foraging, aka harvesting food in the wild, was once a part of normal life; a means for survival. People once knew which plants were poisonous and which were edible, or otherwise useful.

Picture yourself walking around in the wild with a friend or significant other, foraging for wild edibles such as plants, nuts, berries and other fruits.

I’m guessing that in your mind’s eye, it’s sunny and warm outside, right? That’s definitely the best time to do this type of thing.

But what if it’s the fall or winter? What if it’s cold with snow on the ground? Can you still find something in the wild to sustain you?

You probably don’t NEED to forage for food. It’s likely that you either grow your own food in a garden at home or buy it at the grocery store.

But someday you may be forced to find food in the wild, so it’s not a bad idea to experience a dry run once in a while.

Fall foraging

If it’s a crisp fall day and you’re not dealing with any snow yet, here are some of the plants and nuts you can keep an eye out for.

If you’re out in open ground or a pasture, you may come across rose hips. It’s a woody plant with leaves, and the ripe red rose hips provide a sweet treat similar to what you’d taste in a fruit roll-up. They contain plenty of Vitamin E and C. Eat the rose hips raw or steep them to make tea. Just watch out for the thorns.

Found predominantly in the eastern portion of the country, wild persimmon is a small orange fruit with large brown seeds. The key is WHEN you eat it. If it looks beautiful, it might not be ripe yet, and could taste sour. But if it’s wrinkled and gooey, it will taste deliciously sweet. Eat them raw or ferment them into wine.

Sumac is s red-seeded shrub that can reach 15 feet tall and is found only in the fall. Separate the seeds from the twigs, soak them in cool water or steep them in hot water. Once chilled, the juice will taste like pink lemonade. Sumac is found mostly in open woods and fields. The hard, red, fuzzy seeds come in cone-shaped clusters.

If you’re looking for calories to sustain you, hickory nuts are a great choice. Just one ounce of a shelled-out hickory nut contains nearly 200 calories. This nut is a cousin of the pecan. The nuts can be obtained from trees in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The nut’s shell is protected by a husk, which you can peel off.

Winter foraging

Now it’s not just crisp – it’s downright cold. And there’s snow on the ground. Is there anything you can forage for food? The answer is yes.

You might have to scoop under snow to discover them, but acorns and black walnuts can be found on the ground near nut-bearing trees. You’re going to want to soak them with several changes of water for three days or so. That will get rid of the tannins. Then you can either roast them and eat as is, or boil and dry them before grinding into flour.

You can find cattail in swamp water, which will be cold, so have a good pair of waterproof boots on. They can grow from three to nine feet tall. The white, starchy stuff inside the long, brown rootstocks can be used to thicken stews and soups. The small sprouts at the base can be boiled or steamed as you would a vegetable.

Not every plum or crabapple will have been picked or have fallen from its tree by wintertime. Some will still be hanging from their trees. You can either mash them into a jelly or strain their juices and mix them with water and sugar before boiling the concoction into a beverage.

Wild greens will occasionally show up in the snow, and with a little work they’ll taste just like summer greens. Rinse and then boil with salt a variety of greens such as wild onions, chickweed, wild garlic, and dandelion roots and crowns. You can also find mushrooms on rotting deadfalls.

So, as much fun as foraging in the summer can be, fall and winter foraging can be enjoyable as well. Not to mention a great way to stock up on free things to eat and drink.


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