Winter foraging on the West Coast does not need to stop during the winter! If the season is mild, the last berries and rosehips of the season may still be clinging to branches, ready for harvesting. Medicinal wild roots can be harvested as needed throughout the winter, as long as the ground is not frozen. Winter chanterelles hang on late into the season and can start growing again in late winter. Immune-boosting turkey tails and usnea lichen can be harvested throughout the season. It’s great foraging out there for those who brave the elements!
Fall is the best time to harvest wild roots as a plant’s energy is concentrated below ground. Identification can be tricky because much of the foliage has died. It is best to identify the plants during summer, then return for harvesting in the fall. To harvest, loosen the soil around the plant with a shovel, hold the root as far down as possible, and pull. Hose the roots off outside, then scrub in the kitchen. They can be used fresh, or sliced and dried for later.
The following roots are great for detoxifying during a winter season of indulging. They lend themselves well to chai tea where their bitter flavours are tempered with spices. For inspiration try this recipe.
Dandelion (Taraxacum species)
Dandelion root is a subtle yet powerful healer and detoxer. It helps with cleansing the liver and kidneys and is full of vitamins and minerals. Look for the rosette of hairless, toothed leaves, as there probably will not be any flowers remaining.
Dock (Rumex species)
There are several species of dock that have similar medicinal actions. Docks can be identified by a papery sheath and mucilage surrounding the young leaves.
Dock is helpful for tonifying the gallbladder and liver, which helps to purify the blood as well. It contains iron and can increase the body’s uptake of iron.
Burdock (Arcticum species)
Burdock is particularly helpful in the treatment of acne and skin conditions. It is also as used a root vegetable in traditional Japanese cuisine.
Burdock leaves are fuzzy and lighter underneath, with slightly ruffled edges. Take care to identify burdock properly as it can look similar to toxic foxgloves. Burdock roots should be harvested in the fall of its first year before it grows a flower stalk. Burdock roots can reach a meter deep, so get ready for a digging workout!
Mushrooms and Lichen
Winter Chanterelles (aka Yellow Foot, Craterellus Tubaeformis)
Winter chanterelles have the same ridge-like false gills of golden chanterelles but are usually smaller. They have a hole that goes through the center of the cap right down into the hollow stem, hence the Latin name tubaeformis, aka “tube-shaped”. They grow out of the ground, not on wood. Cut the stems at ground level. Many think they taste better than summer chanterelles. Try sauteeing in butter. As always, ensure 100% positive identification before eating.
Turkey Tails (Trametes versicolor)
Research shows that the ubiquitous turkey tails have strong anti-cancer and immune-boosting properties. That’s no surprise, as the Chinese and Japanese have been using it in teas for thousands of years. These polypores are found throughout the world growing on dead trees and stumps. They have smooth undersides with tiny pores to release spores. They are commonly confused with Stereum spp., which have no pores underneath.
Cut turkey tails off their wood substrate to harvest. Use immediately or dry for later. The active constituents are best extracted by boiling in water, such as in a broth or stovetop chai tea, or in an alcohol tincture.
Usnea Lichen (Usnea species)
Lichens grow slowly, so only harvest specimens that have fallen to the ground. Usnea species can be branchy or stringy, characterized by a stretchy, white central core. All species offer numerous medicinal properties, which are helpful for treating issues such as sinus infections, pneumonia, strep throat, colds, urinary infections, and athlete’s foot.
The medicinal constituents are best extracted with alcohol and/or hot water. Try soaking some fresh usnea in a bit of vodka overnight before adding to teas, broths, etc. It can also be infused with oil to make a salve.