A Few Winter Foragables
I know I know. There haven't been any winter foraging classes, but that doesn't mean the foraging has stopped. You can forage in ANY season, in ANY weather where we live. Below is a short list and a little info on what we've been on the lookout for!
Ground Ivy: Also known as creeping charlie, is a persistent member of the mint family that you can find sprouting new growth if you get a day or two above freezing. It’s not known to be a prized edible due to its pungent ivy notes and the slightly fuzzy leaves, but some people can’t get enough! The mild mintieness can be charming when thinly sliced and mixed with greens or in a dish with wild game. In its dried form it can help those suffering from muscle loss due to aging or ketogenic diets, and it’s a nice support for anyone with a chronic viral condition such as HSV-1, HSV-2, or Epstein-Barr.
Chickweed: This low growing green is known for its bright, fresh flavor, lime green color, and ability to grow anywhere except for around chickens because, well, chickens will eat it so fast you won’t know it was even growing! In the winter you don’t have to worry about eating bolted or tough greens since most growth won’t get to that point, and it’s a great natural micro-green for all you instagram chefs. Look for it in wooded hollows or near buildings where the temperature of the earth or building stays slightly warmer and blocks the wind.
Spicebush: Once the leaves have fallen, most people think of the forest as a dead zone for foraging, but flavor enthusiasts are keen to remember: spicebush is the ultimate flavoring. Every part of the tree has flavor, and it persists all 12 months of the year. You just have to know how to use it. Once your stash of frozen berries is all used up, go back to your spicebush stands and snap a few of the small twigs off to use for tea, syrups, and cocktails. A lightly flame-warmed spicebush twig as a stirrer for a spicebush syrup cocktail is our favorite way to use the twigs.
Sassafras: The flavor of juicyfruit bubblegum is a mystery, but sassafras twigs sure do remind us of that slightly tropical, berry-sweet-with-a-hint-of-citrus flavor. The key is to ID your tree before the leaves fall off, and then come back to during the cold months for a sweet pickup. Use them in cocktails like spicebush or go for the candy replacement and just chew on a twig.
There are FDA warnings against safrole, a fragrant oil which is in the bark of sassafras, but it’s highest concentration is in the root bark. The ban and carcinogenic effects of safrole are from a single study done on rats that were given high doses and developed liver cancer, but recent studies have not corroborated that finding especially since rats and humans absorb substances in different ways. Some say the ban is really because safrole, when combined in the right way chemically, can be a key component for club drugs such as MDMA, molly or ecstasy, but safrole is also found in high amounts in nutmeg, cinnamon and black pepper which are all still legal.
What convinces us that it’s ok for moderate consumption is that the sale of sassafras root bark & sassafras leaf powder, called file powder used in traditional creole gumbo, are perfectly legal.