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Wild Food Journal

What’s in a winter harvest?

Even in the coldest months, there is always abundance. On one of our most recent tours, we’ve found a nice selection of WNC’s winter offerings. Check out the photo above- Jerusalem artichokes, sassafras roots, onion grass, stinging nettles, alehoof (ground ivy), chickweed, birch twigs, and dead nettle, plus an usnea lichen garnish (see it clinging to the stick?)

So what can you do with these? Let’s start with the most abundant on the bottom. All that blue-green grass? That’s onion grass, or garlic grass depending on who you ask. You may have nibbled this as a child, delighting in the familiar flavor on something as innocuous as grass, but truly it’s no grass at all! It’s an allium, a member of the onion family, rich in pungent sulphur compounds that lend to its fine flavor. Use these just as you would chives. I sauté them, mix them into cream cheese for a divine dip or just add to salads. They also make an excellent garnish for steak when cooked in butter lightly.

Moving up the brown velvet cloth we see, above the onion grass, stinging nettle. A well known while edible and nutrient dense tea plant, this prickly friend has a powerful sting, but when cooked or well dried, is a safe and pain-free food and beverage. Rich in iron and other essential minerals and vitamins, nettles are wonderful sautéed or in a cream of nettle soup.

The shorter roots beside the nettles are Jerusalem artichoke and the orange long ones are sassafras. Jerusalem artichokes can be prepared in almost any way potatoes can. Check out these 25 different ways to use them. Sassafras roots, when simmered 15 to 20 minutes on low, yield a reddish tea that has the distinct taste of root beer. Once touted as a cure-all by colonists and native people alike, this fragrant native shrubby tree boasts edible leaves and drinkable bark. Mix in some honey and ice and- bam! A rootbeer-esque flavor sensation.

Finally, at the top of the sheet we see dead nettle, chickweed, violet and some turkey tail mushrooms. To learn the identification, harvest techniques and preparation of these guys, you’ll just have to come and bundle up for a winter walk with us!

Cheers, stay warm and remember to always use a real-live expert, not the internet, before tasting new wild foods!

photo credits Becky Beyer