The harsh frosts have come and gone here in Ohio. All of my once beautiful plants are now brown and crispy. You may think this is the end of the road for fresh medicinals in your garden, but luckily that’s not true. While the leaves and flowers have gone by the wayside, now is the time to focus on our medicinal and edible roots.
During the growing season all of the energy in the plant is focused on its above-ground activities. While we may harvest a root here or there for food or medicine during this time, they won’t be at their best. When the plant is focused above ground this often makes the root less dense and less strong. Horseradish, for instance, will not be as strong tasting and can often be woody during the summer, but crisp and pungent in the late fall and winter.
All of the perennial and biannual plants have died back down to their edible roots and now is the time to go get them. Some of the best edible roots tend to leave a bit of green or a tell tale dried stalk standing over the spot where they are hiding. Learn how to identify your favorite plants at this time of year and you’ll have food and medicine all winter long.
5 Edible Roots to Harvest Now
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Dandelion tends to stay ever-green. You’ll find a rosette of dandelion leaves in your yard even in the dead of winter. When the ground is not frozen, dig a hole straight down beside the root. Grab the top of the plant and pull it sideways into the hole. You may need to pull it back and forth before you are able to pull it straight up out of the hole (this depends on how compact your soil is). Dandelion roots can be sliced and sautéed along with a dinner stir fry, added to soups and broths, or even grated and added to your hashbrowns! While they are delicious, they’ll also be supporting kidney and liver health and providing a healthy dose of potassium, manganese, iron, calcium, vitamins C and B, and betacarotene.
Nettle (Urtica dioica)
If you’re still trying to get used to the idea of using nettle leaf, here’s another surprise. Nettle root is incredibly beneficial for the prostate gland. If you’re digging up an unwanted patch of nettles anyway, you might as well tincture the root and have a supply around to keep the man in your life healthy.
Dont have access to nettle plants? Find organic dried nettle root here.
Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus)
A tincture of yellow dock may just be your best friend if you suffer from severe acne or any other problematic skin disorder. This weed is easy to find once you learn to recognize the characteristic brown seedheads. Yellow dock is in the buckwheat family, so if you’ve ever stuffed a pillow with buckwheat from the craft store you’ll quickly see the family resemblance. Yellow dock root doesn’t taste especially nice, but it provides a power pack of iron and Vitamin C. This root can be tinctured or made into capsules once you’ve dried your stash.
If you don’t have yellow dock growing near you, you can find dried yellow dock root here.
Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)
There is a lot said about the flowers and leaves of mullein, but less mentioned about its root. You’ll find mullein in fields and along roadsides. It has a tall brown candelabra that you can’t miss. Dig the roots and use them in a tincture for swollen prostate, back pain, or bell’s palsy.
Horseradish (Amoracia rusticana)
I’ll be digging some of these edible roots this afternoon. My husband has a sinus congestion that is getting out of hand. A small pinch of horseradish to chew 3-4 times a day ought to help clear things up for him. Horseradish is one of the medicines I most like to eat. It’s best made fresh (grind it outside, trust me!) and used as a sauce or sandwich spread.