Enjoy this shortlist of 10 winter herbs for foraging during the cold months. From dandelions and violets to conifer leaves and rose hips!
Did you know that you can forage for herbs in the winter as well as in the summer? Even when the land is in a cover of snow and ice, there are herbal and medicinal plants that you can find in the cold weather. Some may even be right out your back door!
Winter Herbs for Foraging
While many herbs are terrestrial, meaning they grow in the ground, some grow on or are part of trees and shrubs. Here are a few winter herbs you can forage and harvest.
Herbs Off the Ground
Pines, firs, and other conifers are evergreens, meaning they stay green and don’t lose their leaves, or in this case, needles. Most conifers are edible and medicinal in some way, containing loads of vitamin C among other things. White Pine grows in most areas and to the north or in higher elevations, Frasier and Douglas Fir are common. Frasier Fir is one of the most common Christmas trees they sell. Now, before you make a tea from the needles, make sure the growing conditions are free from pesticides or herbicides. Most are safe to use, just be sure of what you have.
Usnea, also known as Old Man’s Beard, is a winter herb that is common in the southeast and other areas of the country. It contains usnic acid, a powerful natural antibiotic. Gather from areas where it grows in thick strands. Usnea is also an environmental indicator. It does poorly in areas where there is a lot of pollution. So if you find it growing profusely, you can be assured that the area has relatively clean air.
Rose hips can be found in early winter. Later in the season, birds and animals have likely eaten most of them. We have a wild Multiflora Rose that is an invasive plant. Though many have tried to remove it, it still grows in profusion and has tiny hips or fruit that are bright red and easy to find. You can dry them for later use, make a tincture or a tea, and still get vitamin C and other antioxidants.
Forsythia fruits can be found in early winter if they have bloomed again in the fall. My forsythia did this year as well as others in the area. The fruit is made into a tincture and is used to fight inflammation. Again, be sure the plants you harvest from aren’t sprayed for anything.
Herbs On The Ground
There are even more herbs that you can find at your feet in the winter. You may need to dig in the snow a bit to find some of them, but they’ll be there. One thing to consider is that some herbs don’t look the same in the winter as they do in the summer. Mints, for example, often look purple on the underside. I use this to my advantage and call it Winter Mint.
Mints, as stated just above, are herbs that grow in the winter. You’ll find them close to the ground, often freezing over once cold weather hits. But on a sunny day, they’ll put forth new leaves again. I harvest mine 2-3 times during the winter. The coloring is due to the plant’s inability to produce enough chlorophyll. The essential oils are often more concentrated in the winter, much like the nutrients in microgreens.
Dandelion is a winter herb that grows well in the south during the winter and often pops up in sunny spots when the snow melts. In Minnesota, I would harvest dandelion leaves during the winter thaw in January. It would snow again, but I’d have some tasty greens!
Chickweed grows well in the winter. Look for it at the edge of the woods in the dappled sun. If it freezes hard, it will die out. But don’t worry, it will come back from the roots when the ground warms a bit again.
Watercress can sometimes be found in clear flowing streams. It is susceptible to the cold, but streams seem to be able to provide enough warmth for it unless the surface freezes over. Watercress contains vitamins C, E, and A.
Add yarrow to the list of winter herbs that grow well in the cold months. You may even find a few blooms if the warmer weather holds out for a while. If not, the leaves are one of the most used parts. Yarrow is a good infection fighter, especially for skin ailments, and has long been used for women’s issues.
Violets are abundant in the winter. They often don’t bloom until spring, but some will flower in the fall as well. All parts of the plant contain mucilage and salicylic acid, the forerunner of aspirin. A tea from the leaves can help to mend a sore throat.
This is just a shortlist of winter herbs for foraging. How many more can you think of?