5 Easy to Forage Edible Winter Plants of the Northeast

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Foraging interest and activity always peaks in the fall. Then inevitably it declines quickly with the cooler weather. There is a lot of interesting plants to forage that are available in the winter and for some such as hairy bittercress they even continue to grow on days that are warm enough. Getting familiar with these plants will hopefully get us outside and engaged with nature even in the winter.

Berberis thunbergii, Japanese Barberry fruits and leaves
Berberis thunbergii, Japanese Barberry fruits and leaves (Photo By: Alpsdake / Wikimedia Commons)

Barberry(Berberis thunbergii)
I tend to be a little lazy when it comes to food preparation. That’s one reason I like to forage for barberry in the winter. It is one of the few berries like greenbrier that are available in the winter to just pick and eat with no preparation. I must admit the taste is complicated, it is mostly bitter, but with a little sweetness and a little acidity. The non-native barberry shrub is very prolific in the northeastern US and is considered invasive in much of it’s area. You should have no guilt harvesting as many berries as you want. You will likely first notice the bright red berries hanging on the shrub through most of the winter. Cutting through a branch and looking at the bright yellow wood inside is also a good identification feature along with the small and very sharp thorns lining all branches and stems. See our article Japanese Barberry, Invasive Winter Fruit for more information.

Norway Spruce (Picea abies)
Norway Spruce (Picea abies). (Photo By: UnreifeKirsche / Wikimedia Commons)

Spruce(Genus: Abies)
This is one of a number of edible evergreen trees, others include eastern hemlock, fir and pine. Not all evergreen trees are edible. Yew shrubs which can sometimes take the form of small trees can be deadly toxic. The good news is that spruce are easy to distinguish from yews. It’s just good to at least be aware that they are out there sometimes growing side by side. The most common types of spruce in my area are Norway spruce, blue spruce and white spruce. These 3 are also very common across the country but it would be helpful to learn what species are common in your area. In the dead of winter spruce shoots can be used to make tea. The flavor takes a little getting used to but this quickly becomes a familiar warming tea in winter. When spring comes the spruce tree has other edible parts including young shoots and young cones. They have a strong flavor but usually not inedible and as with the tea the more you taste spruce the more familiar it becomes. See our article Spruce – Surprisingly Edible Abundant Evergreen Tree for more information.

Rose(Rosa multiflora)
Edible winter rose hips really only refer to multiflora rose as far as I know. They will sometimes hang on all the way into February depending on how quickly the cold weather sets in. All rose hips are edible but I haven’t seen others make it into the winter. If the weather gets cold quickly in december and the multiflora rose hips do not have a chance to decay they will stay on the plant for months into the winter and become sweet with the cold weather. If you have a warm winter they will likely decay in December.

Rosa multiflora
Multiflora Rose berries, also known as rose hips.

Multiflora rose is easy to identify once your looking at the vines up close. It is an invasive vine so harvest as much as you want. First you will notice the groups of rose hips projecting away from the vine. Then once you look at the vine you’ll see the large curved thorns that leave a distinctive oval scar when snapped off. Rose hips have small fibers protecting the seed. Multiflora rose hips are very small and can be eaten without a lot of concern for the small fibers. If you have the opportunity to easily harvest a lot of rose hips then making them into a tea works great. You’ll even be able to filter out the seeds and fibers through a cloth. In the early spring newly sprouted rose foliage can be eaten before it forms thorns. See our article Multiflora Rose, An Invasive but Nutritious Wild Edible for more information.

Hairy Bittercress - Cardamine hirsuta
Hairy Bittercress – Cardamine hirsuta(Photo By: Aung / Wikimedia Commons)

Hairy Bittercress(Cardamine hirsuta) and Pennsylvania Bittercress(Cardamine pensylvanica)
Hairy Bittercress is a small winter annual lawn weed which is a member of the cabbage family. A Winter annual is a plant that has the opposite life cycle than many of the summer annual weeds that are common such as crab grass and wood sorrel. Winter annuals like hairy and pennsylvania bittercress are generally seeded in the summer, they grow all the way through the winter in a semi-dormant state then release seed and die the next summer. Pennsylvania bittercress has most of the same characteristics as hairy bittercress but grows in wetter environments. These plants have a characteristic shape when young. They consist of a basal rosette of pinnately compound leaves. Each leaflet resembles a small rounded heart shape. In the spring and summer they develop flower stalks from the center of the foliage. Bittercress has edible leaves and roots, although its probably easier to just cut the leaves from the roots. Each plant is very small in the winter but they are often very plentiful and easy to harvest. The flavor is mild resembling other members of the cabbage family. See our article Bittercress, a Nationwide Herb for more information.

White Pine - Pinus strobus
White Pine – Pinus strobus (Photo By: MPF / Wikimedia Commons)

Pine(Genus: Pinus)
This is another edible evergreen tree. As mentioned before not all evergreen trees have edible foliage. The yew shrub is very toxic but it can easily be distinguish from spruce and the other edible evergreen trees. I write this paragraph with white pine in mind since it’s what I encounter the most and is extremely common in the northeastern US but the information applies to other pine trees as well. As with spruce, pine foliage also makes a great winter tea. The flavor is strong and does take some getting used to but it quickly becomes a comforting tea in my opinion. There are stories of native Americans eating young bark and inner bark throughout the winter. I have not found a way to prepare the bark to be palatable but its possible that it wasn’t very palatable to them either, or maybe they just got used to it. In the spring the shoots and young cones are edible. I have taken a liking to these but they too have a strong flavor. See our article on White Pine for more information.



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Berberis thunbergii, Japanese Barberry fruits and leaves
5 Easy to Forage Edible Winter Plants of the Northeast
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5 Reasons Why Lab Grown Meat is Better

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What is Clean Meat?
For those of you living in a cave(which some of our readers probably do) and haven’t heard of the recent advances in lab grown meat, let me update you. Within the last 2-5 years “clean meat” companies as they prefer to be called have made significant progress toward the goal of affordably producing lab grown meat for the general public. A pound of lab grown meat still costs a few thousand dollars at best but now there are somewhat streamlined processes in place to make it. Companies like Memphis Meats are continuing to rapidly get prices down and increase production. These companies have their eyes set on meat production that will rival or even surpass the quality and price of traditionally grown meat. Many of them believe they will have products for sale within 5 years. All this without the need to mass breed and slaughter live animals.

First Cultured Hamburger
First Cultured Hamburger (Photo By: Nederlandse leeuw / Wikimedia Commons)

To be clear clean meat is actual meat, it is not a meat substitute. Clean meat is produced by a process in which cell cultures( typically cattle, pork or poultry muscle cells) are supplied with the environment and correct balance of nutrients to perform cell replication in a lab. Over time a few live cells can replicate into a raw living meatball but without an animal attached to it. The process is a bit more complicated involving the replication of stem cells that can turn into muscle cells but you get the idea.

The concept of growing meat in a lab seems impulsively repugnant to many. I for one find myself feeling nostalgia for the old ways of hunting and raising animals that almost every human culture has done for thousands of years. As I learned more about this new method of producing meat I developed a genuine excitement for the environmental, animal welfare and human welfare benefits that it could bring to humanity. This article will make the argument that lab grown meat is better than traditionally raised meat in almost every way.

1.Animal Welfare
This is an obvious one. Although I personally believe that humans do have the right to kill and eat animals under certain circumstances, the way it is most often done today is abhorrent. My opinion is that the life experience of the animal should be a high priority in meat production. I have seen farms where animals live till adulthood relatively peacefully outdoors, protected from predators and disease. I believe that these animals live in no less pain than they would in the wild. Most of us are aware that this is not the way that many animals deemed for consumption are treated. Pigs seem to have it particularly bad considering their assumed level of intelligence and understanding of the world. Meat animals in general are often locked in cages for much of their lives, separated from family, genetically bred to be too fat to live healthy lives and then killed in inhumane ways.

Clean meat production solves all these problems completely. Clean meat need not involve any other bodily organs than muscle and fat. There is no brain, no reproductive organs, nothing to give this living muscle tissue any kind of life experience. It can be likened to the life experience of a vegetable.

2.Disease Avoidance
For some reason when we think of lab grown meat it might seems it would be a “grosser” meat than traditional meat. Once we thoroughly consider the two processes side by side though the clean meat really does live up to its name. It is by far the “cleaner” meat. Clean meat production involves no bile, feces, tumors, parasites or any of the other vulgarities that are hopefully removed from traditional meat before consumption.

First Cultured Hamburger
First Cultured Hamburger (Photo By: Nederlandse leeuw / Wikimedia Commons)

Bacteria in particular will have an extremely difficult time inhabiting clean meat production. The meat can eventually be produced in sterile containment vessels so that it will not need to be touched by human hands during development. Each batch can be tested before distribution and destroyed if any contamination is detected. Bacteria, virus, prions, and parasites will likely be nearly non-existent in these environments.

3.Improved Nutrition
Animals take a long time to selectively breed for certain traits. Many of the meat production animals today are bred for their high fat content and speedy development. This doesn’t lead to the healthiest meat options for the developed world. According to webmd.com it is pretty clear that many types of red meat contain high levels of saturated fats which can increase the risk of heart disease if consumed regularly.

Clean meat can be selected to find the best balance between taste and nutrition. It could even be genetically modified for improved nutrition if that’s what consumers are looking for. Another added benefit is that the nutrient supply to the meat can be balanced or fortified in such a way to provide optimal nutrition for the consumer. Also there is no need to add growth hormones or antibiotics.

4.Diversified Meats
This benefits is for those of us that love eating meat. It relies on the fact that lab grown meat doesn’t require the death of any animals, only a small sample taken at some point, about the size of a biopsy needle. Virtually any type of animal can theoretically be used to make clean meat. The process will definitely have to be refined for each specific type of animal, but once it’s in place it will be easily reproducible. Many types of animals in the wild might taste better and be healthier then the big 5 that most of the world eats.

5.Reduced Land Use
Livestock grazing land accounts for about 788 million acres, that’s over 40% of the land of the lower 48 states. It might not seem like livestock grazing is bad for land, but in reality it can destroy eco systems and pollute rivers and streams. Reducing the amount of land that is used as grazing pasture will only increase plant and animal species and improve ecosystems. Not only this but according to scientificamerica.com 36% of U.S corn production is used to feed animals. Most of it(40%) is used to make biofuels and the left over grain from that process is also used to feed animals. Over 13 million acres a year of corn is harvested for animal feed.

Corn Field
Corn Field (Photo By: Antony-22 / Wikimedia Commons)

This reduction in the need for large acreage for farming of crops and animals would probably need to be done in conjunction with incentives that allow deforested private and public land to recuperate. If the price of clean meat becomes competitive with traditional meat then meat producers will have a great incentive to replace their herds with clean meat production facilities which take up only a small fraction of the land that would be required to produce the equivalent amount of traditional meat.

Negative Side Effects of Lab Grown Meat
To be fair there are a couple of negative side effects of lab grown meat. The most impactful will probably be the great reduction in available jobs in the meat industry due to the extreme increase in efficiency of lab grown meat production. This is an issue that the nation is facing in many industries. It is a huge problem that needs to be solved but it’s not specific to this industry and it’s not a good reason to forgo the benefits of lab grown meat.

The second negative side effect is that lab grown meat will not necessarily require less energy. The process might end up requiring more energy than traditional meat in some circumstances. This could contribute to global warming if we haven’t developed a cleaner form of energy production by that point.

Nature Vs Technology
I am someone who loves all things natural as well as traditional ways of doing things. That being said there are times when the best thing for the natural world is the most cutting edge technology available. Humans have been a destructive force for the natural world for at least the last 10,000 years. If we want to live on this earth with anywhere near the human population we have today without destroying it then naturalists like me should get comfortable with the fact that the solutions are going to start coming more from science and technology and less from tradition.



Many of our readers find that subscribing to Eat The Planet is the best way to make sure they don't miss any of our valuable information about wild edibles.

Subscribe to our mailing list

our facebook page for additional articles and updates.

Follow us on Twitter @EatThePlanetOrg



Berberis thunbergii, Japanese Barberry fruits and leaves
5 Easy to Forage Edible Winter Plants of the Northeast
Read more.
First Cultured Hamburger
5 Reasons Why Lab Grown Meat is Better
Read more.
Queen Anne's Lace Flower
Wild Carrot – Queen Anne’s Lace
Read more.
Allium vineale, Wild Garlic
Broccoli and Wild Garlic Recipe
Read more.
Elaeagnus umbellata, Autumn Olive fruit
Autumn Olive Fruit Leather Recipe
Read more.
Linden Tree, Tilia cordata, Small leaved Linden leaves and flower bunches
Linden Flower Tea Recipe
Read more.
Rhus typhina, Staghorn Sumac fruit cluster
Staghorn Sumac Tea
Read more.
Musa basjoo, Japanese Banana growing in USDA Zone 5
Veggie Banana Leaf Tamales Recipe
Read more.
Lion's mane mushroom
Lion’s Mane Mushroom Recipe
Read more.
Amaranthus retroflexus, Common Amaranth leaves and flower seed stalks
Jamaican Callaloo Soup Recipe
Read more.

Wild Carrot – Queen Anne’s Lace

eattheplanet.org is an affiliate marketer. We may earn commission from links to products and services on this page.

our facebook page for additional articles and updates.

Follow us on Twitter @EatThePlanetOrg


The Wild Carrot(Daucus carota) also known as queen anne’s lace is the direct descendant of our domesticated carrot. These plants are meadow flowers that tend to be biennial but can live for 1 to 5 years depending on weather and it’s genetic makeup. Once an individual plant flowers it dies that winter. Carrot is a native European species which has been cultivated for at least 4000 years. Some of the oldest cultivated carrot seeds were found in Switzerland and Germany. There is also good evidence that carrots were cultivated in Afghanistan very early on. The wild carrot was brought to the new world during the migration of Europeans to America. It’s likely that it was unintentionally brought over hidden within farming supplies and probably was intentionally brought over as an aromatic herb. It currently grows in the vast majority of the United States and is considered a noxious weed in many of those states.

Edibility and culinary use

First it must be mentioned that a notoriously poisonous plant is a close look a like to the wild carrot. There will be more on this later in the article under the subheadings, Identification and Cautions.

Wild carrot’s close relative the domesticated carrot is known for its sweet and tender root. The root of the wild carrot is not very sweet or very tender but it is edible cooked and does contain starch. I have eaten wild carrot root and it is reminiscent of a regular carrot but eating wild carrot root is a bit more of a rustic experience. Choosing the right plant at the right time of year is key to maximizing your dining experience with wild carrot. First of all its pointless to harvest this plant for it’s root any other time than fall or early winter. At this time the one year old plants that have not flowered will be storing large quantities of starch in the root to prepare itself for growth and flowering the next year. To harvest just look for an individual plant that has no flower and dig it up by the root. Many roots will be small but hopefully you’ll find a few larger roots. It may be the case that roots from different locations taste better or worse as a result of soil nutrients, so harvesting from different locations may be worthwhile.

Carrot greens also have a long history of being cultivated as an aromatic herb that can be added to foods for flavoring and fragrance. This part of the plant can be harvested any time of year. It is similar to parsley but has a tougher texture. This herb works well in soups and other cooked foods that tenderize the foliage.

Health benefits

Carrots are famous for being good for the eyes. This is mostly only true in developing countries where people might have vitamin A deficiencies which can lead to serious eye problems including blindness. Carrots contain beta-carotene which is used by the body to produce vitamin A. This is also true of carrot greens.

Besides for their benefits in producing vitamin A carrot roots and greens are a serious source of many beneficial vitamins and minerals including calcium and iron. Even if you don’t go foraging for wild carrot greens this article might inspire you to at least start using carrot greens from the grocery store when cooking.

Identification

Queen Anne's Lace Flower
Queen Anne’s Lace Flower (Photo By: Kurt Stuber/Wikimedia Commons)

Wild carrot has a few lethally poisonous look a likes including the notorious poison hemlock and the closely related water hemlock. Therefore It is imperative to identify Wild carrot correctly but fortunately there are 2 very good identification characteristics that set it apart from It’s poisonous look a likes.

The best way for beginners to keep an eye out for wild carrot is to look for the familiar lacy white flowers in fields in late summer. Initially you can Identify wild carrot by the growth habit and leaf shape also, but these are not particularly unique looking. Once you believe you are looking at wild carrot there are a couple things you can do to confirm your identification. The first thing is to look at the center of the flower cluster for a very tiny purple floret. It isn’t always present on wild carrot but it usually is and it’s never present on it’s poisonous look a likes such as poison hemlock. The second characteristic that sets wild carrot apart from its poisonous look a likes is the fragrance. The root and foliage smell like you guessed it……. carrot. When you are harvesting the root you will have to rely on the fragrance heavily to confirm your identification since you wont be harvesting plants with flowers. There are many other minor details that distinguish wild carrot from other plants. This includes flower umbel pattern, stem color, amount of hair on the stem, root growth pattern, growing location, leaf shape and more. This is a specific case where I would encourage further research specifically into identification of this species by referencing an identification guide like this one.

Cautions
As mentioned in the preceding paragraph there are a few extremely toxic look a likes and a couple of good ways to distinguish wild carrot from those. Other than this very important caution the only other caution with this plant is that the foliage can cause dermatitis for some people when handled.

It should also be noted that as is the case with many plants such as onions there are minor toxins in the plant but would almost never be an issue for humans during normal consumption. Grazing animals can sometimes be affected after eating large amounts of wild carrot greens.

Conclusion
Wild Carrot is a very familiar wildflower for many parts of the country. The flower’s lacy characteristic contributed to it’s common name queen anne’s lace. This historic plant has been cultivated into a staple food for many cultures around the globe. The Wild version of the carrot has also worked it’s way around the globe as a field wildflower. Once you familiarize yourself with the wild carrot and it’s poisonous look a likes you’ll notice that it is often far more abundant than any of it’s poisonous look a likes. You can see the global range of wild carrot on this compiled map of growing locations. It is truly an abundant wild edible worldwide.



Many of our readers find that subscribing to Eat The Planet is the best way to make sure they don't miss any of our valuable information about wild edibles.

Subscribe to our mailing list

our facebook page for additional articles and updates.

Follow us on Twitter @EatThePlanetOrg



Berberis thunbergii, Japanese Barberry fruits and leaves
5 Easy to Forage Edible Winter Plants of the Northeast
Read more.
First Cultured Hamburger
5 Reasons Why Lab Grown Meat is Better
Read more.
Queen Anne's Lace Flower
Wild Carrot – Queen Anne’s Lace
Read more.
Allium vineale, Wild Garlic
Broccoli and Wild Garlic Recipe
Read more.
Elaeagnus umbellata, Autumn Olive fruit
Autumn Olive Fruit Leather Recipe
Read more.
Linden Tree, Tilia cordata, Small leaved Linden leaves and flower bunches
Linden Flower Tea Recipe
Read more.
Rhus typhina, Staghorn Sumac fruit cluster
Staghorn Sumac Tea
Read more.
Musa basjoo, Japanese Banana growing in USDA Zone 5
Veggie Banana Leaf Tamales Recipe
Read more.
Lion's mane mushroom
Lion’s Mane Mushroom Recipe
Read more.
Amaranthus retroflexus, Common Amaranth leaves and flower seed stalks
Jamaican Callaloo Soup Recipe
Read more.