Winter is a magical time of year. Nature grows quiet and cozying up to a warm fire is particularly inviting. While falling into a peaceful hibernation routine is normal, it is worthwhile to wrap up in your warmest clothes and venture out into the forest to find the unique fruits of this special season. Despite the chilly temperatures, and maybe even a few inches of snow covering the ground, winter foraging is possible and plentiful!
Below is a list of things that are commonly harvested in the wild of the winter woods and how to transform these ingredients into flavorful herbal teas to warm your body up after a frigid forage.
Cedar is a sacred tree often used in ancient and modern-day ceremonies alongside sweetgrass and tobacco to cleanse and purify. Part of the evergreen family, cedar trees have leaves all year round that holds a distinctive, spicy scent. Aside from their ceremonial uses, cedar trees also hold several nutrients that are significant to the detoxification processes of the body. By stimulating the lymphatic system, cedar helps the body release toxins and chronic low-grade inflammation.
It also eliminates fluid retention and promotes venous circulation to the kidneys and bladder. Containing active compounds like cedrol, beta-cedrene, and thuiopene, cedar acts as a natural diuretic that assists the body in detoxifying even further. Cedar is often used to help treat fevers and clear phlegm that accompanies colds and flu that are so commonly seen during the winter season. Also rich in vitamin C, it gives your body an immune boost, as well as helps with collagen synthesis to promote wound healing.
Cedar Tea Recipe
- Bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a small pot.
- Add 2 cups of fresh cedar to boiling water.
- Boil for 10 minutes or until the water becomes golden in color.
- Strain tea into a small teapot.
- Sweeten with honey or maple syrup (optional).
Pine trees are abundant in the strong evergreen forests that stand up against the bitter winter winds. A few of the easiest ways to identify a pine tree is by the way its needles are arranged. Seen in a sharp-tipped bundle (called fascicles) with their seed-producing cones hanging downward, this is different compared to conifer trees (like the fir) that tend to have cones that grow upward from the branches.
If you’ve never foraged for pine before, it’s best to do so with someone who knows how to recognize them or to get a foraging book to reference.
Pine needles are packed with nutrients that assist in several health benefits including maximizing immune health, improving vision, preventing respiratory infections, increasing circulation, improving cognitive performance, and aiding in healing.
The most notable nutrient pine is known for is its high vitamin C content. Containing more than 5x the vitamin C found in lemons, pine needles deliver a super immune health punch. Also rich in vitamin A, an antioxidant that is important for eyesight, hair and skin regeneration, and production of red blood cells. Pine needles have long been used as an expectorant to help soothe coughs, chest congestion, and sore throats.
Possibly nature’s fountain of youth, research shows evidence that pine needle tea can help in slowing the aging process. Taoist priests would drink pine needle tea regularly to help them live longer.
Pine Needle Tea Recipe:
- Remove fresh needles and rinse in cold water.
- Place needles in a tea mug.
- Boil one cup of water. Once boiled, pour over pine needles
- Let steep for 5 minutes.
- Sweeten with honey or maple syrup (optional)
The black chokeberry is an adaptable shrub that produces a deep purple berry fruit that is commonly used to make jams, syrups, teas, and wines. With a wide range of vitamins and minerals including zinc, magnesium, iron, and vitamins C, B, and K, these little winter morsels are bursting with health benefits. Several research studies found positive results on the protective effects chokeberries have on liver health, insulin resistance, and immune function.
Its dark anthocyanin phytochemicals are known to reduce free radicals in the blood and decrease oxidative stress in the body. The antioxidant behavior of the black chokeberry is believed to reduce harmful bacteria activity, inhibit cancer cell growth, and decrease overall inflammation. Also known as the Aronia Berry, black chokeberries are best consumed cooked, as the fruit is quite astringent and can produce a mouth-drying effect when eaten raw.
Black Chokeberries Tea
- Dry black chokeberries by setting the oven to 200 degrees F and spreading berries out on a baking sheet. Let dry in the oven for 6 to 8 hours, checking on them frequently.
- Take 2 cups of dried berries and 2 cups of boiling water. Add to a tea mug.
- Cover and steep for 30 minutes.
- Sweeten with honey (optional).
Rosehips are the fruit of roses that replace the flowers once temperatures begin to drop. They can vary in color from red to orange and have an oblong shape with small wisps protruding from the bottom. Fresh, wild rosehips are high in vitamin C with nearly 200% of the recommended daily value in just 1 ounce.
The presence of vitamins A and E coupling with vitamin C makes rosehips hearty in antioxidants and reduces overall inflammation. Its analgesic properties help relieve arthritis and joint pain, while its astringent behavior prevents skin rashes and flare-ups caused by eczema, psoriasis, and acne. Polyphenolic compounds and the presence of leucoanthocyanins help to reduce systolic blood pressure and cholesterol levels, making them heart-healthy fruits. Lastly, rosehips are helpful in digestive health. Its anti-inflammatory properties soothe the tissues in the gut to help regulate bowel movements, relieve constipation, eliminate toxins, and ensure proper nutrient absorption.
- Dry rosehips by setting the oven to 200 degrees F and spreading fruit on a baking sheet. Let dry in the oven for 6 to 8 hours, checking on them frequently. Once dry, crush rosehips into smaller pieces.
- Boil 1 cup of water in a small pot.
- Place rosehips in a tea mug. Once water is boiled, pour over rosehips.
- Let steep for 15 minutes, then strain out the pulp.
- Sweeten with honey (optional).
Turkey Tail Mushroom
Turkey Tail Mushroom commonly grows on fallen logs or tree stumps all year round. Although they vary in color, one thing that is common throughout all turkey tail mushroom species is its resemblance to a turkey’s tail. Known as a bracket fungus, because of its shelf-like form, its job is to break down lignin or cellulose in rotting wood. The one way to decipher a true turkey tail mushroom from an imposter turkey tail imposter is its underside.
True turkey tail mushroom will have a polypore appearance, which looks like tiny holes covering the entirety of the underside. Used as a treatment for liver disease for over 2,000 years in traditional Chinese medicine, the turkey tail mushroom is a potent liver protector.
Lush with beta-glucan polysaccharides, a nutrient that stimulates white blood cells to release cytokines, the turkey tail mushroom is an immune system soldier that helps kill invading pathogens. Turkey tail mushroom also helps increase GABA (gamma-aminobutyric-acid) production in the brain. By helping balance out neurotransmitters, turkey tail mushroom extract can decrease irritability, restlessness, and mood swings in individuals experiencing anxiety and/or depression. Its extracts also increase Bifidobacterium production, an essential microbe that helps nourish the gut and supports digestive tract function.
If you can’t find Turkey Tail in the forest, Turkey tail tincture is available in the Apothecary.
Turkey Tail Mushroom Tea
- Chop turkey tail mushroom into small pieces. Add to a large pot of water on the stove.
- Bring water to a boil, then simmer for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes.
- Strain the mixture.
- Optional: add loose leaf tea to hot water for added flavor (chamomile loose leaf tea is pictured).
During the summer, chicory is easy to spot due to its vibrant, blue colors. While the blue flowers disappear during wintertime, chicory leaves often remain green, making it easy to find in a landscape covered in glistening, white snow. Chicory is a scraggly-looking plant that is most often found in areas that get ample amounts of sunlight, such as fields or along with gravel areas.
Rich in inulin fiber, chicory root promotes a happy functioning gut by helping food pass more easily through the digestive tract. Inulin is a soluble fiber, meaning it holds water in the intestines, helping you to feel fuller longer. It also aids in lowering blood sugar and decreasing insulin resistance. Containing high amounts of manganese and vitamin B6, chicory root gives a major brain health boost.
Manganese is a vasodilator with antioxidant properties. It helps improve blood flow and increases the speed of electrical signals to improve overall brain function. Vitamin B6 is also a vital nutrient in brain function, as it is needed to create certain neurotransmitters. Chicory root is most known for its use as a coffee replacement due to the warming coffee flavor you get after roasting it in the oven.
Chicory Root Coffee
- Mince chicory roots with a knife.
- Set oven to 350 degrees F. Arrange chicory pieces on a baking pan and toast until golden brown and pieces have a coffee-like smell.
- Grind roots up into a powder.
- Mix chicory with ground coffee (the ratio is up to you, it is easy to start with a 2:3 chicory-to-coffee blend at first).
- Brew coffee as you regularly would.
- Add foam, cream, honey, or any other flavorings to enhance your chicory root coffee.
After a cold winter forage, nothing is better than warming up next to a fire with a hot herbal cup of your forest finds. As every season has its magic, winter falls far from short with what it has to offer your health and your kitchen cabinets in nutritious foods. Harvest safely, and enjoy being in the wilderness connecting with mother nature!
Also, with the cold and influenza season in full swing, we need all the help we can get to keep our immune systems healthy and strong. Here are a few of Nicole’s top picks that are found in our Essential Winter Defense Bundle. Whether maintaining lung health, boosting immunity, or reducing fevers, each herb supports overall well-being this winter and beyond.