Taylor Wilson, Conservation Technician and Outreach Assistant
The winter weather can make it seem like nothing is growing this time of year, but if you know where to look you can find all types of life. Foraging is a great winter activity. Getting out and enjoying nature and even enjoying the cold helps stimulate your mind and overcome the winter “lull” it’s so easy to be stuck in. This winter consider getting outside and seeking out watercress to add to your foraging list.
Watercress is an evergreen plant found in cold, quick moving streams in the winter. If you’ve ever been hiking in the cold and wondered what that bright green water plant was—it was probably watercress! This plant is in the mustard family and has a peppery taste. It can be used similarly to spinach in soups, salads, sauces, etc. It contains significant amounts of iron, calcium and folic acid, in addition to vitamins A and C. To identify, check here.
As with every water plant, before picking and eating ensure that you know the cleanliness of the water you’re harvesting from. Plants are great water filters for pollution, which means they can uptake toxic materials. Never pick plants from polluted streams, large urban rivers, or near drainage areas from where livestock are kept.
Not interested in watercress? If you own land, you can tap your trees. More than just maple trees can be tapped. You can use a phone app like iNaturalist to identify trees and then do an internet search to see if and how to tap them for sap. Trees such as birch, walnut, boxelder, and hickory can be tapped for slightly different tasting syrups. Ideal conditions for this activity are when temperatures fluctuate between freezing and 45 degrees fahrenheit throughout the day.
Remember: Harvesting or ingesting the wrong species of plants can have dire consequences, which is why experts suggest that you identify a plant based on three separate characteristics. Verify AT LEAST THREE between the fruit, stem, bark, flower, root, leaves, etc. Check here for an identification guide, and remember:
Never ingest or handle any type of wild plant without being certain you know what it is.
Any doubt, LEAVE IT OUT !
Do you forage? What are some of your favorite things to look for in winter? Share with us in a comment!