Lest you should think that I am all “Heirlooms” and no “Hedgecrafts” I decided this week to stick with the topic I have had planned for MONTHS for this week and that is winter foraging! Connection to the land where I live through an active and living relationship with the plants and herbs that grow wild here has been such a wonderful journey. Up until I had my own land to work with and around I found it almost impossible to connect well to plant spirits in any kind of useful or functional way. In fact, I am still learning and the topic of this week’s blog is no different. I really want to learn more about things that grow and live through the cold New England winters and how they can be utilized so this is something of a journey that we will be embarking on together!
So, today, let’s chat about what plants are still growing out there that we can work with. This might seem obvious, but the ones most easily accessible are, well, EVERGREENS…. and fungi, too! That is to say, the non-deciduous trees, bushes, shrubs, and plants that remain with green leaves all year ’round. Even with the snow and the cold these are still ripe for the pickin’! So, here is a shortlist of winter evergreens and fungi that can be foraged in winter time:
Pine needle tea has long been lauded for its high Vitamin A & C content which is believed to have immune boosting effects. (And can be a preventative for colds and flu!) Eastern White Pine and noble fir are two varieties that are said to make delicious tea. Older needles have higher vitamin content, but can be bitter. Younger needles are sweeter. Use 1/2 cup needs to 3 cups water and steep for approximately 20 minutes.
Be careful to only use SAFE, non-toxic evergreens as many common ones can be highly toxic. (Such as yew, juniper, cypress, and ponderosa pine.)
Not just beautiful to behold, but also a wonderful year-round treasure found in deep woods and prefer shade to thrive. Wintergreen tea is said to help with rheumatism, colds, and upper respiratory infections. It can also help with kidney and urinary tract issues and be an effective treatment for reducing fevers. Plus, as an extra bonus, it’s also wonderfully sweet especially if sweetened with honey!
In Spring and Summer the leaves appear bright green as depicted here. In the winter the leaves are often a brown hue.
I have to start by saying here that I am NOT a mycology expert, not by a long shot. The idea of touching a mushroom gives me the heebie jeebies. BUT I didn’t want to let that stop from me from passing on this useful advice! When it comes to mushies there are a lot of toxis varieties out there. So don’t mess with mushrooms unless you are 500% sure of a positive identification!
Reishi mushrooms grow on dead hardwood trees. There are three varieties that are known to grown in the New England region: G. curtisii, G. sessile, and G. tsugae. Fresh fruit are a bright reddish orange and dry to the color seen here. Thankfully there really aren’t any other mushrooms that look similar to Reishi so it’s a safe first to forage!
Reishi helps to stimulate and support the immune system. It can help with allergies and may even be anti-carcinogenic! A great tonic for those with chronic immune disorders and works best as a tincture.
Juniper needles or “tips” are toxic to ingest, but the berries of juniper have been shown in some studies to be an excellent antiviral which can help in the treatment of strains of the flu. It can also be used to help treat coughs, bronchitis, and other upper respiratory infections. However, the most common use for these fruits are for urinary tract support. (I think it’s interesting that many of these winter-faring plants offer urinary tract support… I’m sure it must say something about our ancient ancestors and the lives they lived!)
A cool fun fact I learned while writing this blog is that it takes up to THREE YEARS for berries to ripen. Mother Earth’s labor of love, I guess!
TURKEY TAIL MUSHROOMS
Fortunately, like Reishi, none of the Turkey Tail look-a-likes are toxic either which makes it an excellent choice for the amateur forager. To start, obviously, turkey tail is stunningly gorgeous. Like Reishi, turkey tail grows exclusively on dead wood. The two mimic mushrooms that resemble turkey tail are easy to pick out by paying attention to the underside of the thin mushroom “petals”. Turkey tail has a white underside when it’s fresh and have small pores (NOT gills!).
Turkey tail is a great detoxifier and helps to stimulate the immune system and suppress cytokine release.
Whew! What a fun journey that was! Or at least I enjoyed myself. I hope you did, too. This week in my live stream I am hoping to put this information to practical use and go on a foraging adventure with you all LIVE through Instagram-only! (I will upload it separately to YouTube and Facebook.) I would do FB and IG simultaneously but I can only carry a single device with me at a time!
What sorts of natural treatments and tonics do you use to help support your immune system? Tell me about your regimen and experience with herbal medicine in the comments below!