Foraging in February: honestly mostly just observing nature.

Photo of Nate.
Mandatory overly serious self portrait.

One of the things people often say to me this time of year is “Have you been out foraging much? Probably not, right?”. Well, I really haven’t been doing too much foraging, but I do try to get out in the woods as much as I can.

If you want to be eating lots of foraged food this time of year in PA, hopefully you were out harvesting and preserving when it was warmer. However, there are some foods that can be foraged even in the ice and snow. Last year I found garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) leaves and roots, under almost 3 feet of snow. I had been watching that patch before winter really hit. Good luck finding root crops in deep snow if you don’t know the area well.

Anyway, like I said, I have been trying to get out as much as possible. I have mostly been studying the woods in its winter state, taking photos, and even eating a few morsels here and there. So here are some stories and photographs some of the plants that I have been learning from.

Photo of common hackberry.
Withered leaves and fruit of Common Hackberry, Celtis occidentalis.

The Last couple days should have been great for collecting Hackberries. There is a couple feet of snow on the ground, with a nice covering of ice. The white color of the snow contrasts with the almost black purple of the hackberries, and the ice keeps the berries from sinking into the snow as they fall from the tree.

How do you get them to fall from the tree? By throwing a nice sized stick at the lower branches.

Photo of the fruit of common hackberry, Celtis occidentalis in my hand.
Fruit of common hackberry, Celtis occidentalis.

Hackberries have a thin sweet pulp around a proportionally large seed with a small nutmeat inside.

Photo of nutmeat inside the seed of common hackberry, Celtis occidentalis.
Nutmeat inside the seed of common hackberry, Celtis occidentalis.

Unfortunately the last couple days haven’t been real good for harvesting hackberries, because all the nearby trees dropped the vast majority of their fruit before they ripened this year. Most of the fruit that did remain on the trees is not viable. I have managed to find one tree that does have a few with viable seeds to eat, but even on these, the outer fruit layer went bad before it dried.

Fortunately I got to eat a bunch of good hackberries from a dwarf hackberry (Celtis tenuifolia) tree this fall.

Photo of aniseroot or sweet cicely seeds covered with ice.
Aniseroot or sweet cicely seeds covered with ice.

Aniseroot and sweet cicely are two very similar plants that taste like liquorice. You can use the leaves in spring and fall, and the root can be eaten from late fall to early spring.

This and other members of the carrot family should be given extra caution in the identification stage, as they can resemble hemlock plants.

Photo of aniseroot or sweet cicely seeds covered with ice.
Either aniseroot or sweet cicely (Osmorhiza species) seeds.

Since I don’t know whether you can eat the dry seeds of aniseroot or sweet cicely, I just picked a few and planted them under the snow.

Photo of lamb's quarters stalks and seeds covered with ice.
Lamb's quarters stalks and seeds (probably Chenopodium album).

I transplanted some lamb’s quarters into a large pot this summer. During the fall I dried most of the seeds, but left some on one of the smaller plants, and I’m glad that I did. They look quite beautiful all covered with ice. Now I just need to get around to winnowing the seed that I did harvest.

Photo of rose hips covered in ice.
Rose hips from non-native multiflora rose (Rosa Multiflora).

Multiflora rose hips are a sweet nibble all winter, as long as you separate the pulp from the fine hairs that surround the inedible seeds. They are not native, so try not to spread the seeds.

Photo of basswood nuts and bract.
Basswood (Tilia species) nuts and bract.

There are several basswood species in North America, all of which have nuts attached by a stem to an odd leaf called a bract. I am mostly interested in basswood for their spring leaves, which can be used a salad green (or eaten right off the tree, as seen in Samuel Thayer’s dvd). The nuts are too small to really be very useful, but my son and I gather a few off the ice and took them home. Unfortunately I can’t describe their flavor, because none of the ones we gathered were viable.

Photo of an aerial pod of what I believe to be ground bean.
An aerial pod of what I believe to be ground bean (Amphicarpaea bracteata).

I believe these to be the aerial pods of Amphicarpaea bracteata, what Samuel Thayer calls “ground bean” (most sources refer to it as hog peanut), however I am not completely positive about my identification.

Photo of aerial beans of what I believe to be ground bean in my hand.
Aerial beans of what I believe to be ground bean (Amphicarpaea bracteata).

I planted these with the hope of a confident identification in the future. If they are ground bean, they are beautiful little native nitrogen fixers that were cultivated by some tribes. They produce both underground and aerial beans, and apparently benefit from the soil being disrupted while people the subterranean ones. Ground bean is definitely going to find a place in my family’s native first forage/forest garden when we have some land.

Photo of seeds and stems of honewort.
Seeds and stems of honewort (Cryptotaenia canadensis).

Honewort is one of my favorite plants, I eat the leaves and stalks in spring, the leaves in fall, and dry some to use as a seasoning year round. Fresh honewort has a wonderful taste, somewhat like parsley, only much more subtle and pleasant.

Thanks for reading, I should have some more foraging posts, as well as some book reviews up soon.


* any pictures or descriptions of plants or information about them is provided for your information and inspiration. I highly recommend foraging, but buy yourself a reliable guide like either of Samuel Thayer’s books from Forager’s Harvest Press.

** I rely heavily on Nature’s Garden and The Forager’s Harvest by Samuel Thayer, and to a lesser extent Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants by Steve Brill. All three books are quite good, however I find Thayer’s work more reliable and detailed.


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