Even though it’s late fall or the beginning of winter, there are still wonderful plant gifts to find outdoors. It just takes a little looking, and is also somewhat dependent on the weather.
Rosehips are at their best right now. Some will have been nipped by the frost and be mushy, but oh so sweet, while others will still be firm, all on the same bush or the in the same cluster. You can eat them straight off the bush, as I was doing the other day, or cut off the cluster and dry them for use for teas or holiday decorations. The hips of commonly found rugosa or beach roses and multiflora roses are beautiful included in wreaths or arrangements, or even just in a bouquet on their own. They are as pretty dried as they are fresh.
Another prickly plant with red berries is barberry. Japanese barberry is used extensively in landscaping, and at this time of year its red berries are hanging in rows beneath the thin twigs. If you protect your hands while picking the berry-bedecked twigs, they make a nice addition to holiday decorations. The berries, while not terribly exciting, can be used to make a jam or snacked on. I recently heard that the berries were included in Seventeenth century stuffings, but I don’t think it was the berries of the Japanese species, which are not at all juicy, but common barberry with tastier fruit.
Evening primroses are also at just the right stage to eat, the roots being full of nutrients and the rosette of leaves having a delicious peppery taste. Now is the time to dig the roots before the ground gets frozen. You can use the roots in soups, stews, stir-fries, or root-veggie mashes, or slice and dry them for use later in the winter season. They are mucilaginous and healing for the gut and mucous membranes.
The seeds of evening primrose are numerous in their shapely seed pods, and the birds, especially gold finches, love to eat them, usually in the fall and spring. The seeds are really tiny, maybe the size of this period . and they are the source of evening primrose oil. Even though the seeds are very numerous, with their tiny size you can see why the oil is so expensive. Just think how many seeds it takes to make one ounce of oil! You can get the goodness of that oil into your diet without cost, however, by harvesting the seeds and adding them to whatever dishes you like. One friend suggests using them on baked goods like poppy seeds! It is really simple to harvest the seeds—just cut the seed stalks and stick them upside down in a paper bag and shake. (You can use the seed stalks for decorations after that.) If you want more of the seeds you can split the seed heads open and finger out the seeds, which is time consuming, but something to do while watching a movie. The seeds will keep for months in a jar.
Burdock burrs are distinctive and easy to find in the stripped landscape. If you are lucky, there will still be a few leaves you can harvest for teas or soups, and if the ground isn’t frozen you can grab a few roots. Great for food or medicine at this time of year!
Burdock’s burry seed stalks make a nice addition to arrangements, and the seeds can be harvested for medicinal uses. They can also be eaten, though they are rather bitter (which is good for you). Be careful when taking the seeds out of the burrs, however, as the hairs from the burrs can get onto your tongue and cause discomfort. You will want to wear some sort of gloves, if possible, as this will protect your fingers from the prickly burrs.
If you like a natural, Nature-inspired decorating theme, for the holidays or the winter, then now is the time to go out and collect dry seed heads from the garden or the fields. Goldenrod has lovely rather feathery seed heads, mugwort has more refined seed stalks, evening primrose has stalks with upright, bell-shaped seed pods, and Queen Anne’s lace has seed heads resembling birds’ nests. Any or all of these can be sprayed with silver of gold paint or rolled in glitter if you want to add a bit of sparkle to you natural look. Mixing them with red rosehips or barberries will give added punch to your arrangement, or you can mix them with seasonal greens in arrangements or wreaths.
So just when you thought the foraging season was over, you now have a reason to go out and harvest a few last plants! Let me know what you do with your late fall/early winter gleanings in the comments section.