Foraging in Winter

White pine twigs and multiflora rose hips

White pine twigs and multiflora rose hipsIt’s winter, and most people think winter is a time when there is nothing to forage for and not much to see in terms of plant life. But there is plenty that can be foraged, and it’s a wonderful time to observe and make note of what is around.

When I think of winter plants, trees immediately come to mind. In my area of eastern Massachusetts the white pine and white or paper birch trees stand out, closely followed by hemlocks (a native tree), junipers (red cedar) and arbor vitaes (white cedar). All offer food and or medicine at various times of the year, and all are easy to see in a winter landscape, with or without snow,

White pine needles on snow

White pine needles
(photo by Kylee Foots)

My favorite tree for winter foraging right now is white pine (Pinus strobus). You can use different parts of the tree, including the inner bark and resin, but what I look for are the needles, which grow in bunches of 5 needles grouped together into bundles. I make tea with the needles and it has a lovely piney taste to it. I find it comforting to drink and I know it is helping me ward off colds and flus.

Seeds and Berries

Walking and observing I notice the seed stalks from so many warm-weather plants. They tell me where I can find those plants come spring and summer. But some of those seeds are also useful to use in the winter months. I can sometimes find the seed heads of Queen Anne’s lace, in their elongated nest-like shape, giving the plant one of its nicknames of bird’s nest. The seeds are carroty in flavor and are a nice addition to a hot dish. I have never seen any seed heads of poison hemlock (introduced Eurasian plant) which can be confused with Queen Anne’s lace in the warm months, and in any case does not have the same kind of seed head. PICTURE

I notice the small red berries of barberries and multi-flora rose.  Both Japanese barberry and multi-flora rose are considered invasive in our area, but I love them dearly, and appreciate that I don’t have to worry about how much I use them for my food and medicine because I won’t be depleting a rare or at-risk plant resource.

Japanese barberry has red berries, which makes it easily identifiable, and they can be used for tea. I haven’t done that yet, but it’s on my list of teas to make.

The multi-flora rose hips—the red berries—can hang around for quite a while in winter, so if you didn’t collect them earlier in the fall, you can get them now (I am writing in mid-January). They are not that tasty right off the stem, but here is a fab way to enjoy them: when making a cup of tea, take a cluster of hips (no need to take them off the thorny stem) and place it into the tea as it steeps. They will give a little bit of rose hip goodness to you tea. After a few moments, or longer, the hips will have softened and can now be eaten. They taste like tart-sweet fruit and are so delicious! This is a treat only available in winter.

Walking and Noticing

When I am walking I like to notice all the plants around me. If there is no or minimal snow on the ground, I can see the leaves of biennials hanging out between their first and second year of life. I see the seed stalks of goldenrods and asters and sometimes spend time pondering which of those species a particular seed stalk belongs to.

I notice the oak trees with leaves still clinging to the branches, and note the different shapes and sizes of the leaves. Sometimes they are different species of oak, sometimes they are at different stages of how old the tree is. I also notice beech trees whose leaves cling onto them as well.

I look to see if there are freshly fallen twigs or branches of white pine, which I can take home for tea or other uses. The needles must still be a vibrant green, and it is wonderful that they will dry for later use, only losing a little of their luster.

I offer winter foraging walks where you can learn about these and other plants. You can find my information here winter foraging walks .

What have you observed on your winter walks or while driving? Is there anything you like to forage at this time of year? Let me know in the comments below.

Dandelion Hunter–Book Review

Dandelion Hunter book coverSeveral years ago, a friend gave me the book Dandelion Hunter by Rebecca Lerner (2013), which promptly got put on a shelf with other plant books and forgotten. Then a few weeks ago a friend called and told me she was reading a book that made her keep thinking of me, and it was this one. I promptly went and found where I had put it 3 years ago and read it. It was a terrific read and very much worth having unearthed it.

“When it was time to eat, we set the food down on a long, low coffee table…It was an impressive display: rose hips sauce, roasted cattail, nettle, mushrooms, wapato, venison, scones, and even wild beer. Ariel…had infused this batch with yarrow and leaves from a juniper tree.”

This is a description of a Thanksgiving dinner the author held with friends at the end of her second challenge to eat only foods foraged in and around Portland, Oregon. Her original challenge, with which she begins the book, had lasted barely five days, at the end of which she was weak from lack of food. Her first attempt taught her a lot about what could or could not be found in the city and set her to exploring more about urban foraging.

Dandelion Hunter is an interesting, educational, and very enjoyable book that follows Rebecca Lerner as she begins her urban foraging, and learns what, where, and when she can forage. She takes us on the journey with her and along the way she imparts a great deal of information.

Lerner tells about the people she meets who teach her what plants to forage, and also how to forage free food (dumpster diving) and take advantage of road kill (not as gross as it sounds). She shares information on what the original inhabitants of the area ate and how they stored their food, dangers of heavy metals and other contamination in the city, guidelines for ethically wildcrafting, and some of the legal problems that foragers can face.

As she goes along, she mentions the many plants that she eats and makes into medicines, and introduces us to the odd and amazing people she meets. I really appreciated that she gives the botanical names of the plants, so that it is very clear which plant she is talking about, something I particularly appreciate as a foraging instructor.

Lastly, she talks about plants as intelligent beings, validating what I have felt for a very long time. Included at the end are some delightful recipes. Definitely worth taking time to read!





Dandy Dandelion Flowering

Dandelion flowers in a basket

Everything seems to be bursting forth at once, the delicious weeds and blooming trees, and the dandelion flowers with their sunny faces shouting “come pick me, come pick me!”

I ran out in a light rain this afternoon and harvested half a basket full, because tomorrow they will get mowed and my golden friends will be shorn of their rich tresses.

This spring I have been ravenously grabbing the weeds where I can and bringing them into my kitchen to put in soups and an interesting one-dish meal that includes onions and rice, eggs, and cheese, punctuated by the dark green of wilted leaves. It’s been garlic mustard and nettles, dandy leaves and jerusalem artichokes, wild lettuce and chickweed, henbit and ground ivy. Any thing that needs weeding or catches my eye that I know I can eat.

But one of my dearest loves, the dandelion, croons that siren song that can’t be ignored, and out I trot to continue my romance with that queenly little flower. Only the ants seem to be any competition. I have to be sure to shake them out of the flowers.

So I offer you a recipe or two to enjoy while the dandelions finish their spring rush. If you miss it, don’t worry. Dandelions continue to put out intermittent blooms right through to the fall, and sometimes even in December!

Dandelion Flower Cookies

Preheat oven to 375 o .
1/2 C. vegetable oil or butter, melted  (1 stick)
1/2 C. honey
2 eggs
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 C. flour, unbleached or whole grain
1 C. rolled oats
1/2 C. freshly picked dandelion flowers (take off the green sepals so that there are only yellow petals)

Blend honey and oil or butter and beat in the eggs, vanilla, and salt. Stir in flour, oatmeal, and dandelion flowers. Drop batter by teaspoonfuls onto a lightly oiled cookie sheet. Bake at 375 o for 20 minutes, until light brown.
Makes 40 approx. 2” cookies.
Adapted from The Dandelion Celebration by Peter Gail

Dandelion Nut Pancakes

dandelion nut pancake batter

Dandelion Nut Pancake batter

Use organic ingredients as much as possible.

1/2 C. finely chopped nuts–pecans, walnuts, or almonds
1 ripe banana
1 large egg
10 dandelion flowers, with green ends snipped off (if a little of the green sepal remains, it’s  fine)
Pinch sea salt

Mash the banana and mix in the chopped nuts and salt. Stir the egg well to mix yoke and white before adding into the mash, then mix in the dandy flowers.
Have a heavy frying pan or griddle hot and ready. Grease with butter, coconut oil, or extra virgin olive oil and drop in spoonfuls of the batter. Cook over medium heat. Serve with butter and maple syrup, if desired.

Makes 6 to 8 2″ to 3″ pancakes.

dandelion nut pancake

Dandelion Nut Pancake, large

Adapted from a recipe I found online some years ago.

And finally, a wonderful way to make use of dandelion flowers is to infuse them in oil, to use for skin care products and massage. Herbalists say that dandy oil is particularly helpful for sore shoulders, and it is one of the oils Susun Weed recommends for breast massage. I wrote a post about making infused oils here.

There are many more recipes on-line and in books galore for cooking dandelions using all their various edible parts. What will you decide to make? Let me know!

4 Or So Plants to Forage in July


Blackberries–ripe, unripe, and very unripe

Summer feels like the best time to forage, because there is so much to find and use. The other seasons do have their own offerings and delights, but summer feels like the jackpot. It reminds me of the unstinting abundance that Nature gives without our asking.

I think of July and August as “high summer”, when all the summer heat and plants and insects and animals are out in full force. June is more late spring and early summer, and September is late summer and early fall. So as June drifts into July and full summer comes upon us, I am planning what I will harvest for my cook pot or plate, and for medicine, and for drying for wreaths and other projects.

Safety First

A reminder: Always be sure of your plant and what its edibility or uses are! Just because it is “natural” doesn’t mean that it can be used in unlimited quantities in your body, or that it can’t make you sick, or worse.

When you are foraging or wild-crafting, always remember that you need to be sure of what plants you are harvesting, and what the proper parts to harvest are. For instance, some roots that are fine for eating (burdock, dandelion) are not yet ready to harvest for medicine; for that you’ll have to wait until fall. Daylily, which has shoots that are edible when they first come up in the spring, instead offers buds and flowers. And no part of pokeberry, with edible shoots in spring, is edible now. A few plants in the carrot family can be confused with Queen Anne’s lace or other members of the family and are deadly poisonous or can cause nasty rashes. My motto is “when in doubt, don’t.” Please be sure to use your plant and field guides!

Please note that plant geek friends of mine have said the smart phone apps for identifying plants are very unreliable, even useless. I would not trust my safety to a phone app. Use tried-and-true guides like Newcomb’s and Peterson’s and check with knowledgeable friends.

4 Or So Plants to Forage

So let’s talk about some of the wonderful plants that are at their peak of pickability, or close to it, at this time.

Amaranth (Amaranthus spp.)

There are a number of species of amaranth; 2 species at least are used for food. At least one, Amaranthus hybridus, is also used medicinally.

One species, I’m not sure which one, is also nick-named Red-legs, as the lowest part of the stem and the roots are reddish. Ii is one distinguishing characteristic of the plant, and helps me recognize it plant when I am weeding the seedlings in my garden, and later when the plant is well-grown.

The leaves of amaranth are eaten: the young leaves can be used raw in salads, or put in soups, etc. I also use the older, bigger leaves in cooked dishes. July is the perfect time for foraging amaranth.

I also like to dry the leaves to use for soups and stews in the winter. For this purpose I am not concerned if I use older, tougher leaves, as the drying and cooking will take care of that. I may also save the stems to use in making soup stock, where I can use all sorts of odds and ends that would otherwise just get tossed. I put the leaves in paper bags, sometimes amaranth, sometimes in with other greens that I have dried for the winter.

Berries and Berry Leaves–Raspberries and Blackberries, leaves of raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries (Rubus spp. [raspberries, blackberries] , Fragraria spp. [strawberries])

Now is the time when the wild raspberries are coming into their own, both the black-cap, which some people mistakenly call blackberries, and the red raspberries. There are several species growing wild; all are edible, though some are bigger or smaller or tastier than others. Pick them and eat them out-of-hand, or take them home for desserts, jams, pies, smoothies, infused vinegars, or to freeze for use in the winter. (To freeze berries of any sort, lay them out in a single layer on a cookie sheet and stick them in the freezer until frozen. Then you can slide them into jars or plastic bags that will last for months in the freezer.)


Blackberries in various stages of ripeness.

Toward the end of the month blackberries will be starting to color up nicely and soon be ready to eat. As with raspberries, there are a number of species around, and the same variations in taste and size occur with blackberries, except even more so. Some blackberries are big and juicy and sweet, not too seedy; others are small and very seedy, not that pleasant to eat. Blackberries that ripen in the shade also tend not to sweeten up much, so eating them is a bit more of a sweet taste gamble than raspberries.

The leaves of any species of raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries can be collected throughout the season and dried for tea. All of them make a pleasant tea, either on their own or mixed with other herbs.

One of the constituents in raspberry leaves is called fragarin, and I have noticed that when I have a jar of raspberry leaves that I harvested and dried myself, when I open the jar there is a wonderful fragrance that rises from the leaves.

Raspberry leaves are a traditional herb for pregnant women, but can also be a pleasant tea for anyone.

Daylilies (Hemerocallis fulva)

orange daylilies

The ubiquitous orange daylily.

Daylilies come to us from Asia, but have managed to naturalize themselves around human habitation–sometimes you will swathes of day lilies where an old house stood, or that somebody planted in a roadside garden and then left.

The most common daylilies we see, the orange ones that grow everywhere and a couple of the yellow ones, are easy to harvest and so abundant that it is just about impossible to eradicate them. They are very vigorous growers, as many gardeners will attest.

At this time of year, the easiest part to harvest is the flower–in bud, full bloom, and after it has started to wither. Use the buds in stir-fries or chopped into salads. Use the flowers (each one only lasts a day, hence the name “daylily”) to stuff with hummus or a cheese dip, or chopped into salads or to garnish a dish.

yellow daylilies

Yellow daylilies, not nearly as commonly seen as the orange ones.

My favorite time to gather the flowers, though, is after they have finished blooming and are wilting, drying right on the stem, though I have also dried buds and fresh flowers. The wilted flowers are perfect for harvesting to dry for use in the winter. I take them and place them in an open basket or on a screen in a single layer and let them dry completely, then store them in a jar or paper bag to use in winter soups, stews, and other dishes.

Most daylily flowers can be eaten. However, for drying purposes, the double-flowered varieties (with multiple sets of petals) can be too moist, especially at the stem end, and can mold instead of dry. The single-flowered varieties are much easier to deal with.

To use the dried flowers, snip or break off the tough stem end, then cut up or break up the flower and put it in soups, stews, etc. If using in a stir-fry, soak the pieces in hot water for about 10 minutes to rehydrate.

Lamb’s Quarters or Goosefoot (Chenopodium alba)

goosefoot clump

A patch of goosefoot/lamb’s quarters growing in the city.

Lamb’s quarters or goosefoot is growing vigorously at this time of year. The leaves are the part that are eaten, and if you find a large plant you will have a goodly amount of leaves for salads or cooking.

The white powder that is present on the small new leaves and the part of the leaves closest to the stem is not a disease, but a signature of the plant and can be ignored for purposes of eating. It does help in identifying the plant, however.

The mild-tasting leaves can be used raw in salads or used in cooked dishes in the same way spinach is used, such as quiche and spinach pie. I also like to use lamb’s quarters leaves in my soups and stews and stir-fries. They have a high water content and thus cook down a lot, so if you are making a recipe which calls for a particular amount make sure you have harvested enough to account for the shrinkage.

The young leaves are best, but I also use the large, mature leaves, though they can be somewhat tougher.

Lamb’s quarters are a bioaccumulator, meaning they can accumulate toxins from the soil. You need to be careful of the area where you are harvesting them so that you are not ingesting lead or other heavy metals or other toxins. Since they also take up nitrogen, be aware of places where fertilizers have been used, as excess nitrogen can cause problems in the body.

This is another plant I like to dry for the winter. I either bunch several stems together and hang them to dry, or strip off the leaves and dry them in my dehydrator. I then store the leaves in a paper bag for later use. When I use them, I crumble the leaves into whatever dish (usually some sort of soup) I am making and they quickly rehydrate and cook up.

I hope you get out there and find these or other wonderful plants for your kitchen or medicine cabinet. What plants have you foraged? What have you done with them? Let me know in the comments section below.

Happy foraging!


Learning the Plants, Part 1

foraging books on a shelf

Some of the foraging books on my bookshelf. I have three different books called Edible Wild Plants!

When I lead my foraging walks I am sometimes asked how I got to know so many plants, and I usually just say “over time”. I can’t at the moment remember how I learned so many plants and their uses, and certainly not in any kind of order. I’ve been doing it for so long, my process is no longer visible to me.

But my recent visit to Florida gave me the opportunity to see my process in action and remind me how I have done it.

The first full day I was there was capped by a visit to a bookstore to find a good field guide for the area. I couldn’t find an actual field guide (maybe I was in the wrong section), but after scanning several books I found one on garden and landscape plants that are grown locally that seemed like it would serve the purpose, and it did quite well.

I immediately started trying to identify the plants that were outside the door of the condo we were in, that were on the walk to the beach, that lined the roads. And I got to see my process in action.

When I want to learn about the plants in an area I start with a couple of good general field guides and look at all the plants I can. I want to know what every plant I see is, whether it is cultivated or a “weed” (wild-growing), large as a tree or as small as a couple inches high. So my first order of business is simply identification. I will find out about what the plants are used for later after I have identified them. In this way I know what a great many of the plants are that I am looking at, just as you probably know your neighbors, even if you aren’t friends with them. They’re in the neighborhood, you can identify them.

Once I have started to familiarize myself with the plants, then I start looking to see what they are used for: food, medicine, crafts, ornament and beauty, eh—it’s just there. These equate to your friends, your acquaintances, the people you can’t stand.

I now have a view of the environment around me that I can “read”, that is visible and known, identifiable and familiar.

Using Different Kinds of Field Guides

This is what I did when I moved to Salem, Massachusetts, a little over 30 years ago. I first got the National Audobon Societ Field Guide to Wildflowers of the Eastern Region. I went all over my neighborhood, getting down on hands and knees on sidewalks and lawns and leaning over fences to see even the smallest plants and the ones that were less accessible from the street. Everywhere I went I had a running commentary in my head of the names of the plants I was walking past. It was a good education, and after a few years I bought the next edition of the field guide, better than the previous one in some ways, lacking in others. I spent many hours looking through them both.

A few years later I learned about another field guide, Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide, which despite the name includes some shrubs and vines as well. I liked this guide even better than the Audobon guide, and it became my go-to for identifying many plants. It had become dog-eared and written in, with bits of pressed plants stuck between the pages here and there. I finally had to buy a new copy to use on my walks!

I also started getting more specific field guides about medicinal and edible plants, so that I could learn the more particular uses of the plants around me.

I got several edible plant guides which I still consult. Some are more comprehensive than others. I didn’t find as many medicinal wild plants guides, but there are a few.  The ones that are easiest to recommend are the Peterson Guides, both edible and medicinal, but there are plenty of others, and with the resurgence in interest in uses of wild plants, more books are coming out from contemporary authors.

In my experience, you need both general and specific field guides. This is because no one guide covers all the plants you will meet, and even when you have many guides you still will come across plants that aren’t included in any of your guides.

General plant guides help you identify the many different plants you encounter. They include medicinal and edible along with the other plants, and usually will not be identified as such in a general guide. You will find that the guide/s you are using will include useful plants that may not be included in the particular edible or medicinal guides you have. So if you are curious about the plants all around you, you will want and need one or more general guides.

For edibles and medicinals, you will want at least 2 or 3 guides for each, as no one guide covers as many of the useful plants as are out there, and different guides will give you different uses and different information for identification. You will get a much more complete view of the plants this way and a more thorough grounding in their uses.

Why Books?

By this time you have probably figured out that I am quite old school, using books for goodness’ sake. I don’t even own a smart phone!

So I am not offering you apps or websites in this article. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that books are what I know best. but I also think that in some ways they are easiest (maybe because I am old school). It is so simple to run through a book’s pages to find the different plants that are you looking at in the field. When you are flipping through, in the field or at home, you will be grabbed in print by other plants along the way and they will start to work their way into your brain without you even trying. I think it’s a great way to learn!

There are apps out there to help you identify plants. I haven’t used them and so can’t comment on them. I do know that in the foraging community there seems to be a consensus that apps that let you take a picture of a plant and then identify it for you are notoriously unreliable and very prone to wrong identification. This is not so bad if it’s a benign plant, but if you misidentify a poisonous plant it can make you sick or even prove deadly. So please use apps with caution and have additional means for identifying your plant/s.

Learning the Plants from People

One of the best ways to learn your plants is from another person. They can show you little details and answer your questions right on the spot. Often there are details that may not be covered in a book or video that are vital to identifying a plant and differentiating it from others, some of which may be non-edible or poisonous. A person may also be able to give you a broader picture of what the plant is used for, and even some uses that are unique to the person.

Fortunately there are gradually more and more people who are knowledgeable and offering plant walks and lectures so that you can get a thorough introduction to the useful plants.

My season for offering plant walks is April through October here in eastern Massachusetts, as that is when there are enough plants available to really observe and learn them. I will eventually also do winter-time walks, as it is useful, interesting, and fun to be able to identify winter-hardy plants, seedpods, and dried stems. It can help you find food and medicine in winter, and know where to locate the plants you want in warmer weather.

If you are interested in taking a plant walk, I offer Urban Foraging Rambles and other kinds of walks that you can find at

What plants have you gotten to know in your backyard and elsewhere and what books have been especially helpful? Please let me know in the comments section below. I love to know what your experiences are!

In my next post I will write about deepening your connection with and knowledge of the plants in your environment.

Happy foraging!

A few helpful, related posts:

Steph Zabel, a Boston-area herbalist and proprietor of Flowerfolk Herbal Apothecary has a blog post about getting to know your plants:

Nathan Carlos Rupley, a naturalist and forager, has reviewed a couple of good contemporary foraging titles:


Foraging for Winter Decorations

Holly with berries.

Holly with berries.

Decorating with greenery as winter settles in is an ancient tradition for people living in northern lands. Many ancient cultures believed that bringing plants indoors that stayed green when others were dead or bare brought in the magic of the plants, the energy of ongoing life.

When I was a kid I loved finding branches of greenery and putting them at the corners of windows, over the ends of the curtain rods. I don’t do this anymore as I am the one who has to pick up the fallen needles, but I do like to bring in greens and red-berried branches to decorate my home.

At my church this past weekend we decorated a number of planters with foraged greens and birch logs, a labor of love that resulted in a really fine-looking display, that is wintry and seasonal without being particularly Christmasy. I had a lot of fun helping to get these planters together!

Even if you live in a city or town, you can usually find bushes that won’t mind a little trimming and offer beauty for your home. Below is a list of a few of the shrubs and trees you can use for holiday decorating.

Red-berried plants: Holly, barberry, roses—rosehips.

Many holly bushes have clusters of red berries. It is the female plants that have berries, so if the bush doesn’t have berries, it is male.

Barberry bushes are widely used in landscaping and so are readily available for pruning a few branches. They have lovely small, dangling red berries, but the stems are very thorny, so handle with care or with a sturdy pair of gloves.

You may want to take those sturdy gloves with you to harvest rose hips, as many roses have very thorny stems. There are two abundant rose species growing around Eastern Massachusetts, easily found in the wild for harvesting hip-adorned twigs. The first is the seaside rose (Rosa rugosa), which has clusters of plump red berries the size of small cherries that are fabulous to see in any arrangement. If you don’t live near the ocean, some gardeners grow these care-free roses and you can ask for a few twigs.

multiflora rosehips

Multiflora rose rosehips.

The second rose that abounds is the multiflora rose, with numerous, very small (less than pea-sized) hips in clusters at the ends of many the rose’s twigs. They have a delicate appearance, but have study stems (and thorns!) and are marvelous to include in arrangements, or just use on their own.

There are many other roses that produce beautiful hips, and whatever you can find will be a beautiful addition to your arrangements.


Many species of spruce, including the beautiful blue spruce, are common in New England. Some species have drooping or “weeping” twigs, others have straight twigs; but all are prickly to the touch—they have “prickly handshake”. This makes spruce less than comfortable to work with, but it is pretty and sturdy when used in arrangements.


Pine, with its lovely long needles, is a beautiful addition to arrangements. There are a couple different species of pine, with differing number of needles and slightly different looks and textures, but all work well in arrangements.

Juniper and cedar

There are a few different species. Some junipers have blue berries, sometimes in somewhat of a cluster. Often these trees have rather spikey needles or very narrow leaves. In some ways they seem like the quintessential green for holiday decorations. All are great to use, but the branches with berries are particularly lovely.

Arbor vitae with cones.

Arbor vitae with cones.

Arbor vitae

This is a much-used native landscaping shrub or smallish tree, and thus easy to find. Some have pretty small cones, often in small clusters. The needles are flatter than other cedars. They work well in whatever arrangement you choose.


A shrub used a great deal in foundation and landscape plantings. It has flat, short needles that also grow on a rather flat plane on the twig. Because of this it appears to be rather sparse and therefore is not my favorite green for arrangements. But if it is available I will use it, as it does add some volume and greenery. Since it is easily found and planted in so many places, it is useful to keep in mind.

Depending on where you live and what grows around you, you will find other shrubs and trees to use for your decorating. Let me know what you do for your decorating. (If you can’t post below, e-mail me instead.)

But even if you don’t decorate, go out and enjoy the beauty and company of the bushes and the trees that give their beauty so generously!

Making an Herbal Wreath From Gathered and Foraged Plants, Part 2  

Plants drying hung on a pegboard.

Plants drying on a pegboard, using long hooks. I also use the usual pegboard hooks. (The wreaths are already dried.)

Herbal wreaths are so beautiful, and summer is the perfect time not only to be making them, but collecting materials to dry for future wreaths. In part 2 of Making an Herbal Wreath, I discuss how to dry and store what you want to save for later projects, and give you a list of suggested herbs, flowers, and plants.

There are many plants—herbs, flowers, “weeds”—that grow in our gardens or in fields, empty lots, woods, that are perfect for including in wreaths. Below is a list of some suggested plants. Don’t be limited by what is on there. If there is something you think might be pretty or dry well, try it! If it doesn’t work out, don’t let that discourage you, try something else next time. Experiment and have fun! Or just use what you already know will work.

Methods for Drying Plants, Flowers, etc. for Wreaths

There are a number of ways to dry to plants, flowers, and herbs for wreath-making. I will cover a few of them that are quick and simple, though I know there are others.

Hanging Your Bunches

The quickest, simplest way to dry plants, in my opinion, is to hang them in bunches. Simply pick whatever you are going to dry with at least 4 “ stems, tie them together with a piece of string with a loop at one end or put a rubber band tightly around them, and hang. Use just a few stems per bunch; if you make it too thick, things may not dry adequately.

Queen Anne's lace and a bit of yarrow hung to dry

Queen Anne’s lace and a bit of yarrow hung to dry (with Evening primrose leaves drying as well, they are for soup stock.)

They can be hung from pegs on a peg board, as I do, or pegs on any sort of coat-rack or board with pegs. If you have something with slats that you can hang from the ceiling, you can use unbent paper clips as hooks for hanging the bunches. If you don’t have anything else, you can use a coat hanger and unbend paper clips to use as hooks to hang the plant bunch on the hanger.

Be aware that the petals of your flowers will all point down or in the same direction, as they are being hung upside down. That means that if you want a flower with the petals spread out you will have to dry it by a different method, which I go over below. Flowers can look lovely with the shape they take from being hung to dry, but it may not be what you were expecting.

Laying Things Flat to Dry

If you have a window screen or, even better, a door screen that you can lay flat, you can simply place your plant material on the screen, remembering to place it in a position that will look good when it is dry. Remember not crowd your plants or allow them to cover each other, or they won’t dry well.

If you have a large enough basket, then that will also serve as a good service on which to lay your plant material to dry, and it will give adequate air circulation for good drying.

Other Methods of Drying

To have the petals of a flower spreading out from the center of the flower when it is dry, there are 2 things you can do.

You can take a bottle, such as a water or wine bottle, and put one flower into it so that the head of the flower rests against the mouth of the bottle. This way the petals will dry spreading away from the center. However, if they are long, they will then be pointing backwards from the center, so be aware of that.

You can also take a tray from a nursery that has a criss-crossed or hatched bottom. Many nurseries have these for customers to use in taking their plants home. The many small openings make it possible to stick a stem through the opening while the head of the flower cannot go through. Spread out the petals to dry and they will then be in a lovely circle around the center of the flower. You must prop the tray up on something so that there is room for the stems to hang down and dry. You can do a number of flowers on one tray this way.

Storing Your Dried Flowers and Plant Material

When you have dried your flowers and other plant material, such as seed pods, that you will be using later on, you will need to store it.

I like to use shoe boxes that I can label with the contents. If I have enough plant material I will sort it by colors and types.

A covered basket also works well for storing your plant material.

Plants to use in Wreaths

Here is list of plants and flowers to use in wreaths. Some can be used either fresh or dried, and some are better just used fresh. I have indicated whether the plants can be used fresh, dried, or both.

These are herbs, flowers, and other plants that can be grown in your garden or foraged/wild-crafted.

Legend: f=fresh  d=dried


Dried black-eyed Susans

Dried black-eyed Susans waiting to be used in a wreath.

Anise hyssop-f,d
Baby’s breath (gypsophila)-f,d
Basil flowers-f,d
Bee balm-f,d
Black-eyed Susans-f,d
Catnip flowers-f,d
Chive blossoms-f,d
Cockscomb (celosia)-f,d
Cornflowers or bachelor’s buttons-f,d
Delphinium, larkspur-f,d
Dusty miller flowers-f,d
Flowers of artemisias, mugwort, wormwood, southernwood-f
Globe amaranth-f,d
Lamb’s ears flowers-f,d
Mint flowers (all varieties)-f,d
Oregano flowers—f,d
Pearly everlasting-f,d
Queen Anne’s lace-f,d
Red clover-f,d
Sage flowers-f,d
Sea lavender-f,d
Some asters-f,d
Sweet Annie-f
Yarrow (all colors; cultivated and wild)-f,d

Leafy plants/herbs:

Artemisias-silver king and queen, silver mound, Powis Castle-f
Dusty miller-f
Lamb’s ears-f,d
Opal or purple basils-f
Sage (regular green sage is best, purple dries brown)-f
Sweet Annie-f

Seed heads:

Anise hyssop
Bee balm
Curly dock
Evening primrose
Hibiscus, hollyhock, some mallows
Lamb’s ears
Rose of Sharon

If you love herbal wreaths but aren’t able to make your own, I make beautiful wreaths and would be happy to make you one, or have you select from a few that I have already made.



6 Plants to Start the Spring Foraging Season

Spring and sunlight and warmth, oh my! Here in the Northeast after an extremely long, cold, and snowy winter, the plants, animals and birds, and humans are stretching toward the warmth of the sun and sighing with relief. My favorite spring plants are popping up, though later than usual, and I am thinking about what I will put on my plate, in my soup pot, and into my handcrafted herbal medicines.

Here are 6 plants that are coming up and that are ready to be used now. Some have parts that must be harvested now before they get too woody/stringy/invested in plant growth, others will be able to be used for a while. All are used for both food and medicine, except for garlic mustard, which as far as I know has no medicinal uses.

Note: Please be very sure you know what plant you are picking before you use it so that you don’t run the risk of poisoning or illness. A couple of good plant i.d. books and sites are listed at the end of this article. If you’re uncertain and want to learn more, up close and personal with the plants, I lead foraging walks throughout the growing season. Click here for my calendar.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Dandelion leaves

Dandelion leaves in spring. Note the irregularly-toothed leaves with wide teeth/lobes.

Dandelion leaves in spring. Note the more finely cut, narrower teeth/lobes.

Dandelion leaves in spring. Note the more finely cut, narrower teeth/lobes. Dandelion leaves are very variable.

More young dandelion leaves. Note that there are fewer teeth/lobes.

More young dandelion leaves. Note that there are fewer teeth/lobes.

As some of you may know, dandelions are one of my most favorite herbs. They are edible and medicinal and their yellow blossoms are immensely cheering. When I was a kid I used to take the blossoms and try to make perfume with them! (It didn’t work, darn it all.)

This is the perfect time to be digging up the roots for making bitter tonics and tinctures. Susun Weed says that spring-dug roots are more bitter than autumn-dug and excellent for bitter tonics. She says the best time to harvest the roots is between the warming of the earth and the first buds appearing.

If you want to eat the leaves before they get too bitter, you have to hurry, as the dandelions are already setting their buds, and once they start putting up their buds and blooming the leaves will be much more bitter.

If you want to know where the dandy buds are, get down on your knees and look into the center of a rosette of dandy leaves. Nestled into the very heart of the leaf rosette you will find a tightly-shut bud, ready to come up at the top of its individual stalk. It is amazing to watch the flowers grow, it is quite unique in my opinion.

Dandelion roots, leaves, buds, and flowers all are edible and can be used for medicine as well. Maude Grieve, in A Modern Herbal, gives a nice description of dandies and what can be done with them for food and medicine, here is a link:

One of the best resources for using dandies for food and medicine is Susun Weed’s Wise Woman Herbal: Healing Wise  which has a whole chapter, with wonderful recipes, on all parts of our friend Dandelion. And Dr. Peter A. Gail has a couple of books on dandies, as well, with easy recipes.

Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)

Young mugwort leaves in spring. The leaves will look very different once the plant starts growing, and on the stalks that will bear blooms.

Young mugwort leaves in spring. The leaves will look very different once the plant starts growing, and on the flowering stalks.

Mugwort is just peeping above the ground and it is the perfect time to use her for spring greens. Trim close to the ground and add the greens to your soup or stir-fries. Some Asian cultures are very fond of the young mugwort greens in the spring.

Later in the summer mugwort can be used for flavoring foods and for medicine, as well as dried for smudge sticks and moxabustion, if you’re so inclined.

Evening Primrose (Oenethera biennis)

evening primrose leaf rosetter

The leafy rosette of young second-year evening primrose.

Surely one of my favorite plants. Now is the last time you’ll be able to eat the roots until the fall. These biennials are gearing up for their second year of growth—leafing, blooming, going to seed, and then dying.

The roots are still edible, in that they have not yet gotten too stringy. The rosette of leaves as well is edible, with a peppery taste similar to the roots.

I use evening primrose roots in soups, stews, and stir-fries, and also throw them in the stock pot when making soup stock. The roots can be eaten raw in salads as well.

The rosettes of leaves get used similarly, before the plant starts its growth and flower-making process.

At this time of year you will only find second-year plants, as last year’s seeds have not yet started to sprout.

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

young second year garlic mustard leaves

Young second-year garlic mustard leaves.

Another biennial, but considered very invasive, so feel free to eat as much as you want! It has rather heart-shaped leaves when the plant comes up, the stem leaves are pointed instead.

As the name implies, it has a garlicky scent when the leaves are crushed. It also has a garlicky taste when eaten raw, but that taste disappears when it is cooked, leaving the bitter taste paramount.

As with many mustard greens (and it is in the mustard family), it has a bitter taste, especially when cooked. Depending on your tastes, you may or may or not enjoy eating this plant, but it certainly is nutritious.

Garlic mustard can be eaten raw or cooked, and all above-ground parts can be eaten, including the flowers when it blooms. If you harvest a lot of it you can freeze it for use later.

Plantain  (Plantago major, P. lanceolata)

yougn broad-leaved plantain leaves

Very young broad-leaved plantain leaves.

Young narrow-leaved plantain leaves

Young narrow-leaved plantain leaves.

A trusty perennial, there are actually two species that abound in our area of the Northeast, and indeed, in many places in North America. The 2 species are broad-leaved plantain (Plantago major) and narrow-leaved, lance-leaved, or English plantain (P. lanceolata). Both are used the same way for food and medicine.

If you are going to eat plantain, now is the time to do so, when it is very young. It quickly gets too tough and stringy and then is good for teas and infused oils, but is not pleasant to eat.

Boil the young leaves for 3 to 4 minutes and eat as a veg or in soups, or make teas with the slightly older leaves. I dry the leaves to use in teas and to add to the stock pot during the cold months.

I also infuse the leaves of both species in oil, usually extra-virgin olive oil, for a really effective oil for skincare that gets added to lip balms, salves, and lotions.


burdock leaves

Young second-year burdock leaves.

All hail to this marvelous plant, another of our biennials! Again, the leaves you see coming up are from second-year plants, as the seeds from last year haven’t yet sprouted.

This is the perfect time to harvest leaves and roots. If you are going to eat the leaves you want to do so while they are very young and relatively tender. Later they get tough and unpalatable and are good for teas and infused vinegars, but not really for eating.

This is also your last chance to get the roots before the plant starts into its growth and bloom cycle. After this the plant will be putting its energy into growing, thus taking nutrients and energy out of the roots, and they will also become too stringy. Now is the time to eat the roots in salads or soups, or make them into medicines.

Violet (Viola spp.)

Young violet leaves.

Young violet leaves.

Violets are coming up now, and their slightly mucilaginous, mild-flavored leaves are a great addition to salads and soups. I especially like adding violet leaves to pea soup, they add nutrition and oomph to it.

Make sure you are harvesting violet leaves, as there can be some look-a-likes. Our common wild violet, which is the one you are most likely to encounter, has heart-shaped leaves that unfurl from the center; some other species have differently shaped leaves. Here is a link to help you properly identify wild violets.The wild violet can take over your garden plot if you don’t watch out (I am currently taking out numerous patches from my garden!).

The wild violet flowers are edible and medicinal. Generally they are eaten raw in salads, made into syrups, or candied for a condiment. The cool thing about these flowers is that you can use as many as you want without affecting the reproduction of the plant! The flowers are actually sterile, and therefore don’t set seed. The fertile, seed-setting flowers bloom later in the season, and are non-descript, growing close to the ground. These flowers and root-extension are how the violet spreads.

The wild violet leaves are very nutritious and mild-flavored, as well as being good medicine, and can be eaten throughout the season.

Both Susun Weed, in her Wise Woman Herbal: Healing Wise, and Peter Gail write about violet and how to use it for food and medicine.

Throughout the growing season I take people on walks to meet the many useful plants growing around us. It is wonderful to see the abundance of what is growing even in the middle of the city or in a lawn. If you’d like to take a walk with me, check out my schedule and come meet the plants!

What wild plants are you seeing come up and harvesting? Let me know in the comments below.


  •   Wildman Steve Brill’s app for foraging and plant i.d.
  •   identification tools for New England plants


Early Winter Foraging for Edibles and Decoratives (Rosehips, Evening Primrose, Burdock, and More)

multiflora rosehips

Multiflora rose rosehips.

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 primrose leaf rosette and root

Evening primrose leaf rosette and root–both first-year plants.

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.

multiflora rose rosehips and evening primrose seed stalks

Multiflora rose rosehips and evening primrose seed stalks.

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.

seedheads-goldenrod, mugwort, barberry berries

Feathery seed heads of goldenrod, sedate seed heads of mugwort, and 2 red barberry berries.

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.

Preserving Your Foraged or Cultivated Harvest by Drying, Part 1  

Dried goodsefoot and amaranth leaves in paper bag

Dried goosefoot and amaranth leaves in paper bag, ready for winter stews.

Do you like to preserve your harvest for the coming winter months? Even though I don’t can and only have a tiny freezer, I love to preserve the plants and foods that are ripening and fruiting at this time of year. My answer to limited space is to dry and dehydrate.

I have been drying my herbs for years, and a few years ago started drying more weeds and flowers, such as day lily flowers, to use in winter dishes like hearty stews. Last winter when a particularly vicious depression hit, the dried goosefoot, amaranth, kale, and other foods in my pantry were a real life saver.

Here are some suggestions on drying herbs and plants for the winter and general use that I have developed over the years.


By drying I mean drying the plant matter completely so that there is no moisture left and it can be stored in paper bags or glass jars. I don’t dry fleshy fruits or vegetables this way because they would take up too much room and I would worry about molding.

To dry plants that I will use for food or medicine, I hang them or lay them on wicker paper plate holders or other flat, woven basketry. When using wicker or basketry, make sure to put the plant material in a single layer so it will dry quickly and well. Piling it makes a good environment for mold. You may have to turn the plant material or stir it a bit to facilitate the drying process.

pegboard with drying herbs

Pegboard in my kitchen with herbs and flowers ready to dry.

I have a piece of pegboard on the wall of my kitchen with pegs on it on which I hang bunches of plant material, flowers, and seed heads. There is plenty of air flow around the plants and they dry very well. I used to have the side rail of a baby crib that I hung with chains from the basement ceiling (we had a dehumidifier so it kept the basement dry and worked for the plant material) and made hooks that hung off of the slats and held the plant bunches.

An easy way to make a quick drying apparatus is to take a clothes hanger and use pulled apart metal paper clips for hooks to hang your plan material. Make sure to hang it where it will get good air circulation.

Pegboard with partially dried herbs.

Pegboard with partially dried herbs and sundry items.

There are many other ways to hang your plant materials—rows of wooden pegs, off of chandeliers, hooks or nails in a shed, and so on. One other way to dry plants is to put them in a paper bag with plenty of air space. I don’t often do this, but some people swear by it.

Drying Roots

When roots are small enough and thin enough, I will hang them to dry, especially if they are attached to the above-ground part of the plants, as with small dandelions. Generally, however, the best way to dry roots is to chop them up and spread them out on a wicker surface, or just a regular plate, to dry. You want to chop up your roots unless they are really small and thin, because otherwise when they dry out they can be very difficult, if not impossible, to cut into small pieces that can then be put into the tea pot or eaten in soups.

Preparing Your Plant Material for Drying

To prepare your plants for hanging to dry, make sure they are dry and clean of all dirt. Rinse off dirt if you need to.

Gather several stems of what you drying into a bunch and bind it tightly at one end, either with string or a rubber band. (When you use string you can put a loop at one end for hanging.) Hang your bunches spaced slightly apart so that the air can get to all parts of them. Let dry for several days to a week or more until plant material is completely dry, there is no moisture left in it.

Leaves are dry when they are somewhat crumbly. You will need to judge more by the look and feel for flowers and stems. It can be hard to tell at times if something is completely dry. It can take experience with the different plants you are drying to know what is dry enough. If in doubt, leave it a bit longer. Storing your dried plant materials in a paper bag is helpful if you are unsure about dryness.


red clover in jar

Red clover in a jar for teas and infusions.

I store what I have dried in glass jars and paper bags. Paper bags are especially easy to pile and squeeze into your cupboards or storage space. I like to leave my plant materials as whole as possible, as It gives less surface area for air to diminish the nutrients. I do, however, crush leaves when it makes it easier to get them in the bag or jar, or when I am trying to get as much as possible into the container or bag.

I hope this gets you started on drying some food or herbs for your winter dishes, and for general use year-round.

What have you dried and how have you used it? Tell me in the comments section below.