One thing is for certain, winter is on its way. The change of seasons can be dramatic here in the Midwest. But that drama is what makes things exciting. Of course, things can get extreme, and we wish that we could fast forward or reverse the seasons sometimes. But my roots are in the Midwest, and I continue to learn and appreciate the unique qualities that the different seasons have to offer.
Last week, Chelsea and I headed out on a group forage in a Northwest Chicago park to learn what wild, local edibles are available before the cold snap.
There was, surprisingly, an abundance of tender, green, leafy plants like ground ivy, wild spinach, chickweed, and dandelion. But the roots left the biggest impression on me: yellow dock, dandelion, burdock, and wild ginger. Because even when the inevitable cold snap hits and the plump, living cells of the leaf and flower systems freeze, killing the “body” of the plant, their roots are firmly planted under the Earth, storing nutrients, conserving energy while riding out the winter.
While the roots are busy storing their own reserves, they are also nourishing us throughout the winter. The old root cellar was there to put up the conventionally grown roots that we are all familiar with: beets, parsnips, carrots, and potatoes, for example.
These local, wild, foraged roots could do the same. Yellow dock is not necessarily a nourishing root in America but it has potentially great natural medicinal qualities (I’m not in any position to recommend or encourage taking anything for these purposes, so please do your research!), which could help a bedraggled, house-bound Midwesterner in the midst of a long winter.
Burdock is a highly nutritious root that is actually quite common in Japanese and Korean cuisine. The root is similar to salsify in texture and appearance and with a little skill, great flavor and texture can be coaxed from the humble root of the pesky “burrs” that stick to your pant leg and your dogs paw.
And then there is wild ginger, probably the most rewarding discovery of the forage. This wild form bears little resemblance to the large, hand-like ginger root we are most familiar with but that same sweet, peppery aroma is apparent as soon as it’s plucked from the dirt. I took home a few roots, washed them, chopped them, and put them in a French press to make a simple tea. It was very tasty and an easy way to appreciate the pure and complex nuances of this wild root.