The edible winter plants you will find in the cold season will generally be tougher than spring and summer ones. There are some exceptions though, such as chickweed.
Foraging in the late winter is certainly more difficult than in other seasons. The snow cover and the cold weather make it more challenging to find a plentiful harvest.
Despite this, there are still many possibilities, ranging from leafy greens to berries and nuts. Conifer needles and cones are a great classic of winter foraging since they are very common and easy to find.
And for some sweetness and a vitamin boost, look for the many berries that persist during the colder weather. These can also often be grown at home to enjoy your fresh produce.
And let’s not forget the possibilities offered by nuts, which are rich in nutrients and calories.
Always be mindful of the possible danger of poisonous plants and make sure you correctly identify the species before harvesting.
- Be sure to read this article: List of Edible Plants With Pictures
In addition to the usual precautions, in the winter months, you have to keep in mind that the local wildlife will also have much more difficulty finding food in the colder weather. Leave most of what you find for the animals, because they need it to survive the colder months.
Let’s get into the 11 edible winter plants that you can find to eat and grow.
1. Barberry (Berberis Canadensis)
Barberries are shrubs native to Europe, now naturalized in the eastern United States.
The most common is Berberis Canadensis, but other similar species are also edible. Barberries can look a bit like wild roses to the novice, mostly because of their red fruits and thorny branches.
Barberries are the classic winter edible food common in woodlands and overgrown fields.
Be careful not to pick too many, as they are one of the main food sources for many birds during the winter.
Barberries are also easy to grow, even in the city. They adapt well to the urban environment and do well when planted in vases or in your winter garden.
The edible part of the plant is the berries, which can be consumed raw or made into jam. They have a fresh, acidic taste and are rich in pectin.
These berries are particularly healthy to eat in the winter months, as they contain vitamin C and berberine. Both compounds are beneficial to the immune system.
The best way to take advantage of these benefits is to make hot tea. Exercise caution tough, as barberry seeds are not edible and should be discarded.
- Related article: Edible Berries That Grow in Winter
2. Wild Rose (Rosa Species)
Wild Roses are very common throughout the United States, where there are both native and invasive species. They are all quite similar and both their flowers and fruits can be eaten.
Wild Roses are a bird favorite too, so you might have a hard time still finding rose hips on the plant by late winter. Look for wild roses in open areas.
The rose hips are the edible part that you will be able to harvest in the winter. The petals can also be eaten, but they are available in the spring.
Rose hips are bright red in color and taste sweet, with a hint of tanginess.
The easiest way to use rose hips is to steep them to make tea, as otherwise, they have to be opened one by one to remove the hairy seeds. This can be a long process, but it’s worth it to enjoy them in jams and syrups.
Rose hips are an extremely good source of vitamins C and E and are also rich in malic acid and beta-carotene.
3. Cranberry (Vaccinium Macrocarpon)
Cranberries thrive in the cold winter, so it’s not surprising that they are more common in the northern states.
They need moist conditions to proliferate, so they grow best in bogs, swamps, and near bodies of water.
Birds, rabbits, and squirrels love cranberries. If they don’t eat them all, you’ll be able to find them up until January. Fresh cranberries are best left to wildlife, as they are bitter and tough to chew.
They are great to make juices and the renowned cranberry sauce which is a Thanksgiving classic.
Cranberries are very healthy, as they are rich in antioxidants, vitamin C, and the mineral manganese.
In cold weather, cranberry plants can also be grown in your sheltered garden or cold frame, but you’ll need moist acidic soil.
4. Wild Onion and Garlic (Allium Species)
Wild onion and garlic are very common during the winter months in open areas.
They can be found throughout North America. The easiest way to recognize them is by their signature smell, which is very similar to that of the cultivated species.
They are both herbaceous plants with rounded stems and underground bulbs.
If you find similar plants that don’t smell like garlic or onion, do not harvest them, as many species from the lily family are toxic.
Both the green leaves and the bulbs from these plants can be eaten, raw or cooked.
They are pleasantly spicy but milder than cultivated onion and garlic. They are perfect for seasoning meat and fish, but also in stir-fries and salads.
They are natural antibiotics and are also rich in vitamins and minerals.
5. Common Cattail (Typha Latifolia)
Common cattails are plants that grow near water, so you should look for them near swamps and other freshwater sources. They grow mainly in Alaska, Canada, and the northern United States.
The cattail is the largest species and forms very recognizable brown fluffy seed heads. There are similar species that might be poisonous, but they don’t have these seed heads.
Cattails have to be harvested before the wet ground has frozen because they need to be dug up.
During the winter, the only edible part of the cattail is the rootstock, which has a soft interior. The inside of the rootstocks can be scraped out and is rich in starch. It can be dried or used fresh in soups and stews.
You might be able to find some young sprouts growing near the older plants. These are very tasty and can be eaten boiled or fried.
6. American Persimmon (Diospyros Virginiana)
American persimmon grows in the eastern part of the country.
The persimmon fruit can be harvested from late fall up until the end of January. You’ll know they are ripe when they look soft and wrinkled. Do not pick them before they look rough and gooey, as they are very bitter (astringent) when not ready.
These orange fruits are resistant to frost and grow on deciduous, moderate-sized trees.
A similar species is popular in Japan and its fruits are sold in Asian stores. They taste similar to American persimmon but are bigger in size.
American persimmon can be easily grown, but it might start bearing fruits only after 10 years.
Persimmons can be eaten raw or turned into jam. They also ferment well, so you could make persimmon wine or liquor.
They are maybe the sweetest fruit that can be harvested not only in winter but year-round.
It’s not surprising then that the scientific name of this plant literally means “food of the gods”. These sticky fruits are rich in vitamin C and very high in calories.
7. Pine (Pinus Species)
Pine trees are some of the most common edible conifers, but you could also try spruce, fir, and redwood.
The only ones to avoid are the yew tree and the needles from the loblolly pine and the ponderosa pine, which might be toxic.
Pines, like most other conifer trees, are evergreen trees, and they are easy to find throughout the United States in woods and mountains. You’ll recognize them because their needles grow in clumps of 2 to 5.
The edible parts of pine trees are the needles, the bark, and the cones. Pine needles make a great tea and are an excellent base for aromatic liquors.
Just keep in mind that the needles should not be boiled, or they will become bitter. The heat can also remove the vitamin C and the medicinal properties they contain.
The lighter bark just next to the wood can be shaved off, dried, and ground into highly nutritious flour. The older trees also bear cones, which can sometimes contain small, nutritious nuts.
8. Common Chickweed (Stellaria Media)
Chickweed is one of the few tender winter greens that grows in the wild. It’s a creeping plant that can be found growing in protected areas of lawns and gardens.
Common chickweed is native to Europe but is now naturalized in most cold-temperature areas, including the United States.
Common chickweed has a milder taste and is perfect for salads and soups. It’s so tender that you can also eat the stems.
There are other Stellaria species that are edible, but they sometimes have hairy leaves which are not pleasant to eat. Some aren’t bad when eaten cooked, such as the star chickweed (Stellaria Pubera) and the mouse-ear chickweed (Cerastium Vulgatum).
9. Mullein (Verbascum Thapsus)
Mullein is a biennial plant that grows throughout the United States on dry soil. This plant thrives in full sun, so look for it in open areas.
Mullein is easily identifiable thanks to its furry oval leaves, which have earned it the charming nickname of “hunter’s toilet paper.” Avoid this use though, as the hairs can cause irritation and itching in some people.
The main use of mullein leaves is for tea, but Native Americans also dried them and smoked them. You can copy them by mixing mullein leaves with tobacco or make a nicotine-free blend with other wild or cultivated greens.
Just a few examples of plants that are safe to smoke are mugwort, coltsfoot, skullcap, sage, and mint, but there are many more.
Mullein has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, thanks to its high content of flavonoids, phenylethanoid glycosides, and iridoids.
10. Hickory (Carya Species)
Hickory trees are widespread in the United States, but can also be found in Canada, Mexico, and even in Asia. They are hardwood trees closely related to pecans, which are grown further south.
Hickory nuts have an outer husk that can be peeled off and hides an inner shell. A similar nut is the buckeye, which is poisonous.
To make sure you have the right kind, check if the inner nutshell is divided into chambers, like a walnut. If it’s whole like an almond, it’s a buckeye nut and you should discard it.
Hickory nuts taste sweet and are similar to pecans. Like all nuts, they are packed with fats, which makes them a high-calorie food. They can be eaten raw and make an amazing trail snack to quickly replenish your energy on long hikes.
A few hickory species have nuts that are extremely bitter, but they aren’t dangerous to eat. The advice is to always taste one before taking the time to harvest a large amount.
11. White Oak (Quercus Alba)
There are numerous species of oaks that grow in the United States.
The fruit of these trees is the acorn, which is the edible part of the plant. Acorns grow into a cup shape.
The best-tasting acorns are those of the white oak, which can be recognized by its leaves with round lobes. The others are also edible, but they can be very bitter.
The taste of acorns improves after they’ve been soaked in warm water multiple times.
To do this, divide them into smaller pieces and submerge them in water for about one hour. Then drain, rinse, and repeat until the bitterness is gone.
The process can take a while, but it’s necessary not only to make them more palatable but also to remove tannic acid. This substance can cause nausea if ingested.
Acorns are so rich in nutrients and calories that they were one of the most important food sources before agriculture.
Edible Winter Plants Final Thoughts
Those above are some of the most popular edible winter plants to eat and grow. These plants will provide you with enough harvest despite the challenge of finding edible winter plants throughout the cold months when other plants aren’t available.
The list of winter plants above also contains plants that can grow during the winter months. They are convenient to grow and can provide you with fresh produce whenever the winter months are coming.
Read more about other plants out in the wild that are edible: