Savour the flavours of winter with this short guide to foraging in January.
13 wild foods to look for when foraging in January.
Foraging in January. Of course! Its more worthwhile than you may have thought, well, that is if you’re not snowed in! If we also think of seaweeds and seasonal sea food here, as well as plants and fungi, then we have a substantial wild larder to explore.
With surprisingly little effort, once you can identify the plants and places where they live, you can gather ingredients that make food come alive with the taste of the wild. Plant I/D can be fast tracked by using the patterns that plants produce.
Knowing which plants and what plant parts are in season becomes easier over time as you get to know plants. This can now be helped even more with my at-a-glance harvesting charts. These alphabetically listed, season-by-season charts are colour coded, showing 8 different plant parts. They feature more than 80 species, and are available as a download.
13 plants to look for when foraging in January
Wild celery. (Apium graveolens) Mainly available from river and estuary habitats, plus ditches on water meadows. You can forage leaves and leaf stalks now, and may still find some of last years seeds available (ready for mixing with salt). The wild plant will taste much stronger than blanched shop bought stuff. It offers fantastic flavouring for casseroles and soups. Great for a new year bloody mary cocktail!
Dandelion. (Taraxacum officinale) Can be found everywhere in the UK except the highest mountains. High in Vitamin C and potassium, as well as other important nutrients. The baby leaves (especially the red-veined specimens) are good tossed into dressed salads. Roots from larger plants can be used as a vegetable, after first leaching out their bitterness in cold water for 24 hours. Cook by par-boiling and roasting in the oven in oil or butter. Read more on dandelion here.
Bittercress (Cardamine species) Its very difficult to find yourself far away from one of the different species of bittercress. Choose any of the available species (usually up to 4 depending on your area) for a good peppery addition to salads. They also go well in a salsa verde, or simply as a garnish. Make on-the-go snacks using bittercress and the odd leaf of wall pennywort or sorrel, all rolled up in new wild garlic leaves. Powerfully punchy!
Watercress. (Rorippa nasturitum-aquaticum) Found growing in and around water, this nutritious plant is packed full of pungent flavour, and a great basis for soups or salads. The wild version is way more full of flavour than the nutrient-soaked plastic wrapped imitations. Raw leaves are packed with powerful medicine. Some of the the benefits and risks of foraging and eating raw watercress are discussed in a previous article.
Common sorrel. (Rumex acetosa) A really lovely addition to any salad. This is a remarkably thirst-quenching and refreshing herb, great to find on warmer days when out foraging. The sharp, tart flavour of sorrel marries exceptionally well with fish dishes. This plant coud be one to avoid if you have kidney stones, due to the oxalic acid content. Saying that, you would also have to avoid many other plants, wild and cultivated, because oxalic acid is one of the most common plant constituents.
Sow thistles. (Sonchus species) A plentiful plant found in numerous settings.
Gives edible leaves, stems, flower buds, and flowers, almost all year round. My favourite parts are the stems and flower buds. Buds have a surprisingly nutty taste when young and tightly packed, The stems are great when peeled and plonked into a pickle vinegar, or served raw in salads and coated in a tangy vinaigrette. You will notice that a few days continued frost will knock plants back, but until then…
Salad burnet. (Sanguisorba minor) I adore this lover of grasslands. It may initially be difficult to find this rose family plant, because its a small delicate-looking herb. The light green, oval leaves are close to the ground at this time of year. This plant lacks in stature but not in taste. Salad burnet has a refreshing, distinctive, cucumber flavour. If you look in damp grasslands or water meadows you can also find its very similar looking relative, ‘greater burnet’ (Sanguisorba officinalis), which is a bigger plant with larger flower heads.
Jack by the hedge. (Alliaria petiolata) This brassica family plant be found as basal rosettes when you are foraging in January, and sometimes you will find large clumps. All parts are edible. My favourite part in winter is the tap roots, and they are easy to lift. Read more on this wonderful plant, and how to make a great horseradish sauce replacement.
Three corner leek. (Allium triquetrum)
Found growing all through the winter, this highly invasive plant can create huge patches when left unchecked. Great! This offers us great onion/garlic/leek flavours with some of the associated medicinal benefits of the Allium species, and just when we need it most, in winter. Read more about three corner leek in this article and discover how to make a quick and tasty pesto, all winter long!
Ground ivy. (Glechoma hederaceae)
A brilliant aromatic herb. Aside from its remarkable ability to soothe nettle stings, ground ivy gives us complex, savoury tones with a hint of mint, even when it hasn’t recieved much sunshine. The range of scent from this plant can seem like a hybrid of thyme, rosemary and oregano. Its bitterneness falls away through cooking. Ground ivy is great with meat, pulses, soups and stews, and work well in salads when finely chopped, so as to not overpower the taste buds. Makes a very refreshing herbal tea too!
Bay leaves (Laurus nobilis). Not strictly wild, but its planted and growing happily in so many places, especially the urban environment, that its super easy to find. You will see bay out-muscling their original intended homes, bursting out through garden fences and walls from the suckers that appear from its base. So really, why buy this quintessential ingredient for currys, soups and stews this winter? Best results are from dried leaves.
Lime tree buds (Tilia vulgaris). A common tree of parks and gardens, lime tree buds are another favourite wayside nibble when I’m out foraging in January. The most commonly found species is the ‘common or European’ lime. This plant produces numerous suckers from the base of the trunk from which the buds can be easily picked during the winter months. When eaten raw, they offer a lovely crunch before encountering the soft and gooey mucilage-rich inside. They are a bit fiddly to harvest, but are worth spending some time on. You can add to salads, or better still, pan fry with some spices or soy sauce for a minute or two, as you might sunflower and pumpkin seeds. Read more about the medicinal and edible lime tree here.
Mushroom Foraging in January:
Velvet Shanks – Flammulina velutipes. This clump forming winter mushroom will be stimulated into fruiting by cold and frosty weather. Its slimy, shiny-looking cap is typically a two-toned brown, lighter at the edges. The stem has a soft dark brown covering, especially towards the base, and feels velvety, hence its common name.
It has creamy white gills, that are well spaced, not crowded. The spores are white (helping to safely I/D this mushroom and distinguish it from a couple of the poisonous lookalikes).
It loves to grow on cut and damaged willow and alder. I first met it, and still mostly see it, on willow. These mushrooms are delicious served simply on buttered toast. Its flesh is somewhat sweet and meaty.
More resources to help your foraging in January.
You can find additional plants to explore in the winter and spring seasonal wild food guides. Recent articles on alexanders, thistles, and sea purslane may further whet your appetite for foraging in January, Then after those juicy morsels, why not fine tune your searching skills with a guide to habitats and where best to forage for plants.
If you are interested in learning practical foraging and wild food skills, then browse my upcoming courses for events near you.
More wild foods are coming in February. Until then, happy foraging!