by Roger Klinger
I seem to be in the minority but I have always been a fan of winter, as it is a necessary part of the four-season cycle that completes the whole picture for me. And, yes, I do love snow but can do without treacherous ice. But even with ice, there is an exceptional beauty to the mountains that is nothing short of magical and awe-inspiring (providing one is not on the road). One of the gifts of living here in WNC is that winters are not that long in duration and there are many warmer days and sunshine, which I missed deeply while living in the constant overcast and rain in the Pacific Northwest. So far, this winter has been exceptionally cold and arctic and we are grateful for our abundant wood supply and wonderful woodstove that keeps our cabin toasty and warm.
I am always amazed at the resilience of plant and animal life. Even though the trees are all in dormancy, the earth is a remarkable living being and new life is always growing. When it gets down to zero even the hardiest of wild things gets frozen, but they come back with renewed vigor as soon as the weather warms. We put up a lot of produce and wild mushrooms in the freezer each year but we love to augment our greens with a little bit from the wild.
Even in winter’s deepest chills, dandelions, wild onions, rosehips, burdock root, wild mustards and watercress can all be found.
Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) are indestructible common wildflowers introduced by the colonists to North America. Until the truly bitter cold spells, they can still be found blooming in our fields. The greens from these wildflowers become less bitter in winter and they were among my Italian grandmother’s favorite greens; she prized these common plants so much so that she guarded and protected them in our suburban landscape. The flowers can be nibbled on but are not my favorite, but I do love the greens, especially when sautéed with a small amount of bacon and herbs and mixed into mashed potatoes for a special nutritious treat. The leaf and root are used in traditional medicines throughout the world. And most of us have heard of or perhaps tasted the traditional dandelion wine, made only with the freshest flowers.
Wild onions (Allium canadense) are prolific plants in these parts and are easy to identify. If the grassy, chive-like leaves and bulbs smell like strong garlic and onion, it is an onion and not one of the poisonous members of the lily family also found in these parts. The leaves are an excellent substitute for chives, and the tiny bulbs dwelling under the surface are extremely strong and flavorful and a great addition to stir fries or soups. I tend to mostly use the greens as it’s easy to just snip them.
Wild fruits are rare in the winter, one exception is rose hips; these tiny fruits grow in abundance throughout our mountains. And after many hard frosts, they become much sweeter. Their bright-red berries will dull down over the winter but enough color remains. And it is always fun to be on a hike and grab a few of the softened small fruits and pop them into your mouth for a mildly sweet treat. Rose hips are loaded with vitamin C and minerals, and they also make a great addition to tea.
During WWII, rose hips were utilized throughout Great Britain due to rationing, and citizens were advised to harvest wild and cultivated rose hips throughout the country to make a Vitamin C-rich syrup for children and adults. It’s not hard to make this: gather a few cups of rosehips, cook them for a few minutes in boiling water, mash them down with a wooden spoon, and run the rose hip mess through a sieve; sweeten if desired with honey and enjoy! When making tea, gather a handful of the fruits, add them to water that has come to a boil, and let them steep for a few minutes or until cool and strain. I really like them mixed with spearmint or lemon balm.
Contact Roger at firstname.lastname@example.org.