Wintergreen in the Early Days of Spring

Wintergreen

Because of my newfound passion for wild edibles and my continuing passion for wild medicinals, our family walks have morphed into learning and foraging extravaganzas. And while I’m typically the one who makes the definitive decision on where we go, my husband has been the designated path picker these last few times, and he might just get the job full time!

There are a few local wooded areas that I frequent the most, so those are the obvious choices for me. I know what to expect as far as terrain and plant life, so if I’m on the hunt for something specific, or if we have limited time or limited attention spans, these places come in handy. The downside to this is I have a tendency to pigeonhole myself into these few spots and only these few spots, forgetting about the wide world around me. Thankfully my husband isn’t quite so narrow focused.

Recently I put him in charge of leading the way because my brain was too cluttered to think. I just wanted to get into the woods, any woods, and connect with nature. The prospect of picking the place just seemed too overwhelming in that moment. So he did, and he wins the best new spot award!

Now, I was a bit skeptical when he told me we were going to the woods behind the storage facility a short distance up the highway from us. It didn’t really scream “forager’s delight” to me, but in this case I judged much too hastily. The girls loved the little bridge at the beginning of the path made of old skateboards, especially when they saw one with a Ninja Turtle on it. I have to admit, it was a pretty clever use of old skateboards.

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As the path split, we chose the one that went deeper into the woods away from the highway, so the plant life would be much less polluted. This is very important, when wild harvesting. We had to go up a pretty steep hill, which was not only a great additional workout, but it afforded us an awesome view. The girls were super pumped with all the rocks and boulders, as they are mountain goats in human bodies, so we climbed up the biggest one we saw under some pine trees and laid down to soak up the sun for a bit. It was bliss, pure and simple!

But, as we aren’t ones to linger over much (little ones can only stay in one place for so long), we scrambled down the boulder and continued on our journey.  Shortly after, my youngest daughter, who was straggling behind us, called out, “Mom, I found some wintergreen!” I doubled back to confirm the find, and it was definitely the lovely wintergreen. A fact that made both my three and nearly six-year-old very happy. I have dubbed my youngest The Wintergreen Finding Queen because she has hawk vision for it, especially the tasty little berries. It’s like a super power. Seriously. One that we’re all thankful for as wintergreen has quickly become a family favorite. The girls snagged a few leaves to nibble on, while I collected a handful to use for a fermented “tea”, when we got home. And of course, we all enjoyed some berries as we spotted them.

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The initial find of wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) led to the discovery of some mitchella (mitchella repens) in the same vicinity. Because some of the mitchella had their berries, the girls got to learn the difference between wintergreen berries and partridge berries, which was a great homeschooling bonus. We were also lucky enough to spot a completely new plant to me, striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculate), and a small cluster of last year’s dried up ghost pipe (Monotropa uniflora). As we walked down the hill, we came to a small stream with steadily flowing water and a variety of plants and mushrooms growing around it. Evening primrose, wild carrot, plantain, red clover, mullein, cinnabar polypores, and turkey tails were all there. It was exhilarating!

Cinnamon Polypore

Even though both the striped wintergreen and the mitchella are endangered and therefore should not be harvested and there wasn’t enough of some of the other herbs to wildcraft, it was just so awesome to find a new place to connect with and learn from nature. This area has definitely moved into the top 5 places for us to forage walk, and I can’t wait to see how it comes to life as the year continues to unfold!

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