The Local Food Report: wild wintergreen

There are a lot of amazing things about Donna Eaton. For starters, she runs a CSA-W, a farm share with wellness tacked on—as in with your carrots, you might get an herb to help combat summer allergies or arthritis pain. That alone makes her pretty cool.

But then there's what she can find in the woods on a bright spring day in the middle of Harwich. Did you know you can eat this plant?

That's chickweed, and it's only one of many, many edible spring greens. Donna took me foraging the other day at her farm, Cedar Spring Herb Farm, and we identified all kinds of things— chickweed, dandelions, wild dock.

Best of all, she showed me where to find wintergreen.

Or rather, how to identify wintergreen. Because once you've seen it—the ivy green leaves and bright, cherry red berries—you realize it's everywhere. It likes to spread out on the floor of woodland upland areas, like beneath the patches of scrub oak all over the Cape. When I got home, I even found some in my own backyard.

Wintergreen is one of those plants I'd always heard about, from grandmothers and godmothers and people who grew up a generation or so ago. Wintergreen seems to have been a real presence then, finding its way into teas and chewing gum and oils and tinctures—a cure-all of sorts. But I'd never really imagined it in the present, let alone in the woods behind my house.

When Donna first pointed it out, I thought it looked poisonous. It reminded me of a small, equally shiny version of poison ivy, only the leaves didn't come in threes and it was dotted with little red berries peeking out. The berry itself didn't look too terrifying—more like a blueberry with an inverted crown than anything that might require ipecac.

After eating several of the fruits, I am happy to report that not only am I still alive, but they taste very, very good.

Not good in an icy wintergreen gum way, like that tingly Wrigley's feeling or the way you feel after a peppermint. They have that same minty ring, but they make your mouth feel warm and sweet somehow, like you're cozied up in the tub with a good long book. The whole experience is more like pulling on a pair of wool socks than the usual wintergreen plunge-into-the-lake scenario.

No matter what, it's a good idea to do your research before you go ahead and pick. I don't want any of you keeling over on my watch, so check out the picture here and the illustration here and even take a peek at this book before you go out. Better yet, head over to Donna's farm on Saturday and she'll show you herself. She's collaborating with Slow Food Cape Cod to host a day of foraging for wild salad, with wintergreen berries at the top of the list.


Judy said...

I was just commenting to someone - my husband? - about how as a child, I loved finding, and eating, those wild red berries in the woods around my home in Central Massachusets. He thought I was crazy! How exciting to know that I might find them hereabouts on Cape Cod.....

Elspeth said...

I love when life works like that...you will have to let me know if/where you turn some up.

All the best,


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
All text, photographs, and other original material copyright 2008-2010 by Elspeth Hay unless otherwise noted.