top of page

Foraging for Plant Medicine in Winter - Roots, Fungi, Conifers & Some Bulgarian Folklore

Updated: Jan 15, 2022

Here in the North East of England a few days ago Baba Zima (Grani Winter) stormed in with full power, chasing away the last of Autumn with high winds, snow and her counterpart Diado Mraz (Grandad Frost).

These two characters are quite popular in Bulgarian Folklore. Baba Zima is the Crone archetype which most of us are familiar with, or Baba Yaga - the old witch in Slavic Folklore. She is old and wise, she is free and wild. She can be harsh, grumpy, mean and scary sometimes. She is POWERFUL!

When she arrives the Earth and her creatures enter a state of hibernation (full or partial). The sun hides in fear of her power and respect for her wise ancient teachings. Plants' medicine and life force retreats away from her sight into the roots, deep underground in the safe and warm embrace of the soil.

Most animals hide underground too. However there are a few beings who keep going on about their business unimpressed. The feisty Robin is one of them. He keeps accompanying me on my foraging trips deep in the woods. This little bird seems as energetic, fierce and curious as ever, wearing the kiss of the sun on its chest and inspecting my basket for something of value, not bothered about the cold at all. The harvest was not of value to the Robin though.

My basket was full of muddy Yellow Dock Roots, Wood Aven Roots, Spruce Branches and some old Turkey Tail Mushrooms. These guys might not look or sound appealing but they are full of much needed medicine which can boost our immune systems and keep us healthy and strong in winter.

  • Yellow Dock (Rumex Crispus) or Curly Dock is native to Europe, Western Asia and North America. Yellow Dock is a powerful herb which has so many medicinal properties. The yellow root has an affinity to the liver. It is used in herbal medicine as a powerful liver detoxing agent as well as blood purifier. Curly Dock actions are hepatic, laxative, diuretic, anti-oxidant, blood cleansing & detoxifying. This is why the root has been used in aiding digestion, lowering cholesterol levels, regulating blood sugar and healing the liver. The plant is very rich in iron. This is why when I was growing up in Bulgaria, my family used young and aged leaves as a substitute for spinach in any cooking. Spinach was not available always and it wasn't cheap. Curly Dock on the other hand was growing plentifully everywhere and was free to use. The texture, flavour and nutritional value is similar to spinach when cooked. The only difference is that the older leaves can get bitter. The young leaves in spring can be consumed raw in salads in order to receive their full benefits.

  • Evergreen Spruce truly is a "green first-aid kit". The needles, cones, bark and young shoots are packed with vitamins and minerals such as: Vitamins C, D, E, K, P, PP, B1, B2, B3, B6 and minerals - manganese, copper, iron, chromium. Spruce has an excellent antibacterial and immune boosting properties and it has been used in fighting off colds, flues and many other ailments. On top of all other benefits the essential oils, tannins and succinic acid present in needles, young shoots and cones, make the tree incredibly healing for the human body. The antibacterial effects do work in such way that any pathogens or fungal infections are destroyed but the beneficial microflora is nourished and encouraged to grow. The tree has been also used for improving memory, soothing nervous system and improving human immunity. A tea made with Spruce Needles is so aromatic, it smells like an evergreen forest and it taste fresh and subtly tarty.

  • Turkey Tail is one of these incredibly medicinal fungi which costs a fortune if one wants to purchase the mushroom extract. Fortunately it is native to the UK and it is quite common so anyone who can identify it can benefit from its medicine. It is famed for its anti-cancerous properties. Studies are showing that the compound Polysaccharide peptide (PSP) which is found in Turkey Tail Mushroom Extract, inhibits the growth and spread of cancerous sells. Turkey Tail promotes liver health and detoxification. It has been used in Chinese medicine for over 2000 years as a treatment for liver disease. This incredible mushroom has also anti-inflammatory, immune boosting, blood sugar regulating and anti-oxidant properties which make it a valuable healing agent for joint pains, diabetes, digestive disorders, weight management and some use it for treating even depression and anxiety. Turkey tail mushroom is a natural anti-depressant that helps with mood regulation by increasing the levels of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. This helps with mood regulation and stress levels.

  • Wood Aven or Cloveroot is widely spread in woodlands, hedgerows, edges of paths and sometimes can be found in gardens. The leaves and root of this herb are edible and quite delicious. The root has a spicy clove like flavour. The medicinal properties include: anti-inflammatory, astringent, aiding digestion, cleansing and healing wounds and gastrointestinal irritation. Wood Avens can be used to soothe liver inflammation, gastrointestinal disease, skin irritation, fevers, haemorrhoids, intestinal inflammation and more.

These four wonderful herbs went in my cooking pot. I simmered the roots for about 15 minutes, took the pot off the heath and added the rest of the herbs to steep for about an hour. Before drinking I warmed up the earthy reddish/brownish liquid in the cooking pot and then transported it into a cast iron tea pot, which kept the medicinal brew warm for longer.

The taste was earthy, slightly spicy, sweet, bitter and astringent at the same time. The flavour reminds of the deep earth and the aroma of a moist evergreen woodland!

44 views0 comments


bottom of page