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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Return to Your Roots

Dawn Combs
Hobby Farms Contributor

In winter, harvest roots, like horseradish, to include in your seasonal cooking. Photo by Dawn Combs (HobbyFarms.com)
Photo by Dawn Combs

The snow has come here in Ohio, along with cold weather. It is definitely time to greet a real change of the seasons outside, while inside we must respond to the change of seasons in the kitchen.

Traditional healing systems around the world are sensitive to the fact that we cannot eat the same foods year round. In summer it is hot outside, so this is a time for cooling foods and herbs, such as fresh lettuce and dill. It is no coincidence that at the time we need to be eating these foods they are abundant in our garden.

Some might wonder what we can be harvesting in the winter. There are many wonderful books out there that detail how to grow a year-round garden in a heated or unheated greenhouse, but this isn’t the only way to get your season sustenance. Our own behavior tends to mimic that of our perennial plants. During cold weather, we gardeners curl up and read our gardening manuals, study an herb or two in detail, or simply rest until spring gardening hits in full force. When the sun shines and the season is right, we’re back outside from dawn to dusk expending energy. Plants work in a similar way. When it’s cold, the energy of our perennial plants returns to the root, conserving energy for spring growth. When the sun shines again in spring, the plants push leaves toward the sun to gobble up nutrition and reproduce. It is inappropriate for plant or gardener to expend energy all the time without finding time to refuel.

Thus, our kitchen fare must change in the winter because it is no longer time to eat cooling foods. It is time to eat warming, rich and deeply nourishing foods. We return to root vegetables, bone broths and the roots of herbs as our primary fare because it is the right season to do so. Luckily, these foods are abundantly available if we know where to look.

Harvesting Root Herbs
It’s possible to harvest roots all winter long in some areas of the country. Access to fresh food and medicine is only as far as the back steps—that is, if you remember where those plants stood just a few months ago. It’s a nice idea to mark a particularly good grouping of dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) or burdock (Arctium lappa) before the snow flies. Both burdock and dandelion root can be added to a soup or sautéed for a dinner of mineral-laden deliciousness.

Always be aware of the structure of the roots you choose to harvest so that replanting can be done if necessary. Both burdock and dandelion are tap roots, so it’s not possible to leave a cutting behind to grow a new plant. Plants, like horseradish (pictured above), that form crowns can be dug and split, taking just what is needed into the house and replanting the rest.

When you need any root from a threatened plant, it’s important to leave some behind so that our grandchildren can benefit from their medicine, as well. Of course, this is not a problem with dandelion and burdock. Harvest to your heart’s content, and make your soup or simply boil them up for a hot mug of tea in front of the fireplace while you watch it snow.

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