As stated in at least one previous article, I find winter to be a great foraging season. Yesterday, on 28/2, I came back from Spreewald with 13 different species of plants, three of them roots: horseradish, chicory and dandelion. Apart from some herbs, leaves and other above-ground plant parts, winter time is a great time for foraging seaweeds – as highlighted in the previous article – and THE season for roots foraging. During February I have been foraging and cooking chicory, hops, horseradish, thistle and wild carrot roots.

Like the plant parts harvested above ground, roots are quite different in general appearance including colors, as well as sizes, tastes and, not least, application. The article here introduces you to ways of identifying, foraging and cooking hops, chicory and horseradish roots.

Chicory (Cichorium intybus)

Chicory is a very common plant, known here in Germany as Wegwarte (literally road wait). The various parts of the plant are used in salads, soups, sauces, and, the root, is cooked as a root vegetable or, most well drunk as a coffee substitute.

Though the blue flowers of the chicory – with slender petals ragged at the tip – is very distinctive, it is, nevertheless hard to identify, when the roots are ripe – in winter. At this time of year, the flowers are all gone. What is left for identification is the now empty receptacle, where the flower used to grow, the grey-brown stem and the leaves at the base of the stem.

The chicory root can be used as a root vegetable, and, as such, both boiled, baked and fried. The most common way of using it is to roast it in the oven, grind them, pour boiling water over it and filter the water to make a coffee-like, but caffeine free, drink commonly refered to as chicory coffee. Here is one way to make chicory coffee:

First, wash the root, then chop it up in 2-3cm pieces. Places the pieces on baking paper on a baking tray and roast them in the oven at 175 degrees celsius until they are golden brown on the surface. Then grind in a coffee grinder or chop them finely, if you don´t have one. Finally, put the chicory grinds in a coffee filter and pour boiling water through it.

Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana)

Like the chicory stem, horseradish root can be difficult to find, during winter, the time when it is ripe. Before winter, it is quite easily distinguishable because of its up to 1m long, green leaves and its white flower clusters. During winter time these identification markers are gone almost entirely. There will, however, be small remnants of the leaves shoving just some 5cm above ground. Since the horseradish is not as widespread as the chicory, for instance, the most realistic way to find them is to spot them before the winter, and then make a note to yourself to remember the spot until winter.

I have tried baking horseradish cubes, using the recipe described with hops below, and liked it in small amounts. However, I find the more traditional way of using it as a condiment more satisfying. Adding some sticky food substance can then, further, make the condiment into a spread for bread. I find the following horseradish spread delicious and fresh:


3cm horseradish root

5 tbsp vinegar

2 tsp salt

2 tomatoes

1 carrot

Some walnuts

To make 1 glass of horseradish/tomato spread first wash the horseradish root. Next, chop off 5cm of the root. It does not need peeling, though you may want to cut out some dirt from small cracks in the root. Grate the horseradish piece and the carrot, chop up the tomato and walnuts and then simply mix all the ingredients together.

Hops (Humulus lupulus L.)

Together with barley, hops is known as the main plant ingredient in beer brewing. However, growing in floodplain forests and other habitats with moist ground covers, both the shoots, flowers, leaves, stalks and roots can be used for cooking. The aromatic, cone-like flowers are the part used for beer brewing. The root, however, is more rarely used, though it is edible.

In order to find the hops root, you look for the quite distinctive hops flowers that grow on stems creeping around other plants and hedges. Then you follow the creeping stem to the ground and you will find the spot, at which to start digging. The root grows horizontally and can be long.

I have used it as a root vegetable baked in the oven, which resulted in a strong, quite flavorful bitter-sweet dish. I liked it, but will have to admit I find this application of the hops root to be for the culinary explorer rather than for those seeking familiar tastes. I have used the same basic recipe with chunks of carrots, chicory and fennel as well as horseradish. Except for the horseradish, these other roots result in generally less strongly flavored dishes, which may be more suited for cautious wild food novices. The recipe:


700g Roots: Hops and carrots. (other options: chicory, fennel…)

400ml, 1 can, coconut milk

1/4 cup wheat flour

A handful of mint leaves

1/2 grated apple

A handful of brazil nuts

1 tbsp. of grated horseradish

1 tsp. salt

Topping: A handful of chickweed and 1/2 handful yarrow


Preheat the oven to 220 degrees. Next whisk coconut milk and all ingredients, except the roots and the topping, together in a medium-sized casserole dish. Then chop up the roots to 2-3cm cubes and add in the mix. Stir to cover the roots in the coconut sauce. Bake in the oven for some 65 min. Cover with foil and bake in the oven for some 65 min. Take out of the oven and add the topping.