Archive for the ‘Salad’ Category

Early Spring Salad & Nettle Soup

March 4, 2011

As an example of the kind of thing I’ll be showing (hopefully) lots of people tomorrow, here’s a salad I made yesterday using ingredients foraged on a walk that lasted slightly longer than an hour:

From left to right; top to bottom:

Ground Elder, White Dead-Nettle, Yarrow, Primrose leaves/flowers
Cleavers (aka Goosegrass), Dandelion, Gorse flowers, Sorrel
Chickweed, Hairy Bittercress, Bramble (Blackberry) Shoots, Ribwort Plantain

All are edible raw, but as an experiment I tried steaming them all together for just over a minute, thinking this might make more nutrients available by breaking down cell walls etc.

Then serving straight away with a little olive oil drizzled over the top:

Not all of the plants responded well to this. Gorse and Hairy Bittercress all-but lost their flavour (especially a shame with the latter), the bigger leaves went just a little too soggy for my liking (Sorrel did its usual blanching thing, retaining its nice sour flavour though). On the other hand I think the bramble shoots could’ve done with a little longer. Yarrow, Cleavers, Chickweed and (most of all), Ribwort Plantain benefited most from the process, at least as far as my taste buds were concerned. The whole dish gave me stacks of energy though, which was felt mostly by some poor guy innocently wheeling his bins out when I body-checked him at practically full pelt, running home down the hill(!) … ::gulp:: Sorry mate!

Another potential benefit of steaming would mean I could include Stinging Nettle in the above mix (heat disables the stings). As it happens I ran out of them making the promised soup:

Ingredients: 1 onion, 1 potato, some nettles, fried in butter & oil (nettles added only for the last couple of minutes):

(I added some garlic and half a chopped carrot for good measure.) Then pour approx 1.5l boiling water over the lot and crumble in a stock cube:

Simmer for 20mins-1/2 an hour, then finally blend with one of those wand thingies and you’re done:

I forgot to add salt and pepper. Crème Fraîche is a nice addition at the end, too. Also my soup was a bit watery, which could be solved (I’m guessing) either by adding less water or by putting in more nettles or other veg.

Do this: it’s good for you!

Wild Food June/July – pt.2

July 8, 2010

Sorry for the delay – I originally meant to have this post up a couple of days after the first, but hit a wall of lethargy & writer’s block and somehow couldn’t find the energy to finish it until now. My principle (thanks DJ): yelling at the plants won’t make them grow any faster. They will do their thing at their own pace and the best thing you can probably do is leave them to it.* Without further ado:

3) – Yarrow. I really like this plant, first making a spicy, aromatic tea from the flowers & leaves after identifying it last summer in Italy. The book talked about how Achilles purportedly used it to dress the wounds of his soldiers (a leaf wrapped around a deepish cut on my finger later stemmed the bloodflow pretty quickly) and how there was ‘scarcely an ailment for which the various applications of the herb weren’t effective’ [approx.] With the white, sometimes pink flowers out it looks a bit like an umbellifer (member of the carrot/parsnip family) but the feathery leaves distinguish it and make it unmistakeable once you’ve seen them a few times.

I uprooted five of the plants on walkabout last Autumn and replanted them on a very dry, bare patch in our garden, formerly home to an aged conifer. Apparently Yarrow acts as a ‘good ground cover plant, spreading quickly by its roots’. Someone who shall remain nameless unthinkingly dug up all the baby sprouts in April to make way for a red salad, but fortunately I managed to rescue about three of the larger-leaved ones from the compost. Here’s what the patch looked like a few weeks ago, red salad long since disappeared:

Those roots must’ve been busy! Now the whole patch is green with their leaves and we have four stalks straining up into the sun, just about ready to open up their flowers… Anyway, if you want enough leaves to use as a vegetable, I recommend hunting for a patch where they do something like this (picture taken a couple of days ago):

I know two spots in my local area, both near water, both growing among other long-stemmed plants (in this case grasses and nettles, in the other a load of pondside horsetails). It’s easy enough to grab the ends of 3-4 leaves and reach down the stems to snick them all off at the same time with a knife. I’ve been using them to make soup. Here’s a picture of 1 red onion, sliced and simmering in butter & olive oil, with yarrow washed and chopped, ready to go in:

… quickly followed by 1.5l boiling water from the kettle plus salt, pepper and a crumbled veg stock cube. Fifteen minute simmer, then blend (we have one of those electric wand things with a spinning blade) to produce something that looks like this:

Serve with cream, if you so desire. This first attempt tasted a little watery, so I would either put in more yarrow or less water. I put a tbsp flour to thicken the second attempt, but felt the flavour suffered as a consequence. Also lots of stringy bits of stem survived the blending process, so next time I’ll make sure to chop them more finely. PFAF list the herb’s medicinal properties: ‘antiseptic, antispasmodic, mildly aromatic, astringent, carminative, cholagogue, diaphoretic, digestive, emmenagogue, odontalgic, stimulant, bitter tonic, vasodilator and vulnerary’ (ibid. – under ‘medicinal uses’ where you can hover over the words to see them explained). I don’t know how many of these would survive the cooking process, but either way I reckon you’d struggle to find something more healthful to put into your system.

4) – Clover. My first year collecting the flowers for tea. Here they are drying indoors (those in the know tell me sunlight is too harsh for the drying herb), red on the left, white on the right:

I prefer the heavier flavour of the reds. Becky Lerner has a good post on the medicinal uses, noting that ‘Red Clover, Trifolium spp., is highly regarded by herbalists as a blood purifier because it helps support the liver as the body’s detox organ.’ It also has quite a reputation as a ‘woman’s herb’, helping with menstruation, fertility troubles, etc. – see here. I might try grinding the whites up to put their sweet, slightly beany flavour into breads – I hear they’re supposed to be ‘very wholesome and nutritious’ that way.

5) – St. John’s Wort. I found this plant growing wild for the first time just the other day (up on chalky downland and in a cornfield border, where the farmers may have sown it as part of their oxymoronic ‘farming for wildlife’ program). You identify it by the needleprick holes in the leaves when held to the light – hence the latin name, Hypericum perforatum – as in ‘perforated’. Didn’t see so much of it growing, so I only gathered a small bouquet, leaving at least three plants standing in each small patch†:

Another one for infusing as a flower tea. It’s supposed to help relieve depression, though a possible warning: ‘The plant was used to procure an abortion by some native North Americans, so it is best not used by pregnant women[257]‘ (PFAF). I tried a pot yesterday with the whole herb, fresh, and it tasted quite nice – heavy, sweetish, almost oily. As with a lot of the yellow flower-teas, it starts off straw/urine-coloured and darkens through orange to red the longer you leave it. Apparently SJW does the same in its other popular usage – dunked in oil and left in the sun for several weeks to make a blood-red salve which ‘is applied externally to wounds, sores, ulcers, swellings, rheumatism etc[240]. It is also valued in the treatment of sunburn and as a cosmetic preparation to the skin[240]‘. Perhaps I’ll try that if I find it growing more prolifically somewhere. Otherwise for similar skin troubles (including insect bites) I’ll probably stick to last summer’s discovery of the marvelous, cure-all Plantain Leaf Poultice!‡

6) – Lime. Another splendid tree currently doing amazing things:

This beauty is one of several they’ve allowed to mature in the local park. Close-up:

The flowers make a calming infusion known by the French name Tilleul. Last year I spent quite a while up trees plucking the flowers individually and trying not to get stung by the clouds of bees & other insects feasting on the nectar. Tired of this labour I then tried shaking low-hanging branches over a tarp to collect the snow of petals that came loose. This worked quite well, but I later learned from my (French) grandmother that the light-green bract was supposed to go into the tea as well – in fact I found that it added a cool, mellowness to the flavour, which otherwise could be a little harsh with just the flowers. So this year I grabbed flowers and bracts by the handful (2-3 at a time worked best, with a hand steadying the main branch) and stuffed them straight into the bag, no fuss. Here they are drying:

They smell really great when fresh & concentrated like this. People say the tea has a calming, almost sedative effect. I include myself among those people :) – a mug or two prepares me for a deep, sound sleep. Intriguingly, ‘Lime flowers are said to develop narcotic properties as they age and so they should only be harvested when freshly opened’, though I have nothing to report on this (yet…) I should also mention, perhaps belatedly, that permaculturalists like to rave about lime leaves as a suitably abundant (and much hardier) substitute for lettuce in salads. They taste quite pleasant, albeit slightly bland in this capacity to me. In Food For Free Richard Mabey writes that ‘Some aficionados enjoy them when they are sticky with the honeydew produced by aphid invasions in the summer’. While I would’ve preferred not to know that it came from vast quantities of insect poo, I did rather enjoy the sticky sweetness of the leaves I tasted while gathering the flowers the other day. Something to serve up to unknowing friends and watch their expressions after explaining what they’ve just eaten!

That’ll do for now.


* – See also Ran Prieur, who writes:

The most fundamental freedom is the freedom to do nothing. But when you get this freedom, after many years of activities that were forced, nothing is all you want to do. You might start projects that seem like the kind of thing you’re supposed to love doing, music or writing or art, and not finish because nobody is forcing you to finish and it’s not really what you want to do. It could take months, if you’re lucky, or more likely years, before you can build up the life inside you to an intensity where it can drive projects that you actually enjoy and finish [...]

† – A Native American foraging rule I once heard (maybe via Ray Mears??): Don’t harvest either the first or the second specimen of a particular plant in any given area because they may need to cross-pollinate in order to reproduce. Something like that… [citation needed]

‡ – Read ‘Grandfather’s Footsteps‘, an Anthropik classic, telling ‘new stories about our rediscovered friends’:

Then, one day, a bee stung one of the Grandfathers. He cried out in pain, and he heard the little plant call out, “Grandfather! Grandfather! Take one of my leaves, and crush it into a poultice with mud!” The Grandfather did so. As the mud dried, it pulled the blood and the stinger’s tiny shot of venom out of his arm. The leaves stopped the sting from infection.

“You have powerful medicine, don’t you, little friend?” the Grandfather asked.

“Indeed I do!” the little plant replied. “Wheresoever the soil is upturned, I grow quickly, and heal the soil, and that is why I grow in your footsteps, for you walk heavily and leave deep footsteps, and much soil for me to heal. But since healing is in my nature, I can also heal your scrapes, cuts, insect bites, stings and rashes. I can soothe your pains and heal your cuts, and a tincture or tea of my healing leaves will help you breathe easier when you grow ill.”

For general use saliva works just fine, either dribbled on the plant as you pulverise it with fingernails, or mixed directly in the mouth, mincing with the front teeth.

Down By The River

April 23, 2010

I’ve started taking my Wild Flowers pocket book around with me. Am actually grateful for the thing’s relative unsearchability because having to leaf through the whole thing every time I come across a new plant to identify has really helped a lot of information seep into the old subconscious. The other day I was looking at a leafy plant with big yellow flowers on a piece of boggy ground. The name ‘Marsh Marigold’ just popped into my head out of nowhere. Reach for Wild Flowers, search index, flip to page, sure enough, Marsh Marigold – ten second ID! Anyway, another plant it has recently helped me put a name to is the Cuckooflower, aka Lady’s Smock. The book says that its name comes from the fact that it ‘starts to flower about the same time as the cuckoo begins to call’ – although I think I read somewhere that cuckoo populations have crashed in the UK, and I haven’t heard a single one so far this year. Anyway, here’s a huge bank of the suckers:


Picture one shows them growing in a ditch by the side of a trackway. As they’re ‘new acquaintances’ I’ve started to notice them popping up all over the place, but they do seem to prefer to grow near water or on otherwise damp soil, sometimes by roadsides (which get a good ‘run-off’ when it rains). Picture two shows the lovely four-petalled flowers which vary from cream-white to more violet-tinted. Click on the picture for greater detail on the purple veins and the ‘pinnate’, finger-like leaves further down the stem.

Rubbing a leaf in my fingers uncovered an intriguing smell which I couldn’t help but get a second opinion for from the taste-buds (generally I spit after a couple of front-tooth nibbles; one piece of advice I took from this page). After a few seconds I got hit with a powerful taste like really strong mustard. It was kindof a thrill to get such a reaction from a pretty unassuming-looking plant. I’ve wondered about the condiment plants (mustard, horseradish, etc.) before – whether the strong flavours actually represent a defensive tactic which we’ve perversely come to enjoy: “Hey, Plant: you’re feisty but I’m gonna eat you anyway!” Anyway, I kept waiting for an unpleasantness to kick in but it never did. Books & the internet later confirmed what I already knew about its ‘pungent’, ‘cress-like’ flavour and suggested using leaves and flowers to give salads or sandwiches an extra kick.

It’s a ‘Blackthorn Winter’:


The river flooded last winter and swallowed all the sloes before I could collect more than one batch (for three pots of plummily astringent jam) from the thick bushes that grow along its banks. I like nibbling the flowers for the weird shifts of flavour from sweet to bitter to almondy when the cyanide kicks in. Before you go crazy, let Plants For A Future (henceforth: PFAF) reassure you that ‘[it] is usually present in too small a quantity to do any harm’ and further explain:

[...] all members of the genus contain amygdalin and prunasin, substances which break down in water [or saliva? - ed.] to form hydrocyanic acid (cyanide or prussic acid). In small amounts this exceedingly poisonous compound stimulates respiration, improves digestion and gives a sense of well-being[238].

Still, I wouldn’t go overboard… I’ve dried the blossoms to make a yellowish tea which tastes pleasant enough and is supposed to help with ‘diarrhoea (especially for children), bladder and kidney disorders, stomach weakness’ (ibid.)

The weather has been really kind to us for the last week-or-so. I’ve been paying attention to the clarity of the sky since the Iceland volcano knocked the planes out of action. There seemed to be a special deep kind of blue in the blissfully empty sky, and I thought I could see much further and more sharply from the various local vantage points. Also the relative quiet was wonderful – the birds didn’t sound so much like they were straining to make themselves heard. I took the above photo just after missing a particularly splendid crow in mid-flight between the tree and the moon (above-left). This was the day the airports were just beginning to get back to ‘normal’ (climate destruction renewed – yay Normality!) so the plane in the top-right is probably one of the first to come back. “Brave pioneers … *sniff*”

‘You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’ as they say. In this case it took their absence and subsequent return before I realised what a knife to my senses these abominations truly represent. I couldn’t help but give the finger and shout out at the first few low-flying growlers to ‘get the [expletive] out of my sky’. I had felt such a thrill a few days previously seeing signs on the motorway (as a passenger in somebody else’s car) warning of the closure of both Gatwick and Heathrow airports, fantasising about this continuing into a permanent condition (and maybe then a series of earthquakes could take out all the motorways?) Now the knife was slowly sliding back in… Once I wrote a poem about shelving and beasts of burden, with the key idea being that:

good shelving will hold beyond its capacity
but will buckle immediately
after you’ve taken the load off
you try to put it back on

I wonder what it’ll take before people stop relying on distant volcanoes or other acts of God or Nature to shut down the airports for them. How long a break do they need before enough of them realise that actually, no, they don’t want air travel’s constant imposition back in their lives; how long before they finally make the connection between their needs (e.g. to not get poisoned) and the clear-if-daunting course of action to get these needs addressed?


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