Corona, of course, is uppermost in all our minds. But like any bad situation it has its good points and many things to be learned from it. Needless to say my thoughts go out to anyone who has suffered directly, or indirectly any of the many downsides, stresses or heart ache that have ensued.
However I hope some of you may have been enjoying the extra time and lack of outside pressures to reflect on the hopeful and rewarding aspects that have sprung up and that we can harness to move onwards in a positive way for ourselves and our planet.
One thing I have been finding time to do is eat my garden weeds. It’s something I always wanted to explore more - wild harvesting – but never seemed to find the time to get much further than gathering elderflower for cordial, foraging for the odd fungi, or picking sloes for sloe gin. So, weeds, our friends not our enemies; they protect bare earth from degradation, they are fodder for a multitude of insects, several can be composted or made into a good feed for plants and finally, many are edible!
The beauty of eating what you would otherwise be disposing of is obvious and I have to say…quite satisfying in a slightly vengeful way if one is feeling antagonistic towards a particularly unruly specimen.
Here are some of my favourite weeds:
Ground elder – blame the Romans, they didn’t just give us roads and sanitation, they brought us ground elder, which they used as a vegetable. It is actually very tasty, quite like spinach.
Simply pick some nice young leaves and cook gently with a little water and a knob of butter or splash of olive oil, if wished. Like spinach it does disappear when cooked so be sure to gather a decent amount.
Dandelion – yes they have more uses than for children using them as clocks so they could stay out playing a bit longer. I hope children still play that game – you pick a seed head and blow; one o clock, blow again; two o clock, until there are no seeds remaining on the stalk. The trick is to blow quite hard if it’s getting near ‘going home time’. Dandelions were used in Minorca when a plague of locusts decimated much other vegetation and are still eaten quite a lot in France.
Small young leaves can be eaten raw in a salad or can be cooked like the ground elder. In common with a lot of wild salad plants, soaking overnight can improve the flavour, making them less bitter.
Comfrey – it grows in great abundance with us and is very useful for making into a feed for plants, often mixed with nettles. It is not so useful when it decides to grow smack in the middle of the veg patch as it has a huge root and masses of foliage…
Like the other two it can be eaten as a vegetable or added to soup. It can also be made into fritters by dipping the leaf in batter. As with all edible weeds, use young clean leaves and remove tough stalks.
Nettles – well we all know about nettles OUCH! Great for insects, not so great when you grasp one by accident (yes I’ve tried grasping them as it’s said they won’t sting you if you’re firm. Not true! Don’t tickle them either. Docken leaf and spit don’t soothe much, but they take your mind off the pain).
Nettles make a good soup, on their own or with a variety of greens. Use gloves to gather and as with all plants, shake off any beasties and rinse well in water. Always gather your wild food in a place away from road verges or other potentially polluted areas and hopefully not somewhere that is used as a toilet for dogs or humans.
Once prepared simply snip leaves into a pot containing some sautéed onion and garlic, potato or whatever. Stir well, add a little water and any fresh or dried herbs and cook for fifteen minutes or so. Liquidise and serve with a wee dod of cream, yoghurt or swirl of a nice oil, sprinkle with paprika and fresh herbs and voila!
Sweet Cecily – ah sweet Cecily…Myrrhis odorata (L) . The Latin names are taken from the Greek word for perfume due to its scent. Also not ideal coming through the border or veg patch as it has masses of foliage and seeds prolifically. It has a big and persistent root but with the advantage of being edible if boiled like a parsnip or eaten in a salad. The leaves can be used in salads, soups or stews. The seeds are sweet with an aniseed flavour and are refreshing to nibble on. Even the stems can be boiled and eaten. It can be used as a replacement for sugar and was once used to flavour the Chartreuse.
The above plants have many varied uses medicinally and interesting folklore and facts relating to them, but for the purposes of today I have concentrated on their edible nature.
Have fun, experiment, eat well, save money, all without stepping much further than your own shadow (low carbon footprint!).