Up and coming Wild Food Forays

Wild Foods

Take a walk on the wild side
Chewing the cud
Summer delights

TAKE A WALK ON THE WILD SIDE

by Dandelion Digger

What are some of the most mineral-rich and vibrant foods around? Wild foods, of course - and they're free! There's an abundance of edible plants, berries, nuts and fungi growing around us. It's great fun discovering, picking and eating these wild foods which are often full of delicious flavour. They're great sustenance for us being high in vitamins and minerals with strong life force - these are not pampered plants but have grown through their own vigour and tenacity. One of the most intimate relationships we can have with our natural environment is to eat it.

Some care does need to be taken in avoiding poisonous things, particularly with fungi. I've found the best way to learn which plants are edible is to be shown by someone who knows and to try them out. It then sticks in the memory much more easily than learning from a book. There are, however, a couple of good books on the subject (see below). Avoid picking from a place where dogs may have urinated or where the wild foods have been exposed to vehicle fumes or other pollution. The more bitter tasting the wild food then generally the more medicinal its effects, particularly in cleansing the liver.

I will now introduce one of the most wonderful and common of all edible wild plants.

STINGING NETTLE (Urtica dioica)

Nettles grow in almost every kind of environment so it's normally not hard to find some. They like nitrogen-rich soil.

Nettles are high in iron and are one of the best sources for us on the planet of this mineral. And, like all greens, they're full of chlorophyll, the green stuff which is very similar in chemical composition to haemoglobin and so provides an amazing nutrition hit. I will talk more about chlorophyll in the next issue.

Nettles are best in terms of quality, vibrancy and nutrition in the spring when they're young. As they grow older, the iron content increases to the point where eating them in quantity may cause kidney damage and symptoms of poisoning. But cutting nettles causes them to grow back so you can have fresh, young nettles throughout the season.

So how to eat nettles raw? Don't be afraid - they're your friend. The spines that inject formic acid causing the sting are on the upper side of the leaf and not on the underside. So I pick a leaf from underneath, fold it in half along its length and continue folding it until none of the upperside of the leaf or its edge is exposed. I then squeeze the little leaf package to break the spines and pop it in between my teeth (ensuring the leaf parcel does not unfold in my mouth) and immediately begin to chew. It has a wonderful flavour and substantial quality. Another technique is to pick a leaf, roll it together so the upperside is not exposed and then rub it between the palms to break the spines before popping in the mouth. And nettles can be juiced! The leaves can also be used for herbal tea and as a medicine, and the stalks can be used to make cordage and cloth. What a versatile and wonderful plant - become intimate with nettles today!

See "Food for Free" by Richard Mabey, and "Wild Foods" by Roger Phillips.

CHEWING THE CUD

by Dandelion Digger

Wild foods are wicked! It's what all other creatures on the planet eat (although we're going to stick to the green leafy wild foods!). Continuing our foray, we shall examine first my namesake.

DANDELION (Taraxacum officinale)

Dandelion is one of the most common wild edible plants. Any bit of open ground in the city, for example, is likely to be colonised by these yellow crowned beauties. For, as any child knows, the seeds with their gossamer parachutes travel far on the wind.

All parts of this plant are edible and medicinal - root, leaves and flower. Dandelion is well known for its bitterness, which indicates its liver cleansing effect, and for being diuretic (hence the French name for the plant 'pissenlit'). The root has a strong earthy quality and, because of its bitterness and the fact that the plant has to be killed to obtain its root, is probably best eaten only on occasion (especially for its medicinal effect). The toothed leaves are much less bitter and a quantity can quickly and easily be harvested from several plants - they're delicious on their own or in salads. You can feel the strong life force in them!

As a perennial, the leaves can be gathered at most times of the year, although the flowers are largely only around in April and May. These golden glories have a gorgeous taste (which I'm finding hard to describe cos I haven't eaten one in a long time) and are a wonderful complement to the bitterish leaves.

Now on to the most abundant and important of wild foods which you won't find mentioned in any book on the subject.

GRASS

Grass is the staple diet of an enormous number of creatures around the planet and is even, I'm told, eaten by lions to supplement their carnivorous diet. At a juice bar, you might have a shot of wheatgrass juice for 3 or 4 quid. Well, the same nutritious benefits are available from any grass - that growing in your garden, for example. (Care should be taken, of course, to avoid plants growing where animals have been and those which have been exposed to vehicle fumes or other pollutants.) What we are after, as with any green leafy foods, is chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is a body cleanser, rebuilder and neutraliser of toxin. The chlorophyll molecule is very similar to hemoglobin (the red pigment in blood) and differs only in the central element which in blood is iron and in chlorophyll magnesium (causing it to be green instead). Thus, chlorophyll is our natural blood builder and a fantastic concentrated sunfood. Many people have boosted their health and aided their recovery from every type of illness by eating and juicing greens.

Grass is the plant which supplies many animals with chlorophyll and it can be for us too. You can juice it (if you have a juicer which deals with greens), perhaps along with nettles and dandelion leaves, or you can simply chew the cud! Find a nice patch of grass and collect a handful of blades, making sure to gently knock off any insects and tear off any roots. Then place in your mouth and chew. At first, the grass feels coarse and fibrous, but soon it begins to soften and the wonderful, green nectar, the chlorophyll, begins to flow. Like a cow, you can chew for ages and this sweet liquid will continue to be extracted. But, unlike a cow, we do not have two stomachs, so eventually spit out the fibrous pulp left. Bon appetit!

SUMMER DELIGHTS

by Dandelion Digger

I'm going to introduce some of the yummy wild foods in the British countryside over the summer, so you can have fun picking and feasting on these vibrant delicacies. Beware: they can seriously improve your health!

Sorrel is extremely common – you can find it growing amongst grass, where you'd prefer it didn't in your garden, on the edge of fields, etc. Some types are quite small, others larger but the main distinguishing features of sorrel are its arrow shaped leaves and its lemony taste. This flavour is caused by oxalic acid which is found in a wide range of foods (including spinach and rhubarb). It's fine to ingest oxalic acid in small quantitites, but oxalic acid-rich foods should not be eaten in large amounts as the acid can bind up the body's supply of calcium leading to nutritional deficiency. Simply add a few leaves to your salad for a zesty taste.

Wood Sorrel, as its name suggests, grows in woods and also has a lemony flavour due to its high oxalic acid content. But its leaves are shamrock shaped (three hearts with their points joined at the stem) and the plant lies close to the ground.

Cleavers (or Goosegrass) is widespread with whorls of 6 to 8 leaves which grow on a stem reaching up amongst the grasses and other plants around. It's the velcro of the plant world, as it's covered in tiny hook-like bristles, so it sticks mercilessly to clothes and any rough surface which brushes against it. I love it in salads – choose the younger plants or the more tender tops to reduce its prickly quality – and it makes a lovely herbal tea. Cleavers is a wonderful blood cleanser.

Once you've tasted Ramsons (Wild Garlic) you're smitten. It likes alkaline soils in the shade cast by trees or in hedgebanks. When the conditions are favourable, it tends to grow in profusion. The leaves are broad and spear-like, and the edible flowers (out from April to June) are white, star-like in an umbel. It is, of course, part of the onion family and tastes divinely garlicy.

Chickweed is also widespread and grows close to the ground with small leaves and a tiny, white star-like flower. It has single lines of fine hairs up alternate sides of the stem. It's an excellent addition to salad with its mild, pleasant flavour. The leaves are too small to be picked individually, so strip bunches of the whole plant.

I love Fat Hen so I have no problem when it appears amongst the cultivated plants in my garden. It reaches up to 3 feet tall, with stiff upright stems and diamond-shaped leaves. The flowers (appearing June to Sept) are pale green, minute and bunched into spikes. Its use as a food plant dates back to prehistoric times and, according to Richard Mabey, it contains more iron and protein than either cabbage or spinach, and more Vitamin B1 and calcium than cabbage.

Lastly, we'll take a look at Yarrow. It grows in abundance in grassy places with feathery leaves on tough stems, topped with white flowers which can be around till winter solstice. It's rather bitter in taste denoting its medicinal qualities. A herbal book will list its myriad medicinal uses. David Wolfe, who has sampled many herbs from around the world, rates this as la crème de la crème!

For more information on these plants and more, see “Food for Free” by Richard Mabey, and “Wild Foods” by Roger Phillips.

Last updated: 2009-04-21

Website design and hosting provided by merlin and moretonhampstead.net