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Archive for the ‘Wild Garlic’ Category

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From top left clockwise: Nettle, hawthorn blossom, cleavers, ground elder, ground ivy, garlic mustard/jack by the hedge, dandelion flowers, hawthorn leaves, dandelion leaves.

One of the things I love most about spring is that it is probably the time when picking plentiful quantities of wild food is the easiest, at least in temperate northern zones such as the area in which I live. There are many edible wild spring greens in the hedgerows, woods and waysides and in no time at all you can have an abundant harvest for creating delicious and healthful meals and teas.

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A mix of wild and cultivated salad leaves decorated with primrose, three cornered leek and heartsease flowers.

Eating even small quantities of wild foods regularly is one of the best things you can do for your health as they are so nutritionally dense, vibrant, seasonal and fresh. So many of the best wild foods are those we consider weeds, but when we look at the qualities of these plants, how tenacious and insuppressible they are, we can see that their strength and vitality surely makes for a more fortifying meal than those cultivated plants that have been shipped half way round the world and sat on supermarket shelves for days. I think weed is a derogatory term, the four letter word of the plant world, which I will henceforth refer to as w**d. I do however reserve the right to use it, along with other four letter words, in the presence of my arch-nemesis ground elder.

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Young lime/ linden leaves

At this time of year we have a lovely mix of mild tasting moistening greens, like the young lime/linden and violet leaves, and more drying or pungent herbs like nettles, young yarrow leaves, jack-by-the hedge and the dead nettles. This makes for a perfect balance of nourishing and toning qualities to help build us up and get us into shape after winter.

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My little forager picking lime leaves.

The three cornered leek or wild onion is one of the most delicious additions to spring salads, tasting something like a spring onion, and the flowers make beautiful decorative additions to any meal and are also edible. They are more common in the south west than the south east and I don’t find many growing near me but luckily it has spread all over my parent’s garden so I got to pick lots when visiting recently.

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Three cornered leek

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From a distance it looks a little like white bluebells or even snowdrops but can be easily differentiated close up by the shape of the flowers and the distinctive triangular stem, hence the common name of three cornered leek. Also the smell of onion is a give away. Do be sure of your identification as both snowdrop and bluebell bulbs are poisonous.

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Wavy bittercress is a very common spring salad green which has delicious leaves and flowers and tastes much like normal cress.

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Wavy bittercress

Lady’s smock, also known as cuckoo flower, is another edible mustard family plant with deliciously peppery leaves and flowers.

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Lady’s smock

Jack by the hedge or garlic mustard is also in the mustard family or Brassicaceae. This family used to be known as the Cruciferae so if you have an older plant identification book you will find this name instead.

Jack by the hedge

Jack by the hedge

Nettles are found in abundance at this time of year and are a true superfood for the blood. You can read more about them in a previous post here.

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Nettles in the spring sunshine

Pick cleavers by the handful for use in cold infusions and juices, instructions for which can be found here.

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A tangle of cleavers

Wild garlic is one of the true delicacies of the season. If, like me, you love the fiery garlic taste then make it into a pesto by itself but if it is a bit too intense for your palette you can tone it down with nettles or shop bought herbs like basil. More about wild garlic can be found here.

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Wild garlic pesto – pungent and powerful!

Do remember when picking wild greens to be absolutely 100% sure of your identification as some edibles have poisonous lookalikes. Also avoid the sides of paths where dogs are commonly walked and always, always pick with respect to the environment and don’t over harvest. Finally avoid the edges of fields unless you know the land to be organically managed.

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At the back; cleavers cold infusion and hawthorn blossom tea. Centre; nettle pesto with jack by the hedge and ground elder. Front; wild green salad of hawthorn leaves, jack by the hedge, dandelion leaves, violet leaves and white dead nettle with nettle pesto and dandelion flowers on toast, nettle and ground elder soup.

Spring greens and flowers also make for wonderful teas.

Ground ivy has a pleasant but musky flavour which is nice in teas when mixed with something lighter like a little mint from the garden. It is great for stuffy sinuses that can go along with spring allergies.

Ground ivy

Ground ivy

And the most wonderful spring tea of all in my opinion is hawthorn blossom, the very Queen of May herself. Read more about hawthorn blossom here.

Hawthorn blossom

Hawthorn blossom

I have also written a post on harvesting spring greens in this issue of the Mother magazine.

Wishing you all a joyous Beltane and a marvellous May Day!

 

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Spring is getting into full swing here in the South East and the time for indulging in copious bowls of nettle soup is upon us once more. Each year I end up with a new favourite variation on this time honoured classic of wild food cuisine and this year I’ve managed the impossible. I’ve come up with a recipe that my husband not only tolerates, but actually enjoys too.

Creamy Nettle and Broccoli Soup with Wild Garlic Oil:

Ingredients-
1 colander full of freshly picked and washed nettle tops
1 head broccoli
1 tin of cannellini beans
1 large onion or 3 shallots
3 cloves of garlic
Tablespoon olive oil
squeeze of lemon juice
stock and seasoning to taste
Wild garlic oil (and leaves if available) to garnish

This is such a quick and simple soup but the texture and flavours make it feel both nourishing and fulfilling. Begin by lightly frying the onion and garlic in the olive oil until softened but not brown. Add the stock, cannellini beans (pre-cooked) and broccoli to the pan and cook until broccoli is tender. Add the nettle tops and a squeeze of lemon and cook for a few minutes until the nettles are wilted and soft. Add seasoning to taste and blend to a thick and creamy consistency. Garnish with a drizzle of wild garlic oil and, if available, some freshly chopped wild garlic leaves and violet flowers.

To make the wild garlic oil you simply lightly pack your blender with freshly picked wild garlic leaves and add somewhere in the region of 250ml virgin olive oil. Blend until you have an almost smooth vibrant green oil. This will last a couple of weeks in the fridge and can be added to soups, salad dressings or smeared on crackers. I always add it at the end though as wild garlic looses much of its flavour when cooked.

You can read my last year’s nettle soup recipes here and my recipe for wild garlic pesto here.

I hope  those of you in the Northern hemisphere are enjoying your spring bounties too.

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Eat leeks in March and ramsins in May
And all the year after physicians may play.
C.N. French A Countryman’s Day Book (1929) – Quoted by Gabrielle Hatfield

Ramsons - A Woodland Treasure

Ramsons, otherwise known as wild garlic (Allium ursinum) is one of my very favourite things to forage. Unlike a few other things which grace my plate at this time of year, I didn’t start eating them just because they were good for me, but because they are so unbelievably yummy! As luck would have it, they also happen to be an exceptional food for promoting health and wellbeing. As part of the same family as onion and garlic, they exhibit many of the same antibacterial properties, being useful to ward off infection and traditionally used to treat wounds in Scotland. As with normal garlic, Ramsons is a pungent remedy that aids the heart and circulatory system. It can help balance cholesterol and is therefore of use in preventing arteriosclerosis and boosting the memory. Maria Treben recommends it for “heart complaints and sleeplessness arising from stomach trouble and those complaints caused by arteriosclerosis or high blood pressure, as well as dizziness, pressure in the head and anxiety.” I would also recommend it for low blood pressure as its gift lies in its ability to equalise the circulation.

My father-in-law bringing in the harvest

As a blood cleanser, wild garlic is a wonderful addition to the spring diet and is of particular use in chronic skin conditions due to its alterative properties. It’s also a specific remedy for problems of the gastro-intestinal tract, helping everything from IBS to colitis to expeling parasites. It is particularly useful for bloating and gas due to its ability to balance the gut flora and discourage ‘unfriendly’ bacteria.

Many people recommend adding ramsons to soups, bakes, stews etc, but I find it loses its flavour very quickly when cooked so I prefer to eat it raw, sliced thinly in salads, as a garnish or as a delicious pesto. To make ramsons pesto blend a couple of large handfuls of leaves with a 1/4 cup olive oil and a small handful of pine nuts or cashews. Its pretty potent and intensely garlicy so I don’t recommend it before a first date! Mix it 50/50 with basil or parsley to tone it down a bit or with other wild foods such as chickweed. It’s so vital and green you’ll feel healthier just looking at it!

Wild Garlic Pesto

You can find it growing in damp, shady woodlands and hedgerows or by streams, throughout the spring. It produces beautiful delicate white flowers a little later in the season which can also be eaten. Be careful not to confuse its long green leaves with those of Lilly of the Valley, which is poisonous – you can easily tell the difference however because of the intense garlic aroma which belongs to Ramsons.

The Swiss herbalist Abbe Kuenzle, heaps praise upon this woodland wonder. According to Treben, he writes, “It cleanses the whole body, rids it of stubborn waste matters, produces healthy blood and destroys and removes poisonous substances. Continually sickly people, as those with herpes and eczema, pale looks, scrofula and rheumatism should venerate Ramsons like gold. No herb on this earth is as effective for cleansing the stomach, intestines and blood. Young people would burst into bloom like the roses on a trellis and sprout like fircones in the sun.”

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