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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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Elderberries

I’ve managed a few elderberry harvests in the last couple of weeks and have been mixing up some different syrups and other medicinal and delectable preparations. Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is one of our most important herbs at this time of year as both a treatment and preventative for autumn and winter colds and flus.

Harvesting Elderberries

Collect  your elderberries when they are ripe and a deep purple/black, remembering of course to ask the Elder Mother’s permission first. When you get home, strip them from the stems and discard any that are still green or red as well as any that have shrived. Elderberries should be cooked before ingesting as they can be laxative and emetic when eaten raw.

Ripe Black Berries

Discard the unripe berries

Elderberry Syrups

I have made a variety of different elderberry syrups this year with different healing properties emphasised in each one. The basic method for all the syrups is the same and is as follows:

  1. Place 2 cups of elderberries in a pan with 2 cups fresh water and whichever additional herbs you are using (see below for variations.) Simmer gently for about 30mins with the lid off until the water has reduced to about half it’s original amount and the berries have released all their juice. Set aside and allow to cool completely.
  2. When cool, strain through a jelly bag into a measuring jug.
  3. Add approximately the same quantity of raw honey to the elderberry juice and stir until dissolved. You can use less honey but the mixture will not last so long.
  4. Bottle in sterilised preserving bottles and label. Store in the fridge.

Making Different Syrups

Simmering Elderberries

Deliciously gruesome!

During the first stage you can add different herbs according to your preference. I added a handful of fresh thyme and hyssop to my first batch to make a syrup that is particularly effective for winter ailments that affect the respiratory system. My next batch included orange peel and cloves to make a Vitamin C rich, anti-microbial blend that will also ease the digestion. Cardamom and ginger added to the next batch are warming and stimulating to sluggish winter circulation. Finally I simmered a batch of elderberries on their own and added 12 pink rosebuds when I turned it off the heat. I let these infuse whilst the mixture cooled and added half the quantity of linden blossom honey (I used less so as not to overpower the beautiful and delicate rose flavour) to make a divinely comforting blend for grey days which also encourages a healthy heart. As I mentioned before this syrup won’t last as long as the others but it’s so delicious I don’t think it will be hanging around for long anyway! In the fridge these syrups should last 3/4 months, slightly less for the rose one.

Syrups can be taken directly off the spoon, added to hot or cold drinks, drizzled on porridge, added to smoothies or any other way that takes your fancy.

Sugar vs. Honey? Most traditional syrup recipes use sugar instead of honey and heat the elderberry juice a second time after adding it to make a thicker syrup. The advantages of this are that it will last longer, potentially the whole year until the next harvest comes round, and that it’s much cheaper- raw honey can get a bit pricey in large quantities. The downsides of course are that sugar does not contain the medicinal benefits of raw honey which is antibacterial and rich in antioxidants and enzymes. In fact, sugar can act to deplete the immune system and many people in today’s sweet-crazed society already have imbalances caused from an excess. Still if you want to make large quantities that will last, it’s pretty much the only option and the damaging effects won’t out way the benefits of the elderberries.

Elderberry Elixir

If you want a long lasting and delicious preparation that warms your wintery cockles then this could be the one for you. I go to town a bit on my elixir, making it with a combination of port and brandy, local raw honey and warming spices. When i was at university I was introduced by a friend to the winning combination of port and brandy as the ultimate cure for colds and flus. Nowadays I tend to turn to herbs first but I still respect these warming alcohols for driving out the cold and the ache. That’s why I combine them with the elderberries and the warming spices from another of my favourite beverages, Chai. For me, this blend is the ultimate winter warming wonder recipe. Take a tablespoon in a small glass of warm water each evening as a preventative or take half a teaspoon every couple of hours at the first sign of infection.

Elixir Magic

To make it mostly fill a jar with freshly picked elderberries. Give them a wash and quick dry on some kitchen towel first as the natural yeasts present on the berries can cause this to ferment and ooze out of the jar if you aren’t careful. Add one cinnamon stick, broken into pieces, 8 thin slices of fresh ginger and then 12 cloves, 12 black peppercorns and 20 cardamom pods lightly crushed in a mortar and pestle. Add brandy until 1/3 jar is filled with liquid, then add 1/3 port and top the final third up with honey. Stir everything thoroughly with a bamboo chopstick or glass stirring rod. Lid, label and store out of direct sunlight, somewhere cool and dry for a month to six weeks before straining and rebottling. I like to hold the jar between my hands every few days and add some energy healing to the mix.

Elderberry Tincture

This  can be made very simply by filling a jar with elderberries and covering with vodka, lidding, then allowing to sit for a month stirring occasionally, before straining and re-bottling. This will last at least the year and has the advantage of being easily added to blends of other herbs.

Elderberry, Blackberry and Apple Autumn Crumble

Add some elderberries into your favourite crumble recipe to give your immune system a boost and lend a lovely tang to the other fruit. I made this one with cooking apples, blackberries and elderberries with a few dates to sweeten it. The topping was made from oats, ground almonds, seeds and pecan nuts with a few more chopped dates and some ground cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and vanilla powders. Scrumptious.

Elderberry, Blackberry and Apple Crumble

Elderberries can also be dried or frozen to make into teas or add to other preparations later in the season. I’ve had lots of fun creating delicious elderberry concoctions this autumn and I’ve enjoyed reading about other people’s adventures with elder too. Some posts from other bloggers I’ve been enjoying over the last few weeks include a lovely one over at Nettlejuice which you can read here. This one here from Moment to Moment which is full of beautiful photos. And this one here from Sensory Herbcraft which has an alternative syrup recipe using sugar.

Update: I’ve just read this post over at the delightful Teacup Chronicles which is full of great information on elderberries and some lovely reflections.

Enjoy!

Elderberry Medicine Chest

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Improvised Herbal Pestos

We tend to think of Basil as the herb of choice for pesto making and it certainly makes a delicious dish. The more adventurous of us pick wild garlic in Spring or chickweed through much of the year to make alternative, and equally yummy, versions but herbal pestos can actually be made from just about any tasty culinary herb.

As anyone who knows me can attest, sometimes I lean towards the disorganised, and on days when I’ve forgotten to get food in for dinner this is one of my handiest recipes. I like to call it, ‘make something out of nothing pesto’ or simply ‘random pesto’. It’s never quite the same as it depends on which herbs are looking good in the garden at any given time but it usually involves a small handful each of three, four or even five different herbs. It’s nice to nip out with your gardening scissors and snip a bit of each herb knowing they will all fuse together into a delicious alchemy of flavours.

Pesto and sprouts on spelt

Last night I made a beautiful and strongly flavoured pesto from sage, oregano and basil with the usual garlic, olive oil and nuts of choice, in this case cashews. I’m a big fan of adding a sprig of rosemary and a few chives to my pestos as well as a pinch of salt and pepper.

You can use just about any herb that you like the taste of. Lovage and parsley are nice with chives. Marjoram and thyme work well with basil and a little bit of mint (don’t over do it or it’ll end up tasting like mint sauce!). In spring a few nettles make a nutritious addition, though do of course make sure they’re well blended before eating them.

Whilst pine nuts are particularly good, they seem to have been vastly expensive this year so I’ve tended to use other nuts and seeds or a mixture of whatever happens to be in the cupboard. Cashews, pecans and walnuts are all first rate, as long as the walnuts are young and fresh without the bitterness that develops as they age.

And don’t just have it on pasta. It’s lovely on salads, crackers, bread, baked potatoes or added to other dishes to increase flavour.

See here for my recipe for wild garlic pesto, posted earlier in the year.

What are your favourite pesto ingredients? I’d love to hear!

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With three assignments due in and motivation at an all time low, there was a certain inevitability to the fact that I would end up in the kitchen making something yummy to see me through the tedium.

I’ve been wanting to make a healthier take on lavender biscuits for some time, as it’s a flavour I particularly enjoy, and this is the recipe I came up with using sprouted oat groats, brazil nuts and raw honey. It’s so quick and easy – though you need to be a bit prepared as the oats need about three days sprouting time before hand.

I wanted to make a gooey oreo style cookie with a cream filling and here is what I did.

For the Biscuit Base:
300g sprouted raw oat groats
150g brazil nuts (soaked overnight)
2 bananas
1 tablespoon raw honey
1 tablespoon dried lavender flowers
1 teaspoon ashwagandha powder (optional)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla powder (or a teaspoon of vanilla essence)
Small pinch himalayan crystal salt

To sprout the oats, soak over night, rinse thoroughly then leave to sprout in a specialised tray or a jar with muslin cloth over the top so the air can circulate. Rinse morning and evening with fresh water and strain. Make sure the groats you buy are not heat treated or they wont work.

The Basic Biscuits

Put the oat sprouts and soaked brazils in a food processor and blend until well broken down. Add the bananas, honey, salt and the ashwagandha powder, if you are using it, and process again, stopping and scraping down the sides a few times to ensure it is all evenly mixed. You can easily leave out the ashwagandha, I just added it to give me a little extra stability whilst studying as it’s a lovely calming adaptogenic herb. Transfer to a bowl and mix in the lavender flowers by hand. You should now have a gooey, sticky raw cookie dough that tastes delicious just as it is.

I made these in the dehydrator but if you don’t have one you could bake them in the oven on a low heat for a short time instead. If you do have a dehydrator, spread the mixture thinly on a teflex sheet and dehydrate for 12 hours. Flip the sheets, peel away the teflex and score the mixture into small squares before dehydrating for another 6 hours. Break them into the individual squares when finished.

They are very tasty like this but I wanted something a little more decadent so I decided to add the lavender macadamia cream as an indulgent filling.

Bliss Biscuits

For the Filling:
100g macadamia nuts
1/2 cup strong lavender tea
Tablespoon raw honey
1/2 tsp vanilla powder

Blend all the ingredients together until they form a thick cream. Add the liquid a little at a time, adding a bit more if it’s too thick to blend. You do want it to be pretty thick though so it doesn’t ooze out of the sides of the biscuits.

Layer the cream between two of the biscuit squares and enjoy! If you are planning to keep them longer than a couple of days it’s best to refrigerate the biscuits and the cream separately and assemble as you go along, they’ll last longer this way.

Yummy Macadamia and Lavender Cream Filling

With the cookies made (and eaten!) I have run out of excuses so I best get back to the grind stone!

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The best known wild food dish is probably nettle soup. There’s actually quite a lot you can do with nettles, using them in the same way you’d use spinach (except of course for in a baby leaf salad – ouch).

However nettle soup is still probably my favourite and I have it at least once a week at this time of year. To stop if from getting dull I do a few different variations which you can adjust according to your preferences.

The Classic Nettle Soup:

The classic nettle soup is essentially nettles, onion, garlic, stock, seasoning and a potato. Lightly fry the onion in a little olive oil, add the garlic, then the potato and stock and cook till the potato is tender. Add the nettles and cook for a couple of minutes to break down the stings, blend the whole thing up and voila. The potato makes it creamy and gives it a thicker consistency if you like a more substantial soup. What’s good about this recipe is that you can vary it quite a lot, adding lemon if you want something fresher or, my favourite on an early spring day when it’s still wee bit nippy out, chilli and rosemary. Nutmeg is also nice and you can use a can of cannellini beans to make the soup creamy instead of the potato.

Nettle, Leek and Herb Soup with Lemon Cashew Cream:

Herby Nettle and Leek with Cashew Cream

This is a really tasty soup and very quick and simple to whip up in a hurry. You’ll need:

For the Soup:

  • 2 leeks
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • Colander full of nettles
  • Veggie stock
  • Fresh herbs- I use marjoram, sage and thyme, a few sprigs of each
  • Drizzle olive oil
  • Sea salt and pepper to taste
  • Lightly fry the leeks in the oil, add all the other ingredients, cook for just a couple of mins to break down the nettle stings, blend up and enjoy with a swirl of lemon cashew cream.

    For the Cashew Cream:

  • 1 cup cashews
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 clove garlic
  • Pinch salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Blend all the ingredients in a high powered blender adding the water until you reach the desired consistency, it’s better a little thicker than regular cream would be.

    Raw Nettle Soup:

    Being a big fan of my nettles straight from the hedgerow as i wrote about here, I thought I’d try out a raw nettle soup, a bit like a nettle gazpacho, in order to keep all the nutrients in the nettles in their whole and vital state. I love this version, it so vibrant and energising, but it’s not to everyone’s taste… my hubby thinks it’s gross!

    Raw Nettle Soup

    All you have to do is blend together the following ingredients, pour into a bowl and serve. The speed and pressure of the blender will break down the nettle stings but make sure it’s blended completely smooth.

  • 1 avocado
  • 1 spring onion
  • 3 wild garlic leaves
  • About a centimeter ginger
  • Half an apple
  • Sprig of fresh herbs, chives, dill or thyme are nice
  • Squeeze of lemon juice
  • 2 large handfuls of fresh nettle tops with thick central stems removed
  • 1 cup water
  • Nettle Dahl:
    When I fancy something a bit more substantial one of my favourite dinners is a nettle dahl.

    Nettle Dahl


    I just make a simple dahl with red lentils, spices, onion, garlic and ginger and add the nettles for the last couple of minutes of cooking time.
    In fact you can add nettles to many of your favourite curry dishes, it works really well and is just as delicious as spinach, chard or other greens.

    Happy foraging, I’d love to hear your favourite nettle soup recipe if you have one.

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    Almonds are one of my favourite nuts (along with walnuts), not only because they’re so delicious but because there are so many things you can do with them. I have been making almond milk to drink every day for a couple of years but only recently have I been even more decadent and enjoyed almond milk baths. As I hate to waste, I try to use up the pulp left over from the almond milk in a variety of ways, including making face and body scrubs like the one below.

    Almonds are the most nutritious of all nuts containing calcium, magnesium, iron, Vitamin E, trace minerals and fatty acids. Using the milk in the bath helps soothe tired, dry, rough or dehydrated skin.

    Almond Milk Bath:

    1/2 cup almonds soaked for a few hours
    1 litre of water or herbal infusion of your choice, lavender or rose are beautiful for bath milk
    4 drops essential oils if desired, again you can’t go wrong with lavender, chamomile or sandalwood for soothing skin and helping you unwind

    Blend the almonds and water/infusion in a fairly powerful blender and strain through a jelly sieve or muslin cloth. Save the almond pulp that’s left over for making the scrub below. Stir in the essential oils and pour into a hot bath just before getting in. Let the day’s troubles float away.

    Almond Pulp Body Scrub:

    1 cup almond pulp
    1 tablespoon finely ground sea or crystal salt
    A teaspoon ground black pepper
    1 tablespoon honey
    4 tablespoons sweet almond oil or other base oil
    1 tablespoon ground lavender flowers
    4-5 drops essential oils of your choice

    Mix all ingredients together and store in the fridge before taking into the shower with you and scrubbing your cares away.

    Ground almonds have been used in natural cosmetics for centuries for their beautifying and nutritious properties and the pulp from almond milk has many similar benefits though some of the fats and nutrients have already been extracted into the milk. It is also softer than normal ground almond after being blended with the water. The salt is cleansing, both physically and energetically as salt can help absorb any negative energies we have picked up throughout the day. The pepper will boost the circulation, the lavender and honey are soothing, healing and antiseptic and the oil helps trap moisture in, leaving you silky and smooth.

    You can always save a cup of the milk to sip whilst you recline in the tub, it’s nice warmed with some cinnamon and a touch of honey.
    Enjoy.

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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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