The rather unique set of challenges brought about by the arrival of COVID 19 to our shores has many of us looking at opportunities for alternative food sources and forcing us to develop culinary creativity. With a greater amount of time at home, some will be turning to ‘grow your own’ however, all but the most invested gardeners are unlikely to have a supply of crops available at the moment.
The humble weed is a source of nutrients under our noses which would ordinarily be overlooked and chucked in the compost. Foraging might also be one of those things you never get round to doing. Now, however, there is both time and inclination to look to wild greens to supplement our store cupboards or add a garnish to our plates.
The word ‘horta’ in Greek means weeds, and they are used widely in Greek cooking.
So if the fact that the Greeks are doing it isn’t encouragement enough, read on for some plants to try, along with a recipe and serving suggestions. This is a series of posts covering some greens to try if you have access to a garden, or an overgrown, unkempt piece of public ground (…like my garden). But first – a few ground rules.
Safety first (as ever)
Always do your research, make sure you know what you are eating and what parts are safe to eat.
Some plants and funghi are highly toxic (don’t be tempted to try mushrooms unless you have been shown how to differentiate them by someone who knows them very, very well)
Avoid foraging from areas where weed killer could have been used
And for the foreseeable future: Stay safe - stay home
If its not your garden, make sure you have permission to be there and that it is ok to forage there
Be mindful about picking flowers, or picking the whole plant (roots included) – flowers are needed by pollinators, and picking a selection of leaves will allow the plant to regenerate
Take only what you need for a couple of meals. Foraged greens wilt quickly and do not last.
If you wish to forage roots, consider waiting till the end of the growing season so leaves can be harvested through the season
Read up on responsible foraging on websites such as: www.wildfooduk.com/foraging-code/
Introduce one type of green at a time to ensure you can tolerate it. You can start combining them in time.
Conducting a tolerance test to ensure you won’t have a reaction (basically eat a leaf and allow some time to see if you react before launching into your foraged feast): www.eatweeds.co.uk/foraging-safety-guidelines
At the risk of sounding officious, Realm and the author can take no responsibility for any actions inspired by this post. So research, research, research; and stay safe!
Taraxacum officinale, Dandelion
As early flowering perennials, their distinctive golden blooms will help you locate dandelions around at the moment.
The flowers are edible, however, be good to the bees and leave the flowers for the pollinators.
You can add them to your salad, cook them up or blitz them to create a pesto (or a smoothie, if you are that way inclined).
They are a great source vitamins and minerals such as iron, calcium, vitamin A & C, and also a source of antioxidants.
The roots can be harvested in autumn to create a coffee substitute.
The plant is a diuretic and mild laxative (as most greens are, to be fair) so don’t go overboard!
We made a very British pesto with dandelions, cheddar and walnuts – loosely following this recipe: www.growforagecookferment.com/dandelion-pesto/
Whilst it doesn't have that basil flavour we're all familiar with, it has a sophisticated dimension that results in a dish tasting fresh and invigorating. And all from a plant that I'd normally be doing battle with.
Necessity is the mother of invention, however, and this is your chance to rip up the recipe book and experiment. So try whatever you can get your hands on.
More posts to follow!