Category Archives: Greens

Foraging at Settle Stories

We have a fabulous Settle Stories Festival every year and on April 2nd I am doing a free foraging walk and talk in and around Settle Quaker Meeting House. April is a bit early for huge amounts of wild food but I will talk about some common edible plants and point out some foraging spots in central Settle.

Field of chives

There will be wild food samples too.. nettle bhajis, pesto and more!
If you would like to come please book online via the Settle Stories website

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garden forager

The Garden Forager

The Garden Forager: Edible Delights in your Own Back Yard by Adele Nozedar is a great new addition to the growing number of wild food books. I have mentioned her Hedgerow Handbook in my blog about wild food books and this follows the same format.

Some may say this is not ‘proper’ foraging but these plants are freely available in many gardens and parks so that is fine by me! The plants in The Garden Forager really are the sort of thing that will be familiar to many people.

Common flowers like lavender, calendula, fuschia, lilac and dahlia feature in here as well as many shrubs and ornamental plants. Over 40 plants are mentioned in all including sedum, pyracantha, berberis, hosta, Japanese quince and many more.

The thing I love most about these books is the beautiful pictures by Lizzie Harper. Each one is hand drawn in black and white and then key identifying features are highlighted in colour. This makes it easy to identify things with confidence and each plant has at least one, and often several, recipes for you to try.

If you are new to foraging and want to find wild food close to home this is a great book to start with.

I quite understand many people have issues with Amazon and prefer to shop elsewhere. If so, have a look at Alibris which is like Amazon but nicer and full of independent booksellers.

Laodicea Western theatre

Holiday Foraging in Turkey

We had a lovely week on holiday in Turkey at  the end of January and managed to find some tasty wild food while we were there. As with all wild food foraging you just need to keep your eyes peeled and you will almost certainly come across something edible. It was winter there but still some goodies to be found.

Our visit to Troy was fascinating – a place of legends and a modern version of the Trojan Horse! There are many levels of ruins as the site was inhabited from around 3000 BC until around 500 AD.

There was loads of wild fennel all around the site. The latin name for fennel is Foeniculum vulgare and it is a member of the celery family. Fennel does look a bit like dill (also part of the celery family) but the characteristic aniseed smell is very noticeable and will help you tell them apart.

In this country we tend to eat the fennel bulb and sometimes cook with the seeds but the leaves and stems are edible too. The leaves have a strong aniseed flavour and have sort of succulent feathery fronds rather than real leaves.

Walls of Troy with fennelFennel growing near the walls of Troy

Troy fennelClose up of fennel at Troy

Our trip to Laodicea near Denizli was on a very grey and blustery day – it is an amazing historic site and lots of excavation going on so more buildings and stories will emerge in the future. If you are in the area it is well worth a visit!  Laodicea has many buildings in various states of excavation including a colonnaded street almost a kilometre long, a stadium, baths, temples, a gymnasium, two theatres, a council meeting place and a very early Christian church. There was a large Jewish population and also one of earliest Christian centres yet discovered. Laodicea is one of the seven churches of Asia mentioned in the Book of Revelation. 

Laodicea amphitheatreThe Western Theatre at Laodicea

There was a vast amount of rocket around the site at Laodicea and we picked some to go with our packed lunch, much to the amusement of our fellow travellers! The cultivated variety Eruca sativa has white flowers and originated in Italy,  as Laodicea was a Roman outpost it is very likely it was introduced from there. Wild rocket is Diplotaxis tenuifolia which has thinner leaves and is a member of the mustard family with yellow flowers.

Wild Rocket at Laodicea  Rocket at Laodicea

colonnaded street at LaodiceaCollonnaded street in Laodicea

sea kale leaf and flowers

Seashore foraging – sea beet and kale

We live in the Yorkshire Dales which  is a really long way from the sea so its great to do a bit of seashore foraging every now and then.  As with all wild food, consider where you find seashore plants.. chemical plants and nuclear power stations are often found on the coast.. so think before you pick!

Thanks to Angie Pedley for the photos – these were taken on Walney Island in Cumbria.

There are many easily identifiable goodies to be found along the seashore and the most common and recognisable is sea beet. The latin name is Beta vulgaris subsp. maritima sea beet looks like and tastes like spinach but is a bit firmer and waxier. Use it in any recipe where you might use spinach. It can be foraged most of the year and we have found some good specimens at the end of November on Anglesey.  The flavour is not so good after it has flowered.

sea beetSea Beet on Walney Island, Cumbria

Sea kale is a fairly common seashore plant and the leaves, roots, stalks and flowers are all edible either raw or cooked. It is a member of the cabbage family and high in vitamin C – the botanic name is Crambe maritima. The stems can be quite thick and I prefer to strip the leaves from the stems, chop the stems up and cook them a bit longer than the leaves. Young leaves are tender and fine eaten raw in salads. If you pick the flowers just before they open they can be cooked and eaten like broccoli.

sea kaleSea kale

sea kale leaf and flowersClose up of sea kale leaf and flowers

If you live near the coast and/or want to learn more about seashore foraging then Edible Seashore is an essential book from John Wright. Click on the image below and it will take you to the book on Amazon – however, I quite understand many people have issues with Amazon and prefer to shop elsewhere. If so, have a look at Alibris UK which is like Amazon but nicer and full of independent booksellers.

Cooking with Nasturtium Leaves and Flowers

Nasturtiums are not strictly a wild food but easy to grow and so I think they deserve a mention. They are distinctive with their unusual rounded leaves and colourful flowers. They are related to watercress and have a similar peppery flavour. Apparently Nasturtium translates into Latin as ‘nose twist’.

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Nasturtiums attract bees and other insects so are great things to have in the garden but they are also very happy growing in pots so doesn’t matter if you don’t have much space. Slugs also love them so will prefer to eat nasturtiums than veg plants so it is always good to have them on a veg plot.

I always grow mine from seed but if you buy them be aware they may have been treated with slug pellets which are really nasty chemicals so I suggest if you want some nasturtiums to eat then it is best to grow your own.

If you have never nibbled a nasturtium leaf.. do.. they are very tasty, peppery and actually quite juicy. Lovely in salads and also keep their flavour well when cooked and go very well in omelettes and quiche.

The flowers are an extraordinary taste sensation. They come in a range of colours usually yellow, orange or red but you can get some pink varieties. A mix of the pepperiness of the leaves but also amazing sweetness from the nectar. They are a colourful addition to salads.

Nasturtium Leaf Dip

nasturtium dip

 

A really simple way of using nasturtium  leaves is to chop them up finely and add to greek yoghurt or cream cheese. This is lovely with crisps, carrot sticks, celery or pretty much anything. The dip goes particularly well with wild food bhajis see previous post for bhaji recipe.

 

 

wild food bhajis

Wild Food Bhajis

I did these bhajis at a cookery demo in Leeds yesterday using nettles and they were very popular.  This is a wonderful, cheap and easy recipe for a wide range of foraged, grown or bought food. Bhajis are gluten free and dairy free so if you’re stuck with recipe ideas for ‘intolerant’ friends this is a tasty solution.

You can use pretty much any wild food in these bhajis so have fun and experiment!
Nettles, comfrey, borage, ground elder, cleavers, dandelion leaves and/or petals, ox eye daisies, wild garlic, sorrel, sea beet, mushrooms or any bought or foraged leafy greens like spinach or kale and much more. See pictures at the bottom of this post if you aren’t sure what some of those look like.

Nettles, comfrey, borage and cleavers are hairy things but you don’t need to precook them – a couple of minutes in hot oil will get rid of the hairs but always wear gloves if handling nettles.

Some leaves will shrink quite a bit with cooking so I usually add some thinly sliced onion to bulk things up a bit.

Ingredients
4 rounded tablespoons gram flour (chick pea flour)
1 heaped teaspoon turmeric
1 heaped teaspoon cumin
1 heaped teaspoon garam masala

I often add a teaspoon of either black onion, cumin or fennel seeds but this is optional

wild food bhaji recipePictures are from a batch of dandelion petal and ground elder bhajis

Mix up the gram flour and spices then add enough water to make a consistency like a thick pancake batter
Chop or shred whatever you plan to use and then add to the bhaji mix and stir around so ingredients are covered in the paste. I tend to use scissors to snip leaves and just drop them straight into the mix
Take a small dessert spoon of the mixture and drop into hot vegetable oil in a deep pan or a wok, you may need another spoon to scrape the mixture off
Cook 3 or 4 bhajis at once – they will need a couple of minutes cooking on each side until they start to brown.
Drain on some kitchen roll or keep warm in a low oven until you are ready to eat.
Depending on the bulk of things you add this amount should make between 6-8 good size bhajis or 10-12 smaller ones.

nasturtium dip and bhajis

These bhajis are lovely with a salad and some yoghurt or raita and go beautifully with a nasturtium dip see my blog on nasturtium recipes.

 

 

 

 

 

Some suggestions to try

ground elder dandelion cleavers sticky willy goosegrassGround elder, dandelions, nettles and cleavers (also called sticky willy or goosegrass)

comfrey mustard ground elderComfrey, wild mustard, close up of ground elder

 

Ground Elder – not just a weed!

Ground Elder (Aegopodium podagraria) is a weed and quite an invasive one at that, but it is very tasty! Some foraging books extol its virtues and others almost completely ignore it. It’s other name is gout weed and tinctures of it have been used to treat gout!

Allegedly brought over by the Romans it has adapted well to our northern climate and can be found pretty much everywhere. It grows from seed and also by loads of underground runners so when it gets going it really is noticeable. We live near a railway line and it has crept over from there across our rockery and the field to the side of our house.

ground elder creeping through wallCreeping through the neighbours wall!

The waxy young leaves are quite spicy a bit like rocket and are very tasty added to salads. The older leaves can be cooked up and used in any recipe you might use spinach. They lose their flavour a bit on cooking but are still very nice in an omelette or a risotto. I often add them to lasagne or pasta dishes to add a bit of colour.

ground elder waxy leafTasty waxy leaves

The uncooked fresh leaves make a very nice pesto .. recipe to follow…

When the ground elder starts to flower (usually in June) the leaves become quite bitter so best to eat the leaves before then. If you are keen you can cut the flowers off as they start to shoot and this will encourage more leaf growth.

If you are unlucky enough to have more ground elder than you would like.. a top tip.. plant some French marigolds. Apparently, a naturally occurring fungus in the marigold roots aggravates the ground elder and so it won’t grow past them.

groundelderflowers

Some Thoughts on Comfrey

If you are new to the idea of foraging then comfrey is something that can be a bit confusing. It has white, pink or purple flowers, can be used as fertiliser and compost accelerator and is much loved by organic gardeners. The leaves and sometimes roots are mentioned in older wild food and medicinal herb books but newer ones tend to go on at length about the potential dangers and talk of toxic components.

See this article from Monica Wilde which goes into the research, history, pros and cons of comfrey.. it is long but well worth reading.  http://monicawilde.com/is-comfrey-edible/

Comfrey

Personally.. I do eat comfrey and have no problem at all with it. Like most things, I believe moderation is the key. The vast majority of people who do eat it are unlikely to have more than a few leaves a month (unlike the poorly rats in the study who ate it constantly for weeks .. and rats don’t normally even eat it).. but it is your choice.

Comfrey is used widely in herbal medicine and homeopathy for its wound healing and bone setting qualities. If you decide to make any medicinal creams or concoctions then symphytum officianale is the one that you need which is the one with white flowers. Most wild comfrey is crossed with other varieties, usually the purple Russian variety, so I suggest you get some ‘proper’ dried comfrey or tincture from a reputable medicinal herbal supplier like Baldwins so you make sure you have the right stuff.