Blueberries (Vaccinium myrtillus)

Blueberries (Vaccinium myrtillus)

There is nothing that beats a bowl of freshly picked wild berries. Bliss courses through my body as I think about happy childhood days of carefree summers spent stuffing my face with bilberries, raspberries, and wild strawberries. Hands, shirt, and face stained purplish-red – I did not care. I was happy as a bear, gorging myself on a seemingly inexhaustible supply of berries. At the age of 5, life couldn’t be any better. The passion for foraging has stayed with me ever since.

Blueberries prefer an acid environment. Their natural habitat is the northern pine forests, as well as heath, and moorland. Although they can be found in the moors of southern England they are more prolific in Scotland and Wales. In the US, a closely related species is mostly found in the Rockies and other mountainous regions of the Western States. High bush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosim) are widely cultivated in the coastal areas of the Northeastern US and Canada, where they are native.

Bilberries are a member of the heather family. The wiry, low-growing plants can completely carpet a forest floor. The leaves are small, elliptical with finely serrated margins. The reddish fairy bell flowers that dangle singly from the low bushes are typical of the heather family. By the end of July/beginning of August, depending on local climate conditions, the bluish-black berries appear.

To be sure, picking the squishy little berries requires a certain degree of patience. Some people use a berry rake, but it damages both the plants and the berries. Cleaning the berries can be a bit of a chore as the little stalks tend to be a bit ‘clingy’, and tedious to pick off. But the effort is well worth it. Nothing quite compares to bilberry bliss.

Blueberries, Vaccinium myrtillus

Medicinal uses:

Although Bilberries are not a prominent part of the materia medica, both berries and leaves have medicinal properties.

Parts Used

Leaves

A tea made from Blueberry leaves can lower blood sugar levels. However, recent animal research suggests that long-term use of large doses can have adverse effects.

Berries

The berries enhance the peripheral blood circulation, which among other things, improve visual acuity. This property helps diabetes sufferers and people who find it hard to adjust to poor lighting conditions. They are also hailed to improve blood supply to the brain and thus make an excellent brain superfood. These findings suggest that Bilberries make an ideal snack fruit.

They have also been found to reduce cholesterol and to fight free radicals. In fact, according to a study by Tufts University, which examined 60 different fruit and vegetables, blueberries demonstrated the highest levels of antioxidant activity due to the high levels of anthocyanin (a common plant pigment). Red wine is another well-known source of this antioxidant that is known to support heart health. However, Bilberries contain 38% more of this compound than red wine. Another antioxidant in their make-up protects against colon cancer.

Bilberries have a pronounced effect on connective tissues, enhancing their strength and stability. They are recommended as a therapeutic food to alleviate varicose veins.

Thus, they are easily not just one of the most delicious fruits, but also one of the nutritionally most valuable. Make the most of them, while the season lasts!

CAUTION:

Blueberry leaves contain oxalates, which, when concentrated in the blood can form crystals that can damage the kidneys. People suffering from urinary problems or kidney disease should avoid oxalate-containing foods. Use blueberry leaves in moderation.

Recipes 

If you are lucky enough to find a plentiful patch, perhaps mixed with other berries, such as wild strawberries, raspberries or blackberries, you can make a cold berry soup – a favorite summer treat in Scandinavian countries, very-berry ice cream, sorbet or yogurt cream, which, when stabilized with vegetarian gelatine, makes an excellent cake filling. Blueberry milkshakes are also delicious. Or, if you want to preserve them for later, try making jam or syrup.

Blueberry juice:

Puree about 1 cup of blueberries.

Add 1 cup of water (or more if you like it thinner). Simmer briefly, add sugar or honey to taste, strain through cheesecloth, and cool.

Blueberry smoothy:

Add one cup of blueberries to 1cup of milk and a ½ cup of yogurt. Whizz in a blender. Add sugar and/or lemon juice to taste.

Blueberry Muffins

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • ¾ tsp. salt
  • Pinch of cinnamon
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • ¼ cup butter

Method:

Preheat oven to 400°F. Grease muffin cups.

Tumble blueberries with a little bit of the flour, enough to coat them. Combine the remaining dry ingredients: flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside.

Cream the butter with the eggs and buttermilk; stir into flour mixture until just combined (batter will be lumpy). Stir in blueberries until evenly distributed. Fill muffin cups full with batter. Bake about 20 minutes until golden

Blueberry Pie

There are gazillion delicious recipes for blueberry pies and cheesecakes. To maximize the healthful properties of this delicious treat forget the cheesecake and just fill a pie crust with a slightly cooked blueberry mixture.

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Crust:

  • 1½ cup graham cracker crumbs (or digestive biscuits)
  • ½ cup melted butter
  • cup of water

Crumble the Graham crackers and mix with melted butter. Add just enough water to create a dough that sticks together. Press into a deep 9″ pie tin.

  • 8 cups of blueberries
  • 7 Tbs cornflour or tapioca
  • 3 Tablespoons water (or grape juice)
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • Cinnamon to taste
  • ¾ cup of sugar

Wash the berries. Combine corn starch, sugar, and optional spices in a mixing bowl. Add lemon juice and water and blend well. Gently combine blueberries with the cornstarch mixture and fill it into the pie crust. They may overfill the tin, but the volume is reduced during baking.

If you like, add a crumb topping:

  • ¼ cup of sugar
  • ½ cup flour
  • ¼ cup butter, flaked
  • Rub together until it becomes a crumbly mixture and spread all over the pie. Cook for about one hour at 375°F or 190°C.

Serve with fresh whipped cream.

Blueberry cream

  • 2 cups of blueberry
  • 2 cups of quark (smooth cottage cheese or fromage frais)
  • ½cup whipped cream
  • Sugar
  • Lemon juice
  • Cassis

Clean and slightly bruise the blueberries, pour a little cassis over them and some sugar.  Marinate for a few hours until the sugar is dissolved and the blueberries have turned a little mushy.

In another bowl blend the fromage frais with the lemon juice and some sugar until smooth. Fold in the whipped cream and stir in the blueberries. If you add a little gelatine to the quark (follow instructions on the package) you can also use this cream as a filling for a pie crust.

Cold Blueberry soup:

Wonderful dessert/dish for a summer’s day.

Take a quart of blueberries, bruise, or mash. Add the same amount of water and a little lemon juice. Simmer, add sugar to taste. If you don’t like the seeds and skins, you can strain the liquid through a fine sieve or cheesecloth. Dissolve a little cornstarch and add to thicken, but take care not to use too much. Simmer a little while longer, then allow to cool and put in the fridge. Whip some cream. When the blueberry soup is cold enough, serve with dabs of fresh whipped cream. Some people like to refine this recipe by adding a little cassis to the soup.

 

Foraging Wild Strawberries

Foraging Wild Strawberries

Wild Strawberry (Fragaria vesca)

I adore wild strawberries! As far as I am concerned they are the ULTIMATE wild food. I love bilberries too, or raspberries, or blackberries, for that matter, but nothing on this earth beats wild strawberries. When their season comes, I eagerly check all my favorite gathering grounds to make sure they are progressing nicely. I try to restrain myself, but inevitably I end up picking some prematurely, not half the delight as the fully ripened berries – so I leave them be and just keep coming back to see how they are progressing. Happily, wild strawberry is one of those plants whose season is quite prolonged. Depending on factors such as exposure to sunlight and altitude it is possible to harvest them over a period of a couple of months. Of course, competition from birds and slugs can be tough.

It is not just the flavor I love about these precious little berries – it’s everything: The innocent appearance of their dainty little flowers would never lead one to suspect the scrumptious surprise their cute little berries will yield. Some foragers find picking them a tedious task – this may be true, but the effort is so richly rewarded. Unfortunately, I rarely manage to gather enough to take home for later. Most of them go straight from the plant to the gullet, without much further ado. I just can’t help myself. I have convinced myself that they don’t last very well and that even in the short space of time it would take to get them home they would lose too much of their deliciousness. Best to just eat them on the spot. This is the true and honest reason why I can’t give any recipes that I have actually tried and tested myself. But I am quoting other sources who evidently have a larger patch closer to home, or are simply more disciplined. My personal recommendation would always be to eat them on the spot whenever you can and don’t tell anybody.

Medicinal properties

Dried strawberry leaves make a very good breakfast tea. The fruit are cooling and refreshing and are very useful for cooling feverish conditions. According to Linnaeus, they are also useful in the treatment of rheumatic gout. Particularly the leaves are highly effective in washing out uric acid crystals.

These days the plant is largely ignored in medical herbalism. The little berries are simply appreciated for their taste. But Hildegard von Bingen never liked the plant:

‘The herb on which wild strawberries grow is more warm than cold. This herb brings mucus to the person who eats it and is not as beneficial as a medicine. Indeed, the berries themselves make the mucus in the person who eats them. They are not good for a healthy or sick person to eat because they grow near the earth and because they also grow in putrid air.’

Respectfully, Frau von Bingen, I most profoundly disagree!

Mrs. Grieves has a greater appreciation, although she found it a bother to gather the little berries. She mentions an interesting cosmetic use of strawberries:

How to remove stains from teeth.

‘If the juice is allowed to stay on for about five minutes and the teeth are then cleansed with warm water to which a pinch of bicarbonate of soda has been added.’

Wild strawberries are also said to be effective in removing plaque and tartar from teeth.

Recipe

Mrs. Grieves also gives an old, somewhat elaborate recipe, which someone here might like to try:

‘Gather strawberry leaves on Lamas Eve (1 Aug) press them in the distillery until the aromatic perfume thereof becomes sensible. Take a fat turkey and pluck him, and baste him, then enfold him carefully in the strawberry leaves. Then boil him in water from the well, and add rosemary, velvet flower (?), lavender, thistles, stinging nettles, and other sweet-smelling herbs. Add also a pint of canary wine, and half a pound of butter and one of ginger passed through the sieve. Sieve with plums and stewed raisins and a little salt. Cover him with a silver dish cover.’

CAUTION: People prone to allergies should avoid strawberries.

Burdock – Arctium Lappa

Burdock – Arctium Lappa

Foraging Burdock

Burdock may not be the prettiest herb, but it is certainly one of the most eye-catching: With its huge heart-shaped leaves that form an impressive rosette during the first year and tall stalk that forms in the second year often reaching a height of more than 5 ft tall, it is hard to overlook this plant. Even if you are oblivious to the plant-life around you, if you have a dog, chances are that you have at least made acquaintance with Burdock seeds. The sticky burs cling to fur by little hooks and are quite difficult to brush out.

Velcro – biomimicry at its best

Ingeniously, Burdock’s burs have inspired the invention of Velcro. The sticky tape has been modeled on Burdock’s hooks. This is a fine example of biomimicry. Nature has invented so many incredible forms to serve all sorts of functions. And she solves such tasks often far better than we could invent. 

But this is only one of the amazing properties that this Cinderella plant has to offer. Burdock is rarely welcome in the yard, much less in carefully groomed gardens, despite the fact that bees and butterflies just love it for its generous supply of nectar.

If you keep your eyes open in early spring you will notice Burdock’s leaves first. The huge rosette of heart-shaped, somewhat wavy leaves, sprouts as an expansive rosette that somewhat resemble rhubarb leaves, but grow much more closely to the ground. Burdock is biennial, which means that it does not send up its flowering shoot until the second year.

When to gather Burdock

Foragers diverge in their opinions as to the best time to collect Burdock. Roots are usually collected either in spring or in the autumn. The autumn roots are best as ‘foraged food’. In spring, the vital power has risen into the stalk, leaving the root a bit depleted. However, the actual medicinal compounds are more concentrated in the roots at that time. For foragers, autumn gathered roots and spring /early summer gathered leaf- and flower-bearing stalks are best. Don’t leave it too late lest they get tough.

The leaf stalks can get quite stringy. It is best to peel and cut them and to pull the strings out. They are best in soups, casseroles or pies and give them a flavor that is reminiscent of artichoke when cooked.

The leaves are not used for food. They tend to be coarse, bitter and tough – not exactly enjoyable. The only exceptions are the very young fresh shoots, which appear early in spring. The roots, on the other hand, are delectable, although it requires a determined effort to get them out of the ground. The long taproot needs to be lifted with a digging fork. Once brought to the surface they must be thoroughly cleaned and peeled to cut away the tough, outer skin. The white root flesh itself has a slightly sweetish, nutty flavor that is sometimes compared to Jerusalem Artichokes. The roots are excellent when thinly sliced or pureed. They can be added to stir-fry vegetables or to stews and soups.

Burdock as a healing food

Burdock, like so many of our wild weeds, offers both nutritional and medicinal benefits.

In Japan, Burdock is cultivated and sold as ‘Gobo’ on the market. One can sample it at Japanese Restaurants where it can sometimes be found as a component of sushi rolls or as a side dish.

As a healing food, the root is particularly recommended for those with metabolic syndrome or for people who suffer from diabetes. Burdock root is rich in inulin, a dietary fiber that is not broken down by the small intestines but nourishes beneficial bacteria that populate the colon. Inulin thus acts as a pre-biotic that helps to normalize the intestinal flora and to balance the blood sugar levels.

Burdock as an aphrodisiac

Perhaps the Japanese like it so much because they are in on its secret. Burdock is said to fortify the body, and to give it endurance. This staying power has given it the reputation of having aphrodisiac powers, for which it is highly valued in Japan.

 

Burdock as a tonic energizer

But Burdock does more than just turbo-charging the libido motor. Its overall action can be described as ‘purifying’. It doesn’t so much add extra energy than remove that which blocks its free flow. Burdock stimulates the metabolic rate. It thereby gently, but persistently activates and tones all the organs of elimination, and induces a process of inner cleansing.

Its energizing quality is hard to describe. Perhaps it is best likened to putting a good, sustaining log on the fire, such as oak or apple. A log that burns slowly and steadily and develops an intense, but even heat, as opposed to e.g. pine, which burns in a flash. Burdock’s energy activates all the functions of the vital organs, thus improving, cleansing and toning the entire body. For this purpose, the fresh root is infinitely more powerful than the dried material.

Burdock as a liver tonic and blood cleanser

In medical herbalism, Burdock root is considered a ‘liver herb’. One of the most important jobs that the liver performs is that of detoxing the blood. Burdock is of great aid in this regard. It is often used to help promote proper elimination which clears toxins from the body. Such toxins are often at the root of skin conditions such as acne, eczema, psoriasis and similar.

Burdock as a wound healer

One of the less well-known powers of Burdock is the fact that it makes an excellent vulnerary. For this purpose, both, the freshly grated roots, or the fresh, mashed leaves can be applied as a poultice to wounds, bruises, and badly healing sores. Simultaneously, an infusion or decoction of the root can be given in order to help the body rid itself of impurities and to facilitate inner cleansing by supporting the liver and the kidneys.  Burdock and Nettle root extracts are made into a hair lotion to prevent the loss of hair.

Burdock’s anti-tumor activity

In the alternative healing community it has long been used for treating cancer.  Various salves and decoctions are on the market, but the best known in this category is a tea known as ‘Essiac’ of which Burdock is a key ingredient.

Recent research has shown that both the seeds and the roots of Burdock have anti-tumor properties. However, Cancer is a serious disease that should be treated by a competent medical professional.

(https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5464502/

Burdock hair-tonic

Burdock is said to stimulate hair growth as well as soothe an irritated scalp. One can prepare an easy rinse by making a strong infusion of the bark. Alternatively, the freshly pressed root juice can be blended with oil and applied as a tonic hair pack. But, make sure to lather the hair well before rinsing it all out with water, otherwise, you will end up with an almighty mess.

Burdock with its huge, heart-shaped leaves

Recipes

NOTE: Beware that handling the stalks without gloves can stain the hands. Use gloves for picking and preparing.

Creamy Burdock leaf stalks

The leaf stalks of the first year’s growth make a fine vegetable. Cut off the leaves and chop the stalks into smallish chunks. Steam in a little bit of water with some salt and sugar until tender (no longer than 10 minutes). Make a rue with the cooking water and a little butter and some oatmeal. Add some Crème Fraiche, an egg or a little cheese.

Burdock Bake

The same kind of idea can be modified to make a kind of burdock bake: Prepare some Bulgur wheat and mix with the stir-fried leaf stalks (take care not to overcook the stalks). Make a ‘custard’ with 2 eggs, crème fraîche, a little bit of milk and melting cheese, mix with the Bulgur and burdock and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes. This recipe can be adjusted to taste: add other vegetables, such as onions, sliced carrots and garlic, and season to taste.

Au Gratin

Similarly, Burdock stalks can be prepared ‘au gratin’. Leave out the Bulgur wheat and just layer the pre-cooked stalks. Pour a mixture of seasoned eggs and crème fraîche over the stalks and sprinkle with cheddar cheese or similar. Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes.

The leaves are usually a bit bitter and most people don’t like them as a vegetable. However, the young shoots are edible, especially when mixed with other, mild greens, or added to a cheese omelet. They can also be added to soups.

The roots are hard to dig for, but make an excellent root vegetable, which can be roasted, pan-fried, mashed like mashed potatoes or added to soups. 

Dandelion and Burdock Beer

(from ‘The New Herbal’ by Richard Mabey)

https://amzn.to/37oEdKl (amazon)

Dandelion and Burdock Beer is an old, traditional spring tonic in rural Britain.

Ingredients

  • 1lb young nettles
  • 4oz dandelion leaves
  • 4oz fresh sliced, or 2 oz dried burdock root
  • ½ oz bruised ginger root
  • 2 lemons
  • 1-gallon water
  • 1lb + 4 teaspoons demerara sugar
  • 1 oz cream of tartar
  • Brewing yeast (use amount according to instructions on the package)

  1. Put the nettles, dandelion leaves, burdock, ginger and thinly pared rinds of the lemons into a large pan.
  2. Add the water, bring to the boil and simmer for 30 min.
  3. Put the lemon juice, 1 lb sugar and the cream of tartar into a large container and strain on the liquid from the pan, pressing down well on the nettles and other ingredients.
  4. Stir to dissolve the sugar.
  5. Cool to body temperature.
  6. Sprinkle in the yeast.
  7. Cover the beer and leave to ferment in a warm place for 3 days.
  8. Rack off the beer and bottle it, adding ½ teaspoon demerara sugar per pint.
  9. Leave the bottles undisturbed until the beer is clear – about 1 week.

Foraging Dandelion

Foraging Dandelion

Everybody loves Dandelions! Nothing gladdens the heart more than the sight of a meadow covered in its bright yellow bloom. They are such a truly plentiful spring delight that there is hardly a lawn where they cannot be found. However, lawns are not where they are most welcomed. Not at all delighted by this little spring greeting, gardeners often spare no effort when it comes to banning them from their yards.

 

T’is folly! If they knew its true value perhaps they would not be so ungrateful. Dandelion is surely one of the most beneficial plants available – it is a blessing that it is so resilient and abundant!

 

From the earliest days of spring, its bright yellow flowers appear like miniature suns that beam back at the big daddy in the sky.

 

Every part of this plant can be used for food or medicine. Even the seeds, as every child knows: they tell the future, and one can blow one’s wishes and prayers to the wind which will be carried to the heavens on their dandy little parachute seeds.

 

History and Uses

 

According to the doctrine of signatures, Jupiter owns this herb. It seems quite fitting, considering its prolific nature. Jupiter is larger than life and does nothing by halves. However, the old herbalists were also concerned with the essential nature of an herb when determining its planetary ruler: bitter herbs, especially yellow ones, were often assigned to Jupiter. Often, as in this case, such herbs had an affinity with the liver, Jupiter’s seat in the human body. Liver herbs are almost always bitter, as the bitter principles stimulate liver function and help with the work of breaking down fats and cleansing the body of toxins.

 

The liver also plays an important part in hormone regulation. Despite their bitter taste, liver herbs can ‘gladden the heart’. They combat common afflictions such as the ‘winter blahs’ and other hormonal ups and downs, including the menstrual cycle, or the menopause. Jupiter is the eternal optimist and many of his herbs help to lift the spirit.

 

After the sedentary winter months, Dandelion is just what we need to detox the liver and to brighten the spirits. This is particularly true when we ate too much and moved too little, indulging in heavy, greasy foods neglecting our greens. In the old days, seasonal availability was limited as there was no such thing as greenhouse vegetables or imports from the other side of the planet. Thus, Lent was a time of fasting and purification intended to shake off the winter sluggishness and get in shape for spring. Dandelion is one of the best herbs to support such a spring cleaning effort.

 

Medicinal action

 

The roots are particularly good for the liver, while the leaves have a more pronounced effect on the kidneys. The French name for this herb ‘pis en lit’ (piss in the bed), is a rather to-the-point descriptive term. There are many highly effective diuretic herbs, but Dandelion is unique in that it does not deplete potassium levels as many other diuretics do. On the contrary, it is a rich source of Potassium as well as a host of other vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C and A, calcium, iron, manganese, and phosphorus. It also contains choline, a substance that helps the liver to metabolize fat.

 

Dandelion

 

 

Foraging

 

Dandelion is truly one of the most healthful plants one could possibly add to one’s diet. It can be used freely and without fear of any ill effects (except perhaps bedwetting). 

 

For the foraging gourmet, the medicinal uses are all very well, but better still are the myriad ways in which this wonderful herb can be transformed into various culinary delicacies:

 

Happily, for the forager, all parts of the Dandelion are edible and this is a plant that suffers no lasting ill-effects from the collection of its roots. In fact, it more often encourages it to grow, since every small bit of Dandelion root that breaks off or is left in the soil will produce more Dandelion plants.

 

For culinary purposes, it is best to collect older roots as the younger ones are just too small. Beware that Dandelion roots are bitter. They may not make the tastiest vegetable, but they make a very wholesome and very passable coffee substitute.

 

Dandelion Coffee

 

To make Dandelion coffee, gather the roots either early in the spring or late autumn (they tend to be sweeter in the autumn). Scrub them well to clean off all the dirt and let them dry before roasting them in the oven at a low temperature. People have different methods for doing this, some prefer to grind the roots before roasting them, others roast them whole. I prefer the whole root method as I feel that greater surface exposure during the roasting process also loses more of the nutrients. Roasting takes about 4 hours. To tell if they are ready, try to break one. When it is ready it will break with a snap and the interior will be dark brown. Now you can grind it. Store in a jar. Take about a teaspoon per cup of water to make a cup of Dandelion coffee. Add milk or sugar, to taste.

 

 

Stir-fries, fillings, and vegetable sides

 

Used sparingly, Dandelion roots can also be sliced and added to stir-fries, fillings, or vegetable sides. 

The unopened flower buds can also be sautéed very briefly. Serve with melted butter, salt, and pepper. You need a lot of them, to make this more than a ‘one teaspoon experience’.

The very young Dandelion rosettes can be prepared as what my foraging friend Melana Hiatt calls ‘yard squid’:

 

‘Yard Squid’

 

Cut the Dandelion rosettes just below the ground with enough of the root to hold the leaves in place. Wash well, making sure all the grit and dirt are removed. To reduce the bitterness blanch them in salt water for about five minutes. (But remember that removing the bitterness also removes its medicinally active principles.) Dip in a thin egg/milk mixture, roll them in coarse cornflour or bread crumbs, or a mixture of both, then fry them in oil. The culinarily intrepid might like to season the crumbs/flour as well. Meat eaters can add bits of fried bacon or minced meat. Vegetarians can add toasted sunflower seeds sprinkled with Tamari or Soya sauce, if desired.

 

Dandelion Salad Greens

 

The young tender, leaves make excellent salad greens. Mix with other spring greens to mask the bitterness. Dandelion goes especially well with boiled eggs and cress-type herbs. As a dressing, try fruity vinaigrette (e.g. with raspberry vinegar), or a sweet and sour dressing made with yogurt, lemon juice, pepper, salt, garlic and a little sugar (and chilies, for those who like it hot).

 

Dandelion Greens

 

Pot-herb

 

The leaves can also be cooked as a pot-herb, or side dish:

Blanch in salt water for five minutes, remove from the heat and stir in butter or Crème Fraiche and seasonings.

Some like to prepare it so it takes on the consistency of fine spinach. Chop the leaves really fine or put them through a food processor, perhaps along with other herbs that may be available, such as nettles or garlic hedge mustard, for example. Sauté an onion, stir in the herbs, season with garlic, salt, pepper or chilies, cook for about 7 minutes, take off the heat and stir in some crème or crème fraîche for a more delicate flavor.

 

Dandelion Capers

 

Very early in the spring, when the small, tightly packed, unopened flower buds that are still hiding in the rosette, they can be marinated and prepared as ‘capers’. Make a hot marinade with 1l vinegar, 50g sugar, 50g salt, pepper and spices (e.g. Bay leaf, thyme, coriander seed, chilies, whatever you fancy). Pour enough of the marinade over the still closed Dandelion flower buds to cover them and simmer for 5 – 10 minutes. Fill the marinated flower buds and the pickling juice into a sterilized jar and store in the fridge.  Store the rest of the pickling juice for another time.

 

Once the flowers develop, the leaves become increasingly bitter. Personally, I don’t find this a problem, so long as I pick the young, tender leaves, and not the old ones. But if you are sensitive to bitter tastes, watch for signs that flowering season has begun to take your cue.

 

But the end of one season just marks the beginning of another: The flowers themselves can also be turned into delicious treats. For example deep-fried Dandelion flowers:

 

Prepare a light batter with egg, water or milk, and a little flour. Season to taste (e.g. coriander seed or cinnamon work well). Coat each fully opened flower head with the batter and deep fry quickly. Serve with Maple syrup and lemon juice. Yum!

 

Dandelion Country Wine

 

Dandelion flowers are also an essential ingredient of country wines. There are numerous wonderful recipes – far too many to mention here. But here are just a couple:

Gather 1 gallon of Dandelion flowers on a dry, sunny day.

Put these in a 2-gallon crockpot and pour 1 gallon of boiling water over them.

Cover the jar and allow the flowers to steep for three days.

Strain through a jelly cloth so you can squeeze all the liquid from the flowers.

Put the liquid in a kettle; add 1 small ginger root, the thinly pared peels and juice of 3 organic oranges and 1 organic lemon. Stir in 3 pounds of sugar and allow the liquid to cool until it is barely lukewarm. Spread ½ cake of yeast on a piece of toasted rye bread and float on top. Cover the crock with a cloth and keep it in a warm room for 6 days.

Strain the wine into a gallon jug, corking it loosely with a wad of cotton. Keep in a dark place for 3 weeks, then carefully decant into a bottle and cap or cork tightly. Don’t touch it until Christmas or later.

 

from ‘Stalking the Wild Asparagus’, Euell Gibbons https://amzn.to/2D41e7n

 

 

For a Dandelion Dessert Wine, try this recipe:

 

On a warm, sunny day gather a large bag (a shopping bag) full of fully opened Dandelion flowers.

 

Place into a large pot, pour 4 liters of water over them and add the zest of one organic, untreated lemon, as well as the zest of one organic, untreated orange. Simmer gently for about 20 min. Allow the liquid to cool to body temperature and strain. Dissolve five chunks of fresh yeast in a little warm water and add this to the Dandelion liquid. Add other flavorings according to taste: perhaps an orange, some cloves, cinnamon or ginger…and 2 kilos of sugar (rock sugar or unrefined cane sugar is best).

 

Leave to ferment for about 6 days. Fill into bottles with the kind of stoppers you would use for making elderflower champagne. They need to fit tightly so that there is no danger of explosion. Flip lids, as can be found on old fashioned beer and lemonade bottles work great. Allow the wine to mature for a few weeks until the liquid is crystal clear. Only then yield to the temptation to try it.

 

Adapted from ‘Holunder, Dost und Gänseblümchen’, Heide Haßkerl https://amzn.to/2XC4qkf (German)

 

 

Dandelion Flower Syrup

 

For those who like it sweet, you can try making Dandelion flower syrup:

 

  • 500g Dandelion flower heads
  • 1.5 l Water
  • Unrefined cane sugar

 

Place the flowers into a large saucepan. Pour 1.5l of boiling water over them. Bring to a simmer, then turn off the heat and cover. Leave to infuse for 24 hours. The following day, strain and measure the resulting liquid. Add an equivalent amount of sugar e.g. 1 kg of sugar per 1 l of liquid. Let the sugar dissolve in the liquid as much as possible before returning it to the cooker. Heat the liquid while stirring frequently to avoid the sugar to burn. When all the sugar has dissolved completely fill the syrup into sterilized bottles with a pop-top lid.

 

This recipe can be varied according to taste: try adding a little ginger, orange juice and zest (only organic, untreated) or cinnamon.

Bon appetite!

Dandelion Flowers

Stinging Nettles

Stinging Nettles

Foraging Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica)

Few herbs are as generous as the humble stinging nettle. Inconspicuous, it assumes a modest corner in the garden: untended areas, half in the shade, perhaps near the compost where the soil is rich with nitrogen. Inconspicuous that is, until one happens to brush against it carelessly – which jolts our awareness rather painfully.

The Stinging Nettle is a warrior plant, armed with tiny needles that cover him from top to toe, leaves, stems and all. The lightest touch will break off the needle points, just like a hypodermic needle, and inject formic acid under the skin. This causes the sting.

But Nettles don’t just protect themselves with this weaponry – they are extremely hardy and notoriously difficult to exterminate. Even concerted efforts fail to eradicate an established nettle patch. Nettles are earth defenders, they protect disturbed soils and assimilate nutrients. They cleanse and heal the earth and fend off intruders with their stinging needles.

They are often considered a nuisance. Nettles can spread like wildfire and their rhizomes are seemingly incorrigible. Even a tiny part left behind propagates a new colony. Gardeners tend to want to get rid of them by any means they can. They hack and hoe the ground to pull them out, leaving the soil bare and exposed to the elements. If that does not work, they wage a chemical attack on their garden ecology.

Nettles don’t waste any energy on producing pretty flowers. But looks aren’t everything. Even though they themselves don’t smell or look particularly attractive, they make excellent companion plants, by helping their companion to shine. Nettles stimulate the essential oil production in other herbs that grow near them, especially in those of the mint family. Increased levels of essential oils help to make these plants more resilient.

stinging nettle flowers

The much-feared sting may be unpleasant, but it is not necessarily ‘bad’. The Romans used this very property as a therapeutic measure for treating aching arthritic joints by means of nettle flagellation. We don’t tend to apply such heroic therapies anymore, although it is said to have been quite effective. Nowadays we prefer our medicines to come sugar-coated and looking like sweets.

In the olden days, Lent, which is the six week period leading up to Easter, was dedicated to body-purification. People abstained from meat and heavy foods while making use of early spring herbs that act as gentle tonics and bitters. These stimulate the eliminative functions of the body and help to clear out the residues of several months of sedentary winter habits: heavy foods and not enough exercise. It is a process that in older herbals is described as ‘blood cleansing’.

Nettles are among the first herbs that pop up in the spring. Perfect timing for those who are planning to do a herbal spring cleanse. Nettles ‘wash’ the system from the inside. Their powerful diuretic properties stimulate the kidneys, which filter the blood and flush out metabolic waste matter such as uric acid crystals. A by-product of protein metabolism, these crystals tend to lodge in the joints, where they can become extremely painful.

Of all the wonderful early spring tonics Nettles is the star! They are rich in iron, calcium and vitamin A, C, D, E, F, and K. They stimulate and tone the vital organs of the body, promoting elimination without catharsis. They remove waste matter while replenishing the body with nutrients. They not only cleanse the blood, but their iron and vitamin C content also helps the body to make new blood cells.

This tea is very safe and can benefit anybody, though it is particularly beneficial for women who are going through hormonal changes, during puberty, menopause, or pregnancy. Nettles can also help to lower the blood sugar level, which makes them very suitable for those suffering from diabetes 2.

Nettles are not just medicinally useful, but they also make excellent nutritious and tasty wild food. They can be prepared like spinach or other leafy potherb greens. It is best to mix them with other spring herbs such a dandelion, or chickweed, or to add them to mashed potatoes or rice. They have a pleasant, ‘earthy’ flavor, that is adaptable to many dishes and seasonings. Your imagination is the limit.

So, what is the trick to picking nettles without being stung to bits?

The easiest way is to wear rubber gloves while picking and processing them. Or, grab the nettle with care and determination while avoiding accidental brushing. It does require some practice, but it works. Grabbing them hard crushes the needle points.

But most foragers have gotten used to a little stinging here and there. While at first, it can be annoying, once the burning sensation starts to subside the affected parts seem to become more sensitive to subtle energies. Dowsers sometimes use nettles to increase the sensitivity in their hands. I always pick my nettles with bare hands and I quite like the tingling and the way it makes my hands more sensitive to the plants and the soil that I am working with. However, people who are prone to allergies should be careful and avoid direct exposure since the ‘venom’ also contains histamine, which can cause an allergic reaction.

Caution: Nettles intended for internal use (as food or medicine) should only be picked in spring,  (or, after the first cutting) as later in the year they start to accumulate an abundance of little crystals (called ‘cystoliths’), which can be irritating to the digestive organs and the kidneys.

Once the nettles are brought home and cleaned under running water they can be put in a bowl and covered with hot water for about twenty minutes. This greatly reduces its stinging potential.

Recipes

In the 17th century, nettle pudding (not the sweet sort), nettle porridge and nettle soup were all common:

Nettle Pudding:

  • 500 g fresh nettles
  • 100 g butter
  • 4 egg separated
  • 2 cups bread crumbs

Wash 1 lb of nettle leaves pour boiling water over the nettles. Cream 100 g of butter with a little salt and pepper, 4 egg yolks, one onion cut fine and two cups of breadcrumbs. Add the nettles to this creamy mass. Beat the egg whites until stiff and carefully fold them into the doughy nettle mass. Pour into a buttered dish and cook in a double boiler for one hour.

Scottish Nettle Pudding

1-gallon young nettle tops

2 leeks

2 heads of broccoli

500 g rice

salt and pepper to taste

To 1 gallon of young Nettle tops, thoroughly washed, add 2 good-sized leeks or onions, 2 heads of broccoli, or small cabbage, or Brussels sprouts, and 1/4 lb. of rice. Clean the vegetables well; chop the broccoli and leeks and mix with the Nettles. Place all together in a muslin bag, alternately with the rice, and tie together tightly. Boil in salted water, long enough to cook the vegetables, the time varying according to the tenderness or otherwise of the greens. Serve with gravy or melted butter. These quantities are sufficient for six persons.

from ‘Mrs Grieves, A Modern Herbal’

Country people would also make nettle beer, which was not only quite tasty and refreshing but also wholesome as a remedy for arthritic and gouty pains.

“…a pleasant country drink made of nettle-tops, dandelions, goosegrass, and ginger, boiled and strained. Brown sugar was added, and while still warm a slice of toasted bread, spread with yeast, was placed on top, and the whole kept warm for six or seven hours. Finally, the scum was removed, a teaspoon of cream of tartar was added and the beer was bottled.”

Lesley Gordon, A Country Herbal

Nettle Beer

The Nettle Beer made by cottagers is often given to their old folk as a remedy for gouty and rheumatic pains, but apart from this purpose, it forms a pleasant drink. It may be made as follows: Take 2 gallons of cold water and a good pailful of washed young Nettle tops, add 3 or 4 large handfuls of Dandelion, the same of Clivers (Goosegrass) and 2 OZ. of bruised, whole ginger. Boil gently for 40 minutes, then strain and stir in 2 teacupsful of brown sugar. When lukewarm place on the top a slice of toasted bread, spread with 1 OZ. of compressed yeast, stirred till liquid with a teaspoonful of sugar. Keep it fairly warm for 6 or 7 hours, then remove the scum and stir in a tablespoonful of cream of tartar. Bottle and tie the corks securely. The result is a specially wholesome sort of ginger beer. The juice of 2 lemons may be substituted for the Dandelion and Clivers. Other herbs are often added to Nettles in the making of Herb Beer, such as Burdock, Meadowsweet, Avens Horehound, the combination making a refreshing summer drink.

Mrs. Grieves, A Modern Herbal 

Nettle Hair Rinse and Conditioner

Take a big handful of nettles and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Strain and allow to cool. Bottle and keep the liquid in a cool place (e.g. in the fridge). Use this liquid as a final rinse after washing your hair. Don’t wash it out, but rather comb it out once the hair is dry.

Nettle is a very fibrous plant. Not too long ago it was actually planted as a fiber crop for making textiles, rope, and paper. The fibers must be separated and softened so they can be spun into yarn and woven into any kind of cloth. Nettle textiles are superior even to those made of hemp or flax. Nettles fibers are stronger than those of flax, yet they are not as harsh as hemp.

Some people claim that nettles act as an aphrodisiac and ‘aid the venery’. For this use, the seeds are especially in demand.

Further Resources

Foraging Ramsons

Foraging Ramsons

Foraging Wild Garlic (Allium ursinum)

The birds have been singing on the top of their lungs, announcing that finally and irrevocably spring is here at last. It came in with a blast of flowers that seemed to be popping up all at once, and now there is a veritable flood of petals both on the ground and in the trees. It is a lush and exuberant time – sheer bliss for any and all nature spirits. And it is incredibly hard to stay put, in front of a screen.

If you have been out there enjoying this blooming bliss, you might have noticed that in some parts of the woods there is a strong whiff of garlic lingering among the trees. You probably will have smelled it long before you discovered its likely source – a small but prolific plant, with broad leaves and a single flower stalk that rises from the centre and explodes into a white globe of star-like, little white flowers. You have discovered Ramsons (Allium ursinum), also known as ‘wild garlic’. This is one of my favourite spring edibles – prolific, tasty, versatile and very healthy.

All parts of this plant are edible, but I usually only gather the leaves, in order to safeguard the wild stands of this herbal treasure. I also don’t take the whole plant, but only some, preferably young leaves from each.

The medicinal value of wild garlic is similar to that of cultivated garlic. It is rich in vitamin C and iron and makes a great blood cleansing herb. Ramsons have a long history as a vitalising tonic spring herb. It can help alleviate arteriosclerosis and reduce high blood pressure. However, be aware that large quantities can have a drastic effect on the digestive system. Ramsons are no longer used medicinally, but if you let food be your medicines, as Hippocrates recommends, then make ample use of wild garlic as a great spring tonic.

CAUTION:

Be careful to wash the leaves very well. Growing so close to the ground and often near a stream, the ramsons can be contaminated the eggs of the fox tapeworm, which can be very harmful (even fatal) in humans. Fox tapeworm lodges in the liver or lungs, but can reside there undetected for years. Foragers can get regular check-ups for this infection. Although blood tests are not 100% accurate they may give some indication. If detected early the worm can be treated/operated upon successfully, but if left too late, it can destroy the liver. This safety warning applies to all herbs, berries and mushrooms that grow close to the ground, which exposes them more easily the faeces of an infected fox. The eggs are pretty durable in cool, damp conditions, but sensitive to heat and drying.

Note:

During the last decade, researchers have made some important new discoveries regarding drugs for the treatment of ‘alveolar echinococcosis’, the disease associated with fox tapeworm infestation. They found that some cancer drugs are quite promising as both diseases share some similarities. The treatment has become more efficient but it is not 100% perfect. Surgery remains the most effective option to date.

But I don’t want to spoil your appetite or foraging passion. Infection rates are very low, even among people who spend a lot of time in the woods and have a passion for gathering from the wild. Drying or heating destroys most organisms. Just make sure to blanch the Ramsons leaves briefly, or at least, be sure to wash them VERY WELL.

Ramsons Pesto

Recipes:

Ramsons Pesto

  • 200g Ramsons Leaves
  • 200g Basil Leaves
  • 200g finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 150g Piñon nuts
  • Olive oil, salt to taste

Take the fresh, young Ramsons leaves and wash thoroughly. Briefly scald the Ramson leaves with boiling water. Take the same amount of fresh Basil leaves and place both in a blender. Cover with Olive oil and blend until smooth. Add 200g finely grated parmesan cheese and blend until smooth. Add some piñon nuts (or crushed walnut pieces).

This pesto is very versatile – you can stir it into freshly cooked pasta, blend with crumbly goats- or feta cheese, or, mixed with Ricotta, use as a stuffing for homemade ravioli, or blend it with cream cheese to make a tasty bread spread. I am sure you will come up with gazillion more tasty ideas!

Ramsons have a very strong flavour, which is why it might be a good idea to blend it with another herb. Basil works great, as the two complement each other well. Other herbs you can use are chickweed, dandelion leaves or lambs quarters. Sun-dried tomatoes marinated in oil also make an excellent addition to this pesto recipe.

Ramsons also complement fish dishes very well. Fish chowder with a few Ramsons leaves or bulbs thrown in is a delight. 

CAUTION:

Inexperienced foragers may confuse this plant with the poisonous Lily of the Valley, or Autumn Crocus leaves, which are also poisonous. However, Ramsons can be distinguished by the very distinctive, garlicky smell. If it doesn’t smell like garlic it is not ramsons. Once the flower head appears, there is no mistaking them. Learn how to identify them correctly before the flowers appear as that is the best time to collect them. The bulbs can be collected after flowering when the leaves have died down.

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