Wild greens in Spring 1/3

March 31, 2014

If you love the idea of foraging for wild greens but have never actually done so as you’re not quite sure how to use them, I hope this Spring-time series of 3 will encourage you to take action.

Young NettlesThe best thing about them is: they are easy to recognise, widespread – and free. They also happen to be top of the nutrition charts as well.

I’ll write about them in the order of when I spot the young leaves appearing on my local patch here in Derbyshire. As this is March, I’ll start with…dandelions and nettles.

Wild greens are the opposite of bland. They tend to be at the bitter end of the taste spectrum – but don’t let this put you off. Might be wise to use sparingly until you get used to them, though. Nutritionally, bitter greens have a positive quality as they:

  • stimulate enzyme production for more effective digestion (especially of fats)
  • support the liver in its detoxifying role. This in turn helps balance hormones, manage cholesterol and blood pressure
  • counterbalances a sweet tooth, dampening sugar cravings

They are full of phytonutrients and anti-oxidants so they boost your immune system and supply plenty of vitamins such as A, C, E & K, along with a trove of minerals like calcium, magnesium, and iron.

Dandelions are a member of the Daisy family, prolific in growth, easily to find and identify.

As Nick Weston of Hunter, Gather, Cook says ‘everything from the root up is edible, making it one of the most versatile plants to take out of the wild and into the kitchen. The sheer amount of recipes racked up by the dandelion over the centuries is testament alone’. Whilst I am concentrating on the use of leaves here, do read Nick’s full post if you want ideas on how to use other parts of this most useful of plants.

Only pick enough leaves for immediate eating as they wilt very quickly. They taste slightly more bitter than rocket or watercress, so start with a small amount if you’ve not yet developed your bitter palette. Young dandelion leaves are best consumed raw, in smoothies, salads or soup. As they get older and bolder in flavour, use as for spinach, adding to food at the last minute. Pair with parsley, salt, fat or lemon, which will temper its stringency.

Suggested smoothie combinations:

– Dandelions, grapes, banana, parsley, lemon juice and water (sweet)

– Dandelions, cucumber, tomatoes, lemon juice, salt, pepper and water (savoury)

These were inspired by Jane of Blenditandmendit.com. Look up her YouTube channel to see more blended dandelion recipes

Nettles – now I know that eating anything which can cause stinging doesn’t sound very bright. But as far as nettles go, consider this: they are

  • one of the most protein-rich plants in the vegetable kingdom
  • full of minerals such as iron, calcium, potassium, folate, and manganese
  • bursting with vitamins A, Bs, C, D and K

Nettles support the kidneys to expel toxins, and the adrenals to bounce back from stress.  They have been used for centuries in the treatment of respiratory congestion, allergies, or joint conditions. With such a long history of use, there is no need to be nervous about adding this beneficial plant to your diet. They are a classic spring tonic – exactly what the body needs following a period of stress, or a winter of heavy foods. If you suffer with hay fever, the histamine properties of nettles may help to desensitise you, and thus offer some relief.

When out walking I will gleefully show companions how to pick them barehanded and eat them raw as a snack, but if you are havesting them to take home for a meal it might be wiser to use gloves and scissors. Select leaves from the top 6 inches of a non-flowering plant. Blending, steaming, or drying inactivates the sting. If you do sting yourself, chew a few leaves and spit the juice over the the sting, or make a paste of baking soda and apply that instead.

Nettles have a similar flavour to spinach – a bit nuttier – and is excellent in smoothies, soups, or egg or cream-based recipes. They are easy to dry and keep in your storecup-board as a tonic tea. I like it best mixed with the uplifting flavour of mint or rosehips, which makes it an immune boosting drink all year round.

Try this uncooked Nettle Soup as a gentle introduction.

Ingredients:

1 ripe pear
2 handfuls of watercress
1 handful young nettle leaves, made into a tea
1/2 avocado
4 shizandra berries
Pinch of salt
1/4 lemon, juiced
1/3 cucumber

Method:

1. Make an infusion of nettle tea by adding hot water to the leaves and steeping for 5 mins. Use everything, or strain and only use the liquid

2. Put the infusion into a blender jug, along with everythig else and blend until smooth. Serve.

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