Walking through the countryside with an elderly person can be most enlightening. They go on to name some plants and herbs that, in their childhood, were common to pick, wash, cook, and eat. : thistles, the bladder campion, the mallows… even the nettles! But today, we are completely unaware of the nutritional and medicinal values of all those wild herbs that abound in our fields. Fortunately, a movement timidly begins to emerge that wants to recover all those herbs and vegetables that our grandmothers ate and that today we have forgotten.
Along with first-rate vegetables, those that are grown with care in the fields and in agricultural areas, nature gives us an endless number of edible plants and herbs. They are far from being weeds. They actually have a high gastronomic value.
These are wild plants that grow spontaneously in nature and have long been considered weeds. For decades, they have been deliberately forgotten. It is not surprising. Their existence takes us, in many cases, to times of scarcity and hunger. During post-war periods, many rural families could barely find food and would eat small amounts of what is now called weeds in order to survive famine. As hunger ceased to plague Spanish society and the purchase of food became more widespread, these herbs fell into oblivion.
The book “Weeds,” by Beatriz de Marcos and Jordi García (Lectio Editorial), offers us a delicious guide to the unfairly called weeds. As well as 35 delicious recipes cooked with them. From salads to desserts through pasta or stews. The book is a wonderful gastronomic and photographic approach to wild and halophilic plants. Those that grow naturally in environments with a high concentration of salt, such as coastal areas near the sea. And all with those plants that grow naturally in forests, roadsides, and coastal areas. It’s a great way to discover the value of those plants that we all know. But it would never have occurred to us to put them in our mouths. That’s unfortunate because wild nature has a place at our table. Now if you’re not a fan of wild herbs, why not try some cookies? We’re talking about gambling with the Cookie Casino, the online platform that offers thousands of amazing games. Enter the website and get bonuses as a newbie.
Savoury and Nutritious Wild Plants
Bladder Campion – This is a very fine vegetable that is usually prepared in scrambled eggs or an omelet. But it is also stewed with legumes, or it can add a green touch to rice dishes. It belongs to the same family as the claves and is abundant in Europe, North America, but you can also find it in North Africa and Asia. Formerly it was a great protagonist of rural cuisine, although now its consumption has fallen a lot.
Nettles – We all know that wild plant with a jagged stem and spear-shaped leaves that, if touched… produce hives. What we may not know is that nettle is a medicinal herb rich in minerals, vitamins, and a circulation stimulant with multiple uses in the kitchen, because it is also delicious. The only precaution to be taken is to handle them with gloves and wash and blanch them slightly before consuming.
Dandelion: This plant is very abundant in the field and in wild gardens and is well known for its characteristic yellow flower. The green leaves are eaten in salads, and the flowers can be fried.
Salvia – The countryside in Europe is full of wild sage plants, whose leaves are highly aromatic. It is very traditional in Italian cuisine, in dishes as rich as spaghetti al burro e salvia.
Salicornia: this succulent plant, which grows near the sea, is a gastronomic jewel recovered by haute cuisine. They call it the ‘poor man’s barnacle’ because of its intense flavor of the sea.
Purslane – They usually grow in recently tilled fields but also in gardens or between tiles and can create quite extensive cloaks. The leaves can be eaten raw in salads, but you can also cook the plant with its stems in ratatouille and stews. It is a plant very rich in omega 3.
Malva: Formerly, it was used as a remedy against fever and colds, making an infusion with the flowers. You can eat the leaves and stems as a vegetable, but also the flower petals in salads.
Lavender – This aromatic, in addition to becoming the queen of the garden and the center of attention in July when it blooms, can wonderfully enrich desserts with its little flowers. Try adding a few flowers to some custard, and you’ll see.
Nasturtiums – It is a climbing plant with flowers ranging from red to yellow through orange. The leaves and flowers are edible, raw, or cooked and have a slightly pungent flavor, like watercress or mustard.
Elderberry – It is very common to consume the flower of the elderberry. Haute cuisine uses it to decorate dishes. With the berries bluish-black in color, it is better to be careful since they can be toxic.
Foraging, The New Trend of Going Out Into the Mountains to Collect Plants
There is a small movement, still very timid, that is trying to value these wild plants and give them the gastronomic and medicinal value they really have. And they try to remove the pejorative adjective of ‘weeds’ from them. Going out to the field to pick seasonal mushrooms is now common. Soon it will also be to pick berries, aromatic herbs, algae, or tubers. This trend is called ‘foraging.’
One of the leading gurus of this movement is Fergus Drennan, a wild food researcher and educator. He teaches courses on ‘foraging’ and has become quite a public figure, a regular contributor to the media. He frequently appeared on radio and television talking about wild foods and did a television show for Jamie Oliver’s production company. Right now, he is immersed in two projects: making a guide to wild foods… the guide itself is made with wild plants (the paper will be made with mushroom pulp, and the ink pigments with pollen, mushroom spores, and extracts from other plants). In addition, he is preparing to feed himself for a whole year only with wild herbs.
In New York, someone else already has a legion of fans. His name is Steve Brill, although he is better known as ‘the wild man.’ He has been searching for and guiding New Yorkers through Central Park for edible plants for almost 30 years. Self-taught, he has become a botanist, cook, and food expert. In 1986 he was arrested in Central Park, accused of “eating the park,” and just a few months later, he was hired as a guide and obtained permission to collect plants in all New York parks.
However, foraging has gained worldwide fame and has become a trend thanks to Rene Redzepi, chef of the Noma restaurant in Copenhagen. He has two Michelin stars, and his establishment was declared the best restaurant in the world by Restaurant magazine in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2014. Noma’s hallmark is foraging. Redzepi and his team go out daily to the surroundings of Copenhagen. On the coast of Dragor, 12 kilometers away, they search for wild plants. For Rene Redzepi, who has studied the old botany books, everything is food.
In almost all European countries, there is already a group that is looking for herbs and plants in parks and forests of cities that no one picks up, from old olive groves and lots with aromatic herbs to fruit trees.