Last weekend we spent a wonderful day with Rihard Baša, a chef, nature enthusiast and, above all, a hedonist. Rihard organised a workshop on foraging wild edible plants and their use in cooking.
I’ve decided to sum up what I’ve learned on the workshop, together with the knowledge I’ve had from before and some notes from books of Simon Ašič, a well-known Slovenian herbalist.
Wild edible plants
All sorts of nettle are edible, but apparently the stingy type has the best flavour. The best is to pick young leaves and tips that we can use in many dishes, similar as spinach. For tea we can use the whole plant. It is very rich in iron, helps clean the lungs and strenghtens the imune system. In order to preserve it for the whole year, Rihard suggets first cutting it, cooking it on steam, then running it through a blender and freezing it. This way it can be used all-year long as puree, in pies, soups or as an ingredient of gnocchi or pasta.
For ramsons, it’s best to pick young leaves, before it starts flowering. It can be used as a supstitute for garlic, but also in salads, soups, and as pesto. The main danger when picking ramsons is that is looks quite similar to autuman crocus – meadow saffron (Colchicum autumnale), which is very poisonous. The plants probably wouldn’t get mistaken for each other because meadow saffron has all the leaves growing from one stem, while ramsons leaves grow separately, but the problem is that they often grow together. So if you’re not careful, you could accidentally take also meadow saffron’s leaves and only one of those can be deadly.
Ramsons is also known as bear garlic given to the fact that bears do eat their bulbs. The leaves are excellent for cleaning the body is spring-time as they clean the blood, stomach and lungs. Also the flowers (seeds) can be used, they are simply preserved in vinegar and can be used similar to pickles.
To preserve the leaves, first cut them in small pieces, put them in a blender, add 3% of salt and put the mass in small jars. Add a bit of salt on top and cover it with olive oil and it should be good for at least a year. You can also add some sort of nuts if you’d like. By freezing ramsons, the taste is preserved but not the health properties, so freezing is not advised.
Lungwort is called like this because its leaves remind of lungs, but also it is very beneficial for lungs and respiratory system. It’s easiest to recognize it for its flowers – they are pink or red at first, later they go changing their colour into blue, so it’s not rare to see a plant with many flower colours at once. The whole plant is useful for cheast diseases and asthma. We pick lugwort when it’s flowering, and we dry the whole plant to later use it as a tea. Young leaves can be used fresh, as a salad or spinach.
Jew’s ear (jelly ear) grows on wood, especially elder. It can be used fresh (especially in soups, as it is often used in Chinese cuisine) or dried. When it is dried, it should be first put in water and then used. It is good for lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, and it increases blood circulation. It is interesting also because it grows all year long.
Horseradish is a common “weed” on fields, but also natural antibiotic that was often used in spring in Slovene traditional cuisine. The roots should be dug (according to Ašič) from September to February. Fresh grated roots can be mixed into other dishes, or eaten separately as a side-dish, and they are good for lungs, they help wth cough and sinuses. It also helps with gum infection.
Horseradish can be recognised by its leaves – it has two different kinds of leaves.
Wild hop is a climbing plant which will often be hiding in the bushes. Young tips (up to the first two leaves) can be used similarly to asparagus, in omelets, raw in salads or just steam-cooked quickly. In the fall, we can also pick flowers for tea.
Alfalfa is a perennial legume sometimes mistaken for clover. It is commonly used for cattle, but it can also be eaten by humans, and the seeds can be sprouted. Alfalfa is used for healing kidneys and digestive tract diseases.
Dandelion leaves are best eaten raw before the plant starts flowering, and flowers can be used to make a syrup (boil 300 flowers for 45 minutes, add 3 kg of sugar and mix until the sugar melts; you can also add orange or lemon juice or vanilla for aroma). Roots are dug in early spring or in autumn, if roasted and grinded they can be used as a replacement for coffee. The stem is useful for people with diabetes. Dandelion buds can also be eaten, and they are especially good when fried, or preserved in vinegar (you have to steam them first), when their taste reminds very much of caper. The entire plant is rich in vitamin C and minerals.
The sweet violet flowers can be eaten raw, or they can be dried and used as a tea (together with leaves). Dried, ground and mixed with sugar they make an excellent decoration on a meal. Violet tea should make wonders if you have a headache.
Both primrose leaves and flowers can be eaten in salads. Flowers can be mixed with sugar in order to make a syrup that helps with cough.
Ribwort plantain grows on many meadows and it’s easy to find, but its uses are endless. Fresh leaves, when put on a wound, can stop bleeding and disinfect the area. Tea made of leaves cleans blood, lungs, bladder and stomach. The leaves also cure tootache. The flowers can be eaten raw, they remind of nuts.
Blackberries are edible, of course, and they make (in my opinion) one of the best jams. But the leaves are also very good for tea. We pick young leaves in April and May. These are one of the few leaves that are best when picked in rainy weather – they should be left piled tightly for one day and then spread and dried fast.
We spent the afternoon cooking (and of course, eating) the plants that we’ve harvested and making homemade gnocchi and pasta.
Here are some tips that are worth to remember:
- For steam cooking make sure the water boils first, steam the plants quicky and then quickly cool them down with cold water.
- When making pasta, you can put eggs in the mass but it’s not necessary. What is necessary is that the mass is well hard.
- To freeze gnocchi it’s better to first cook them and then freeze.
And if you would want to learn more, you’ll just have to come next time Rihard Baša organises a workshop! :)