It’s the time of year when we’re enjoying the first gifts from the vegetable patch and also furiously weeding the borders ahead of summer’s visitors. It’s the perfect time to explore ways of mixing both the cultivated and the wild. For the past few weeks our salads have consisted of homegrown head lettuce (marul), red leaf lettuce (kırmızı kıvırcık marul), parsley (maydanoz), rocket (roka) and mint (nane), but here I’ll introduce you to a few local ‘weeds’ (yaban otu) that are easily found right now, and can add wild nutrition to your salad bowl.
Bermuda buttercup (Oxalis pes-caprae)
The good & the bad: Rich in Vitamin C, though the plant contains oxalic acid, the leaves should not be eaten in large amounts as oxalic acid can lead to nutritional deficiency due to its effect on the body’s calcium stores.
Other names: African wood-sorrel, Bermuda sorrel, English weed, goat's-foot, sourgrass
Flavour: Strong, sharp, sour taste, slightly lemony
Edible parts: All parts; bulbs, stems, leaves and flowers
Ways to Eat: Add flowers and leaves raw to salads. Dry all parts and grind to make a seasoning for fish & meat. 'Weed Chutney’ can be made with Oxalis pes-caprae.
Interesting stuff: The flower heads can be used for natural dyeing
The good & the bad: Vitamin A and C. Contains saponin, so should be eaten in moderation unless you want a bubbly tummy!
Other names: Viola
Flavour: Mild, generic leafy flavour
Edible parts: Leaves and flowers
Ways to Eat: Leaves can be eaten raw in salads, cooked like spinach, or dried and made into a tea. Flowers can be added to salads.
Interesting stuff: The birth flower of the month of February. Napoleon Bonaparte's Signature Flower. Violet flowers contain ionine which temporarily desensitizes the sense of smell.
The good & the bad: The plant is rich in vitamins A, B, and C, along with calcium, magnesium, and potassium. Can be toxic for horses, sheep, and cattle.
Other names: Cheeseweed
Edible parts: Stems, flowers, seeds, roots
Ways to Eat: The leaves and flowers can be eaten raw in salads. The leaves can be sautéed like spinach with butter and onion, or added to soups to thicken.
The good & the bad: Dandelions contain vitamins A, C and K. They also contain vitamin E, folate and small amounts of other B vitamins. However, dandelions are rich in oxalates, so can be harmful if consumed in large quantities. Beware of herbicides!
Other names: Bitterwort, blow-ball, cankerwort, clockflower, Irish daisy
Flavour: Bitter and earthy
Edible parts: All; flower, leaves and root
Ways to Eat: Raw in salads, flower tea, sautéed dandelion greens, dandelion green pesto
Interesting stuff: The common name 'dandelion' is derived from the French ‘dents de lion’, which means lion tooth. Dandelion seeds can be blown many miles from their place of origin. A pale yellow natural dye can be made from the yellow flower.
"Eat wild foods when you can" (Michael Pollen)
Since the agricultural revolution 12,000 years ago, the human race has increasingly narrowed down the diversity of the food it consumes, particularly in Western culture. Regularly adding wild herbs to your diet can unlock forgotten magic within your gut, strengthening the immune system with unrefined, natural nutritional goodness.
Sexy up your salads, for your gut’s sake!
A disclaimer: this blog is intended to educate and inspire. Please realise the dangers of wild food foraging without expert guidance, as nature, though beautiful, can be deadly. Allergies and intolerance can occur even if something is recognised as edible. Please also be sure to wash all foraged food thoroughly, and be sure no herbicides or pesticides have been used nearby.