Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Spring wild foods

So, I've been doing up loads of nice fresh nettles.

While collecting, I saw loads of these things,

It's Alliaria petiolata, or wild "garlic mustard" (sometimes Sisymbrium alliaria, "Hedge-Garlic," "Sauce-Alone," "Jack-by-the-Hedge," "Poor Man's Mustard," "Garlicwort," "Mustard Root"...) a plant that is another of these super-greens, chock full of vitamins C and A. Nice peppery slightly garlicky taste. Good cooked or fresh. The roots make an excellent horseradish.

It's also very common in North American fields too, brought over by settlers for whom it was a standard vegetable. They soon escaped the gardens and went wild.

Wiki says, "Garlic mustard is one of the oldest discovered spices to be used in cooking in Europe. Evidence of its use has been found from archeological remains found in the Baltic, dating back to 6100-5750...In 17th century Britain it was recommended as a flavouring for salt fish. It can also be made into a sauce for eating with roast lamb or salad."

It grows abundantly in the same kind of conditions as nettles, and so they are often side by side. They also look quite similar at first glance, with their heart shaped toothed leaves. But the flowers are totally different, and come out much earlier than nettle flowers. Nettles aren't as nice once they've started flowering and I would only collect them for drying at that point. But the garlic mustard is lovely even in the midst of its flowering time, which happens to be right now.

It was valued by Oldfangled people across Europe for medicinal applications. It has excellent antiseptic properties and can be applied to cuts to prevent infection. That garlicky flavor comes from sulfur, which is one of the best natural anti-microbials. But the sulphur is lost when it is heated, so the antiseptic properties can be gained only with cold-processing. Cooking makes the plant taste milder for that reason.

The Modern Herbal webpage says the juice of the leaves is a "deobstruent," which can be added to honey (though I think that would taste a bit strange) is useful for treating dropsy. Dropsy is a quaint term for oedema, which I started to experience rather badly last summer. It's a common long-term side effect of the surgery I had, having a bunch of lymph nodes removed. I'm constantly in search of things that will help, so maybe I'll try making a tincture or something.

Someone suggests:
The roots can be added to fire water or fire vinegar as it is often called. This is a simple and well used tincture where garlic, onions, grated ginger, horseradish, and hot peppers are covered with apple cider vinegar and let sit for several months. Adding garlic mustard root just gives it that much more of a kick. Take a couple tablespoons of this in 8 ounces of water at the first sign of a cold. It will either knock that cold right out or shorten it considerably. People use fire water for so many different ailments it warrants a post all its own.

Even a garlic mustard root/apple cider vinegar tincture on its own will help with bacterial and viral infections. A steam of the leaves and roots can help loosen chest and sinus infections as well as warm up people who have a chill from being out in the cold too long without the proper gear.

As a member of the Brassica family, it's related to broccoli, cabbage and sprouts, and is loaded with the same nutrient group you find in those. But as a wild plant, it is much more nutrient-dense.

Someone out there in Innernet Land suggested making a pesto out of the leaves. I might try it.



John said...

You would've loved my friend Carlo. Aside from being a fire-breathing trad, he knew where all the good-to-eat wild things grew around here. And what didn't grow wild, he grew himself. I remember radicchio and barba di fratelli but there was a lot more in that back garden. He used to go down to a local bird sanctuary to pick nettles for soup. I didn't go with him. Apparently for picking nettles, "you ha' to know what you are doing" and he assumed rightly that I didn't. I don't think you're actually allowed to do that. But having been in WWII and attacked by the Yugoslav partisans, the Red Army, the USAAF, the RAF, and the Wehrmacht, I don't think park rangers were very high on his list of things to worry about. And he didn't mess with the birds anyway. Although, I suspect if he were hungry enough, he knew how to.



Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

That's an awesome story, thanks John.

StGuyFawkes said...

Thanks for doing this piece on nettles. It was just yesterday that I was humming to myself "The Bold Fenian Men" which begins of course with "I went down to the glenside and saw an old woman / plucking young nettles, scarce knew I was coming...

I've never known exactly what kind of food nettles are.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Hilary, They are all over my back yard. Now I know that they are survival food. VIckie

Anonymous said...

This is Vickie again. Now that I tasted it, it is more than a survival food. The flowers and young leave turned out to be great addition to salad.