A wonderful part of using herbs is they often grow wild as weeds and with care, can be foraged and made into cheap, tasty and nutritious meals!
As we have now entered into early Spring it is a thriving time for a keen and bidding wild edible forager! With great care, it is very liberating to identify and pick your own plants, cooking and enjoying them, costing no money and getting you outdoors fully immersed in nature! It is important to note where and what you are picking; please be aware to not trespass and stick to public footpaths, try not to pick wild plants growing too close to busy traffic and take care to only take what you need - pick sparingly to leave food for the animals and insects and to allow the plant to continue to pollinate. Please do double check using a reference guide to wild flowers to be sure you are picking and eating the right plant! Especially as weeds growing wild tend to mingle together and the difference between an entirely safe edible plant and a toxic plant may only be a varying leaf shape for example.
Now is perfect time to pick the ever abundant common stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) as they are best picked as young shoots before they flower to get the most nutritional value and medicinal use from them and can be found almost anywhere. Often overlooked and seen as a nuisance due to their nasty hairs covering it that release histamine and formic acid leaving a sharp sting on contact with skin. They are in fact very useful and are very good for you, they contain a good source of iron, silica, vitamin A, B, C and K, they are very versatile and can be used in cooking as you would use spinach - don't worry the sting disappers once cooked! Medicinally, when taken as a tincture or infusion the tops and leaves of nettles are very beneficial to the urinary system and can help with UTIs as it is a diuretic. Nettles can also help with rheumatic conditions such as arthritis and gouts as it helps eliminate uric acid from joints and also due to the histamine content help with allergies such as hayfever. The roots of nettle are usually used to treat prostate issues such as benign prostatic hypertrophy.
To gather, identify your plant correctly, common stinging nettles can be identified by their serrated leaves that sit opposite either side of the stem in pairs, the leaves and stems are covered in hairs which are the bits that cause the sting and can grow up to 2 metres tall. Using gloves and making sure your arms and legs are also covered (unless you're very brave!), snip just the tops off the nettles - I'd say cut the stem around 2 inches down from the top bud.
The next foraged ingredient for the recipe today is Wild Garlic (Allium ursinum), also known as ramsoms or bear's garlic, is growing in abundance this time of year in areas of shady woodland. To gather simply tug the leaf away or snip close to the base of the leaf, only the leaves are needed not the bulbs. It grows close to the ground in extensive colonies as bunches of elongated, elliptical leaves whihc have bell-shaped white flowers in late spring (which are edible too!), just be careful not to mistake with bluebells or snowdrops as the leaves look similar but the smell will definitely give it away! Wild Garlic is not the same plant as the bulb we use in cooking which is Allium sativum, although they are very closely related. Wild Garlic is a great plant for a foraging beginner as the smell is so distinctive, as soon as the leaf is crushed the strong garlic smell is released. This makes it wonderful to cook with such as soups and using raw in salads as this flavour carries through just slightly milder. Nutritionally like its close relative, Wild Garlic has similar properties to the bulb, containing sulphurous compounds, providing immune boosting properties being both anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, as well as its possible anti-cancer properties and being a natural anticoagulant so may have some possible effect on reducing risk of thrombosis, atherosclerosis and high blood pressure.
Wild Garlic & Nettle Pesto Recipe
Pesto is incredibly easy to make and you can change the quantities around to your taste and desired consistency, adding more oil creates more of a dressing or sauce, less will be more of a dip/spread. This recipe tastes so delicious and fresh and is entirely vegan also! You could also add some foraged wild rocket or dandelion leaves for an extra peppery kick.
You Will Need:
- 5-6 Wild Garlic leaves, washed
- couple of handfuls of Nettle tops and leaves, washed (no need to trim we'll be using it all)
- handful of raw cashew nuts
- juice of 1/2 a lemon or a lime
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup of olive oil
- a blender/food processor or a pestle and mortar to mix
- Firstly, to remove the sting from the nettles they need to be blanched. To wash just place the leaves in a sieve and rinse thoroughly with cold water for a few minutes. Bring salted water to boiling point in a saucepan, add the nettles and put on the lid, leave to boil for 2 minutes. Drain and immediately place the nettles in a bowl of ice cold water for a further 2 minutes, drain again and squeeze all the excess water out.
- Crush up the cashew nuts using a blender/pestle and mortar, for a smoother end result you may want to soak the cashew nuts in cold water for a few hours overnight to soften them, I did mine from raw and it leaves it fairly chunky which I don't mind.
- Finely chop the Wild Garlic leaves and along with the blanched nettles, add to the cashews and further blend/grind. Add the lemon/lime juice and slowly add the olive oil until you've reached your desired consistency.
- Transfer to a clean glass container such as a jam jar if not using immediately, otherwise serve and enjoy! Pesto can be used as a pasta sauce, with new potatoes, on bread, salad dressing, to add flavour to soups - the possibilities are endless!
My name is Helen Davison and I'm a NIMH registered practising Medical Herbalist based in Ramsbottom, Lancashire. I've had a keen interest in herbal remedies since my early teens and would experiment creating my own balms and bath bombs using natural ingredients, which prompted me in discovering and pursuing a career in Western Herbal Medicine.