"Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”
In the 21st century eating has become a pretty complex issue. Before we put anything into our mouths we first have to go through a mental checklist:
- Am I up-to-date with the latest scientific research? Many of the dietary guidelines I was told to follow as a kid suddenly turn out to be wrong. When I grew up I was told to eat enough grains and to avoid fats. Suddenly research reveals the exact opposite. Healthy fats are in, carbs and grains are out. And this is just one example of where science “has changed its mind”.
- Is my food organic? Even the healthiest vegetable is unhealthy when it’s full of pesticides. Unfortunately, even the food labeled “organic” oftentimes are not as organic as we might believe. They just contain less pesticides than the non-organic version.
- Due to the modern farming methods the foods often contain less nutrients compared to naturally grown counterparts. Soil depletion, genetic modification and heavy use of chemicals all contribute to the loss of nutrients.
Some say that’s the reason why so many people overeat. In fact, our bodies crave more nutrients and we just fill it up with more empty calories. But due to the above reasons, it’s difficult to know what’s really nourishing and which foods are just like wolves in a sheep’s clothing.
This is why the so-called superfoods are so hot and happening. They are still full of the powerful substances a healthy plant is supposed to have. BUT (of course there’s a but!) these super foods come at a considerable cost. And I’m not talking about the ridiculous price tags (as soon as a food is dubbed a superfood, the price magically triples. I’m surprised flax seeds still come at a reasonable price.)
No, these foods come at an additional environmental cost. The majority of them come from tropical countries and have to travel a long way to reach our shelves in the colder climates. The demand is also ridiculously high (because we are all searching for actual food that nourishes us!) and many countries just don’t have the capacity for it. Soils become depleted, rain forest have to disappear in order to create more agricultural space and workers are exploited. Does not really sound like a superfood anymore, does it?
So, where the heck could I get organic, local, nutritious and cheap food from?
The answer turned out to be much closer than I had expected. Much closer. Actually, in front of my door. Or maybe better in the nearest park or forest.
I started picking edible wild plants. Just ten minutes from my place. Organic. Local. Nutritious. And FREE! Even science can’t find much against leafy greens (unless you overdo it). Could it get any better???
Yes, it does! Because picking your own plants is not only good for your physical health. Obviously, you’ll probably get a lot more nutrients and less toxic substances from wild plants compared to store bought spinach. But there’s more.
It’s good for your mental health as well. First of all, you don’t need to worry anymore whether the food is going to do you more harm than good (unless you pick the toxic Doppelgänger of a specific plant. But that’s not going to happen. Because you will start with the easy recognizable plants, you’ll be well prepared and of course you wash them carefully before eating.)
Secondly, the nutrients in your body will have their effects on your energy level and general well-being which inevitably will positively influence your mood and emotional state. Will you reach all of this after eating one meal with wild plants? No, but you’ll eat many delicious meals in between before you reach that stage.
“To keep our bodies in good health is a duty. Otherwise we shall not be able to keep our minds strong and clear.”
— The Buddha
Your spiritual health is probably benefitting the quickest. The act of going out in nature to really nourish your body, instantly heightens your spiritual level. The nature has a calming effect on us, no matter what we do. But the fact that we are connecting with nature in order to nourish ourselves, adds another aspect: gratitude. Not only gratitude for Mother Nature, the provider, but also for myself. For the fact that I take my physical, mental and spiritual health seriously.
But that’s not all: you’re also gaining positive karma points! Think about it: if you only pick the leaves, the plant can stay alive; you keep your carbon footprint low; there’s no pesticides needed and no workers are harmed. What could possibly keep you from going out and enjoy the gifts of nature?
If you want to make a start yourself in discovering the world of edible plants, keep reading. I will introduce four plants and five recipes which will help you get started.
So, what did I pick?
There’s more edible food out there than you probably imagine. So, let me start by introducing to you the four plants that I’ve picked. I didn’t include dandelion and nettle. Even though they are some of the most abundant and healthiest among the edible wild plants, I guess you already knew. And if not, you know now.
Keep in mind that I picked these plants in the spring. This time of the year you can mostly only eat the leaves and the flowers. But later in the year, you’ll also be able to eat fruits and roots. It’s worthwhile investigating the huge amount of edible plants. But let’s start easy with these four.
Wild Garlic (Allium Ursinum)
This is actually what it all started with: Wild garlic. While I was visiting my partner in Switzerland I got introduced to this delicious, garlicky leave. I’m generally a huge fan of garlic, so a whole new world opened up for me when I discovered that garlic existed in the form of salad!
One day we went out to pick some leaves in the forest. Some parts were full of wild garlic! The entire forest smelled like garlic. And this is where I got infected with the “pick-it-yourself” fever.
I initially thought wild garlic was a Swiss thing (you could even buy it in some supermarkets), so I didn’t expect to find it in Holland. But while I went out for my first pick, I suddenly smelled this unmistakable smell of garlic. BINGO! There was my wild garlic!
The smell, by the way, is very important. There are two other plants which look like wild garlic, but aren’t. They are toxic doppelgänger and you should stay away from them. You can tell it’s wild garlic by the smell and the fact that you’ll hear a cracking sound when you break off the leave.
When and what to pick?
You can pick wild garlic between March and June. The earlier, the better as the leaves tend to get bitter once they bloom. Apart from the leaves you can eat the flowers and the root as well. The flowers also taste like garlic and can be used as decoration in salads. Between May and February you can collect the root and use it just like normal garlic.
Many! Just like the rest of the garlic family, wild garlic has antibacterial properties which could aid with gastrointestinal disorders. But also your heart will love it. It prevents heart attacks and strokes as it lowers high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels. It’s generally a potent detoxifying tonic which cleanses the blood, has diuretic and anti-inflammatory properties and stimulates the metabolism. And all of that wrapped in the delicious taste of garlic.
White Dead Nettle (Lamium Album)
I guess by know all of us know that nettle is edible - and extremely healthy. If only it wouldn’t sting… Fortunately, the non-stinging version, the dead nettle, is also edible, nutritious and very tasty. It has a rather sweet taste, especially the flower, and therefore is a perfect ingredient for your green smoothie. But of course, you can use them in whatever food you like! Just consider it to be spinach.
When and what to pick?
You can pick the leaves of the dead nettle nearly all-year round. The flowers are blooming between April and October. Once the flower stops blooming, you can gather the seeds and dry them in order to sprout them. Like this you can get some valuable nutrients from the dead nettle even in the deepest winter.
The deadnettle also has loads of benefits. It’s anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, diuretic and expectorant. Furthermore, it stimulates the metabolism and has positive effects on the gastrointestinal tract. You can also use it for external treatment, such as cuts and burns.
Common Sorrel (Rumex acetosa)
Sorrel is actually the only plant in this list I already used to eat as a child. I’ve always loved the refreshing sour taste, don’t know why I actually ever stopped eating it. Guess I got “civilized”…
Thank God, I’m back to my roots and I started eating sorrel again! The leaves are just so much tastier in your salad than any iceberg lettuce will ever be. But again, also this leave is versatile and can be used in more than just salads. My favourite is a refreshing sorrel summer lemonade (check the recipes below).
Sorrel contains oxalic acids (just like many common foods such as rhubarb, bananas and parsley). An over consumption of this acid over a course of a couple of month could lead to damage in the kidneys and malabsorption of nutrients.
Generally, the intake of reasonable amounts of oxalic acids pose a low threat to your health. But if you want to make sure to ingest as little oxalic acids as possible, it’s best to cook the sorrel in water and discard of the water before eating or continue cooking with it.
When and what to pick?
You can enjoy the leaves between March and October. In April and May you can also use the flower buds and just add them to whatever you are adding your leaves to. From August to October you can gather the seeds and either use them as a tea or sprout them like the dead nettle seeds.
Traditionally sorrel is known for its diuretic and blood cleansing properties. It’s also known to boost the immune system due to its high amount of vitamin C. If you’re having a heavy meal, it’s advisable to eat some sorrel afterwards as it aids digestion.
Sorry guys, I’m not talking about the cooking banana, this one unfortunately doesn’t grow wild in the cold european climate. But that doesn’t mean that our humble, european plantain is less exciting. Probably due to its abundant presence, it’s one of the most used medicinal plants since ancient times. Not only is it super healthy, but also very tasty. It’s slightly bitter and has a mushroom-like taste (pick the younger leaves if you want to avoid the bitter taste).
When and what to pick?
Throughout the year you can collect some part of the plantain. The soft leaves are best picked between April and June. Make sure to cut them vertically along the nerves before tossing them in your salad, soup or stew. Between May and Juli you can also add the flower bud which is particularly tasty and tastes even more like mushroom.
From August until October you can collect the seeds and press oil out of them or add them as a spice to your food. Lastly, you can also eat the root between October and April. The root is rather thin and you have to wash it well. You can add it to any vegetable filling just to enhance the taste and the nutrient content.
As mentioned earlier, plantain is one of the most common medicinal plant of ancient times. All members of the plantago family are antibacterial and cleansing. It aids in problems of the upper respiratory tract, oral infections, eye infections, gastritis and illnesses in the urinary tract. The plant can also be used externally for small cuts, burns, skin infections and insect bites.
Green Smoothie gone Wild
Just like any green leaf, you can use wild plants for a super tasty smoothie! Believe it or not, but it’s actually super sweet. The star in this smoothie is the dead nettle, particularly its flowers which happen to be tasty and sweet. I added sorrel to balance out the sweetness and add a bit of freshness to it.
- Deadnettle leaves + Flowers
- (Frozen) banana
- Coconut milk or shredded coconut
- If you want to add some healthy fats and proteins, you can add flaxseed, chia seeds, ground almonds etc.
Mix it all together and tadáá here’s your super smoothie!
Are you ready for the summer? Not without this super refreshing lemonade! It’s really easy to make. Within 5 minutes, you’ve got a tasty and nutritious lemonade which will help you cool down in those hot summer days.
- Sorrel leaves
- Lime or lemon
- Sweetener of your choice (sugar, honey, stevia…)
Just mix all the ingredients together, strain it through a cheesecloth and voilà: enjoy the summer! If you don’t have a cheesecloth, an unused nylon sock will do the job as well.
Wild Garlic Pesto
In fact, this recipe can be done with virtually all edible leaves, but wild garlic is my favourite! You can toss the pesto on your bread or cracker, add it to your pasta or put it on top of a savoury chickpea flour pancake (my preferred way of eating it).
- Wild garlic
- Cayenne pepper
Chop the wild garlic in small pieces, add it to the other ingredients and mix it all together with your stick blender or your food processor. DONE!
Warm Asian-style Plantain Salad
This is the european version of the seaweed salad, just exchange the wakame with good old plantain. Make sure to use the younger and softer leaves if you don’t like it bitter.
- Plantain leaves
- Spring onion
- Cumin powder
- Coriander powder
- Miso paste
- Soy sauce
- Sesame seeds
Begin by sauteing the onions. Cut the plantain leaves vertically, along the nerves, and add them to the onions. Afterwards add the cumin and coriander powder, the miso paste, the soy sauce and the garlic (you can add the garlic earlier if you don’t like it too fresh). In the end, add the spring onion and top it off with sesame seeds.
Plantain Skin Salve
Nourishing ourselves does not only happen from the inside, but should be done from the outside as well. Many of the wild plants heal us internally as well as externally, such as plantain. You can use the plantain salve for many different purposes: it eases insect bites, prevents infections, speed up healing of cuts and burns and soothes sunburns.
For the salve you basically only need two ingredients:
- Dried Plantain leaves
- Coconut oil (or any other carrier oil: olive, jojoba, almond etc.)
- Essential oil (optional)
- Beeswax (optional)
The best way to make this slave is to use dried leaves. Fresh leaves can cause your salve to mold. Fill a clean jar with a tight lid with dried leaves and cover the leaves with your carrier oil of choice (you can also make a mix of different oils). Let the jar sit for a week or two, the strain the oil with a cheese cloth into another jar. Voilà!
Now you can choose to add some essential oils or beeswax in order to make the salve more solid.
“The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.”
— Thomas Edison