This herbaceous and cheesy biscuit loaf is my tribute to the traditional start of the harvest calendar, Lammas Day or Lughnasa. And it features the cornucopia of savoury and aromatic herbs growing right now in the heart of Victoria’s neighbourhood “common ground” gardens, like sage, sweet marjoram, oregano, plus a few wild ones too!
Lammas Day means “loaf-mass” and on August 1st, (or roundabout) bread made from the season’s first grains were taken to the church to be blessed. Afterwards, it was also used in a little old world food magic to ensure a prosperous harvest. A book of Anglo-Saxon Charms advises the Lammas bread should be broken into four bits placed at the four corners of the barn, to protect the grain.
But Lammas Day served another forgotten function, it marked the occasion when “Lamas Rights” were granted. This allowed “commoners” the right to hunt, pasture and forage on crown land, church or other lands they did not have legal rights to. This tradition of Common land or Common Ground granted the public the use of the “commons”—woods, ponds, fields and grazing grounds—to feed themselves.
Today our parks (whether they be municipal, provincial or federal) no longer permit public foraging. We see parks and public green spaces as places to enjoy the beautiful scenery, not to eat it. But the Wark St. Commons Garden, The People’s Apothecary Garden, The Banfield Commons and the Spring Ridge Commons offer a lush bounty of greens, herbs, berries and fruit – FREE for the picking.
These gardens are chock full of the plants and herbs which once constituted a kind of “medicinal cuisine” for our ancestors. Introduced by the early settlers, we’ve lost touch with the plants that graced the dinner plates and medicine chests of our grandparent’s homes just a few generations ago. And as any herbalists will tell you, it’s no coincidence that modern chronic diseases have become rampant as these plants disappeared from our diet.
That’s why you’ll find me in one of these common ground gardens picking something nearly every single day. Here native food plants of the First Peoples, like Oregon grape and salal berries grow beside European garden herbs – many of which are known as ‘weeds’. Plants which have nourished and healed humanity for thousands of years are today classified as “noxious” and the city spends big bucks to eliminate (often with toxic chemicals) these nutrient-rich foods from our municipal parks.
I love that the People’s Apothecary has a special spot for dandelions and milk thistle, and in Spring Ridge Commons one can still find the dreaded garlic mustard. This plants residue has been found in Neolithic cooking pots 6000 years ago and is one of the most nourishing green plants we can consume. It beats out spinach, kale, broccoli in all nutrients and is exceptionally high in omega-3 fatty acids.
Similarly, milk thistle’s use goes back thousands of years. Medicinally its seeds were prized as digestive and liver remedies – and they still are today. Pricey milk thistle supplements can be found in every health food store, and its seeds are $7.99 for 100 grams at the Lifestyle Market. In the middle ages, its leaves and stalk were used as a pot herb in stews soups and savoury pies, with “the leaves surpassing the finest of cabbage”.
Ironically while the city funds food security initiatives, it removes these foods and medicines (and much more like hawthorn, burdock, nettles, crow garlic and blackberries) from our urban parks. Funding is provided to support community gardens but unlike common ground gardens, these are for personal use – and waiting lists for community allotments are long. In contrast, common ground gardens are maintained by a group of community volunteers, whose common ground – their interest in providing nourishing foods and medicinal plants for all neighbourhood residents – brings them together.
Jackie Robson (above) is one of the founders of the Wark St. Commons in the Quadra-Hillside area. She makes the point that in this inner city neighbourhood, food security is an ongoing issue. Green space is limited and community allotment gardens are few and far between. Because many families do not have their own gardens, The Wark St. Commons gives people access to fresh greens, fruit and berries, not to mention the many culinary and medicinal herbs they normally couldn’t find or afford.
So when it comes to strengthening food security and enhancing the health and well-being of Victoria residents, I’ve created this Herbalicious Lammas Biscuit Loaf in honour of Lammas Day, “Lammas Rights” and our local common ground gardens.
But most of all I want to give thanks. I want to give thanks to the WS’ANEC’ (Saanich), Lkwungen (Songhees), Wyomilth (Esquimalt) peoples of the Coast Salish Nation, for their plants and the unceded lands where these gardens exist. And I want to give thanks to the “common ground” garden volunteers. They not only enrich my dinner table, stock my pantry and medicine chest, they keep the important traditions of ancestral food knowledge and food sovereignty alive. And isn’t that worth celebrating?
Herbalicious & Cheesy Lammas Biscuit Loaf
- 2¼ cups flour (and a bit extra to flour the counter)
- 1/2 cup of finely minced aromatic herbs. Use a blend whatever you like: i.e. rosemary, oregano, thyme, parsley, field mustards & garlic mustard. (Put aside four tablespoons for sprinkling the top of the loaf.)
- 1/4 cup minced flower blossoms. Again use a mix of what you have on hand i.e. calendula petals, wild fennel blossoms, crow garlic or chive blossoms, oregano and sweet marjoram blossoms. (Put aside two tablespoons for sprinkling.)
- 3/4 cup of grated cheddar cheese. (Put aside four or five tablespoons for topping.)
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon of sea salt
- 1 tablespoon of sugar
- ⅓ cup butter
- 1 cup milk
- 2 tablespoons olive oil for brushing the top.
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
- Grease baking sheet.
- Add your flour, baking powder, salt and sugar together in a bowl & mix together.
- Cut in your butter, mixing it through the dry mixture until crumbly.
- Add half the milk and stir, then add remaining milk and mix together. Add herbs, blossoms, cheese. Mix well.
- Prepare a floured surface and gently knead dough for about a minute.
- Shape into a roll and cut off rounds for your biscuits.
- Place in a circular shape (gently touching) on greased baking sheet and sprinkle with remaining cheese and herbs.
- Bake at 425 degrees for 13-15 minutes.
- Brush tops with olive oil as they come out.