Photo by Yam Magazine: Gather’s Wild Spring Salad.
Today I drove up to the University of Victoria Community Garden to check out what was growing. I’m giving a walk there in March focusing on the wild edibles of spring. And by wild I mean the weeds that grow at the fringes of the garden, between and round the rows of boxes, even directly underfoot. Today we see weeds like dandelion, curly dock, bittercress, chickweed and wild mustards as unsavory garden pests, but they were once highly prized as part of a cleansing and revitalizing spring cuisine.
Across the old world (and still today) their arrival was eagerly awaited by country cooks and celebrated in a bounty of dishes. The French made Cream of Dandelion Soup, the Germans and Scandinavians loved Nettle broth and Dumplings, the Italians used wild baby fennel fronds and wild mustards in pasta. The Greek had an actual word for these plants, Horta – which simply means green. Served fresh in salads, cooked up into traditional spring pies or as braised vegetable dishes, Horta are still a beloved culinary tradition.
Today Horta are more often made with domesticated greens, but on the Greek Island of Ikaria wild greens are still a staple of Horta. So is it a coincidence that (according to the New York Times) Ikarians are amongst the longest living people in the world? Maybe not considering many of these weeds are verifiable super-foods, containing waaay more vitamins, minerals, trace nutrients, antioxidants, flavonoids, omega 3 fatty acids etc. – than the domesticated greens planted in gardens.
Many of the “weeds” that have just begun to emerge here in the UVIC gardens (see pictures below) are the same plants traditionally eaten as wild greens. But most probably will be removed in spring garden clean-ups, which is unfortunate because many have been shown help to cleanse and detoxify the blood and organs, boost the immune system, support digestion, and reduce inflammation – just for teeny tiny start. It’s no wonder many herbalists believe that modern chronic diseases began to run rampant as wild foods disappeared from our diets!
Just a few of the wild greens I found growing today at the UVIC Community Garden.
So this spring I’m on a mission to restore wild greens to our plates. Why pay top dollar for pricey domesticated greens when the most healthy and vibrant greens are in your backyard – or your community garden? I spent years weeding these plants out of my plot (it was a firm rule to get rid of them) but now I know better. I just eat them instead!
Learning to incorporate wild greens into your meals can be as simple as adding a little chickweed (tender & mild) and sheep sorrel (tangy & lemony) to your salad. You can make dandelion pesto, pickle and ferment pungent garlic mustard, and you can toss in wild onion or spicy mustard cress into braised or steamed kale for enlivening flavour.
So please join me for an afternoon tour of the UVIC Community Garden on March 6th and celebrate the forgotten superfoods of spring. We’ll learn how to safely identify, harvest and transform these greens into simple nourishing dishes that satisfy the taste buds and revitalize our bodies after winter. Plus – there will be savoury Horta and wildcrafted spring treats for sampling! This is a FREE event, so please reserve your spot here. ( SORRY – We are now filled right up!)