O most honored Greening Force, You who roots in the Sun; You who lights up, in shining serenity, within a wheel that earthly excellence fails to comprehend. You are enfolded in the weaving of divine mysteries. You redden like the dawn and you burn: flame of the Sun. – Hildegard von Bingen, Causae et Curae
I eat my spring greens religiously and want to make you a convert too. For me, it boils down to one word – viriditas – which literally means “greenness” in Latin. Not just any green but that incandescent lit from within greenness that is vitality, fecundity, lushness, verdure, or growth. Abbess Hildegard von Bingen lived in the 12th century and was a herbal healer (amongst many other things!) who used the word copiously in her writing to refer to the “greening power” of nature. She believed her patients could be healed and revitalized by consuming the viriditas found in abundance in green plants and herbs.
This makes total sense because by far the largest contributor to green in nature is the revitalizing green pigment chlorophyll. Its many vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals help neutralize free radicals that damage healthy cells, support the growth and repair of tissues, oxygenate and detoxify the body and boost the immune system. Chlorophyll is the green molecule in plant cells that absorbs sunlight during photosynthesis and converts it to chemical energy and has been shown to benefit “human energy production” as well. So from boosting energy to fighting off illness, it’s clear why chlorophyll is considered by many as a ‘real life force’.
Now I’m not saying chlorophyll is viriditas but I’m pretty sure the chlorophyll on display in the fresh greens shimmering in our spring landscape is packed with it. According to Hildegarde viriditas was manifest when the earth “exudes freshness” and “swells with living green,” a divine force reborn in each new shoot and leaf.
Wild greens are absolutely packed with nutrients and I’ve written about their many health benefits in this previous post which includes links to plants (and recipes) mentioned here so won’t repeat it again here!
In this post, I’m going to share as many ideas for eating your greens as I possibly can. It takes time to photograph and write finished recipes, so instead, I want to share a kind of 30-day diary of what I’m harvesting and cooking this season. Hopefully, this will inspire you to join me! (Gather Patrons: you’ll find the best of these finished recipes at Gather Victoria Patreon)
I live on the top of a hill on the border of a large wildish park. It literally meets my backyard and every morning I head off with the dog for a daily walk. Now technically foraging is not permitted in parks, but my park (like so many) is overrun with weeds, so I help out with a little invasive plant removal here and there. Some days a glorious verdant patch of garlic mustard or dandelion or even plantain will catch my eye – I usually pick whatever is glowing with viriditas that day. Next, I consider the flavour, whether they’re mild, bitter, sour or sweet and how their textures, tender or crisp could be used in dinner!
So let’s start with some of the greens I’ve been eating – a lot. Miner’s lettuce (mild and tender) dandelion (bitter) wild mustards (spicy & hot) and crow garlic (oniony like a revved-up garlic chive) – all are plentiful now. Miner’s lettuce has a soft succulent texture perfect in salads, especially as a base for greens with stronger aromatic or more bitter flavours. I often add few tiny leaves of lemon balm, some punchy wild mustard, a few aromatic fronds of wild fennel and finish it off with a sprinkling of fruity flowering red currant buds. I used a simple Dijon Mustard dressing and again a few shavings of parmesan cheese. Salad heaven – with a daily dose of veriditas. Easy peasy.
One plant I use all the time is Crow Garlic or Wild Onion (Allium vineale). It has tall spindly greens that look like a patch of chives. (And they are hollow inside like chives too ) It is the bane of park workers, impossible to contain and it continues to spread prolifically across many North American parks. So let’s do our bit! And you know when you find it – because you can’t mistake the strong oniony aroma.
Cheesy Crow Garlic Potato Nests (Recipe in the Spring Edition of the Gather E-Cookery Book).
Then there is garlic mustard (pungent and garlicky) another invasive that despite best attempts to eradicate still continues to grow. I took advantage of its strong flavours (along with a few field mustard greens) to make this pan-fried flatbread -my wildcrafted version of Turkish Gozleme! Crispy on the outside and sooo luscious on the inside. (Gather Video Patrons, check out the video on wild mustards – and learn to make wild mustard vinegar!)
Bitter Greens Soup with Dumplings is a beloved Eastern European dish, Traditional recipes for dumplings usually recommend stale bread – I had none so used stale herb crackers! And mixed with dandelion, wild mustard, minced crow garlic greens, parmesan and mozzarella cheese, and eggs they not only held together perfectly – they tasted incredible. They really are pretty fool-proof to make.
I added a few fresh greens to the soup before serving. Loaded with green goodness and flavour, I loved the herby aroma of the broth and the chewy dumplings made it soooo satiating and comforting. It was easy to make, didn’t require a lot of ingredients or time – aside from an afternoon walk harvesting outdoors in the sunshine – and several hours simmering on the stove.
Dandelion needs no introduction, we see these pesky “weeds” everywhere, and they grow in the park in profusion. The fresh leaves of dandelion when young are tender and bittersweet, massaged with lemon and olive oil, topped with a few shavings of parmesan, make a simple savoury stand-alone salad. A dish beloved by the French, Italian and Greeks. And me.
Next up is another favourite invasive. Crunchy spicy and HOT, wall-rocket (Diplotaxis tenuifolia) is a species of flowering plant in the mustard family. It’s also known as wild arugula and tastes just like it. Usually growing in sunny warm areas, spreading across grassy areas and meadows, its blossoms (like all mustards) features 4 petals.
I love its crunchy texture along with its peppery bite. This week I minced its leaves and stalks along with crow garlic and a couple of tulip blossoms into cream cheese. Yes, tulip blossoms are edible -nore on tulips at Gather Victoria Patreon. This I slathered on crisp celery sticks for a Netflix snack – because I’ve been trying to cut back on the chocolate!
And it truly hit the spot. So crunchy and satisfying! And I also used wall-rocket and crow garlic to give this wild green guacamole some kick!
Also growing in profusion right now are Curly Dock or Yellow Dock. Curly Dock (Rumex Crispus) is a large leafy green usually sporting a bright pink coloured stem & rippled curly edges. And while it is also a weed it is highly nutritious and even medicinal.
At one of the city’s common ground gardens, The People’s Apothecary, it has its own special spot. Curly dock doesn’t taste like much, it’s bland with a slightly tangy, slightly bitter flavour. But its large soft leaves made a perfect wrapping for a little mozzarella, cream cheese and parmesan – and of course oniony crow garlic chives”. Voila, irresistible cheesy dumplings. Take that chocolate!
Yesterday I found a particularly lush and perfect patch of chickweed. Its Latin name is Stellaria media, a much better description of this delicate pretty plant. With a mild, sweetish grassy flavour and almost nutty, salty deep notes, and a soft texture (with a touch of crunch) is wonderful eating in salads. My favourite recipe is one taught to me by my herbalism teacher Betty Norton, it uses grated apple for sweetness and has a simple olive oil and lemon dressing.
And then there’s the tangy and tender Sheep Sorrel – another abundant invasive! Native to Eurasia and the British Isles, this member of the buckwheat family is now spread across Vancouver Island (and much of the Northern Hemisphere), Found in sunny or sun-dappled areas, it is easy to identify by its fish-like or arrow-like shape.
So that’s what I’ve been eating for the past few weeks. I hope it inspires you to eat your greens! That said, please remember do not consume anything unless you are 100 % sure of its identity. And always be careful and respectful when you harvest. While these plants are all invasive they can grow in endangered eco-systems and you want to leave a barely negligible footprint – literally.
For me, viriditas is the numinous colour of spring. Which is why its fresh young greens have a special place in my heart. Bursting with chlorophyll, their vivid colours, emeralds, jades, olive to citrons are the flavours of viriditas. Eating greens is like eating the sun – the source of life itself!