The Flavours of Viriditas: My 30-Day Diary of Glorious Wild Greens

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.

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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. 

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So for the month of April, I’m going to share as many ideas for eating your greens as I possibly can. It takes time to photograph and write recipes, so instead, I want to quickly share kind of a diary of what I’m harvesting and cooking through the week. Hopefully, this will inspire you to join me!

I’ll keep adding weekly to this post (instead of making a whole pile of new ones) as long as the spring greens are in season – and let you know through FB and Instagram when new “diary” entries are up. (Gather Patrons:  you’ll find the best of these finished recipes at Gather Victoria Patreon)

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So let’s start with three greens I’ve been eating – a lot. Miner’s lettuce, dandelion and crow garlic, all are plentiful and flavourful. Miner’s lettuce is mild and sweet, like a cross between spinach and lettuce, young dandelion has that tender sweet bitterness that complements so many foods and flavours and Crow Garlic (aka Wild Onion) lends oniony garlicky freshness to every bite.  

They’re loaded with nutrients and I’ve written about their many health benefits in this previous post which includes links to plants mentioned so won’t repeat here! (Gather Video Patrons go to Gather Victoria Patreon for videos on Miner’s Lettuce & Crow Garlic). In the last few weeks I used them in pasta, pesto, salads and salsa and last night I decided a Spring Green Soup with Wild Onion Cheese Dumplings was going to sit right.

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I started a broth with the chicken and miner’s lettuce, dandelion and crow garlic greens, added a small handful of garlic mustard, fennel and a touch of Spring Gold Blossom for its savoury celery-like flavour. (Note: Spring Gold is a native plant, and while it is not endangered it does grow in endangered Garry Oak Groves, so be careful if you harvest – and take only a sprig!) And of course, it goes without saying, if you’re not 100% sure about the identity of any plant – do not eat it! 

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Bitter Greens Soup with Dumplings is a beloved Eastern European dish and so along with the dandelion, it served as my inspiration. Traditional recipes for dumplings usually recommend stale bread – I had none so used stale herb crackers! And mixed with 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.

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I added a few fresh greens to the soup before serving. Miner’s Lettuce when cooked has the flavour of spinach but a much nicer texture and has great mouth bite. Loaded with green goodness and flavour,  I loved the herby aroma of the broth and the chewy dumplings made it soooo satiating and comforting. With a few tweaks, I think this recipe will be a keeper for Gather ECookery Book patrons! 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.  I’m looking forward to it for supper again tonight!

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!

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Watch this spot! More coming soon ..

So here is the latest instalment of my 30-Day Diary of glorious green eating. As promised for the month of April, I’m going to share as many ideas for eating your wild greens as I possibly can. (Gather Patrons: the finished recipes will be up soon in the April Edition of Gather’s ECookery Book up at Gather Victoria Patreon )

April 6th/ 2020

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 plantain will catch my eye -and 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!

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Garlic or Wild Onion has tall spindly green that look like a patch of chives – and taste like them too. It is the bane of park workers, impossible to contain and it continues to spread prolifically across our parks. And despite the best attempts to eradicate garlic mustard – it still continues to grow.  I took advantage of their strong oniony and mustardy flavours (along with a few dandelion leaves to make a pungent garlicky green pesto which was soooo yummy on a quick flatbread pizza. 

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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.

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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.

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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 – just be careful they’re not coated in herbicides. (More coming on tulips for Gather Victoria Patrons).  This I slathered on crisp celery sticks for a Netflix snack – because I’ve been trying to cut back on the chocolate! 

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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!

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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.

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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!

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Also considered invasive are the hawthorn trees (Crataegus) growing in the park, including this very old and grand specimen pictured below.  Not many of us know that the very soft young leaves were once known as ‘bread and butter” greens as they were eaten in sandwiches, added to salads, or cooked as greens. In Germany, the leaves are dried and made into a tea. In England, the buds are used to make a suet pudding. A pie crust is rolled out long and thin, then dotted with the buds and thin strips of bacon before being rolled up, sealed and steamed for an hour or two.

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I was curious to give it a try. My version turned out a little dense, something went wrong with the dough. So it’s back to the drawing board on this one. But nonetheless, it was super yummy.

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.

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Along with hawthorn leaves and chickweed, miner’s lettuce is another green with a mild flavour and texture perfect in salads, especially as a base for greens with stronger aromatic or more bitter flavours. And so I used all three as a base for a wild green salad.  Then I began layering in flavours, a few tiny leaves of lemon balm, some punchy wall-rocket, a few aromatic fronds of wild fennel and finished 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.

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Next, I’m going to make a video of how to create a “Bend Over” Green Salad. I was inspired by Susun Weeds weekly podcast in which she suggested that the best way to benefit from the high vitamin C content of wild greens is to eat them as fresh as you can i.e. the name “Bend over Greens” which means best eaten on spot! And I thought what a wonderful way to make a picnic salad, one gathered from the greens growing “wild” around your picnic spot.  Gather Victoria Video Patrons stay tuned!

So that’s what I’ve been eating this week. 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.  

More coming soon!

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Whether its through wildcrafting, plant medicine, kitchen witchery or seasonal celebrations, I believe we can enhance personal, community and planetary well-being by connecting with mother nature!

6 thoughts on “The Flavours of Viriditas: My 30-Day Diary of Glorious Wild Greens

  1. A couple years back I brought home one plant of miners lettuce and added it to an outdoor planter. It’s taken off and heavily self-seeded the planter and even spread into other protected areas nearby. My guinea pig appreciates it too.

    1. Just a wonderful lush abundant plant. I love guinea pigs and have a had a few in my life – I can imagine how they would love a feast of miners lettuce!

  2. Just wonderful! Thank you, love this and eating green. You add depth and flavor to my ideas about food. 🍃🌿🍃🌿

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