Culinary Recipes

When size does not matter: a chickweed story…

Who said that you need to be big to be strong?

Or that size means everything when we get to being powerful…

Sometimes it is your personality, your character, your energy and passion all you need to shine in this world.

Today I want to tell you a story.

It is a story of hidden greatness. It is a story of a humble weed that hides instead great power. It is a story of Nature.

Join me this Friday too and meet my friend chickweed, a small weed which you probably would not even notice unless indicated but bearing the power of MotherNature herself within.

For recipes, just scroll down…

Chickweed and I meeting, a sad story with a happy ending:

I was in California the first time I heard about chickweed and its magic. At the herbal school they would talk for long time about this plant and I remember trying to impress its picture in my memory for future identification.

“This is a good one” I thought.

Then the herbal walks came. There were always a lot of people and a bit because of shyness anda bit because I always take my time when walking in nature, I was always at the end of the crowd.

So, when they were presenting plants, I listened but I did not quite see them during the teacher explanation. Most of the time I had no problem in identifying the plant when the crowd moved on, but not in case of chickweed.

Where was this extraordinary weed everybody was talking about?

All the herbalists I admire and read daily were and are talking about it….both as a powerful medicine and as a very versatile food and I could not even spot it…great…really…

Then I moved back to Denmark and after years of looking for it occasionally during my herbal walks, I decided that probably it was not a wild plant here…And I sadly thought that I would have had to live without trying it or experiment with it….but I was wrong…so wrong…

I just had to look down…not there, where most of other weeds are…lower, my friend… Chickweed definitely likes to play low, but it is there…and it is everywhere…how could I ever miss it?????

It has been here the whole time.. even in my backyard: suddenly it was everywhere!!!

And I was so ready to start experimenting with it!

Meeting chickweed, alias Stellaria Media

Chickweed is an herbaceous weed native to Europe but it is found all over the world. It can grow any time of the year and you can encounter it in gardens, landscaped area, pastures and farm fields. During spring and in the end of winter chickweed tends to grow in distinctive spurts.

Chickweed stemsbarely rise from the ground while new ones grow upward instead. Those are the ones you want to eat.

If you harvest them bare hands you will see that the plant is most likely going to break where the stem get elastic and closer to the ground, and that is a big help for recognizing the exact spot for cutting.

The phytocontent:

Chickweed is veryhigh in iron and zinc, higher than any of the domestic greens. It is also very high in potassium, second only to wild spinach, Swiss chard and broccoli.

Even though Chickweed has shown to have a strong antioxidant activity, the photochemistry of the plant has not been fully analyzed. However you will find that almost every medical tradition has chickweed as one of their allies.

Gathering and edibility:

Chickweed has four edible parts: the tender leafy steam tips, individual leaves, buds and flowers. But since its parts are so small you really just harvest them altogether. To harvest the best quality chickweed, look for plants that are not in their reproductive state.

How to recognize that? Plants that are in that phase present smaller stems and leaves or in general are not growing fast (because energy is used for seeding).

Look instead for big-leaf Chickweed. That is not only the most nutritious but also the most tender and palatable part.

You can eat Chickweed raw in salad, pesto (again) and in sandwiches, but also slightly boiled in stuffing or stir fried side dishes. It has a very mild taste and it adapts to a large variety of recipes. [1]

Why Chickweed is a powerful herb?

Its mild taste and small size could make someone underrate this powerful herb.

But read this, Chickweed is a cooling and balancing herb and therefore is a really valuable help in case of fever and infections!

In addition,chickweed contains steroidal saponins, that emulsify and increase permeability of all membranes, explaining its traditional use in dissolving warts and, overa long time (over a year), cysts and other types of growth.[2]

It also act as a mild appetite suppressant when the extract is taken 1 hour before mealtime.

It can be used as a poultice (just smashed and mixed with a little bit of water) or a balm for skin irritations, and the infusion can be used as an eyewash for soothing irritated eyes (I personally had a great success using the infusion for pink eyes…try and see!)

Using chickweed is completely safe and no adverse reactions are known. [3]

And now, as every Friday, the recipes!

The first recipe I want to share with you today belongs to the French herbalist Rosalee De LaForet, that this time decided to blend the gentle taste of chickweed with oriental spices in a Wild Green Persian Omelette.

Ingredients (for 6people):

  • •6 Tbs olive oil
  • 7 large sliced scallions, includingthe green parts
  • 3 minced garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 and 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 50 g finely chopped nettle leaves
  • 30 g finely chopped chickweed
  • 40 g finely chopped parsley
  • 30 g finely chopped dill leaves

Preparation: Frythe scallions in 3 Tbs olive oil until translucent, and add the garlic and the spices for few minutes, then set aside. In a bowl mix the eggs with baking powder and salt and whisk them. Then mix with the finely chopped herbs and the scallions and spices from the pan. Add then the remaining 3 Tbs in the pan and cook the omelette in medium heat, covered until done.

The second recipe is Chickweed “polpette” and it is my own recipe. I love it and hope you will enjoy it too!

I used to make it with mallow flowers and leaves when I lived in Italy, but here in Denmark, chickweed is much more available than mallow, and I think it tastes just as good.

Ingredients (for 2people):

  • •200 g of chickweed
  • 2 big eggs 
  • Tbs parmesan
  • 300 g of grated bread
  • salt and pepper •50 ml bechamel
  • Seed oil for frying (optional)

Preparation: Boil the Chickweed with a bit of water for 2 minutes and set aside. Mix in a bowl eggs, parmesan and bread. Strain the chickweed well and chop it finely. Add it to the mixture. The dough needs to be quite solid. Spread some flour on your hands and form small balls with it. Fry them in some seed oil and then place them on kitchen paper to remove the excess of oil. Then place them in a tray, cover them with bechamel,and bake them in the oven for 5-10 min. You can alternatively cook them in the oven directly in the bechamel sauce.

And now enjoy…and let me know what you think!

Green blessings,

Beatrice

 

Garlic mustard: an environmental threat or a healthy treat?

Very few weeds in the world have withdrawn so much attention like Garlic Mustard, alias Alliaria Petiolata. Although it can by all means be considered a “super food”, in other continents, like North America, it has become a real environmental threat to native species. Here in Denmark, it is very easy to find in backyards, forests, by the roads..everywhere basically. However, despite that, the majority of people do not know that this common plant from the Mustard Family can be considered as one of the best food available, and it is free! Join me this Friday too, and come meet Garlic Mustard! For recipes, just scroll down…

Knowing Garlic Mustard:

This mostly biennials plant is very easy to identify. Even though the shape of the leaves changes with time, its somehow gentle smell of garlic will leave no doubts to the harvester.

Different shapes of Garlic Mustard leaves from @wildpinehealing

It has three principal flavors when eaten: Bitter, Garlic and Pepper.

Different patches of garlic mustard may have different size leaves, suggesting that different micro-climates promote different types of germination. In general, as winter ends and spring begins, garlic mustard will reappear with its classic heart-shaped leaves that, short after, are going to give room to a fast growing stalk. White flowers at the tip of the stem are going to blossom in the end of April, start of May.

Garlic Mustard plant flowering in my backyard

Why Garlic Mustard is good for you: this plant is one of the most nutritious leafy green ever analysed.[1] In fact, there are no greens higher in fiber, beta-carotene, vitamin C, Vitamin E and zinc.

Just to make an example, Garlic Mustard beats spinach, broccoli leaves, kale and other mustard for all these nutrients.

Moreover, it is very high in omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, iron and manganese. It is also packed with good phytochemicals like isothiocyanates and glucosinolates like other plants from the mustard family, and who knows how many other compounds yet to be discovered.

Why Garlic Mustard can become an environmental threat and related “fun facts”:

The plant is native here in Europe. Plants and animals here have developed with time methods to cope with invasive plant like Garlic Mustard. However, this plant can still be a problem in same cases, like for example if you wish to grow some hybrid or for american native plants.

In North America, for example, garlic Mustard is a real threat, since this plant is winning over their native plants.

But why and how?

Well, Garlic Mustard likes to play dirty. In fact, the second year plant is able to synthesize an anti-fungal compound that kills the underground fungi Mycorrhiza, which is beneficial for the germination of many other plants, included american native ones.

Garlic Mustard alert in USA. From @clarkowa_pw

In many cases USA states have promoted the unlimited harvest of this plant and in some cases, like Maryland, this harvesting has been taken to a new level, by arranging Garlic Mustard-cooking contests and festivals in those area where the plant spread the most.

@66squarefeet is one of the most active US Instagram channels, where it is promoted the culinary use of Garlic Mustard.

Uses in Traditional Herbalism:

The leaves and stems, harvested before the plant flowers, are anti-asthmatic. The phytochemicals present in the plant, that are able to protect it from enemies make Garlic Mustard an effective antiseptic and vermifuge.

The big amount of minerals makes it also an antiscorbutic.

Alliaria Petiolata from Foraging and Feasting book of Dina Falconi

It is in general a hot and dry plant which means that it is useful in cases of infection, like respiratory ones, and fever, because it promotes sweat (diaphoretic).

Externally, the leaves have been used as a poultice on ulcers for its antiseptic properties, and are effective in relieving the itching caused by bites and stings.

Even the roots can be dried and reduced to poultice on the chest in case of respiratory infections. These techniques maybe sound a bit old school and too messy for the modern patient that aims for an easy and neat remedy for any circumstance, but I assure that these old school methods are far too often much more effective in relieving chest pain and congestion in case of respiratory infection or asthma than more orthodox remedies. Try and see..

Culinary uses: As mentioned, Garlic Mustard taste is bitter, but also garlic-like and pepper-like. As many other bitter plants, the oldest the plant, the more bitter the leaves. However, the leaves taken after the plant has flowered are not as bitter because they loose some of the compounds that make it medicinal (and also bitter).

So if you are not too much into bitters, wait for the plant to flower and enjoy the blaze of minerals and vitamins present in this wonderful green.

Plants with flowers are less bitter and more suitable the palate of the most.

But what can I use Garlic Mustard for?

Well.. it is a great addition to any..I mean ANY salad (up to 1/4 of the components otherwise it becomes too bitter), and it is an amazing addition for marinade, sandwiches or sauces/dip for both fish and meat dishes.

One of the most popular way to eat it is to make pesto, but I personally add Garlic Mustard to pretty much anything these days, from breakfast scrambled eggs to zucchini-potatoes Rösti… really: sky is the limit!

Homemade Garlic Mustard pesto

It gives that missing touch to basically any dish.

The seeds can be eaten to increase appetite and improve digestion and are a pretty addition to anything you would like to have that spicy note.

But here today, I would like to share with you some of my favorite recipes with Garlic Mustard.

One is super easy and the other one.. too.

The first one is the “evergreen recipe” of Garlic Mustard Pesto. You can find many variants but this is the one I liked the most because it is easy, cheap and tasty. Ingredients for about 400 g of pesto:

  • 300 g of fresh green of Garlic Mustard,
  • 100 g of Pine seeds (or peeled almonds),
  • 60 ml of extra virgin olive oil,
  • salt to taste
  • 40 g of grated Parmisan (optional).

Put all the components into a mixer and serve, for example, with pasta, sandwiches and in quiches.

Recipe for Garlic Mustard mineral tonic vinegar:

  • 40 g of chopped fresh dandelion root,
  • 40 g of chopped Garlic Mustard root,
  • 30 g of chopped fresh burdock root (or 4 g of chopped dried burdock root that you can find in almost any health shop under the name of Glat Burre (Arctium Lappa)),
  • 23 g of chopped fresh parsley,
  • 18 g of fresh chamomile (or 1 g of crushed dried chamomile),
  • 6 g of chopped fresh peppermint,
  • 47 g of whole raisins,
  • 1 l of apple cider vinegar.

Pour vinegar over the ingredients, filling jar to the top. Make sure the vinegar covers all the ingredients by at least 5 cm. Use plastic lids (or at least not metal lids because they react with the vinegar). Store the vinegar in a cool dark place for one month and then strain the vinegar into a clean glass bottle, ready for use.

It is recommended the use in marinade (to, beside give a nice taste, also reduce the amount of pyrolysis compounds in the famous Danish summer barbecues), in salad and dressing.

And now…just enjoy, Green Blessings,

Beatrice

 

The NO-waste weed

Is there any weed in your garden that you can eat from the root to the flower and beyond? A weed which you can use in any single part?

Seasonal weeds are amazing but very often only certain parts of the plant are eatable or taste nice. Here is instead a common plant that anybody knows and recognizes, which has wonderful and DIFFERENT properties in its different parts.

I am talking about Dandelion. Join me and meet this amazing weed. No matter how much you know about it already, I am sure I will learn something new.

For recipes just scroll down…

For recipes just scroll down…

Blooming Dandelion (Taraxacum Officinale)

Dandelion or “Taraxacum officinale”(Botan.) comes from the greek terms Taraxos and Achos which combined mean “remedy for disorder”.

Dandelion is indeed a remedy for a big variety of disorders. Among them I want to name digestive, skin, blood disorders but many others could be added to that list.

As many herbalists before me, I think that very often the shape of a medicinal plant recalls its pharmacognosy, meaning the way they therapeutically act with in our body.

Those of you who has tried to remove a dandelion root from their garden know even too well that dandelion root can go very deeply into the soil and so is its body action.

Dandelion like many others liver supporting plants, like Burdock, have very deep roots and work their way slowly but steadily. They work deeply (like their root) into your body soothing and relieving disorders that are at the base of most skin and digestive conditions.

They “purify” the blood by expelling toxins through the urine and by supporting the liver which is the organ delegated to detoxify the body. But this is not the only similarity dandelion has with the way it acts within the body.

Dandelion can grow anywhere because it is able to adapt to the majority of soils. It creates drainage channels in compacted soils, restore mineral health to abused soils and attract earthworms in all soils. And so it does to our body: it restore its balance.

However, to do it, dandelion needs to be used consistently for a moderate long period, like three months or more in some severe cases, because it acts at the roots of disorders and not symptomatically.

But now, lets talk about how we can use dandelion and its different parts:

The root:

Roots are the most medicinally potent part of the plant, especially if harvested in late autumn where the energy of the plant drives back to roots.

It is a wonderful liver ally and it affects it very profoundly by encouraging its juices and by strengthening and nourishing its ability to help you fight external toxins. It is also a bitter, and as every other bitter, it is a choagogue, meaning it helps digestion and it is a wonderful ingredients in DIY bitters.

Fresh and dried dandelion root

The leaf:

The leaves instead address mostly the kidneys and their purifying action. They are less bitter than the root but they are high in minerals and a wonderful treat for breastfeeding mothers.

The tender leaves can be used as a salad, while the harder and more bitter leaves can be used boiled in seasonal blends of greens.

The flower:

The flowers and especially the petals are the only part of the plant which is not bitter at all. They are emollient and a very gentle cardio-tonic. They have pleasant taste and therefore it is possible to use them in a huge amount of dishes.

The flower bud:

The buds of the flowers can be pickled as used they same way as capers. Even the seed heads can be pickled and used the same way or marinated in oil with garlic and salt.

Flower buds and young tender leaves

The dandelion heart:

A very delicious part of dandelion that not many are aware of, is what are called “dandelion hearts”, which are those buds attached to the rosette base from which the plant is sprouting.

dandelion heart

The dandelion heart is made up of the dandelion stem and a young bud stems up to two-three cm.

He suggests to slice them lengthwise and saute` them, or to boil them if too bitter for you. In general he always advise to taste them for bitterness and if too much to boil them in order to remove most of it.

Well, according to the biologist John Callas, PhD in nutrition, these dandelion hearts are some of the most nutritive and delicious greens you can have in your plate. Maybe is time to give it a try?

What about the stems?

Those long stalks that cannot be used for dinner are actually quite innovative and sustainable straws, that you can use to drink your favorite cool summer drinks.

My dandelion straw

But now, let’s enjoy dandelion with some super easy spring recipes:

This recipe belongs to the american herbalist, Susan Weed.

She is an interesting character, I have to admit, but she definitely knows a big deal about herbs and traditional uses.

Here is her Dandelion Dip from the book Healing Wise: (serves for 2 for dinner) Ingredients: 60 ml yogurt, 125 cottage cheese, 250 dandelion greens, garlic powder and salt to taste.

Combine all ingredient in the blender and then season with garlic and salt. Serve with corn chips.

The other one I want to share with you today is a classic Dandelion Pesto.

This delicious alternative was invented and diffused by the french herbalist Rosalee De La Foret.

She is lovely and her recipes are always impeccable.

Ingredients for about 300 g of pesto: 80 g of pine nuts, 3 garlic cloves, minced, 150 g of young dandelion leaves, 1 Tbs of lemon juice and 1 Tbs of lemon zest, 60 ml of extra-virgin olive oil, half a ts of sea salt, 1 ts of turmeric powder, half a ts of freshly ground black pepper, 60 g of freshly grated Parmesan.

Blend the all thing and enjoy.

Recipes with dandelion are so many ad I cannot wait to try them all.

I encourage you to try some of them and to write if you have any question. I would love to hear from you.

For more dandelion recipes, I encourage you to follow my Instagram “theherbalgeek”.

Green blessings,

Beatrice

 

Nipplewort, a treat for the palate and not only…

I call it: the usual unknown because basically everybody around here has in their backyards but very few know its name, and even less its wonderful properties.The name Nipplewort derives from its traditional use among nursing mothers. According to records they would apply nipplewort poultice to their nipples to relieve soreness from breast feeding.

Lapsana or Lassana Communis is one of the easiest weed to identify even at early stage of growth. The first two leaves are tennis racket shaped. Those remain different in shape and size firm all other leaves that follow.

From the third one onward leaves have a more pointed leaf blade with wavy margins. Often the plant grows in big quantities and can be difficult to spot the individual basal rosette. Those leaves are the most tender and appetibile.

Nipplewort leaves are green, thin, delicate and velvety to the touch. At some point a flower stem emerges from the center of the rosette with leaves round and hollow. Lastly small flower buds appear at the top developing in yellow flowers around June.

The basal rosette and the young tender central stalk are harvested before flowers appear because it quickly become bitter.

Nipplewort leaves and the young stalk (nipsparagus) can be mildly to strong bitter depending how young the plant is and the rate of growth. It usually grows very fast which is good because bitter constituents take time to form, and in general the earlier in the season the milder the taste.

Raw Nipplewort are great mixed in any kind of salad but also in sandwiches, pesto and salsas. Boiling them will further reduce bitterness.

What nipplewort is good for?

Traditionally Nipplewort was juiced (before flowering) and consumed fresh to stimulate the urinary tract in case of urinary infection or nephritis (kidney infection). It acts in a physiologically without stressing or alternating the normal function of bladder and kidneys [1].

It is a cold and balancing plant meaning that it is very useful in case of external or internal inflammation and when a balancing effect is needed.

The plant is also traditionally known for its emollient and anti-inflammatory action which explains its use in mastitis (breast infection during lactation) and external wounds.

But how to eat Nipplewort?

The fine taste makes this plant extremely versatile. Every recipe including greens like spinach, chicory, nettle or dandelion can successfully be substituted with nipplewort. Here today I would like to present a recipe to make a vegetarian pasta dish, full in flavor and in nutrients.

Spicy Spaghetti with Nipplewort and pine seeds (serves 2 people).

  •  1 red onion
  • 200 g of nipplewort
  • 4 slices of bread
  • 4 eggs
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Wash, boil, squeeze and chop finely the greens. In a pot let fry for few minutes the garlic clove that is then toning to be removed. Add the chopped chili pepper, the pine seeds and nipplewort. Let stir-fry for 5 to ten minutes. Then add the “al dente” cooked spaghetti and whisk well.

Enjoy the taste of nature!

The second recipe is also very easy and can be prepared for brunch or as a tasty appetizer. I read this recipe in a very popular book for wild foragers written by John Kallas and I simply had to try! And it was delicious.

Poached Egg on Nipplewort (serves 4 people)

  • 1 red onion
  • 200 g of nipplewort
  • 4 slices of bread
  • 4 eggs
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Sauté red onions until translucent. Add nipplewort greens and continue sautéing until the greens are fully wilted. Place the cooked greens and onions on toast and top with a poached egg. Salt and pepper to taste.

For this time that’s all,

I invite you to write me for comments and/or questions here or on my Facebook page “traditional herbalism Denmark”. You can also follow me on Instagram on “the herbal geek” for more wild food and herbal medicine recipes and stories.

Green blessing,

Beatrice

[1] Edible Wild Plants, John Kallas PhD, Gibbs and Smith editor, 2010.