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That time I started eating my garden

As promised I will start my spring herbal collection with an herb from my garden, a weed, as many would call it that at start gave more than one headaches.

Yes.

That is because when I first moved in my current house, my garden was completely covered by it, and, what I wanted instead, was to design an herbal garden that would mirror my passion, meaning aromatic, medicinal and edible plants. This weed turned out to be almost impossible to eradicate and its roots were making it basically impossible for every other plant to survive out there.

Now, let’s specify that I do not have the blessing of a green thumb on my side to help me in this challenge: actually quite the opposite. I really put all my efforts and knowledge into gardening but no matter how hard I try I am simply not very good at it. And one can blame the type of dirt, the fertilizer, the type of draining system, even moon phases or the planets alignment, but the ugly truth is that I do not have the magic touch. Once I read that you need to sing to plants; that in this way they can feel your presence and your love and they will respond to it by thriving. I really love to think that and to believe that, but if that is true (and why should it not be?) plants definitely do not like me singing. They are not the only one, my mum has always been clear to me: I should not be a singer. And plants seem to agree with her.

But now I am digressing; let’s go back to the my garden. To make the long story short, to get rid of the invasive and immortal weed, I decided to eat it. Do you know any other solution that is “greener” that this one? You save energy by stopping eradicating weed roots in the weekend; you save money by producing less garden garbage and by buying less grocery; you save the environment by not poisoning your garden in order to get rid of the unfortunate weed; and most of all, you make yourself a big gift, by eating super fresh delicious and highly nutritious food that, among others, help your health in many ways.

The weed I am talking about is Ground Elder, also called Bishop’s weed (or wort). It was by chance that I found out I could actually eat my invasive weed. A good friend of mine, Giulia, was working at her urban gardening company “Clorofille” in this shared office for enterpreneurs and start-ups in Noerrebro, called Greecubator. In this place there were some guys who were also working at their project: an app called ByHoest, which people could use to find the exact area where they could find wild food in Denmark. With the name of Skvalderkaal, my weed was also present on the app.

Once the Danish name was converted to the English one (I was not very good at Danish at that point), a world of new possibilities opened its door to me.

Aegopodium podagraria (Apiaceae family) is its latin name and you really can find tons on information on the internet. However, I am used to be quite critical with information and sources, so I decided to go deeper. I looked at many different books about both culinary and medicinal uses of this surprising plants.

The story of Ground Elder and its traditional uses

It was introduced to the north by romans that were consuming it stir fried, in soups and as part of meat stuffing. Quickly enough the plant was adopted by the local monasteries that were using it as nourishing food but also for medicinal purposes. Internally it was used for gout and as a laxative while externally as a poultice for joint pain. Now, I did not found any modern scientific paper demonstrating its medicinal effect but the plant is absolutely known for being a laxative if eaten after blossoming.

That means, my friends, that you should only eat the young leaves, that, beside, taste also so much better. In fact, you can recognize when the plant has become a laxative because when you break the stalk or a leaf, it smells of wet dog. And you definitely do not want to it something that smells like it. The fresh leaf instead has a oily look, and the smell remind of celery, carrot and parsley.

Young shoot of Ground Elder

The taste is also reminding of those, with a sent of mandarin. The consistency recalls spinach and the plant contains a lot of essential oils and flavonoid compounds (antioxidants). Ground Elder can be used in a huge variety of dishes because it can substitute celery and parsley in any dish you usually use those, and it has become a routine green vegetable in our house. For those of you, who will be eager to try it, I wanted to suggest you to add it to stir fried spinach together with other spring weeds like for example false nettle (Lamium Purpureum) and nipplewort (Lapsana Communis), which are also very common in Danish gardens. Here are those I made for dinner this week.

Medicinally this plant can be included in a section called “Medicine as food”, which include herbs that can be ingested in huge amount and that require a modest to big amount in order to be effective.

But what you can actually get from eating ground elder?

The plant is going to fill you with a bit amount of precious minerals and is going to have a diuretic effect. Actually most of spring plants are, and that is how they are effective as spring detox. Moreover plants that are laxative after flowering, are usually diuretic when taken young.

One more curiosity: the root is eatable and can be harvested and eaten for culinary purposes all year. Some people, even dry the root and mill it to make flower that then use for baking, like many do with cattail’s root (Typha latifolia). I have promised my self to try this one eventually: I think that it is a wonderful way to grow your veggie intake without compromising too much on carbs goodies.

That being said, ground elder is a surprising wonderful weed and has a long history both as a herb and a food plant. It was clearly highly valued by the romans and medieval monks but for some reason modern herbalism have not considered it important enough. The plant is still on the study by science, which I hope will enlighten us soon with the forgotten secrets ground elder may hold and that are yet to be reviled.

Feel free to leave comments and new types of ways you would use ground elder. I would love to discuss those with you.

Green blessing and “God Weekend”,

Bea

Safety warning: Ground Elder is part of the parsley family. There are some plants belonging to this family that are poisonous and one that can certainly cause death: hemlock. Make sure to identify the plant correctly before eating it. If in doubts, do not eat it.

 

Spring is finally here!

 Want to know how to get rid of winter torpor? Time to learn from plants and rebirth a new self to embrace a new cycle of life and sun (hopefully) again! The real beginning of the year is now!

Join me in this journey and learn every week about a wild weed which is probably growing in your backyard right now and which you can use beneficially for your health. Learn about uses and benefits, but also when it is better restrict the use. Learn how to recognize them and how to surprise your family and friends with easy, delicious and nutritious wild food recipes.

Spring in Gentofte

Spring is my favorite time of the year. It has not been like that for all my life though. As for many other young people summer used to be the season I was looking forward to the most. Summer meant no school, sea side, long days, much more free time for going out and having fun. It was time for young loves and life lasting memories. But years pass and you start working which means no more three months summer holidays and less free time during the day. Then you start having kids which means no free time at all, and suddenly summer kind of looses some of its charm (Only some though!). But you also grow, and that means that you start looking at life in an new way. For example, you start noticing how beautifully nature rebirths every year over and over, providing food and hope for newly formed families of animals. You start also noticing that the shining of the sun can really change your mood, awake your senses and give you new energy.

Now I know better: Spring is the real game changer.

Spring in Copenhagen

Spring is now indeed the season that inspires me and fascinates me the most. I make plans for my life all over again. I start projects; decide which plants I am going to sow in the garden and spend a lot of time outside identifying wild herbs in the places I visit. Spring is like meeting friends, some old ones, and some new ones that you did not know were living so close to you. It fulfills me and excites me!

Despite the fact that exotic herbs can be fascinating and extremely interesting, I firmly believe that, most of the time, you can find what you need just around you. Wild plants, weeds, that are now showing up everywhere, can really reveal an whole new universe of uses and benefits to those who are willing to lend an ear and start listening to them.

Around my house, in the suburb of Copenhagen, every year I learn something new about the local flora. I come originally from Tuscany and most of the wild flowers that I grew up with are not as present over here for obvious reasons. Therefore it took me a while to recognize and use the local wild herbs. Most of the books I read about wild food and harvesting technics, advise you to wait a year or two before start harvesting and using new wild plants. This is to make sure you identified them right and the only way to do it, unless you have an expert with you, is to wait for their natural cycle and check that all the seasonal stages correspond to the plant you believe it is. It is a pretty good way to get acquainted with plants and it does not take more than your attention and a good book (Google does not give you the security you need).

Wild chickweed (Stellaria Media) in my backyard

To help spread information and knowledge about wild local flora and their uses I decided from now on to write about each of them singularly, giving harvesting tips, recipes and much more. This is the right time of the year to start getting to know and use them.

There is not better way to start getting rid of winter torpor than start eating spring greens. They have been used for centuries for these purposes and almost all of the wild greens sprouting in these weeks are excellent diuretic and blood alterative. They help eliminate toxins from your body and excess of liquid, cleaning your body from winter stagnation.

Purple Dead Nettle (Lamium Purpureum) in the walk-path behind my house

They grow everywhere and even if you are not the type that likes to stay in the kitchen, there are tons of recipes that doesn’t require more than a few minutes to introduce this amazing herbs in your diet.

Did I get your interest? Then stay tuned and start with me on this wonderful journey into local herbs and weeds.

Environmental Disclosure: Avoid harvesting wild herbs or weeds from city streets, polluted and industrial areas. Remember to respect the plants by harvesting only when they are abundant and only as much as you need and leave enough of them to keep growing there.

Cheers

Beatrice