If the earth is our mother, green juice is her breastmilk :)
Here's one of the refreshing summer cocktails we made over the last few days. Wild weeds do a wonderful job replenishing the minerals we sweat out when the weather's hot.
All of this goes into the manual slowjuicer (yes, manual, I like a little workout), and the result can be seen in the picture above. Very refreshing!
This is usually the version I drink. I try to rotate the greens as much as I can, which isn't so hard at this time of the year (plantain, chickweed, ivy-leaved toadflax, white dead-nettle, ground elder, gallant soldier, redshank, pineapple weed, fireweed,... just to name a few... there's plenty!) Sometimes I add an apple (or two) to the mixture, when I use more bitter herbs.
For the kids (and their dad) I make a sweeter version. I take the juice and blend in some fruit (banana, mango, right now I like to use apricots and nectarines as they are in season), some hemp seeds (optional) and some freshly pressed orange juice (optional). It's amazing how easily it goes down this way.
I'm working quite hard to finish the wild edibles book... But I can see the elderberries are ripening, and so I'm recycling this old blog post of mine, hope you enjoy:)
This must be the most truthful publicity slogan ever: “Elderberry is underestimated”
Dutch: Vlier - French: Sureau - German: Holunder
“Getting to know all these different plant species, where do I start?” It’s a question I am asked quite often. Mostly my answer is “Well, just start with one. Choose a common plant that grows near you. A plant with lots of useful possibilities. And spend a year in its company.”
One of the plants that is such an ideal ally, is the Elder (Sambucus nigra). Grows nearly everywhere, houses a whole world of folklore and legends (complete books are written about the tales of the Elder), it is as suitable as food as it is as fabric colour. On top of that, it provides ideal material to make toys with, and good medicine to boost your health. This is a plant that invites us to smell, taste, touch… and a living example of how different plant parts may contain completely different substances, each to be harvested at their own time of the year.
Every now and then, it’s good to take your own advice. So I decided at the end of last winter, when the first green Elder leaves were showing “Oh yes, the Elder, I would love to spend a whole year in her company again”. Because it’s never right to think that you know a plant entirely, even though you can’t count the bottles of elderberry syrup you’ve made anymore, or the amount of elderflower pancakes.
And yes, last year was another epiphany for me.
A couple of weeks ago, when it was snowing (quite early here for the time of the year), I had to smile… apparently someone was shaking the feather blanket of the Elder Lady! I couldn’t resist telling the whole tale once again. A quick glance to the shelves in the kitchen told me it had been a fruitful elder year. A whole range of elder preparations smiled at me. Tinctured flowers, dried flowers for tea, syrups of berries and blossom, berry marmelade, elder leaf oil and salve, klakkebuizen (no idea what the English word for that is; but the hollow twigs can be used to shoot chewed paper at a target – mostly the victim is a teacher , pieces of elder-coloured fabric, elder flutes (in Flemish there is the wonderful word ‘Flierefluiter’, meaning someone who plays an elder flute, or someone who doesn’t worry about a thing in the world…)
Small wind flute made from elder wood
And the daydreaming had started… About the elder blossoms, picked in a lovely permaculture garden in Friesland. About the harvest of the berries, with the company of a special friend, and how the songs to celebrate the berries just flew out of our mouth and heart… The flutes we tried to make, near the water, one trial after another and another trial, until we got a bit of unexpected professional help, which resulted in a flute that imitates bird sounds so well, that even the cats were confused.
Yes, that year with Lady Elder had certainly been a fruitful one...
Dutch: Akkerviooltje - French: Pensée des champs - German: Acker-Stiefmütterchen
Those who receive my newsletter, may have read my ramblings on foraging on hospital grounds, and how there is much more nourishment to be found there, than there is in hospital meals. But how about our fields? We love to get our local vegetables and berries at our CSA-farm. But we don't just see it as a place to get fresh organic produce. It's one of the best places to get our edible weeds as well. And one of the frequently found wild plants there is field pansy (Viola arvensis).
Field pansy was shown to contain substances that have shown to possess toxic activity against human cancer cells and is therefore looked at as a potential drug lead. Apart from that, they contain vitamin C, vitamin A, salicyl acid (that's aspirin in plant form, and usually a lot better as it doesn't have all the side effects it has in pill form), and many more.
And it's not hard to find on fields - the seeds spread so fast that the plant is also called Johnny-Jump-Up.
So guess what - it's pulled out (pulling out being the best case scenario) as a weed, and thrown on the compost heap. In worse scenarios the soil and the environment are poisoned because people want to get rid of this plant.
How does the combination of the two previous paragraphs above sound to you? Maybe eating wild plants is just that: connecting the dots.
I have written earlier about the definition of a weed. And of course, I am aware that this is only a name, a label. "That which we call a rose, by any other name would small as sweet", as Shakespeare mentions in his Romeo and Juliet. Today, I'd like to dive deeper into the difference between wild plants and weeds. Some people use the two interchangeable, however, there is a difference.
Wild plants are those plants that have evolved without without human interaction. Actually, that is not true at all. A lot of them rely on humans for spreading their seeds - the best example being plantain that was spread by European colonists on the American continent. The sticky seeds made the long travel on their shoe soles and spread everywhere they walked - it gave plantain the name 'white man's footstep'.
But what I mean is that they have not been cross-bred or cultivated for various reasons: bigger or more colorful flowers (like roses), bigger fruits (think strawberries), less bitter leaves (like wild lettuce). But a wild plant is not by definition a weed. Native orchids are wild plants, and so is arnica, or common sea-lavender. And they are not growing like weeds - they are rare, and often protected.
A weed is a plant that grows abundantly in various circumstances. It's not picky about the place where it grows, or the soil, it's not vulnerable to diseases or plagues. It thrives under extreme conditions. Even some cultivated plants may grow like weeds, though most of them are wild plants. And generally, they love the company of humans. You find them in greater number in cities, gardens and meadows (yes, of course the countryside is a cutivated landscape) than you'll find them in the deep wild (or whatever's left of that).
They are very adaptable. Pictured above is broad-leaf plantain, and it shows the potential of weeds to adapt to their environment. Both leaves were picked only 1,5m away (that's about 1.6 yards), and yet their size is significantly different. The leaf on the left side was growing in the shade. This plantain plant made huge leaves, in order to increase its surface. Why? Photosynthesis.
The leaf on the right was picked from a plantain that was growing in a sunny spot. It had lots of sunlight, so had no need to form a bigger leaf. This is plant language, folks. This is how you can read where a plant has been growing.
Keep in touch - more about plant language soon!
Some of them are already there, others are almost almost almost ripe....
From left to right, starting above: