So, there I was sitting at the picnic table with a mound of burdock stems in front of me, ready to set about the tortuous job of peeling away all the stringy, indigestible outer layer, to leave the delectable, succulent inner core, which would be sauteed with butter and water for dinner.
An hour later, or thereabouts, I stopped.
The huge mound had dwindled to a tiny portion which would degenerate further on cooking. The problem is, when you take off the stringy bits, there sometimes isn’t much burdock stem left. Moreover, when it arrives on your dinner plate you find that you never got them all in any case, and only 50% of what you’ve cooked is tender. Nothing wrong with the flavour, but was it really worth the hassle? Especially the hour peeling away, while gazing longingly across the garden at my wee plantation of Sutherland Kale, whose tender green sprouts and leaves could have been gathered in 3 minutes!
So I thought, given you can grow really delicious vegetables pretty easily, how about listing my Top Ten really worthwhile wild greens – the ones whose flavour, abundance and/or ease of preparation make them worth the effort. Opinions will vary, but here’s my choices:
- Nettle tops. Obviously. No shortage, and the number of things you can do with them easily counterbalances the need to wear gloves.
- Ramsons (wild garlic). Equally obvious – easy to pick and packed with flavour and many uses, raw and cooked.
- Good King Henry. Anything in the spinach family is good, even better when it’s so packed with flavour.
- Garlic Mustard. You can’t go wrong with the attributes of both garlic and mustard, and the leaves are big and available so early in the year. The biggest ones are nice stuffed with rice and beans and things.
- Bistort (Pudding Dock). Easy to pick and use, and essential for Dock Pudding of course.
- Hogweed flower buds. Big round balls of unopened flowers, delicious fried, with or without batter. Dead easy.
- Comfrey. Some people say it should not be eaten. I love the young leaves as a tender, succulent vegetable or soup. Not much toxin in them at that stage, if any.
- Sea Beet. Another spinachy thing, and easy to find and pick if you are in the right part of the country. Wish I was! (In some ways.)
- Solomon’s Seal. Caution, because it’s not so common in its true wild form, though there are plenty of garden escapes. Another one to take in moderation, but as a wild asparagus substitute, the flavour is superb and it isn’t even stringy.
- Ground Elder. Oh I know. But I am not winding you up. The flavour is great, the abundance is legendary, and it’s always good to east your weeds.
Before anything’s ready in the veg plot, a combination of nettles, bistort, ground elder , ramsons and comfrey provide us with spring greens that are a joy to taste.
What are your favourites?