Last Sunday I bought a container of Tuscan Bean Soup from our Farmers Market and it was just delicious. I decided right then to recreate the recipe and serve it with a fresh spring salad with a twist and get some crusty hearty bread to serve with it, dipped in Olive oil.
The early spring brings many friends to my garden, edible “wild” friends that it. Like spinach and kale, which like cool weather and lettuce like Mesculun mix, which needs a little more warmth to germinate and grow, there are counterparts in the wild. Would you believe it that of the thousands of edible plants in the world most people concentrate on only about 4-9. Most people don’t know that the vitamin and mineral content of the wild plants generally is much higher in the cultivated varieties, plus, this was the way people ate before there were grocery stores. They either grew or foraged for the greens they needed. However, store-bought and foraged greens easily mix easily to make lovely salads or cooked dishes. Of course you can just use the greens you are used to in any of the recipes I give you.
Chicory , a perennial plant, for one, tends to show its leaves early, especially in the warmer and sunnier spots in the garden or field. The younger and paler green leaves are milder of flavor, the darker green more bitter. This can be muted by either growing then under a cloche (overturned larger pot) or blanching the leaves briefly. Both the leaves and the roots can be used. Another early bird is Dandelion. I use the leaves in salads or cooked dishes that call for greens. The roots I wash with a vegetable scrubber and saute or cook into various dishes. It is the most ingenious way of curbing their spread. (Use the flowers to decorate the salad (either shred the flower or leave whole) or make dandelion wine). Chicory, Dandelion and Nettle have been saviours for hungry people during wars and famines and have very deep historic roots. You can read more about the individual plant here. The (actual) roots of the Dandelion can also be used medicinally for liver related issues, the leaves as among other things a great diuretic, since they don’t leach Potassium. My motto has always been, why kill your weeds when you can eat them, it is just better for you and your environment.
I don’t want to forget the little succulent plant called Chickweed. Yes, I know many consider it pesky, but it try it. Chickweed, of Eurasian origin is also used medicinally as a demulcent, emollient, vulnerary (for wounds), an expectorant and diuretic. Talk about eating your medicine. It grows like a ground cover in shady damp areas of the garden. To me it is the Boston bib lettuce of the wild plant kingdom. Many days in the spring and summer it forms the base of my daily salad . The taste is mild and soothing, a little stringy, but then your teeth need exercise too. To read more about foraging in the spring.
If I get started on the virtues of Nettle (click and scroll down) I won’t stop. My first encounter with it was as a 3-year-old in the countryside of Wartime Norway. I have a vivid image in my mind of my mother picking nettles on a hill-side and cooking it. They seemed nearly as tall as my mother who was 5′ 2″ in her stockings. For a while in the spring/summer of 1944 it was one of the few foods we had access to. My absolute favorite spring recipe is nettle soup. Then there are the edible flowers; violets, dandelion, broom, nasturtium, daylily (also buds and root bulbs), roses, clover, the flowers from the mediterranean herbs and many more. There is even a salad recipe from an earlier century entirely made from flowers. How wildly wicked is that. Everything in nature has its season, everything its reason. Foraging
Here is a quote by John Evelyn (1699) from A Garden of Herbs, by Eleanour Sinclaire Rhode; ” …… it required much skill and judgement (of the housewife) to mingle the ingredients of “a brave sallet” as it must be done to not only agree with the humors (constitutions) of those who eat them but so that nothing should be suffered to domineer, so none of them should lose their gust, savor and virtue.“