Food for Free this April in the West Country

Spring has arrived after one of the longest winters that I can remember.  It is joyous to be able to walk along the  lane and around our field and find so many herbs that one can pick and eat just as our forefathers did.

A Peacock Butterfly supping nectar from Ground Ivy.

A Peacock Butterfly sipping nectar from Ground Ivy.

Here’s fine rosemary, sage and thyme.                                                                                         Come, buy my Ground Ivy.                                                                                                           Here’s featherfew, gilly flowers and rue.                                                                                     Come buy my knotted marjoram , too!                                                                                Roxburghe Ballads ( 1740-1804)

Ground Ivy, Glechoma hederacea

Ground Ivy, Glechoma hederacea

In mediaeval times Ground Ivy was used to treat fevers and coughs .  Today the leaves are great with mushrooms or for making a lovely spring tisane.

Primrose was the first herb to appear this year in the garden.

Primrose, Primula vulgaris

Primrose, Primula vulgaris

As the weather had been so cold and grey it was wonderful to see these cheerful flowers.   The young leaves can be eaten as a salad or boiled as a pot herb. Traditionally the flowers were ground with rice,  almonds, honey and saffron to form a ‘Primrose pottage’.

Cowslip, Primula veris

Cowslip, Primula veris

When I was a child Cowslips were picked to make a wine.  Nowadays, due to the fact that this herb has become rare in the wild, this is no longer possible.   Medicinally they were traditionally used as a sedative.

Stinging Nettle, Urtica dioica L.

Stinging Nettle, Urtica dioica L.

Nettles on the other hand are profuse in my garden, so here is a delicious recipe,

Nettle soup                                                                                                                                              1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped                                                                                     1 clove of garlic,                                                                                                                                   2 potatoes, peeled and sliced.                                                                                                        2 large  handfuls ( do wear gloves) of young nettle heads.                                                1 Litre of vegetable or chicken stock.                                                                                     Olive oil, salt and pepper,                                                                                                                   Cream can be added prior to serving if you wish, but it is perfectly good without.

In a large saucepan add a little olive oil, the chopped onion, garlic and potatoes and gently fry for 3-4 minutes.  Wash and trim the nettles, add to the pan, add the stock. Bring to the boil, cover, reduce the heat, simmer until the potatoes are cooked. Liquidise and add the seasoning.  Serve with a dash of cream if desired .

Wild Garlic is also in profusion. Normally it would be in full flower if not going over by now,  this year it is still in the green.

Wild Garlic, Ramsoms, Allium ursinum L.

Wild Garlic, Ramsoms, Allium ursinum L.

The leaves are great wilted in butter and served with mash potato or added to soups or stews for flavouring.

All photographs are  ©  Jekka McVicar 2013

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Lovely Lumas , Chilean Myrtles

I have a huge love of the Myrtaceae family and  they are one of the many reasons that I started the Herboretum.

Luma display

Luma display

I have found that many gardeners know Myrtles but not Lumas and many  are confused as to which is which.  What is great about Lumas is that, whereas the Mediterranean Myrtle can be a little tender, the Chilean Luma is very hardy and has even adapted to my clay soil. Even though this year they have been crushed by snow, when everything else is taking time to recover, they are now looking lovely.

PL33 luma gleangleam in flower

Luma apiculata ‘Glanleam Gold’ AGM

Another plus that is, similar to Myrtle, if a branch does get broken  or the tips do get scorched you simply have to cut back  and the new growth will come from the old wood.

Luma apiculata AGM

Luma apiculata AGM, Chilean Myrtle

The Luma apiculata has the most attractive cinnamon bark as it matures and makes an ideal specimen evergreen plant within the herb garden.

PL75 Luma Nanum-2

Luma apiculata ‘Nanum’ Dwarf Luma

Luma apiculata ‘Nanum’, the dwarf luma, makes an ideal low hedge as it is very slow growing, it prefers a well drained slightly acidic  soil but will adapt to a well drained loam.

All Luma’s can be grown by the sea as their foliage is not damaged by salty water.

Luma chequen, White Chilean Myrtle

Luma chequen, White Chilean Myrtle

Luma chequen, is the most robust of the Luma’s. It makes and ideal tall edging, hedging plant as it can be cut hard to keep it in shape.

In the kitchen the leaves can be used to flavour soups and stews, but should be used sparingly. After flowering the Luma has a black fruit which, when cooked, makes a very interesting conserve, jelly, which is extremely good with game dishes. 

At our Herb Friday on the 19th April we will be offering 20% discount on all  Luma plants.