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


16 thoughts on “Food for Free this April in the West Country

  1. I love getting to know about all these different edibles, long forgotten by us but well known to our ancestors. I have just found out about Alexanders today (horse parsley) and know where there is some growing, may give it a try

    • Hi Lyn, interestingly Alexanders was originally known as Petroselinum alexandrinum, parsley of Alexandria. It was brought to the UK by the Romans. The base of stems were eaten as a vegetable. I have yet to try it.

  2. Lovely post. I’ve been cooking with nettles and using primrose in ice cubes and on meringues, but primrose pottage sounds wonderful. I hadn’t heard of cooking with ground ivy either – great, unusual ideas.

  3. Hi: Congratulations on being so much farther along into spring that we are here. On Saturday we were digging Snow Drops in the green! Only the snowdrops and small Muscari showing. Enjoy what you have. M. Wright

  4. Thank you for yet another lovely blog. And the reminder to get some wild garlic bulbs for my new allotment, I had already planned to hide them under the bramble hedge but it had slipped my mind. Too late to harvest for this year, but next year: YUMM. They do really well in pots too by the way!

  5. Morning All

    I am very new to this & hope I am doing this right.

    I have been given a very nice hanging planter that has 3 pots, I have hung it on a wall that gets sun most of the day & would like to plant with herbs , can you suggest the best herbs for a position like this that would trail with nice scent when brushed past.

    Very nice website & looking forward to buying at Gardeners World Birmingham.

    Have a good week

    Keith H

    • Good to hear from you. Hanging planters and herbs do look great but will need to be fed and watered regularly.
      For height in the middle I would put sweet rocket, Hesperis, as this smells wonderful in the early evening and early morning. On the other side i would put. Thymus Iden which is bushy and trails with pale pink flowers. On the far side of the Hesperis I would plant Lavender Miss Muffet as she is very neat and aromatic. We no longer exhibit at any of the selling flower shows as we have converted the farm to a Herboretum which looks wonderful and it gives the customer a chance to see the plants and to buy them . Hopefully one day you will visit.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s