Gorse flowers

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Gorse flowers (Ulex europaeus) are not only cheerily pretty but also edible. This doesn’t apply to the pods though as the pods contain some strong chemicals and are to be avoided. Gorse flowers nearly all year round but it’s at its show-stopping best in the early spring. The bright yellow flowers taste of coconut… or peas!

The taste you get is entirely based on the amount of sunshine around. The warmer and sunnier the days are, the stronger both the delicious aroma and the coconut flavour. Interestingly, you’ll often get both flavours on the same bush.

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Up here in Scotland the sun rises in the east and sets in the west as it does everywhere. But unlike when you’re close to the equator, the sun doesn’t pass directly overhead here. As we’re so far north, the sun always passes a little off centre towards the south. This means that the north side of the gorse bush gets far less sunshine than the southern arc and the flowers on the north side of the bush will usully taste just like mange tout peas, or pea shoots, while their neighbours, on the sunny side, taste of coconut. Try it! It’s true.

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You can eat the flowers as they come. Or add them into a coconut sponge cake. They infuse well in vodka or white rum. I use the latter and then combine it with an infusion of Pineappleweed in my attempt to make a pina colada. The resulting blend is lovely – although not thick and creamy – I call it a Gorsa Colada.

I love making Gorse Flower Cordial and also con inning a Gorse Syrup with Gooseberries. I also make gorse wine and use the flowers to flavour mead.

Pepper Dulse Seaweed Cheese

This is an absolutely delicious spread to have with thin crackers or melted onto a venison steak. Pepper dulse isn’t called the truffle of the sea for nothing and it makes this a very umami, truffley, rich cheese.

First you’ll need to pick some fresh pepper dulse (Osmundea pinnatifida). It doesn’t keep well so either use it on the same day, or refrigerate overnight and use the following day. You’ll find it on a low tide right at the edge of the subtidal zone. It doesn’t like to dry out so look in rock pools, shaded by boulders from the day’s sun to find the largest, most succulent bunches. Always cut with scissors and only take what you need.

Ingredients
A handful of pepper dulse
Two soft goat’s cheese logs
A little dried, powdered pepper dulse (optional)

Directions
Finely chop your pepper dulse with a knife. Put your cheese logs into a mixing bowl and soften with the back of a wooden spoon. Now blend your chopped pepper dulse (and powdered pepper dulse) into the cheese, creaming them all together until the dulse is evenly distributed. Spoon into ramekins and decorate by pressing a whole piece of pepper dulse onto the top. Refrigerate until needed. Flavour will improve overnight.

Chopping pepper dulse

Cream your goat cheese

Blend chopped pepper dulse with creamed goat cheese

Here are the finished cheeses.

Pepper Dulse Seaweed Cheese

Pepper Dulse Seaweed Cheese

Wild Spring Equinox Supper

Spring is in the air. Spring is coming. Yay! The weekend of 19 and 20 March brings the Spring Equinox, that half-way point where the lengths of the day and the night are of equal length. In the hedgerows there is new growth, tender young greens appearing and seaweed is at its most succulent. Celebrate the return of Spring, cast aside the Winter. Join me and Bumble (of Bumble Puddings) for a Wild Spring Equinox Supper on Saturday 19 March.


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S U P P E R   M E N U

Wild garlic nettle and bittercress soup

Venison haggis, sorrel champ, wild spring vegetables and a sea veg surprise
(Vegan option if you let me know early enough)

Bruichladdich buckthorn pudding with ground ivy ice cream
(Islay whiskey with seabuckthorn)

Wild herb cheese, garlic pesto and seaweed oatcakes

Coffee

••~•~••

Venue: Achnabreck Farmhouse, Lochgilphead, West Argyll
Date: 19 March 2016. 18:30 for 19:00
Cost: £27.50 per person
Bring your own bottles of wine and alcohol

BOOK HERE for the dinner.

Accommodation may also be available including breakfast at the farmhouse if you’d like to avoid drink driving and explore beautiful west Argyll over the weekend. Click here to check Airbnb for availability.

Preserve wild garlic by fermentation

Fermenting wild garlic

The bright green shoots of wild garlic are one of the most heart-lifting aspects of an early Spring. I eat it fresh, in salads, in cooked dishes, as pesto, or soup. By the summer, it is gone again. I love having wild garlic later in the year but I can’t dry it like most other plants, as it loses it flavour and those ethereal sulphur tones! Freezing it in bags just leaves a defrosted slightly slimy mess. So I have a couple of options: making a wild garlic pesto or fermenting the wild garlic.
Fermenting wild garlic

Fermented Wild Garlic

There are different methods.Some people like to add salt to their vegetables, crush them and allow their own juices to do all the fermenting. I am often short for time, or tired at the end of a day’s foraging and just want to put my feet up when I still have baskets of foraged goodies to clean or stash. So I am drawn to methods that are quick, simple and easy to do, without compromising on taste! For wild garlic, I use the brine method.

To do this I make a 2% brine. Basically that is 20g of salt to 1 litre of filtered water.

I chop and prepare the garlic, adding a lot of flower buds, white stem, and only a little of the darker green leaf. The I pack it tightly into a clean preserving jar and pour the brine over until it covers the contents. Then I put a glass over the mouth to weight down the green stuff, to make sure everything is below the surface of the brine.

I then leave it in a cool place and wait for the bubbles! After a day or two you will realise that there is a strong smell of sulphur being emitted from your jar. Don’t worry. This is part of the transformation, just apologise to visitors to your home!

Fermenting wild garlic

These are ready to eat in about 2 weeks.

Sometimes, to get a stronger flavoured ferment, I will just soak in the brine for 24 hours. Then I’ll drain it and press it under it’s own juices and let it ferment in its own juices which have been released by the salty brine.

Occasionally I’ll add garlic… or chillies. There are no rules!

If you’re interested in fermenting, consider investing in Sandor Katz’s book ‘The Art of Fermentation’. If you have this, you’ll never need another book. Below is a short video of Sandor that you might find interesting.

 

Go Absolutely Wild this Burn’s Night!

You’re invited to a Burns Supper with a wild twist. On Saturday 23 January (2016) I’ll be holding a foraged Wild Burns Supper. Tickets are available for just 12 people – an intimate dinner with myself (the Head Cook) and Bumble (of Bumble Puddings). We’ll be following the traditional Burn’s Night ‘Order of the Supper’ but with a wild food and fungi theme.

••~•~••

O R D E R   O F   T H E   S U P P E R

Seabucks fizz

Wild mushroom pâté with seaweed oat biscuits

Pheasant cock-a-weedie-leekie soup

Venison haggis, wild roots and tatties
(such as caramelised, roasted dandelion root with wild wintergreens too)

Sloe typsy sea laird
(sloe and damson gin trifle with caragheen custard and cream)

Coffee

••~•~••

Venue: Achnabreck Farmhouse, Lochgilphead, West Argyll
Date: 23 January 2016. 18:30 for 19:00
Dress: Wild or fabulous
Cost: £26.50 per person
Bring your own bottles of wine and alcohol

BOOK HERE for the dinner.

Accommodation is also available including breakfast at the farmhouse if you’d like to avoid drink driving and explore beautiful west Argyll over the weekend.

Book Room One £40.00
Large double room for 2 adults

Book Room Two £40.00
Large double room for 2 adults

Book Room Three £30.00
Small double room with narrow double bed for 1 adult (or 2 very thin and loved up adults)

January: Fasting on wild calories

Dandelion Roots

“New Year, New You” the advertisers tell us. It’s time to do a detox. The magazines are full of it from both those who believe we should do it and those who believe it is all a commercial myth. So let’s leave the twenty-first century for a minute and imagine what was going on in our foraging past – in our wild state.

Those of us who were going to survive the winter would have worked hard in the autumn. We collected lots of nuts – Scottish Neolithic archaeological sites turn up mounds of hazel nut shells – and probably some primitive grass grains to store up and help us through the winter.

Dandelion Roots

During the winter we’d have found shelter – possibly in caves but more probably in primitive shelters created in the forests among the warmth of the trees.

We’d have hunted deer, rabbits and other non-hibernating animals and dug up roots such as dandelion, wild burdock, wild carrot, etc. when the ground wasn’t frozen. The dandelion roots shown on the left are delicious roasted and I often add them to a dish of roast parsnips or carrots. From what was available, our winter diet would have been primarily protein, fats and carbohydrates.

In January we wouldn’t have been eating fruit as by now all the bilberries, blackberries, rosehips would have been eaten by us and the birds. So none of our calories would have come from sugar, even fructose (fruit sugar). If we were very lucky, we might find some late berries, such as these vivid orange sea buckthorn berries which can often still be found after Christmas, but they are sharp and sour although bursting with vitamin C with an antioxidant profile not far off acai berry!

Sea buckthorn berries

We would have found very small amounts of greens, small patches of bittercress, wintercress, wood sorrel, dandelion leaves and maybe some chickweed in a sheltered spot. But nothing in abundance. (Interestingly, the cresses are also very high in vitamin C that prevents scurvy.) During the winter the oceans are stormy so it’s hard to catch fish although the seaweeds are starting to make an appearance as their Spring is earlier than the land plants.

We wouldn’t have gone far from our shelters as this used up calories, a dangerous game unless you were sure of a meal at the end of the trip. So we would probably have spent a lot of time in the shelters, cuddled up, restricting the amount of calories we burned off.

Rabbit skin glovesSo January and February are the hungry gap. When we would naturally have had a calorie restricted diet. This would not necessarily been every day but through intermittant fasting similar to the alternate day fasting protocols of today. If an animal was killed we would have feasted for a few days and used every part of it (like these rabbit skin mittens I made). If the ground thawed during a warm spell we’d have dug up roots and feasted. But these occasions would have been followed by days, or weeks of very little.

Medical research nowadays shows that intermittant fasting is actually good for us. It helps to protect our cells against age-related diseases, improves heart health in the same way as aerobic exercise does, improves brain health (the brain is the only organ that doesn’t shrink in size during prolonged fasting as we need our wits about us).

So this January and February, if you want to control your weight and your health, reduce the calories you eat with some alternate day fasting but don’t completely starve yourself of fats and carbohydrates on the days that you do eat, at this time of the year.

Spring leavesCome Spring the plants burst into leaf again, and when you forage you’ll notice that you naturally enter a Spring Detox phase. All the new growth: cleavers, dandelion, thistle stems, nettle, etc., are either diuretic, mildly laxative or lymphatic cleansers. Nature’s new growth stimulates the digestive system and awaken our bodies as we change our diets away from winter fare and stop eating carbohydrates. What sensible forager would dig up a root when it was providing fresh salad vegetables?

 

Join me on a foraging walk in the Spring to reboot after the winter and discover a world packed full of amazing tastes and natural health.

 

Pineappleweed Jelly Recipe 

Pineappleweed (Matricaria discoidea) is a member of the same family as chamomile and can be used in much the same way both with culinary and medicinal uses. It can be found at the entrance to virtually every farm field I have ever encountered! And, it does taste strongly of pineapple with a hint of chamomile. It makes a great liqueur and this lovely jelly. When you’re picking remember that the higher the flower to leaves ratio, the sweeter the end result will be.

Serves 4

Ingredients
1 large double handful pineappleweed tops
500ml water
1 sachet (12g) gelatine
1 tbsp sugar or honey (optional)
1 tub coconut yoghurt (optional)

Directions
Cover the pineappleweed tops with the water and simmer on a very low heat for 15 minutes with the lid of your saucepan firmly on to prevent the loss of volatile oils. If you have a sweet tooth, you can also dissolve a tablespoon of sugar or some honey in too at this point.

After 15 minutes remove from the heat and, keeping the lid on, leave to infuse for a further 15 minutes. Now strain off the leaves and return the pineapple weed ‘tea’ to the pot and gently reheat.

Take 1 ladle (50ml) of warm tea out and put in a jug. Sprinkle the gelatine over it and whisk it in until smooth.

Now add the contents of the jug back into the saucepan and whisk until the jelly starts to thicken at about 70C (do not boil).

Pour into 4 jelly or small wine glasses then leave to cool and set firm in the fridge.

Top with a little coconut yoghurt for a tropical twist!

Marsh Woundwort in the Field!

Update: Over the past few years I have been using this herb a lot in my Lyme clinic. It is an excellent anti-inflammatory and also antihistamine so I use it for flare-ups of all sorts especially where a histamine or allergic reaction is involved. So helps with very sensitive gut, skin flares, allergies. Very useful combined with Bidens to treat mucosal inflammation such as mucous pemphigoid and I have also used it in extreme kidney and bladder sensitivity. It is a neutral herb neither cold nor warm, taste slightly sweet. I also rate it highly as an analgesic herb for bone pain that accompanies inflammation.

Original article: Recently I got bitten yet again. Not by horseflies this time, but some mosquitoes. Sadly I reacted in just the same way. About 27 years ago, I was bitten by a large centipede while living in the West Indies – the joke shop kind, huge and shiny – and had an awful infection with my entire arm swelling up, resulting in minor surgery to drain it. Ever since then some (previously tolerated) insects can give me the most awful bites. These mosquitoes, that waylaid me during an evening foraging walk, weren’t even very big. However by the next morning my calf (2 bites) was massively swollen and I also had a huge lump on my forearm that looked like a second elbow! And, as with horseflies bites, I felt fluey, weak and the pain was intense.

My normal treatment is a blend of nettle, chickweed and wood betony tinctures taken internally with chickweed tincture held against the bites with a gauze pad. But this time, there was none in the house. Chickweed I could pick down by the old shed where it likes to grow – it is a cooling, soothing herb used where there is heat and redness in the body (eczema, nappy rash, etc.). Nettles I could also pick – they trigger the body to produce antihistamine so are great for allergic reactions, hay fever and eczema outbreaks. But wood betony (Stachys officinalis) – for the pain – I had no idea.

A friend of mine thought he’d seen viper’s bugloss (Echium vulgare) growing near a local stream and, as this is used to treat poisonous bites, I thought I’d go and look for some. However, there was none there. Walking back though I spied some marsh woundwort growing among the swamp grass.


Marsh woundwort is Stachy palustris and so related to wood betony (Stachy officinalis). By this time my leg was so painful it was a struggle to walk, so I collected about 8 of the plants and set off home where I cut the top two thirds into a saucepan, covered them with water, brought it all to the boil and simmered it for five minutes.

Marsh woundwort has quite a strong unpleasant smell so I was surprised how tasty the tea was. Very similar to the taste of nettle – mind you, its relative hedge woundwort (Stachys sylvatica) is sometimes called hedge nettle. I put a touch of honey in and drank a mugful. I also soaked some gauze pads in cold woundwort tea and wrapped them into place with a gauze bandage. Within 15 minutes of drinking the first mug, the pain started to abate and the swelling lessened. The effect lasts for about 5 hours between mugs.

So I can truly recommend marsh woundwort tea for managing pain and allergic reactions with inflammation.

In medieval times, it was considered one of the most valuable herbs. Used directly on wounds as a poultice to heal them, as an ointment for grout and joint pain, and also used internally for cramp and vertigo as well as internal bleeding (haemorrhages, dysentery, etc.). Modern herbalists use it for its antispasmodic properties to treat painful cramps such as menstrual cramps. Like betony, it probably has a sedative effect on the central nervous system and is useful for managing pain. Likely alkaloids are betonicine, stachydrine and trigonelline.

There is a lot of research on stachydrine. It has cardio protective benefits but has also been found to prevent the deterioration of endothelial cells (the cells that line our blood vessels and lymph system) caused by high-blood sugar levels in diabetics.

Trigonelline has been identified as a potential anti diabetic treatment (Rios et al., 2015). Trigonelline also protects cells from H2O2 damage and could be useful for treatment of oxidative stress mediated cardiovascular diseases in future (Ilavenil et al., 2015).

And did I mention that you can eat the tubers?!

Seaweed Oatcakes Recipe

These are delicious and so, so good for you being a vital source of iodine. Even people who “don’t like seaweed” love these savoury oatcakes. But a word of warning: once you’ve tasted seaweed oatcakes you can never go back to plain ones! The amount here is enough to feed a party or make them for a family for week. Halve or quarter the quantities if you prefer. Store them in an airtight container, they keep well.

Ingredients:
500g porridge oats (whole)
500g porridge oats (ground in your blender)
100g powdered seaweed
10g salt
10g ground black pepper
2-3g fine chili flakes
20g mushroom powder
50g sesame seeds
50g caraway seeds
300g coconut oil
500-600 ml warm water

Directions:
Heat the oven to 190C. Mix all the dry ingredients in together in a large bowl. Rub in the coconut oil until well distributed. Then add 500ml of the water and knead into a dough ball. Add the other 100ml bit by bit if the mixture is still a little dry.

Roll out in small amounts (a handful at a time) on an oat-floured chopping board until 1 or 2 mm thick. Cut into circles with a cookie cutter and put into baking trays lined with grease proof paper.

Bake at 190C for 15-20 until just starting to brown. If you have several trays in the oven at once, this could take 30 minutes.

Once baked through and browned put into a wire rack to cool.

Enjoy on their own, or with cheese or a dip.

Notes on the ingredients:

Seaweed: The batch in the picture above used dabberlocks seaweed (below). I reconstituted a little in warm water then finely chopped it and added it in. You can also use dulse, pepper dulse, laver – indeed any edible seaweed.

Mushroom powder: I use Boletus species for the best taste. For these I save the precious porcini and use orange or brown birch bolete powder.

Seeds: I have listed seeds you can easily buy. I also use black nigella, nettle seed, ground elder seed, wild carrot seed and pignut seed

Is Common Hogweed Poisonous?

2020 update: the following is a quote of mine that I use when teaching people who come on my foraging courses. It brings a smile and helps people to understand the hogweeds.

“The difference between common and giant hogweed is like going to the pub on a night out. Giant hogweed is the drunk, aggressive, muscular guy on steroids. He’s all pumped up and itching for a fight. Just brush against him, not even spilling his drink, and he will attack you viciously. Common hogweed, on the other hand, is the quiet, wiry, calm guy at the end of the bar. Brush against him, even spill his pint, and he’ll accept your apology and carry on with his pint. But if you try to wipe out his entire family with a huge killing machine, then you’re in trouble!”

Main article: June 2015

Common hogweed is not poisonous. It’s also not to be confused with giant hogweed which has very high levels of furanocoumarins in the sap, and any contact with its sap will give you severe phototoxic burns. It is commonly confused and misreported and a Google search can result in a lot of erroneous information. By and large, common hogweed is safe and perfectly edible under ‘normal’ conditions however it’s important to be aware of the conditions when it isn’t safe.


There are reports of people using a strimmer to cut common hogweed who have experienced burns from triggering production of the irritating sap. I was also intrigued by my friend Robin Harford‘s report of another (his seventh) common hogweed allergic reaction reported to him in Devon. So I decided to look at the plant’s biochemistry and research literature to see under what conditions common hogweed could be dangerous.

I have 3 acres in Scotland dominated by hogweed and handle it a lot albeit with the respect that I handle all large plants. In all the years that I have taught foraging, I have never personally known anyone have a hogweed allergy. It also has a long medicinal use in mainland Europe.  I have picked it when young (without gloves) and eaten it for years: leaf shoots, flower buds, use the seeds as a spice and the root as a tincture and flavouring and I know other people who eat it every year.

My friend Mark Williams, also a foraging tutor,  says “I have now fed it (well fried, almost to caramelisation) to several hundred people with no adverse reactions reported. In fact I’ve had more people not get on with chanterelles than common hogweed. I did have one experienced forager at the weekend who declined to taste the seeds, having experienced some tingling in his mouth from tasting them in the past. I wonder if the effect may be cumulative in some people? I eat loads and haven’t developed any reaction”.

So is common hogweed actually dangerous?

Firstly, I do point out to people on my courses that any one can be allergic to anything and that celery – also an Umbellifer in the Apiaceae family – is the leading cause of food allergy in Europe. So I have spent some time reading the research on celery and parsnip allergies, psoralen, furanocoumarins and other exciting stuff. Here are my thoughts based on the research papers I have read.

The plant biochemical laboratory

Furanocoumarins (also called furocoumarins) are the biochemicals made by plants in the Apiaceae ‘celery family’ mainly to protect themselves from attack by fungus pathogens. High concentrations are responsible for phytotoxicity. They are most concentrated in the plant’s roots and fruits. In the green parts, psoralen (the parent compound of furanocoumarins) has also been found to be most concentrated in the plant’s stem skin. There are quite a few different types:

  • Roots > Bergapten, pimpinellin, isopimpinellin, sphodin.
  • Fruits > Bergapten, isopimpinellin, phellopterin, xanthtoxin, heraclenin, imperatorin, byakangelikol, byangelicin.

It is these toxins that induce phytophotodermatitis, irritating the skin of susceptible people and causing blisters with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation in the UV-A range. The furanocoumarins are changed temporarily into a high-energy state when they absorb photons from the sunlight. They then release this energy into the skin where it causes damage to DNA in the skin’s epidermis, causing skin cell death. Sweating, wet skin, and high humidity increase the intensity of phototoxic reactions by increasing the skin’s absorption of the furanocoumarin.

What causes high furanocoumarin levels?

In some plants, like giant hogweed, furanocoumarin chemicals are always high as a form of defence. In plants like celery and common hogweed the levels can vary. If the levels rise, then problems occur for humans. So what causes high levels of furanocoumarins?

Psoralens are linear furanocoumarins that are believed to be the phytoalexins associated with Apiacae resistance to pathogens. Pathogens are microorganisms that cause disease or illness. They included fungi, bacterium and viruses like the carrot mosaic virus that is found in areas of intensive farming. (Carrots are also members of the Apiacae family.)

The phytoalexin response varies and increases, as a defence mechanism, when subjected to various environmental stress factors. These include fungal infection, copper sulphate (used in a lot of chemical sprays), UV light (England is certainly much sunnier than Scotland) and low temperatures. (For example, frozen parsnips have a much higher psoralen content than fresh parsnips). Here is a report of celery handlers who had reactions to celery that was infected with the white mold fungus Sclerotinia sclerotiorum. 

Mechanical damage, that occurs during harvesting and storage, has also been shown to increase psoralen concentration by over 45 times. Celery allergies often develop in grocery workers who handle celery, especially celery that has been bred to be pathogen resistant (and therefore high in psoralens). Here is a report of phototoxic reactions while celery handling.

Celery allergy – Europe’s No 1 food allergy

Allergenic proteins associated with oral allergy syndrome (OAS) are usually destroyed by cooking. However this is not the case with celery, which may cause a reaction even after being cooked.

I believe that common hogweed allergy is really like a classic celery allergy being found in people not necessarily experiencing a celery allergy. If the furanocoumarins in some of the common hogweed plants reach higher than normal levels – increased by UVA light, pathogen attack or mechanical damage – and exceed the levels found in shop-bought celery, then the allergy will be triggered.

Why are allergies on the increase?

Interestingly, there are a lot of the problems with celery nowadays (a 4 fold increase in the last 20 years). If it was introduced now as a novel food, I’m quite sure it wouldn’t be allowed on the market! One reason for the increase is that, by selectively breeding the plants to be more resistant to insects and fungi, man has raised the furanocoumarin content in celery to levels which now trigger the allergy in people who didn’t get it before. There are studies comparing people handling different strains of celery which prove this perfectly.

Who is particularly susceptible?

Although anyone could theoretically get a phototoxic injury from sap high in furanocoumarins, during normal consumption of celery (and I believe common hogweed) only those with a celery species allergy or the predeterminant qualifying factors (family atopy, recent UVA exposure, 3 pollen sensitives, etc) are likely to ever experience OAS mouth symptoms.

People with allergies to alder, birch or mugwort pollen are more likely to become allergic to celery. Typically the sufferer is already likely to have experienced hay fever, asthma, allergies or eczema. with a family history of them also. Many people have no idea that they have oral allergy syndrome until swelling, tingling or pain develops while eating certain foods.

There is also evidence that there are more allergy and hay fever sufferers down south as the south experiences higher pollen counts and airborne pollutants.

Sun tans and psoralen don’t mix!

It has also be found in some studies, that people who have already recently been exposed to sunlight (tanning beds or sunny spells) can react to psoralens when they have not previously reacted to them before. It has also been found that people with fairer, less pigmented skin (e.g. Skin Type I and II) are more prone to reactions than those with dark, pigmented skin. This is borne out by the clinical report of a woman who ate a large amount of celery root before using a sun bed. A comment on this case calculated that 22.5 mg of psoralens were in the 450g portion of celery root she ate.

The plants in the south of the British Isles are exposed to more sunlight (and possibly a greater intensity of sunlight than in Scotland). Also people living in the south are more exposed to sunlight. So if you have just got yourself a sun tan, you can theoretically increase your chances of having a reaction.

So it is logical to assume that both the common hogweed plant is variable and the foraging person is variable. The former as to psoralen content, the latter as to a predisposition to allergy.

Cross breeding?

Heracleum, is a far wider genus than possibly suspected. The European invasive species with known phytophototoxicity include giant hogweed Heracleum mantegazzianum, Sosnowski’s hogweed Heracleum sosnowskyi (not yet recorded in UK) and Persian hogweed Heracleum persicum (possibly in the UK). (H. mantegazzianum is less shade tolerant than H. sosnowskyi.) Species of the genus Heracleum can hybridize causing confusing in species identification. There is also the possibility for some people of confusing the plant (before flowering) with wild parsnip Pastinaca saliva. The native European hogweeds are common hogweed Heracleum sphondylium and Siberian cow parsnip Heracleum sibiricum and further to that there are at least eight known hybrids but without distribution detail:

  • Heracleum sphondylium subsp. chloranthum (Borbás) Neumayer
  • Heracleum sphondylium subsp. elegans (Crantz) Schübl. & G. Martens
  • Heracleum sphondylium subsp. glabrum (Huth) Holub
  • Heracleum sphondylium subsp. orsinii (Guss.) H. Neumayer
  • Heracleum sphondylium subsp. pyrenaicum (Lam.) Bonnier & Layens
  • Heracleum sphondylium subsp. sibiricum (L.) Simonk.
  • Heracleum sphondylium subsp. sphondylium
  • Heracleum sphondylium subsp. trachycarpum (Soják) Holub

Important! Wear full protective clothing when strimming

Common hogweed is variable in sap phototoxicity with the most cases of phytophototoxicity reports coming from people who have attacked it with a strimmer.

As you read earlier, mechanical damage causes a phytoalexin (furanocoumarin precursor) response triggering the production of phototoxic sap, so a strimmer is a fairly fatal device and will set off the production of furanocoumarins in double quick time! You will also be more likely to suffer if you have been sweating and if it is sunny.

Basically when we launch an attack on the plant, the plant fights back to protect itself. They often ‘know’ we are coming. All plants are connected by fungal mycelium in the soil which like ‘Nature’s internet’ transports chemical signals to other plants. Some plants also give off pheromones (scent chemicals) which can signal distress – birch trees, for example, release methyl salicylate when attacked by aphids and other birches ‘smell’ this and start to produce defensive chemicals. So once the first hogweed plant has been strimmed it is likely that the rest of those in the hedgerow sense the danger, and will start to increase their furanocoumarin levels before you even get there! So as with any fight, put on your armour before going into battle and wear protective clothing and goggles. Even strimming nettles can result in minor burn spots with semi-permanent staining.

Update April 2017: I received an email from someone who’d been out with a strimmer and says “I volunteer with the National Trust and two weeks ago I was strimming an orchard with common hogweed. I was wearing protective clothing and a head helmet with a grill guard. Two days later I was sunning myself on the beach and my neck became very inflamed (like the picture of the lady who squeezed citrus fruit in your article). I reported what happened to the rangers the next week, and they were very aware of the symptoms and warned all the volunteers to protect their necks from spraying sap from hogweed strimming and to wear a full face guard. They also said I should immediately apply water to the affected areas to avoid skin burns. So maybe there should be more warnings out there to prevent others getting the burns. The rangers said the burn marks last for some considerable time. I’m applying hydrocortisone creame twice a day which seems to be helping.”

I advise: A) full protective clothing if you’re going to strim any hedgerow. Cow parsley, wild parsnip and even wild fennel have been reported as causing burns. B) if exposed, wash with soap and cold water to ensure all the sap is removed. C) Keep out of the sun for several days afterwards. D) if you are a ranger or employer do make sure that any one strimming for you should be provided with information and full protective clothing when using a strimmer. E) a scythe with a ditch blade is much safer than a strimmer as plants are not pulverised with sap flying everywhere, and just as effective and easy to use if kept sharp. 

If you attack a cornered wild animal you’d expect to get bitten, don’t forget that plants can’t move and some will also ‘bite back’. 

Personally speaking…

I will continue to eat common hogweed and teach responsible harvesting until celery, parsley and parsnips are banned from sale. But if you have a celery allergy or use sun beds I’d advise you not to eat or handle hogweed. And don’t eat it in excessive amounts, especially if you’ve been spending a lot of time in the sun!

Here is an interesting study on the effect of different quantities of celery eaten and the effects. It showed that the phytophototoxic threshold dose is not reached by the consumption of celery roots and other conventional vegetables under normal dietary habits. So as with most things, everything in moderation.


Other hogweedy posts:
Delicious hogweed tempura
Common Hogweed: A taste like no other
Edible wild spice conversion chart
Spiced Chaga and Elderberry Tea

============================

Allergy Update: June 2016

I recently heard from Eric Biggane who is also a foraging teacher. Eric says “I’ve been picking [common hogweed] without gloves since childhood and never reacted to it until about ten years ago. Now if I brush past the plant at any time of year my hands come up in itchy painful blisters that a week later cause my hands to dry out and crack to the point of bleeding. This reaction happens in the same places regardless of where my skin contacted the plant. I’ve seen several skin specialists who deny that I’m allergic to anything and give up looking. Please don’t think I’m in any way criticising your excellent website, what made me write to you was you mentioned in it the effect might be accumulative and that has got me thinking as I was fine years ago. I used to work on a farm and harvested celery by hand, sometimes I would have a mild reaction to the sap, maybe that didn’t help. I’m always cautious when I teach people about hogweed but I always feel like it’s putting people off, as I said I’m the only person I’ve ever met who has a reaction to the stuff. If you know of anybody else who reacts, please let me know as I would love to talk to them as it quite a severe reaction.”

As allergies can be accumulative it is quite possible that his early reactions to picking celery sensitised him and is causing contact dermatitis when he handles hogweed.

Interestingly, I have a friend who took up juicing. He liked the apple, carrot and celery combination and instead of varying different juices throughout the day, he drank only this combination for about a month. He was juicing two heads of celery, a bag of apples and a bag of carrot and drinking it daily. After about a month, when the summer arrived, he started to get dark pigmented patches on his face. They reminded me of the melasma experienced by some women as a hormonal change. As his health was otherwise good, we could only put it down to a phytophotodermatitis reaction to ‘overdosing’ on celery juice (although perhaps it was the carrots?). For the last two years, in the summer as soon as his skin starts to tan, the patches reappear in exactly the same place, although, in his case, this is not accompanied by any itching or pain. So the compounds in celery juice can certainly start a phytophotodermatitis reaction.

Phototoxicity in limes and citrus fruits

There are also documented cases that dark, pigmented facial burns can also happen from ingesting too much citrus fruit when also in contact with sunshine. Here is also a case of a woman who developed lesions several hours after she had baked a key lime pie from scratch. Part of the preparation included squeezing fresh limes by hand; afterwards, she walked outside on a bright, sunny day. The picture below shows the burns she experienced.

Phototoxic reaction to limes and sunlight

Bartenders who make cocktails and chefs who squeeze limes and lemons should be aware of this and avoid going out in the sunshine after handling a lot of citrus.

While grapefruit juice also contains furanocoumarins it seems that they are weaker and of low concern. It seems that the coumarin derivative limettin present in limes is to blame.

Parsnip, celeriac and carrot allergies

Parsnips can also be problematic as they too contain furanocoumarins but again, it seems to be all in the amount eaten and the exposure to sunlight, as a 200g portion of parsnip seems to be under the threshold. Some people also experience contact sensitivity to carrot, parsnip and celeriac, all members of the Apiaceae family.

Heracleum maximum (prev. H. lanatum) known as cow parsnip in North America can give the same type of burns as giant hogweed. It is, confusingly, occasionally also called ‘hogweed’ although it is not the same species as the British common hogweed but closely related. Here is the case of an 11 year old boy in Alaska who experienced burns after coming in contact with H. lanatum.

Every now and then there are reports of contact dermatitis caused by carrots too Report 1. Report 2. and another common Apiaceae herb, a parsley reaction in a boy and phytophotodermatitis in pigs exposed to parsley. Carrots and parsley are also related to celery and hogweed.

As even the most innocuous foods, not just in the Apiaceae family, such as the humble lettuce can cause allergies, it is sensible when trying a new food always to try a small amount first.

Monkshood (Wolfsbane) poisoning

Monkshood (Aconitum napellus) also called Wolfsbane, is pictured here growing in a hawthorn bush. This is a very poisonous plant. Aconitine, mesaconitine, hypaconitine and other alkaloids have potent cardiotoxins and neurotoxins found in all parts of the Aconitum species, especially in the tubers and roots.  The Latin name Aconite comes from the Greek ἀκόνιτον which means “without dust” and “without struggle”. It was used as a poison for arrow heads when hunting wolves (hence wolfsbane) and, as it is so fast acting, probably had then falling in the dust without a struggle

The neurotoxins, aconitine and mesaconitine can be absorbed through the skin and cause severe respiratory and cardiac problems. So do not pick or handle this plant without gloves, especially by the root.

Common signs of monkshood poisoning include tingling, tongue and mouth go numb, nausea with vomiting, breathing becomes harder and laboured, pulse and heartbeat become weak and irregular, skin is cold and clammy.

Patients with internal Aconitum poisoning will have cardiovascular (slows and stops the heart), neurological (pain, convulsions, paralysis), gastrointestinal symptoms (nausea and vomiting) and there are often other signs (for example, confusion and mania can occur if the alkaloids reach the brain). Multiple organ failure is likely. In autopsies, Aconitum alkaloid levels are found to be highest in the liver and kidneys, and lower in the heart and cerebrum, the latter having lower levels than the blood (Niitsu et al, 2012). The attached charts show the distribution of alkaloids in the organs at autopsy.

The estimated lethal dose is 2 mg of aconitine, 5 ml of aconite tincture and 1 g of the raw aconite plant (Chan, 2012; Qin et al., 2012). A 2mg dose of aconitine can cause death within 4 hours. Luckily cases of fatal monkshood poisoning are rare as it tastes foul and bitter and would quickly be spat out.

There is no known antidote.

As well as the already mentioned toxins aconitine, mesaconitine and hypaconitine, poisonous monkshood also contains at least a dozen other poisonous compounds, diterpenoid alkaloids, jesaconitine, lycoctonine, neopelline, neoline, benzoylaconines, and aconins. So not a baby to be messed with. Avoid picking a wild bouquet of it to take home!!

One of monkshood’s older common names was Venus’ Chariot so it may have been used in pagan flying ointments. So called “flying ointments” were allegedly used by witches (hence flying on broomsticks (wooden dildos)) where a balm or salve containing a poisonous herb was applied to the skin to control the dose. Sound evidence of this,as you can imagine, is missing. The purpose was to avail the shaman or witch of a dangerous herb’s intoxicants, getting high for visionary or mystical journeys, while avoiding some of the fatal effects. Don’t try this at home as just 2 milligrams of aconitine is lethal. Dangerous games!

Recently (Inquest Report June 2015) there was sad news in the media about the death of Nathan Greenway (7 Sept 2014), a gardener who died of multiple organ failure. He had allegedly brushed past a lot of monkshood (27 August) but had not handled any of it – to anyone’s knowledge. The coroner ruled that his death was due to unexplained causes.

In Nathan’s case, as death occurred some 10 days after developing symptoms, monkshood poisoning was ruled out as monkshood’s fatal effects are usually instantaneous. Also some of the symptoms were not those expected. For example it was reported that he was ‘drenched in sweat’ – was this the clamminess associated with Aconitum poisoning or a viral sweat?

Richard Greenway, Nathan’s father, who investigated and made the connection with monkshood poisoning, thought the plant was to blame. Asmat Mustajab, the histopathologist called for the pre-inquest hearing, also believed that aconitum “more likely than not” played a key role in Nathan’s death

Infuriatingly, the blood samples taken on his admission to hospital were destroyed – despite being labelled ‘To Be Retained’. As aconitines wreak their damage immediately but leave the body within 24 hours, it is theoretically possible that later analysis failed to detect aconitines – especially as they were not being looked for at the time as they thought he might have Ebola or another virus.

Modern intensive care can also keep patients alive for longer even with severe organ damage having been sustained.

I’m not in possession of the full facts and merely speculating from an uniformed position, but I would personally have thought that it was possible for Nathan to have died if he had handled the plants.  He may not have been observed handling them; if he had been working hard and sweating his skin pores would have been open; on a large estate ‘brushing against’ a colony of monkshood (rather than just a plant or two) could have had a cumulative effect; we are not told how long the leaves were in contact with his skin. But I wasn’t there, nor have I seen the inquest report, so in this case we must conclude that Nathan must have died for another reason. My thoughts are very much with the Nathan’s wife, father and family.

Regardless, do be aware of the plant and avoid handling it, especially by the roots. There is clinical evidence not just anecdotal that it can be absorbed by the skin (percutaneous poisoning). One of our @NapiersHerbs Twitter followers reported the following experience: “@RavenPulsar: Once I forgot to wear gloves & picked up a very young plant by the roots – hands went numb… washed hands & was ok thankfully (!)”

References:

Chan, T.Y. (2012). Aconitum alkaloid content and the high toxicity of aconite tincture. Forensic Sci. Int., 222, 1–3
Niitsu et al. (2012). Distribution of Aconitum alkaloids in autopsy cases of aconite poisoning. Forensic Sci Int. 10(227), (1-3):111-7. doi: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2012.10.021.

Qin, Y., Wang, J., Zhao, Y., Shan, L., Li, B.C., Fang, F., Jin, C., & Xiao, X.H. (2012). Establishment of a bioassay for the toxicity evaluation and quality control of Aconitum herbs. J. Hazard. Mater., 199–200, 350–357

Traditional Elderflower Cordial

Ingredients

For each litre of water allow 10 large elderflower heads, 1 lemon (grated zest and juice) and 1 tsp citric acid (optional) and 1/2 kilo white sugar. 

Directions

Boil the water and pour over the flowers and zest. Leave overnight in a warm place to infuse. 

In the morning strain the liquid off through a scalded piece of muslin placed over a sieve into a saucepan. Add the lemon juice and sugar. 

Heat gently, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. then turn up the heat and bring to a boil. Boil rapidly for 3 minutes exactly then take off the gas. 

Pour, via a funnel, into sterilised bottles. Seal with a sterilised cap and leave to cool. 

Dilute the cordial with water or fizzy water to serve. 

Note

I have experimented with lower amounts of sugar but less than 250g/litre and it doesn’t keep well. This gives a less sweet cordial that is not as syrupy. 

There is also a recipe for Meadowsweet Cordial and a video 

Salad Dressing – The Secret to a High Veg Diet

To be healthy, slim and feel full of energy and vitality you need to really review the type of fuel (food) that you’re running on. It’s common sense. Garbage in, garbage out. Great food in, great results.

I recommend a very high vegetable diet. It’s not just that I know the results work, not just for me and my chubby genes, but for many people I’ve advised on reversing chronic health problems at Napiers the Herbalists. And the science is slowly and surely catching up. Having your 5 a day is being reconsidered to having your 7 or 10 a day, out of which most should be vegetables not fruits. Carbohydrates (bread, pasta, potatoes, roots) convert to sugar in the body. They should only be consumed in very small amounts and then only in the cold winter months when the body needs extra fuel.

I always recommend that your plate divides up as follows:
75% vegetables (but not potatoes)
15% protein (fish, wild or grass fed meats, tofu)
5% fats (nuts, seeds, oil)
5% low GI carbs (or if eliminating carbs, more veg).
This is very simplistic as foods cross over into other groups but it works as a visual guide to what the right balance is. Draw these divisions onto a cheap white plate with a ceramic marker pen and fire it in the oven to keep you visually on track!

Home grown and wild salad and vegetables

Home grown and wild salad and vegetables

To change your diet radically, I also suggest that you start with a 3 or 5 day juice reboot. This is when you drink 4-5 glasses of juices (at least 50% vegetable) during the day for 3 to 5 days with only coconut water and herbal teas in between. Done over a long weekend it is easy to manage.

Beetroot, Orange, Kale, Lemon and Ginger Juice

Beetroot, Orange, Kale, Lemon and Ginger Juice

The trick is to buy everything you need at the beginning so that you are organised. The 5 day one is the best because it gives you long enough to really see the results. On day 2 and 3 some people get headaches but these quickly pass. The first few days can be harder as you still get carb cravings. But by Day 5 these have all vanished, freeing you up to really enjoy your new veg-based, vitality diet.

Our gut cannot break down everything we eat on its own. In your gut you have millions of bacteria vital to your body – in fact if you could take them all out they would weigh the same as your brain – and we can’t properly digest our food without the help of these friendly bacteria. But modern living has changed the balance of our microbiome. Research on hunter-gather communities shows that your average city dweller has only 40% of the bacterial variety of a traditional hunter-gatherer with far less of the bacteria species for breaking down plants.

So the first thing your body has to work on is changing that balance. Simplistically… if you’ve had a high carb/sugar diet, your body will have more of those bacteria (lets call them bacteria C), and if you hardly eat any veg you will hardly have any bacteria V (for veg). So if you dramatically change your diet, bacteria C (saying “Where’s ma loaf an tatties gone?!”) will create carb cravings (hunger pangs) while bacteria V will be having to multiply rapidly (Where’s all the veg suddenly coming from? We need reinforcements to get through this lot.”) I recommend the juice reboot with total carb/sugar elimination for 5 days simply because it gets the discomfort over and done with quickly in 5 days. If you get organised, everyone can manage 5 days. Honest!

Once your vegetable intake is high enough, your gut flora changes and those carb cravings vanish, you start to feel full of energy, your skin clears up and your weight drops.. The bacteria settle down in the right quantities and are quietly content. If I get disorganised and I don’t always have enough veg to hand (sadly they go off so need picking/shopping every second day), what happens is that my veg intake drops and then I get carb hunger and break my regime. The carb bacteria C quickly remultiply and then you have to reduce them all over again with the accompanying cravings. So the key is to shop little and often and make sure that the divisions you’ve drawn on your plate are kept to – then the rest is easy. Carbs become an occasional item – hopefully baked yourself so you know what’s in them and they’re good quality carbs.

One common excuse I am given a lot by people is that, try as they might, they don’t ‘like’ vegetables. And by vegetables I mean leaves, shoots, buds and flowers digested by bacteria V – not the starchy carb-filled roots that satisfy bacteria C!

Wild garlic, home grown kale and others

Wild garlic, home grown kale and others

Again, your palette will change once you have been doing this long enough. You will learn to distinguish between your desire for bitter and your desire for sweet, as they are easily confused and there are so many sugar filled temptations to instantly satisfy your desire! Without exception, the key to this rests with a blindingly good salad dressing. This can be poured over any leaf salad, and also used as a dressing for cooked green vegetables. This tangy, tasty, veg-transforming recipe was first given to me by a friend who got it from a friend… and I hope you will also pass it on.

Version 1
50% good quality olive oil
25% light soy sauce
25% freshly squeezed lemon juice
1-2 crushed cloves of fresh garlic
Put all the ingredients together in a bottle or jam jar and shake very well. Keeps for days so make a lot and use liberally over all your salads and veg. I buy my light soy sauce from the Asian section to keep the price under control!

Version 2
50% good quality olive oil
25% light soy sauce
25% infused dark vinegar (e.g. raspberry, elderberry, balsamic)
1-2 crushed cloves of fresh garlic
Small knob grated fresh ginger root
Small sliced fresh chilli pepper
Put all together and shake, shake, shake.

A wild and homegrown Spring salad

A wild and homegrown Spring salad

Low Gluten Low GI Rye Spelt Bread

I’m pretty gluten or bread-chemical intolerant to white bread these days so I make my own. I think the rise in gluten intolerance is also linked to bread not being allowed to ferment long enough. This can be achieved with a sourdough ferment but not as easily with bakers yeast. But this rye/spelt loaf tastes delicious and doesn’t give us bloat or stomach pains.

Ingredients
500g spelt flour
500g rye flour
10g dried baker’s yeast
10g salt
10g powdered seaweed (e.g. dulse)
200ml goats milk yoghurt
400ml warm water (mixed with yoghurt
1 tablespoon good olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
2 handfuls assorted seeds

Directions
Mix the flours, yeast, salt & seaweed together in a large bowl. Add the olive oil and honey and mix in using the back of a large metal spoon. Then add the liquid, mixing first with the spoon, and eventually getting your (clean) hands in.

Turn out on to a clean floured surface and knead for 10 to 15 minutes. Rye flour does not go stretchy as less gluten but still needs vigorous kneading. sprinkle with flour every now and then if the dough is a little sticky.

Shape into a ball and leave in a warm place in a teatowel covered bowl for an hour – until dough is doubled in size. Then poke the risen dough back down (to deflate it) with your finger tips. Let it rise again, then knock it down. Repeat once more. Now divide into two, take one half and shape it into a loaf (1 kg flour makes 2 loaves) by rolling the dough in and folding the ends under. Repeat.

Brush the top and sides with milk (I use oat milk) to make them sticky then roll them in your seed mixture. Now make 2 or 3  deep, diagonal cuts (about 1 cm deep) in the loaves.

Leave for a final rise on a peel or tray (about 15-20 mins) until when you dent the loaf with your finger it springs back quickly and lightly. While waiting set your fan oven to 200C. On an upper shelf put a really heavy duty baking tray (or put in a tile or baker’s stone when you set the cold oven). On a lower shelf put an empty metal roasting tin to heat.

When the dough is risen and the oven is hot, put the kettle on to boil. Open the oven and quickly slide (or place) the loaves on to the hot baking tray. Then pour boiling water into the roasting tin to about a third up – this is to create steam. Close the oven door and set timer for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes check the loaves. If they are browning too quickly turn the oven down to 180. Return to the oven for another 40 minutes (checking at 30). It should now be a beautiful brown on top and sound hollow when knocked. put on a wite tray to cool. Do not cut it until it is cold. if you give in the dough (which is still cooking inside) will sag and the bread will be doughy on the inside. When cool… slice and enjoy!!

 Above: At final proving stage

Above: Baked and cooling down.   

Seeds and Weeds Crackers Recipe

Seeds and weeds crackers recipe

This is my Mark II revision of these fantastic, versatile little crackers. Honestly, you’ll never buy crisps or junk biscuits again! They are so tasty and go well down a treat with cheese, pesto – especially wild garlic pesto at this time of the year, hoummous, chutney, pate and seaweed or salmon mousse, or just on their own. 

Ingredients
200g spelt flour
20g blitzed Parmesan crumbs
3 tbsp olive oil (try truffle oil)
2 tsps dried flaked dulse Palmaria palmata
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp chili flakes
50g mixed small seeds (sunflower, nettle, niger, caraway, poppy, linseed, wild carrot, pignut, ground elder… or chopped herbs like dill, wild garlic..)
140ml warm water

Directions
Put the oven on to heat at 200C. I find a conventional oven gives more even results than a fan oven.

In a mixing bowl, add the olive oil to the spelt and mix in, with the back of a metal spoon, until well distributed.

Then add all the other dry ingredients stirring to distribute evenly.

Now slowly add the warm water and mix through. Gently knead into a soft, pliable ball.

Dust a clean table and rolling pin with extra spelt flour. Then divide the ball into thirds and roll each one out, as thin as you can, to about a thickness of 1 to 2mm. Try to make every set the same thickness to cook evenly.

Cut out rounds with a biscuit cutter or cut into rectangular strips with a knife for ‘thins’.

Put the uncooked crackers on to a tray lined with lightly greased baking paper.

Now put in the oven and bake for 10 minutes for 1mm thick crackers, or 12 minutes for 2mm thick crackers.

After 20 minutes is up, remove from oven and, using a frying pan slice, slip the crackers onto a wire rack to cool.

They cool in just 5 minutes.

Enjoy!

 seeds and weeds crackers 

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10-12 minutes per tray
Makes: 20-30 crackers

Morel Nuggets Recipe 

Springtime is morel time! There are lots of fabulous ways to cook morels but this is a favourite.  

Morel - morchella esculenta

Preparation 
First clean your morels thoroughly. I don’t like soaking them as it degrades the texture and dilutes the taste. If they are very buggy seal them in a freezer bag for a while and all the little bugs will run out of the crevices as they run out of oxygen. But here in Scotland, bugs are not such a problem in the early Spring as it’s still quite chilly. These ones were prepared by slicing them into quarters and brushing them with a pastry brush.

Morel - morchella esculenta

Ingredients
Morels (Morchella esculenta or M. elata)
An egg or two
Breadcrumbs
Powdered seaweed
Salt
Pepper

Directions
Spread freshly made breadcrumbs out on a baking tray and toast in a hot oven (200C) for 5 minutes until light golden brown. Season with powdered seaweed (I used pepper dulse), salt and pepper.

Beat egg well in a bowl. 

Heat butter in a frying pan over a low heat so not to burn the butter. 

Quickly dip each piece of morel in the egg then dunk it in the seasoned breadcrumbs until completely covered. 

Fry gently on each side until golden brown. Remove from pan onto a plate lined with kitchen paper to drain briefly before serving.

Morel - morchella esculenta

Spiced Chaga & Elderberry Tea

A fabulous brew for foraging in the rain when you don’t want to end up with a cold! 

I’ve used elderberries (Sambucus nigra) against colds and flu for years. It’s so tasty my children were always happy to drink it, rather than echinacea tincture. So I make litres of elderberry syrup every year. You can make lovely hot, mulled teas by adding thyme, rosemary, sage and other kitchen herbs. Today, having harvested a huge amount of chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) recently I made this spicier version.

Chaga mushroom  harvest

Chaga mushroom

Both chaga and elderberries are great at supporting the immune system. Chaga strengthens and balances, elderberry stimulates (cytokine release), lemon contain vitamin C and ginger is antibiotic. I mix it all with some kitchen spices, and hogweed seed when I have it, to make a really tasty, warming brew.

Chaga infusing  in elderberry

Chaga infusing in elderberry

Ingredients (makes 4 cups)
1 cup of elderberry syrup
3 cup water
3 tsp grated chaga
3 tsp grated fresh ginger root
1 tsp grated nutmeg
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 lemon (juice and zest)

Directions
Simmer the chaga, lemon zest, grated ginger and all the spices in the water for ten minutes. (If you have time you can leave to infuse overnight to strengthen the medicinal chaga extract but you can also drink it straightaway if in a hurry.) Add the lemon juice and elderberry syrup and warm it right through. Strain off using a sieve lined with a little gauze or muslin. Drink!

NB When grating chaga, hold the black outer edge and grate the brown side where the fungus is most active.

Chaga mushroom

Chaga mushroom

Foraged and garden micro salad

This time of year brings a Spring cacophony of fantastic flavours to your salad bowl. Micro greens from the polytunnel providing a neutral base of coloured lettuces to showcase the pungent, tangy, hot, wasabi, tingling, sweet, bitter or just indescribable tastes of the foraged wild micro greens.  

Wild and garden micro salad

Red lollo lettuce, wild rocket, sheep’s sorrel, cuckoo flower, primrose, kale flower, ground elder, wild garlic, few flowered leek seed, dill and scurvy grass. 

Gathering the tame and the wild

Baby pak choi, cleavers, hogweed shoots (for frying), broccoli leaf, kale flowers, radish, lamb’s lettuce and bittercress. 

Gathering the tame and the wild  Wild garlic leaf and buds, curly kale, wild rocket, sheep’s sorrel and scurvy grass flowers. 

Gathering the tame and the wild Sweet cicely (for dessert), wild garlic leaf and bud, curly kale leaf and flower, lady’s smock. 

Butterbur fuki recipe

The flowers are passing but there’s still time to make butterbur fuki, a Japnese delicacyPick the stems from the most tender looking leaves. 

 

The leaf stems must be prepared and cooked properly. Cut off the leaves and halve the stems lengthways. 

Then roll the bundle in salt, on a chopping board. This releases the liquid in the stems and makes them a little less bitter – although it’s specific bitterness is what you want in this dish. 

Now blanch them for a minute or two (depending how thick they are) then remove and rinse. Plunge them into cold water while you get your other ingredients together. 

When you are ready to go, peel off the outer covering of the stems and chop into pieces about 4 cm long. Then cook in a miso broth with wild garlic or wild leek, a little seaweed or fish if you like.  

NB Never eat butterbur raw. Like comfrey and coltsfoot it contains PA alkaloids. It is used in traditional herbal medicine as a cure for asthma and hay fever.

St George’s Mushroom

From ‘British Edible Fungi: How to Distinguish and Cook them.’
By M. C. Cooke, M.A., L.L.D., A.L.S. London, 1891.

St George’s mushroom:
Agaricus gambosus 1821, Tricholoma gambosum c1891, Calocybe gambosa to 2015.

THE only really good spring mushroom, except the Morels, is the St. George’s mushroom (Agaricus gambosus) presumably called because it makes its first appearance about St. George’s day.

There is a legend accounting for the name, which is current in Hungary, that it was a gift from St. George. Readers may please themselves which account they choose to adopt. Some confusion has also prevailed as to the scientific name which Dr. Badham gave as Agaricus prunulus, and some others have called it Agaricus Georgii, whereas the veritable prunulus and also the true Georgii are different species. In France it is called the mouceron or mousseron on account of its growing amongst moss, and from this it has been stated that our name “mushroom,” applied generally to another species, has been derived.

The St. George’s mushroom is a pasture-loving species, and is not found in woods. In ordinary circumstances the cap is about three inches in diameter but it will reach four or five, and Dr. Badham states that he has found it six inches across, and weighing between four and five ounces. He adds that he collected one spring at Keston, in Kent, from ten to twelve pounds in a single ring, and in one field from twenty to twenty-five pounds. From this it will be seen that it is a gregarious species, many specimens being found growing in company, in the form of rings, or part of rings, in the same manner as the fairy-ring champignon. In some parts a prejudice exists amongst the farmers against them, on the supposition that they injure the grass crops, and for that reason they are kicked over and destroyed. A better plan would be to collect them in a basket, and carry them home to cook; but prejudice is blind.

In addition to its being found in fields and pastures in the spring, when agarics are rare, and its gregarious habit, it also has a strong and peculiar odour, which is rather oppressive if a large number are taken into a room. The cap is thick in its flesh, covered with a dry cuticle, soft to the touch, like a delicate kid glove, smooth but often cracking when old. In colour it is usually of a creamy whiteness, inclined to become yellowish at the top, and not so regular in form as the ordinary mushroom, but lobed, and waved at the margin, which is turned in for a long time, and wholly of a firm substance. When cut through the flesh is often nearly an inch thick at the centre. The stem is thick (nearly an inch) and short, of the same colour as the cap, rather thicker at the base, and often contorted, or irregular. The gills are a watery white, and very numerous, commonly arched, reaching the stem, to which they are attached. The spores are also white. It would be difficult to confound this with any other species, especially when it is remembered that all fungi are rare at the time of its appearance, and if our description is read over carefully, it would be difficult to mistake it at any time, not forgetting the strong odour, its growing in rings, and its white gills and spores. We have never encountered anyone who disliked this mushroom when tasted, but we have heard it objected to as being rather heavy and indigestible for delicate stomachs. Experience, however, has never enabled us to support this charge, and we can only say with Dr. Badham, that “it is the most savoury fungus with which we are acquainted.”

Field blewit:
Agaricus personatus 1818; Tricholoma personatum 1871; Lepista personata to 2015.

There are two or three agarics which have many points in common with the foregoing, from a gastronomic point of view, that we purpose including them here, as the same modes of cooking are applicable to all. The first of these are the Blewits [field blewit], which is a truly autumnal species, sometimes collected as late as November, and seldom appearing at all until October. It loves the grass in open places, such as parks, but not woods and forests. Sowerby has stated that in his time it was occasionally sold under the name of “Blewits” in Covent Garden Market, but we have never seen it exposed for sale in this country. It is more regular in the shape of its caps than the St. George’s mushroom, and similar in size, but not viscid, with an oily appearance. In colour it is most commonly of a dirty white, sometimes greyish, or with a tinge of violet, also thick in the flesh, and firm, but it imbibes water readily, so that it is liable to become sodden and dark in wet weather. The edge is at first turned in, and looks frosted, or minutely velvety, but this soon disappears. The stem is one to three inches long, and about three quarters of an inch thick, rather swollen at the base and stained with lilac, which colour also penetrates into the flesh of the stem. The gills are numerous, rounded behind, and scarcely attached to the stem, dirty white, now and then tinged with violet, but the spores are white. It has a strong odour, but not so powerful as the St. George’s mushroom, and is equally pleasant to the taste. This is also a gregarious species and is said to be fond of growing in rings, but we have never recognised this habit although several specimens will generally be found growing in company. Although this fungus seems to correspond, as a late species, to the St. George’s, which is an early one, and they have several points in common, but there is no suspicion of it being the same species, indeed this could hardly be possible. The similarity extends even to the flavour when cooked, although we retain a preference for the former. The Blewits should not be collected for the table when they are water-logged; since they will hardly give satisfaction in that condition, but when in a good state, they are undoubtedly an excellent esculent.

Wood blewit:
Agaricus nudus 1790; Tricholoma nudum c1891; Lepista nuda to 2015.

Another species which seems to have been confounded by earlier writers with “Blewits” under the name of “Blue Caps” is a very common autumnal species amongst dead leaves in woods. Perhaps for this the name “Bluecaps” [wood blewit] might be appropriated. It is really a very fine and handsome species, gregarious like the others, but when young of a light violet blue, becoming ruddy with age. In books it is said to be two inches in diameter, but we have seen twenty individuals growing together, not one of which was less than five or six inches. The cap is at first convex, but soon flattened, quite smooth, not viscid, and at last depressed, and almost brick red. It has been called amethyst colour, but there is much more blue in the tone than in amethyst, and it always has a remarkably clean appearance. The stem varies according to the size of the cap, for in the large specimens alluded to it was six or seven inches long, and more than an inch thick, but more commonly it is half those dimensions. In colour the stem is similar to the cap, but perhaps a little paler, with a little white wooliness at the base. The gills are numerous and either rounded behind or running down the stem, at first of the same colour as the cap, but becoming ruddy with age. The spores are always white. For the table we always collect specimens which retain their violet blue colour, and of these we have seen sufficient within an hour to fill a bushel basket. It is, in some places, where there are plenty of dead leaves on the ground, one of the commonest autumnal species. In other places it seems to be comparatively rare. Once recognized and identified it cannot be confounded with any other species, and we have breakfasted upon it daily for a week, without surfeit or inconvenience. It has but a very slight odour, and possesses a more delicate flavour than either of the foregoing.

Culinary notes

The St. George mushroom has secured for itself in all countries where it is known golden opinions. In some instances this is probably due to the successful intervention of the cook, since fungi, more than aught else, depend much upon the efficiency of the cook. If the cooking of fungi has not yet been elevated to the position of a high art, it deserves to be, for the same fungus will please or displease with the merits of the operator. Dr Badham declared this to be the most savoury fungus with which he was acquainted, and justly considered so over almost the whole continent of Europe. Edwin Lees, who was a pronounced mycophagist, was “inclined to give it the highest place as an agaric for the table. There is nothing about its appearance to displease the most fastidious. It has an amiable and clean look, grows in pastures of fresh springing grass, and has an ambrosial smell – an aroma different from and more pleasant than the common catsuppy odour of the common mushroom. It has a delicate appearance when served up, and an agreeable taste. Whoever has partaken of it once wishes to do so again.” The Rev. M. J. Berkeley had always a good word in its favour. He says – “it is one that a person cannot very well make any mistake about. It sometimes attains a large size, is excellent in flavour , and particularly wholesome.” To this may be added the testimony of Mr. Worthington Smith, himself an incorrigible fungus-eater, who remarks that – “few species are more substantial and delightful for the table. I look upon it with unusual favour, as one of the rarest delicacies of the vegetable kingdom.” The late Dr. Bull said of it, that “when grown quickly after the rains of early spring, and before attacked by grubs, it is certainly an excellent agaric. It has a very delicate flavour, and is very light and wholesome. When gathered in dry weather it is more firm in texture, and not so good in flavour.”

Recipes

After such testimonials, we need only refer to the methods which have been specially recommended of its preparation. Dr. Badham considered the best method to be “either to mince, or fricassee it with any sort of meat, or in a vol-au-vent, the flavour of which it greatly improves; or simply prepared with salt, pepper, and a small piece of bacon, lard, or butter, to prevent burning, it constitutes of itself an excellent dish”

The Woolhope Club receipt is to “place some fresh made toast nicely divided, on a dish and put the agarics upon it, with a small piece of butter on each; then pour on each a teaspoonful of milk or cream, and add a single clove to the whole dish. Place an inverted basin over the whole, bake for twenty minutes, and serve without removing the basin until it comes to the table, so as to preserve the heat and aroma, which, on lifting the cover, will be diffused through the room.”

This is also one of the species which dries readily when divided into pieces, or sliced, and in this form retains much of its excellence. A few pieces added to soups, gravies, or made dishes gives to them a delicious flavour. To prevent their becoming mouldy when kept in close tins or bottles, they must be stored in a perfectly dry place. For this, and all other dried fungi, it is recommended not to exclude them entirely from the air, as they would be in bottles or canisters, but to store them in linen or muslin bags, which allows any contained moisture to escape, without producing mouldiness, or a musty flavour.

The modes of cooking are the same in the case of the blue caps [wood blewits] the Blewitts [field blewits] and St. George’s mushrooms. They may all be grilled or fried in the same manner as the common mushroom, but we do not think them so well suited for stewing. Perhaps the most successful plan is to place a lump of butter in the frying-pan with a sufficiency of gravy or milk, and a little curry powder, fry for seven or eight minutes, then throw in the sliced agarics, fry gently for ten minutes, and serve up quickly with snippets of toast.

It is also a good method to remove the stems and divide the caps down the centre. Place the pieces in a pie dish with a little pepper and salt, and a small piece of butter on each half. Either tie a paper close over the dish, or cover it closely by other means, and bake gently for about half an hour. Serve in the same dish, which should not be uncovered until placed on the table.

A simpler method is to cut off the stems close, sprinkle pepper and salt over them, and place them in a frying pan, gills upwards, in the fat after the bacon has been fried, or in default of bacon to place a piece of butter on each cap. Then fry them until thoroughly done, when they will be soft all over, and appetizing in odour and taste They may be served with bacon, or on toast.

Edible horsetail shoots

Young horsetail shoots (Equisetum arvense) are an edible wild food, fine for foraging when they are young. They look pretty much as they were in the Paleozoic era but considerably smaller. 

Remove the sheath from over the knobbly joints first. Blanch in boiling water to which you have added 2 tsp vinegar and 1 tsp salt per litre. After 30 seconds in the boiling water, remove and plunge into cold water for a couple of minutes. Remove and gently pat dry with kitchen paper. Then fry in oil or butter until just crisping with a final sauté in a little dry sherry.  

  

   

Kefir Tequila Lemonade Cocktail

This is a really refreshing twist on a classic marguerita cocktail using kefir made by fermenting water kefir grains in sugar, sultanas, lemon and ginger for 5 days.

Kefir Tequila Lemonade Cocktail

Kefir Tequila Lemonade Cocktail

Ingredients

  • 3 measures (3 x 25 ml) best tequila
  • 2 measures (3 x 25 ml) kefir lemonade
  • 1 measure (25 ml) 1:1 sugar syrup
  • 2 lime wedges
  • Cracked ice
  • Ground sea salt

Directions

    Sugar Syrup
  1. To make the sugar syrup dissolve equal parts of castor sugar to water by volume.
  2. The Cocktail
  3. Chill cocktail glasses and then twist the rims into ground salt.
  4. Fill a Manhattan cocktail mixer one third with ice and swirl to chill.
  5. Add the tequila, the kefir and the sugar syrup
  6. Shake for 15 seconds.
  7. Pour into glasses.
  8. Twist a lime quarter to release the oils and garnish each glass with the lime.
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Mo’s Crispbread Crackers

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I love Dr Karg crackers but being on a tight budget can’t afford to eat them as often as I would like. So here is my recipe for a similar home-made, seeded crispbread cracker that is lighter, crispier and absolutely delicious.

Mo's Crispbread Crackers

Prep Time: 45 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 5 minutes

50 crackers

Serving Size: 2

Mo's Crispbread Crackers

Ingredients

  • 125g rye flour
  • 125g spelt
  • 1 tsp dried instant yeast
  • 100 ml warm water
  • 50 ml milk
  • 50g Parmesan cheese
  • 40 g pumpkin seeds
  • 12 g oats
  • 12 g sunflower seeds
  • 12 g linseeds
  • 12 g caraway seeds
  • 7 g sesame seeds
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp powdered seaweed
  • 20 ml olive oil

Directions

  1. Combine the flours, yeast, warm water and milk into a dough. Cover with a tea towel and put in a warm place for half an hour.
  2. Grate the cheese (not too finely) and weigh out all the seeds.
  3. Switch the oven to 200 C (400 F / gas mark 6) to preheat.
  4. After the half hour is up, add the rest of the dry ingredients to the dough.
  5. Knead in the olive oil.
  6. Line several baking trays with greaseproof paper.
  7. Dust a wooden board and pastry roller with flour. Break off a handful of dough and roll out to the thickness of the pumpkin seeds.
  8. Cut into 8 cm (3 inch) squares with a knife and lift onto the baking trays.
  9. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until evenly light brown on top.
  10. Use a pan slice to remove them from the tray and put them onto a wire rack.
  11. Allow to cool and crisp for 10 minutes before eating.
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Alexanders Soup

Alexanders 'Smyrnium' Soup

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

6

Serving Size: 320 ml

Alexanders 'Smyrnium' Soup

A really delicious fragrant soup that makes the most of the few greens available in January and February. Exceptionally tasty!

Ingredients

  • 4 large heads of alexanders Smyrnium olusatrum (stems peeled)
  • ?1 large parsnip?)?
  • 1 bunch of wild garlic Allium ursinum or wild leeks A. paradoxum or A. triquetum
  • ?6 strands of dulse? Palmaria palmata
  • 2 onions
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil?
  • 2 litre of good stock?
  • 1 tablespoon of birch bolete or porcini powder
  • Salt and pepper.

Directions

  1. Use a potato peeler to lightly scrape your alexanders stems and wild parsnip root to remove the outer fibres. Trim any roots off the wild garlic.
  2. Chop the onion and gently fry until translucent in coconut oil.
  3. Then add the chopped parsnip. Fry for 3 minutes then add the stock and the rest of the ingredients.
  4. Bring to the boil, and simmer for 10 minutes.
  5. Take off the heat and cool.
  6. Once a little cooler, use a stock blender to blend the ingredients or, if very cool, transfer to a blender or food processor.  
  7. Season with salt, pepper and a spoon of bolete powder.
  8. Reheat before serving.
  9. Garnish with a leaf spring of alexanders and some tiny wild leeks.

Notes

You can also make this using wild angelica or wild lovage later in the year.

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Unlike many of the other Umbillifers in the family, alexanders Smyrnium olusatrum prefers the cooler months and will quite happily keep producing bright green leaf over winter from November on. After Spring, these become too woody to eat which makes it the perfect choice of foraged vegetable for early February. That is, if you can find it! While common down south it is not widespread in Scotland but can be found in Edinburgh, Fife and East Lothian.

For eating straight as a vegetable, peel the side stalks and cut off the smaller branching stalks, and together with the leaves, steam for 7 minutes. Then add butter, salt and pepper! Or try this lovely soup above.

Alexanders soup

 

 

 

Hair Ice in Wales

I was recently contacted by Neville Davies from South Wales who discovered something unusual in his local woods this January. Neville sent me the photo below and writes:

“On January 23rd 2015 I was walking through the Beech Woodlands of Draethen in South Wales three miles east of the famous town of Caerphilly.   It was a very cold morning and as I walked through the woods I remember noticing a twig with what I thought to be sheep’s wool attached to it.   It wasn’t until a while later, when I had seen the same substance on another twig on the ground, that I took the time to look more closely.

I was amazed to see that it resembled snow or frost flakes, and that they ran along the whole length of the twig.  I tried to pick up the twig and the flakes fell off in chunks reminding me of tuna flakes when they fall apart from a tin.

I remember thinking how odd this seemed and thought no more of it until I had feedback from my newsletter, where I had included a picture, that this was possibly Hair Ice.

I was very excited about this and was directed to your website post What is Hair Ice? where the photos are identical to what I had taken.

This is a new species for me and I feel very proud to have come across this.”

Neville Davies
www.ecologycymru.co.uk

Hair Ice by Neville Davies

Hair Ice by Neville Davies

If you live in or are visiting Wales, do have a look at the www.ecologycymru.co.uk website as they run lots of guided walks and events for people interested in nature, flora and fauna.

Above is Neville’s great picture of hair ice. You can also find more photos of hair ice (haareis) and an explanation of what hair ice is and what causes hair ice, at my post What is Hair Ice? Do let me know if you have any more sightings to report of this unusual phenomenon. January 2015 seems to have been just the right weather conditions for it!

Yummly

I’ve been looking for a way to organise my recipes and test driven quite a few apps. I’ve now discovered Yummly. It’s easy and a pleasure to use. You can find a treasure trove of recipes on it and control what you see by what your dietary preferences are down to great detail. I’m now putting all my recipes into Yummly format and you can see them all either her on this blog, or at my Yummly page: yummly.com/page/monicawilde

It’s easy as pie [sic] to sign up with your Facebook or Google account. Do have a browse and remember to give me some ‘Yums’ if you like my recipes!

Wild Antidote for Smoking

Antidote for Tobacco – Victorian ‘nicorette’!

Trying to give up smoking? One of the most commonly used herbs was Lobelia inflata, nicknamed Indian Tobacco after its use by Native American peoples. It can be hard to get hold of these days as it is Schedule 3 herb which restricts its sale to the general public. If taken in inappropriate amounts it acts as an emetic, causing nausea and vomiting.

Here is another Native American smoking cessation aid which can be made at home:

White Oak Chew Beans

150 grams White Oak Bark, finely chopped
A tiny pinch of capsicum (cayenne) powder (no more than a 12th of a teaspoon / 345mg)
Gum arabic (or edible pine resin)

Grind both your oak bark and capsicum with a pestle and mortar to pulverise them into a very fine powder. Moisten with gum arabic enough to make it stick together. A chew is about the size of a bean. Chew a bean several times a day. In three or four days the desire for tobacco will be gone. Whenever you want a cigarette take a chew on an oak chew bean.

Calamus Chews

I have recommended calamus root (Acorus calamus) to a lot of people as chewing the dried root does help with cravings. It also creates a ‘zen-like’ focus eliminating the fuzzy mind that can go with withdrawal. This also includes withdrawal from some benzodiazepines.

Jim McDonald in Blessed Bitters says “Cravings need not be relegated to food, however. Small doses of many bitter herbs can be very helpful for cravings associated with many addictions, due to their calming affect on mood. An example of this is the chewing of calamus root to ease the cravings for tobacco.”

Use around a centimetre of the root, chew to moisten it and then wedge it between your gum and cheek. Chew again whenever you get cravings. In large quantities (over 3 cm) Acorus can make some people feel nauseous to work out your own tolerance level.

If collecting your own, do remember that sweet flag (Acorus) root can be confused with blue flag (Iris) root which is poisonous so take special care when harvesting. The freshly dried root is by far the most effective. I have written much more on the use of Acorus here in cooking, medicine and collecting it.

Valerian Drops

If anxiety is a big factor, you could also take a tincture of valerian root Valeriana officinalis to chill your nerves. Put it into a dropper bottle and place a few drops on the tongue for 2-3 minutes at the point of craving or take a teaspoon 3 or 4 times a day if anxiety pervades your life.

Smoking Thins Your Brain – The Evidence!

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A day after this article was posted, research was published showing that smoking thins your brain and is linked to all major neurological diseases. Even 25 years after giving up, your cortex is thinner than someone who’s never smoked.

When people have conversations about getting old, most people say that it’s the loss of mental powers that would bother them most. They don’t want to be a great age if they have senile dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and memory problems. These are all inextricably linked to smoking, in that smoking hugely increases the likelihood of your brain function and memory being affected in old age.

The study involved 244 male and 260 female subjects — five times larger than any previous similar research on smoking and cortical thickness. Their average age was 73. The test group included current smokers, ex-smokers and non-smokers. All of the subjects were examined as children in 1947 as part of the Scottish Mental Survey.

Researchers used health data gathered during recent personal interviews with the subjects, and also analyzed data from MRI scans showing the current state of the subjects’ brain cortices.

“We found that current and ex-smokers had, at age 73, many areas of thinner brain cortex than those that never smoked. Subjects who stopped smoking seem to partially recover their cortical thickness for each year without smoking,” says the study’s lead author Dr. Sherif Karama, assistant professor of psychiatry at McGill University, psychiatrist at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute and an affiliate of the Montreal Neurological Institute.

The apparent recovery process is slow, however, and incomplete. Heavy ex-smokers in the study who had given up smoking for more than 25 years still had a thinner cortex.

Although the cortex grows thinner with normal aging, the study found that smoking appears to accelerate the thinning process. A thinner brain cortex is associated with adult cognitive decline.

“Smokers should be informed that cigarettes could hasten the thinning of the brain’s cortex, which could lead to cognitive deterioration. Cortical thinning seems to persist for many years after someone stops smoking,” says Dr. Karama.

Journal Reference:
S Karama, S Ducharme, J Corley, F Chouinard-Decorte, J M Starr, J M Wardlaw, M E Bastin, I J Deary. Cigarette smoking and thinning of the brain’s cortex. Molecular Psychiatry, 2015; DOI: 10.1038/mp.2014.187

Wild Garlic & Hazelnut Pesto

Wild Garlic & Hazelnut Pesto

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 10 minutes

2 x 250ml tubs

Wild Garlic & Hazelnut Pesto

This fresh and fiery pesto can be made with any of the wild garlic family. This commonly includes wild garlic or ransoms (Allium ursinum), few flowered garlic/leek (Allium paradoxum), three cornered leek (Allium triquetrum), and crow garlic (Allium vineale).

Ingredients

  • 150 g hazelnuts, lightly toasted
  • 150 g (very large handful) wild garlic
  • 150 ml good quality olive oil

Directions

  1. Pick your wild greens in the spring and lightly rinse them to remove any soil or leaf mould.
  2. If picked including bulbs (on private land with permission only), trim off the roots.
  3. In a mill blender, first grind your hazelnuts until very finely chopped.
  4. Then, with the blender blade, add the wild garlic and olive oil and blend for about 2 minutes until smooth.
  5. Add salt and pepper to taste, or a sprinkle of pepper dulse (Osmundea pinnatifida) if you have it.
  6. Scoop into a tub with a lid.
  7. Chill and refrigerate when not in use.

Notes

Serve with crackers as a spread or dip. Use a spoonful to spice up a soup or a stir fry.

I used hazel nuts as they are indigenous to Scotland and can be foraged in great quantity in the autumn as they were 5000 years ago and more. For a less nutty flavour you can use unsalted cashew nuts. If you are very patient, leached acorns or pignuts make a nice base!

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Seaweed Crackers

Seaweed & Nettle Crackers

Prep Time: 60 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

20-30 crackers

Serving Size: 2

Seaweed & Nettle Crackers

These are really tasty little crackers to have with cheese, pesto - especially wild garlic pesto at this time of the year, or chutney.

Ingredients

  • 200g wholemeal flour
  • 3g dried yeast
  • 2 teaspoons dried flaked dulse Palmaria palmata
  • 2 teaspoons nettle seeds Urtica dioica
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 140ml warm water
  • You can use poppy seeds or caraway seeds if you don't have nettle seed
  • (If you don't have nettle seed you can use poppy seed instead. If using pignut or caraway seed, just use one teaspoon.)

Directions

  1. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl, then add the warm water and mix through. Gently knead into a soft, slightly sticky ball.
  2. Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel and leave in a warm place for an hour.
  3. After half an hour put the oven on to warm to 180C. I find a conventional oven gives more even results than a fan oven.
  4. Dust a clean table and rolling pin with flour. Then halve the ball and roll each one out to a thickness of 2mm. Try to make every set the same thickness to cook evenly.
  5. Cut out rounds with a biscuit cutter or cut into rectangular strips with a knife for 'thins'.
  6. Put the uncooked crackers on to a tray lined with baking paper.
  7. Now put in the oven and bake for 20 minutes.
  8. After 20 minutes is up, using a frying pan slice, slip the crackers onto a wire rack to cool.
  9. They cool in just 5 minutes.
  10. Enjoy!
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These seaweed and nettle seed crackers are really more-ish. They’re really quick, especially since I ditched adding yeast as it makes no difference, so I’ve been whipping up batches when friends pop in. They only last a few seconds!

To find out more about the mood-boosting properties of nettle seed read my nettle seed post here.

Venison nuggets in wild gravy

I love having lunch on the days I’m working from home. This 10 minute recipe is venison nuggets in porcini and blackthorn epiné gravy. With a side salad (not foraged in the pic), lemon soy dressing and toasted nuts. Fabulous!

Venison nuggets are fried 2.5 minutes on each side in olive oil. Add a few sliced mushrooms when on the second side which will quickly take up any excess olive oil. Then a cup of water, porcini and seaweed powders (no need to add flour), and sauté for 4 minutes, until starting to thicken and almost caramelise. Add a slug of epiné and serve.

The seaweed in this version was pan-toasted and crumbled laver (Porphyra umbilicalis). If you don’t have any, crumble a toasted nori sheet from making sushi. The two species are closely related. Not hugely high in iodine but a big vitamin B12 hit. You could substitute fried tofu instead of venison and you’d have an excellent vegan version!

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