If I was to mention Policeman’s helmet, Bobby Tops, Copper Tops, Gnome’s Hatstand, Kiss me on the mountain and Impatiens glandulifera or Himalayan Balsam I’d be talking about the same plant. For a plant that only reached the UK in 1839 it has rather a lot of names, perhaps partly due to its invasive nature. Himalayan Balsam might not be the most invasive plant (that prize goes to Japanese Knotweed), but it certainly is one of the most invasive plants that we have you just have to come across a patch of the stuff to realise that.
So why is Himalayan Balsam such a menace? Well each plant can produce up to 800 seeds and each of these seeds is capable of being shot up to 7 meters (22ft) away. Imagine sowing 800 seeds across 7 meters of land, then the next year 800 plants sowing 800 seeds across 7 meters of land. Often too the plants will take root along river banks and I’ve seen Himalayan Balsam growing at the top of a river system one year only to find it growing all along the system over the next few years.
The happiest control of these plants is to eat them, I do find it fascinating that so many of our troublesome plants can be eaten.
Himalayan Balsam can be found growing almost anywhere it likes, but in practice more often than not this means close to rivers and on the edges of woodlands.
Pan fried Burdock and Balsam balls on a wild salad with a Corsican pine needle dressing
The addition of burdock gives this dish super-food status. Burdock has been used for centuries as a key herbal medicine. A study by Farnsworth Kiansu suggests that burdock even has anti-tumour properties.
Ingredients – for the balls
80g burdock root (grated)
1 tablespoon Himalayan balsam seed (crushed)
1 egg (beaten)
100g white flour (sifted)
1 tablespoon water
Oil for frying
Place all the ingredients bar the flour and water into a mixing bowl. Slowly add the flour mixing all the time until the mixture begins to stiffen. Kneed and add the water. Roll into balls and fry for a couple of minutes or until golden and crispy.
For the wild salad
Pick any wild edible leaves and flowers you can get your hands on and chop them into ribbons; this might include – Dandelion, yarrow, mustard, jack by the hedge, nasturtiums leaves and flowers, red clover flowers, evening primrose flowers and daisy leaves and flowers.
The leaves that can taste slightly more bitter such as dandelion, yarrow, daisy and even jack by the hedge should kept at a 10:1 leaf ratio or the salad will be over powered.
For the Corsican pine needle dressing
I keep this vinegar in a balsamic vinegar bottle at home and when guests come and eat I leave it amongst the other condiments on the table, they are always shocked when I tell them it is made from pine needles.
A handful of fresh green Corsican pine needles
500ml cheap white vinegar
Place the pine needles into a clean jam jar and top up with vinegar. Seal tightly and leave inside a cupboard for 2-3 months. Filter out the vinegar into an empty balsamic vinegar bottle and serve to unsuspecting friends.
Himalayan Balsam seed falafel
This quick and easy recipe is a twist on the original falafel recipe, but equally as tasty and perhaps a nice unusual one to serve up at dinner parties.
1 tsp Cumin seeds
1 tsp Coriander seeds
1 can of chickpeas- drained
1 cup of Himalayan balsam seeds
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp wholemeal flour
1 carrot finely grated with the moisture squeezed out
1 chilli finely chopped
1 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 lemon zest only
Rape seed oil for frying
Toast the cumin and coriander seeds in a dry frying pan for 1 min then mash in your pestle and mortar or give a quick whizz using the seed bit of your blender/food processor. Blend the rest of the other ingredients. Roll into balls about the half the size of rats head. Heat about 1cm/half an inch of oil in a large frying pan and roll your balls about until browned. Put onto kitchen paper and then serve in a pitta bread.