Himalayan Balsam, eating invasive plants -The Lunchbreak forager

Himalayan Balsam - Invasive species

Himalayan Balsam – Invasive species

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

Method

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.

Ingredients

A handful of fresh green Corsican pine needles
500ml cheap white vinegar

Method

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.

Ingredients

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

Method

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.

Lunchbreak forager – Plums and some quick and easy plum recipes

Lunchbreak forager– Plums

damsons on a plum tree

damsons on a plum tree

Juicy Victoria plums, or wild sweet purple damsons and greengages; plums have to be up there as one the greatest foraged foods (and plum wine is a great wine too). A heavy branch of damson hangs over my back lane and the plums are rich for the picking, although in doing so I am breaking the law here in the UK. UK law states that fruit on an overhanging branch (from a tree, not a bush or shrub) is the property of the land owner. Apparently, you should offer the fruit back to the owner. But this is just fruit growing in gardens, what of the law of the land with regards foraging on other land both here and stateside?

UK plum law and hedgerow foraging

I once had a letter from an angry landowner who suggested by talking about foraging I was advocating stealing. The law on hedgerow picking suggests that anyone can pick as long as it is not for commercial gain. That is not to say that you shouldn’t be courteous, don’t over pick one area (which also leaves some for the birds) and stay on public footpaths/areas. Most landowners are happy to have you pick but like apples you should always be wary of the odd crabby one!

Foraging plums and other fruit in the USA

There are some American state laws that prohibit foraging in certain areas so check  before foraging in municipal parks and other state owned areas. Mind you Steve Brill was arrested in Central Park before being employed by them, it was enough to be the making of him. Also, if you can it is best practice to always ask permission before foraging on someone’s land.

What to do with your plums – Quick Plum recipes

If you have managed to outwit a judge and have gotten away with a big haul of plums then you are going to want do something with them on your lunch break. The obvious choice would be just to stuff your face there and then but if you have so many you may want to try out drying them, making microwave plum jam or even sugared plums.

Microwave plum Jam

250g Pitted Plums
1 lemon
250g Sugar

Method

Wash the plums, if you haven’t already pitted them then get someone else in the office to do it with the promise of jam, it’s a boring task! The easiest way of doing so is to cut them in half and pull out the pip. Chop up into quarters and squeeze the lemon juice over them in a microwave proof bowl. Microwave on full power for 5 mins until the plums start to soften.

Stir in the sugar and microwave for 20 mins again on full power, checking every 5 minutes or so to ensure they are not getting totally nuked. You could then worry about the setting point like most English people are obsessed by, but this is microwave jam for God’s sake – chill out a little!

Leave to stand for 5 mins and then stick into one large or two smaller sterilised jars*. You could then make some microwave porridge and add it to that, yum! Or even, as the Russians do, try adding a spoonful to hot water and having it as a drink.

* Jars can be sterilized using homebrew sterilizing solution or by putting in an oven, on low, for 20 mins.

Sugar Plums

This recipe happens to be raw and vegan but don’t let that put you off as they are delicious. Actually, many raw vegan cakes and sweets are pretty delicious. Not that it’s a diet that particularly attracts me! Might be a bit tricky to dry the plums you your lunch break as it takes some time (see below sugar plum recipe for drying instructions). So really this is a lunch break recipe with some home work.

Ingredients

170g almonds
200g dried plums
200g dried figs
50g brown sugar
1 crushed star anise
Quarter of a tsp caraway seeds
Quarter of a tsp fennel seeds
Quarter of golden syrup
200g caster sugar

Method

Chop up the fruit and almonds, if you have access to a blender then this job will be infinitely quicker. Combine the fruit & nut mixture and everything but the caster sugar. Roll into balls the size of bulls testicles and roll in the sugar.

Invite your workmates to get their laughing gear (mouths) around your balls.

Drying plums

Dried plums

Dried Plums

Dried plums are very morish and great to get your gums around; they can be hidden away and snacked on throughout the day. What’s more they will keep for a long time and are pretty healthy to boot.

Once you have picked the plums then put them on a baking sheet and dry at 80°c/175°f for 12 hours, prick (the plums, I’m not being abusive), and put them back in the oven for another 12 hours. Bigger plums may need a further few hours but you should monitor them carefully to ensure they don’t turn to dust.

Blackberries – The Lunchbreak forager

Blackberries aka Brambles

Andy Hamilton picking blackberries

Andy Hamilton picking blackberries by Roy Hunt

Blackberries (or brambles) can be found throughout the Northern hemisphere and in South America, although they will struggle in the far North but with climate change we may see a movement north. Indeed, last year I found blackberries in December and there were enough for a blackberry and apple crumble! Blackberries can be found as the understory in woods and forests, on waste ground, on the edges of parks and really it would seem almost anywhere they choose.

Foraging for blackberries

Many make the mistake when out foraging for blackberries of using a plastic carrier bag. This is a mistake you will only make once, as its easy to tear the bag. When the blackberries end up within a mass of thorns there is no way you’d want to lose that amount of delicious fruit again. It is these thorns that give blackberries one of their country names “lawyers”, once they trap you in it is very difficult to get loose!

It is interesting to note that blackberries used to be the garden plant, whilst raspberries would be seen as wild. Over the last 500 or more years this has changed and changed rather dramatically.

Blackberries are excellent for wine making but perhaps that is not so easy to make on your lunch break, much better to mix them with a whole load of delicious calories!

Blackberry fool

If you have an understanding boss you can make this at work, all you need to bring in with you is an electric whisk, a sieve and a couple of bowls. If you don’t have an understanding boss try and tempt them with a bowl (emphasising the word fool when you offer it for your own amusement), “Do you want some blackberry fool”.

Ingredients

500g Blackberries
150g Caster Sugar
Juice of Half a Lemon
400ml Double Cream
3 Drops Vanilla Essence

Method

Push the blackberries through a sieve and combine with the sugar in a bowl. Squeeze in the lemon juice. In a separate bowl whisk the double cream until thick, adding the vanilla essence. Fold the contents of the bowls together. Pop in the fridge to chill for an hour or so. Then serve.

Mouth-watering Blackberry, Chocolate Yogurt Parfait

Ridiculously simple to make but if you sit at your desk eating this the dieters in your office won’t thank you for it.

Ingredients

1 tub of Greek yogurt
Half teaspoon cinnamon
2 Tablespoons Dark Chocolate Chopped up into Chunks
50g Chopped Hazelnuts
200g Blackberries

Method

Mix the yogurt with the cinnamon and put half of it into a wine glass. Layer half the chocolate and half the hazelnuts. Mash half the blackberries and layer on top. Spoon in the rest of the yogurt mixture and cover with the rest of the chocolate and nuts. If you want to jazz it up a bit then use a mixture of different nuts.

Dock – The Lunchbreak forager

Docks are in the same family as buckwheat and sorrel. Docks are most famed for their

dock leaves

Dock edible with some preparation

use in folk medicine to help when stung by nettle. Personally I find that a plantain (plantago) leaf is far more beneficial than a dock due to its anti-histamine properties.

If you live in a temperate climate you won’t ever be too far away from dock leaves as they populate almost everywhere. Neglected areas of parks, wasteground and graveyards (avoid near to Victorian graves due to high levels of lead), are all places to search.

Dock leaves need careful preparation in order to make them edible. They need to be flash boiled in two changes of water (see below for preparation). Dock contains oxalic acid which is where that sharp lemon like flavour comes from and this is reduced when cooked. However, people with a tendency to rheumatism, arthritis, gout, kidney stones or hyperacidity should take care if considering including this plant in their lunch box as it can aggravate their condition. Pregnancy and breast-feeding women should give it a miss too (sorry, I know its boring try to make up for it by getting those around you to pass you random things for your own amusement).

The dock leaves can then be used filled with a spiced rice mixture rolled up and served as

Andy Hamilton in a hat

Andy Hamilton man about the forest

stuffed vine leaves. Here is a brief recipe of mine originally on the BBC food website, but it was in need of a few tweaks so I’ve pasted below a tweaked version. The first flush of growth on any dock plant can also be eaten raw, hunt around in the spring (again avoid if you have an underlying health condition).

Stuffed Dock leaf

Dock leaves are available at almost any time of year. Their strong texture makes them ideal for stuffing and making a wild food version of stuffed vine leaves.

Ingredients

      16 dock leaves, washed well
      4 tbsp walnut oil
      500g/1lb 2oz lamb mince
      1 onion, finely chopped
      1 lemon, juice only
      100g/3½oz bulgur wheat
      1 large tomato
      1 tsp mixed spices
      400ml/14fl oz cold water
      1 tbsp tomato purée

Preparation method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.
  2. Boil the dock leaves in water for a couple of minutes and repeat. Drain and pat dry with kitchen paper.
  3. Meanwhile, mix two tablespoons of the walnut oil with the lamb mince, onion, lemon juice, bulgur wheat, tomato and mixed spice until well combined. Add a little of the water to loosen the mixture if necessary.
  4. Roll sixteen equal-sized balls from the mixture and wrap one in each boiled dock leaf. Place the stuffed dock leaves into a large cast-iron casserole (or saucepan).
  5. Mix the remaining two tablespoons of oil with the tomato purée and water and pour the mixture into the casserole.
  6. Put the casserole onto the hob over a medium heat and gently bring to the liquid to the boil. Remove the casserole from the heat and transfer to the oven. Cook for 30 minutes, then remove from the oven and set aside to cool slightly before serving.

Deceptively delicious dock tortilla (or The Wild Tortilla)

It is easy to dismiss dock and even curse it. There doesn’t seem to be a patch on earth that does give a home to dock. As a gardener I curse it, letting its long root down into my veg patch. Persisting and giving no other use than its dubious fame to neutralize a nettle sting. It does however, add a taste and texture to dishes when there are next to no other leaves around and high in iron it can be a nutritious addition too.

Ingredients

100g dock (curled or large leafed) prepared as below

1 x Wood aven root
3 eggs
2 generous dollops of double cream (4 tablespoons)
1 sweet potato
1 tsp nettle seeds
Oil for frying
1 small leek

Method

Bring a pan of water to the boil and throw in dock leaves. Boil for 3 mins then rinse leaves. Nibble on a leaf and if still very bitter repeat the process. Rinse leaves in cold water then chop.

Beat eggs with cream and put to one side

Meanwhile heat oil in a 25cm pan over a medium heat and grate in cleaned wood aven root and sprinkle in nettle seeds. Chop the sweet potato into 1cm rounds and fry in batches until crispy brown  blisters appear. In the last batch also fry leak until softened.

Stir the dock in with the egg mixture and pour half into the pan. Add the extra layer of sweet potato and more nettle seed if to hand and pour in the rest of the mixture.

Cook on a medium heat until a bit wobbly, constancy of vodka jelly, then finish off under the grill.

For a lighter version swap the dock for 150g of chickweed.