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.

Autumn Flower Champagne and Alan Titchmarsh

Andy Hamilton in a hat

Andy Hamilton man about the forest

I approached this recipe for Booze for Free in the same way that I’d approach making a curry. With a curry you know the basis and so can experiment with other ingredients without really worrying that what you get will be unedible. I’d been making elderflower champagne for years and understood that although the elderflowers were used for their yeast that other flowers might work too. I searched through my library and picked up a copy of Homemade Root Beer, Soda and Pop by Stephen Cresswell. A great book which helped inspire some the drinks in Booze for Free. I saw a recipe for dandelion Champagne which helped my thirst for experiementation (and new drinks). I decided I’d go for a walk along the river and just pick whatever edible flowers were around it was the autumn so autumn flower champagne was born.

A few months later I was teaching Alan Titchmarsh to make some on his show. The crew were a lovely bunch and watching the man himself at work I could see why he’s at the top of his game. He was a nice fella too and I’m not just saying that to be some kind of media lovely. He made me feel at ease and just before the cameras were rolling he turned to me and said, “Passion Andy, passion” and that did seem to help!

Autumn flower Champagne

The Himalayan balsam flowers add a real colour to this most flavoursome, champagne making it blush a bright pink.

Ingredients

3 litres/6 pints of water
1 kg/2lb sugar
1 litre/2 pints of balsam flowers
500mls/1 pint of red clover flowers
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tsp citric acid
2 tsp lemon juice
champagne yeast (as back up)

Method

Wash the flowers to ensure that they are bug free. Place into bucket with all the other ingredients apart from sugar. Cover with half the water and give a stir. Meanwhile bring the rest of the water to the boil and stir in the sugar. Add that to the rest of the mix.

Leave with lid loosely on or a tea towel over the top occasionally returning in order to give it a stir. After two to four days it should have started to fizz when it does filter through muslin cloth into bottles. Put the bottles straight into the fridge or release the gas from them daily as they can be prone to exploding.

Notes

If the wild yeasts refuse to play ball after a couple of days then pitch a champagne yeast instead. If you can’t find enough red clover and blasam flowers experiment with any wild edible flowers, dandelion, mustard even white nettle flowers can all be used.

Andy Hamilton’s fireweed, bramble tip and Himalayan balsam wine

fireweed, brambletip and hymalyan balsam wineI love working with other home winemakers to come up with new wines and so would like to hear from you!  This month I have teamed up with Mike Griffiths from Nottinghamshire who has been making wine since before I was born. By combining a variety of edible flowers into Mike’s bramble tip wine it helps transform it from a white wine into more of a rosé. I’ve chosen to use Himalayan balsam flowers and fireweed both readily available at this time of year and both often to be found growing along riverbanks or in waste ground. Luckily this is also often the habitat for brambles (blackberry vines).

The great joy of using Himalayan balsam flowers is not only that they impart a lovely reddish-pink tinge to any wine, cordial or jam you are making, but by using them you’re also helping biodiversity. Himalayan balsam, an invasive interloper introduced by the Victorians, can produce up to 700 seeds per plant. It also fires these seeds up to 7 metres away from the plant. It grows tall enough to smother native flower species while being irresistible to bees – a double blow to biodiversity.

Ingredients
1 carrier-bagful of bramble tips dropped into the bucket and not particularly pressed down (The tip is the 4 or 5 inches on the end of a young bramble)
Juice of one medium sized lemon
1 cup of Himalayan balsam flowers
1 cup fireweed flowers
500g sultanas
1 kg sugar
1 teaspoon yeast nutrient
1 teaspoon general purpose wine yeast

Method
Chop or mince the sultanas add them to a big pan with the bramble tips. Add seven pints of water and bring to the boil, cover and simmer for an hour. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved, then replace the cover and allow to cool. Strain into a fermentation bin over the flowers, stir in lemon juice, yeast nutrient and yeast.

Cover the bucket loosely and leave to ferment in a warm place until any foaming has died down. Syphon into a demijohn, top up with cold water, put under an airlock, sit back and wait.

After about three months the fermentation will have finished and the wine will be clear. Rack off into a clean demijohn (there’ll probably be a decent deposit from the sultanas), top up again and transfer to the coolest place you have in the house. After another three months bottle the wine and leave it to stand for a further six months.