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


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.

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.


      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.


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


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.