What wild herbs can give us in nourishment for body, mind and spirit
Author: Stefanie Gross-blau.
In keeping with the blossoming season, the author provides us with a practical guide to exploring, recognizing and also tasting edible wild herbs in our surroundings. Many of these wild herbs not only contain an immense amount of nutrients that our bodies need to be fit and healthy, but they also strengthen our bond with the nature that surrounds us and give us a little of its wildness and resilience.
What are the wild herbs actually?
Many people call them weeds, but they are actually our original weeds.
They are the ancestors of the cultivated vegetables and breeds that usually find their way onto our plates.
For example, the compass lettuce (Lactuca serriola) is the original plant of our lettuce, the wild cabbage (Brassica oleracea) is the original plant of all our cabbage varieties from kale to Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi to cauliflower and the wild carrot (Urtica Dioica) is the original plant of the carrot.
But fortunately, the wild forms also continue to live in our meadows, roadsides and forest edges.
They also lead a life alongside the “cultural mainstream” in our gardens and agricultural zones, and are either kindly kept in check or angrily destroyed, as the case may be.
I want to encourage and inspire you to give wild herbs a place in your life.
They give us so much: they are a great addition to our diet and expand our spectrum of flavors and nutrients. With them our landscapes become biodiverse in plants and animals. They inspire our spirit. They are healers for body and soul. I would like to talk about all these aspects in this article.
WILD PLANTS ON THE DINING TABLE
As in other areas of life, we like to settle into a comfort zone when it comes to cuisine. We tend to eat what we know and what satisfies our superficial needs. The food supply has adapted to this.
You can count for yourself how many vegetables and how many fruits you usually eat each week. You can probably count them on two hands. Wild herbs help us increase the variety in our diet, discover new flavors, and bring new fun into our cooking. In the process, we still get to enjoy the fresh air and get the deliciousness without paying for it with money.
Once you learn to see the wild herbs, you will find them everywhere, even close to home.
We can prepare most edible wild herbs like green leafy vegetables, that is, use them similarly to spinach. This opens up many possibilities for us: blanched vegetables pure steamed with onions and garlic, combined with other vegetables, on quiches and tartes, in fillings and egg dishes. Other wild herbs we use more as spice herbs.
I would like to introduce you to two wild vegetables and one wild seasoning herb as examples.
Wild leafy vegetables:
The wild leafy vegetables include, for example, goutweed, popularly known as goat’s foot or tree drop (Aegopodium podagraria).
For many, goutweed is an unpopular garden weed. If it is fought with the hoe, this promotes its vegetative reproduction, and you have much more of the uninvited guest afterwards. A little prankster of nature. An alternative is to harvest the goutweed and simply eat it.
WILD HERBS AS HEALERS FOR BODY AND SOUL
Plants emit fragrances. They taste sweet, but they can also stink. Their blossoms shine in bright colors and show themselves in the most unusual shapes. Their plant parts taste “grassy”, bitter, hot, mild, sour and their leaves sting, burn, have a downy or oily leaf surface.
Why do plants do this? Why do they show such a sensual side? We can answer this in a very simple way: it is their way of communicating.
The color yellow, for example, is not only beautiful to us humans and brightens our mood, but it also pleases many insects. Or, to put it another way, because the flowers shine so beautifully, insects with poor eyesight can find them and feast on them. Thus, the plant with the yellow attraction effect has ensured its reproduction. Others do this by spreading a specific scent that attracts insects that match them.
A bitter taste, on the other hand, acts as an antifeedant. Like humans, animals only like bitter to a certain extent. If it becomes too much, they keep their distance and spare the plant their midday meal.
All these substances, which are responsible for the colors, tastes and fragrances, are called “secondary plant compounds”. The plant does not necessarily need them for its survival, but they do give it a survival and reproductive advantage.
Interestingly, the secondary plant compounds are also the ingredients that can have protective and healing effects in the human organism. Thus, flavonoids are responsible for the yellow of the flowers. They help the plant to attract insects; in humans, flavonoids serve as radical scavengers and thus significantly reduce the risk of developing cancer.
Essential oils that the plant emits as fragrance are basically antibacterial and have a calming, balancing, stimulating, sensual or other effect on us humans, depending on the type of oil. I assume all readers have already had experiences with essential oils and know what I am talking about.
Tannins, another group of secondary plant compounds, are also produced by the plant primarily as protection against feeding. In humans, tannins support wound healing with their astringent effect.
Meadow chervil Anthriscus sylvestris
THE SYNERGY OF WILD HERBS AND ANIMALS
Wild plants are enormously important for the balance on our planet. They form synergies with insects, birds and mammals. We all know about the dependence of our fruit trees on pollination by bees. But this is only a tiny part of the natural interaction between plants and insects. We need the others, too: Wild bees, hoverflies, wasps, butterflies, moths, ants, beetles, spiders, bugs and what they are all called. They pollinate, they process, they are food for birds and animals. It’s important that we recognize the cycles again. Plants and insects, in many cases, fit together like a lock and key.
The thick lower lips of labiates (for example, meadow sage, hyssop, groundsel, creeping günsel) are prime landing sites for honeybees, wild bees and bumblebees. Some wild bees specialize in bellflowers, which they crawl into completely. Beetles are found on easily accessible, open, pollen-rich flowers such as those of roses, apple trees, or umbellifers like angelica and wild carrot. Bugs have a short, retractable proboscis and fly primarily to readily accessible flowers. Knotweed and dock varieties are among their preferences. Moths love evening primroses, which glow bright yellow at night (evening primrose buds, by the way, are also a delicacy in wild herb cooking).
Nettles are the food plants for many native butterflies. The admiral depends on the nettle to lay its eggs, and the stinging hairs of the nettle provide feeding protection not only for the plant but also for the caterpillars. Common thistle, the wild form of our oregano, is also a good caterpillar food plant. Plants, insects, birds, animals and humans, we all need each other. At the same time, we humans are not outside of nature. We, too, are nature.
About the author
Stefanie Gross-blau. Forester’s daughter, in her “first life” stage actress; later co-founder of the community project Schloss Glarisegg, place for encounter and consciousness, where she lived for over ten years. Further training in herbal pedagogy and breathing therapy. Since 2018, director of the Empowerment for Life Wild Herb School.
This article appeared originally on the German Homepage of Tattva Viveka: Wilde Weisheit am Wegesrand