Discover the wide range of edible & medicinal herbs growing all around you.
by Vivienne Campbell
The fields, woods, hedgerows and gardens are bursting with plants that are edible and medicinal. Starting to notice these wild herbs growing around you can really enrich your life, and if you’re confident at correctly identifying these plants then you can begin to add them to your culinary repertoire and enhance your dishes. Whether you live in the town or the city, you should be able to find herbs growing there. It’s always great to find nourishing and tasty new ingredients to use in vegan dishes. Have a look to see if you can find any of these plants this autumn.
Silverweed roots (Potentilla anserina):
This modest little weed grows in many countries and has a fascinating history of uses. In Ireland you’ll find it in areas of damp land e.g. fields, ditches, near the beach etc. The leaves are thought to be antiseptic and astringent so a tea can be brewed from them that can be used to reduce bleeding and inflammation, to ease sore throats, gastritis and catarrh to name but a few things. Geese and pigs love the roots and they could well be on to something good because these roots are edible. The Celts and the Native Americans cooked the roots as a vegetable. It was particularly popular in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland where it was cultivated and cooked like potatoes. It was also roasted and ground into porridge. In Tibet the flour of silverweed is called ‘droma’ and it is fast becoming a staple food there. It grows wild on the plains of Tibet: an area where it is hard to cultivate vegetables. In Ireland it is known as a ‘famine food’ because people returned to eating it in times when cultivated food was rare. Unlike many other ‘famine foods’, silverweed is remarkably tasty. It has a lovely nutty flavour. It really is a great wild food to get to know and start to include in your cooking.
Hawthorn berries (Crategus oxycanthum):
Hawthorn is a common tree in Ireland. It is often made into hedging in gardens or grows wild in fields and hedgerows. In September it is covered with orange-red berries. Therapeutic extracts of the berries are used by qualified herbalists to help people with heart problems. In fact in the early 20th century some doctors were still using them. A G.P. in Ennis, Co. Clare, used extract of hawthorn berries to treat his patients with heart disease and he became known internationally for his successful treatments. Qualified herbalists still use hawthorn berries to help to ease conditions such as high blood pressure. Don’t do this at home because heart diseases are obviously serious conditions. Please consult a qualified professional. This is particularly important if you are on pharmaceutical medication.
Sea buckthorn (Hippophäe rhamnoides):
This can be found growing along the east and south east coast of Ireland. It is a very therapeutic plant and is used as a remedy for numerous conditions. It produces orange berries that have a sour taste. These are very high in vitamin C, plant sterols, Omega 7 oil, vitamin E, beta-carotene and antioxidant flavonoids. The seeds from the fruit contain omega 3 & 6 oils. It is well-known as a traditional food in various countries around the world. In Nepal they are eaten raw, pickled or preserved. They can also be made into jams or cordials.
There are numerous therapeutic uses of seabuckthorn fruits and it’s been claimed that they can improve immunity, help to regenerate tissue and heal burns, protect the body from radiation, protect the liver, may have anti-cancer activity and help to reduce stress. Scientific researchers are now investigating these claims and several studies appear to back them up. Seabuckthorn has become a popular wild food and is served in some of the trendiest restaurants. Some health stores sell extracts of seabuckthorn, usually the extracts contain omega 3, 6 & 7 extracted from the seeds and flesh of the fruit. Have a look for this plant the next time that you stroll along the beach.
This is a little known wild food but is one of my favourites. Cleavers is the sticky plant that we all know because we threw it at each other as children. It usually grows in the shade. Autumn is the time to collect the ripe seeds to make a delicious hedgerow coffee. Harvest the seeds, wash them, dry them and roast them in the oven. Grind them and use them the way that you would use ordinary coffee grounds. Cleavers coffee has a rich flavour, is caffeine-free and is also thought to boost the immune system because it helps to stimulate the flow of the lymph. It takes quite a bit of time and effort to make this but I always find it well worth it.
Starting to notice the abundance of therapeutic plants that grow where you live can be a joyful and rewarding experience. Only ever pick and use a wild plant if you are 100% certain that you have correctly identified it. Many wild plants are poisonous. Consult an expert to help you to learn about wild plants. Remember that using local plants is more sustainable than using shop-bought imported plants. If we want to build a more sustainable future then it is important to learn these skills that were the common-place knowledge of our ancestors.
Vivienne Campbell BSc.(Hons) is a qualified medical herbalist. She has an herbal medicine clinic, teaches herbal medicine classes and takes wild food foraging walks. She has foraged for television programmes on RTE & TG4. She teaches an on-line course called Learn with the Seasons, introducing people to how to forage for and use edible and therapeutic herbs. Her website www.theherbalhub.com is full of information about using herbs.