Spring is most certainly here. The fruit trees are shrouded in delicate blossoms, bulbs are bursting through the soil in vibrant colours, the bees have awoken, and the birds are making an almighty racket as they nest in the roof!
Yet all is quiet in the kitchen garden. It’s that time of year when nearly all the winter crops have been harvested and this year’s crops are just starting their journey, most of them growing quietly in the greenhouse, a few newly transplanted into freshly-mulched earth. Many of the beds lie empty. Aside from the last remaining romanesco and leeks, there’s nothing left to eat. We’re entering that barren time of year known as the hungry gap.
But while the kitchen garden withdraws from the spotlight, the wild garden seizes its moment to shine. There are so many wild and wonderful plants coming into their own right now – or weeds as many will dismiss them as – which are tasty, healing and growing in abundance. I found these wonders hiding in the garden over the last few days…
There are many different uses for these plants, but here’s what I’ve been doing with them…
Borage, or starflower, is a medicinal plant that has been used over the centuries to treat everything from nervous conditions to insect bites.
We like to see borage growing in the garden as it encourages pollinators (the bees love it), but we have to keep an eye on it as it can spread like wild fire! Although the leaves and stalks are also edible, I tend to favour the pretty blue flowers which look lovely tossed into salads or used to decorate cakes. My favourite way to use them is sprinkled in glasses of Pimm’s!
Also known as Jack by the Hedge, this common wild herb is easy to identify with its small white flowers and heart-shaped leaves which release a garlicky scent when crushed. The leaves are antiseptic and were once used medicinally to treat wounds and ulcers.
I use the leaf as a salad green, or it can be added to soups and stews.
There are so many uses for this health-boosting herb, and yet most people pull it up furiously as soon as it appears! The flowers, leaves and roots are all edible and contain different nutrients.
I use the leaf and petals sprinkled into salads (be sparing with the leaves, they can be a little bitter), but dandelion can also be used to make wine, tea and syrups, and you can cook and eat the roots as you would carrots.
As a child, I knew this as sticky-weed; we’d throw handfuls of the plant at each other in the playground and laugh when it clung fiercely to our clothes. These days, I infuse a handful of cleavers overnight in cold water and strain the next morning to make a refreshing drink which I sip throughout the day. It is said to purify the blood and help support the lymphatic system.
Dotted all over our lawn, daisies are a very common sight. I like to add the flowers to salads or sandwiches. Anti-inflammatory and circulation-boosting, the plant can also be made into a restorative tea.
Look beyond their sharp teeth and you’ll find a wonderful ally. A nutritional powerhouse that’s high in iron and vitamins A and C, it’s my favourite wild plant to forage. Nettle pesto is my preferred way to use them (I made my first batch last weekend which I’ve frozen), but I also dry the leaves for tea.
Stinging nettle has been used to treat a wide range of complaints including eczema and arthritis, as well as seasonal allergies including hay fever. (Curiously enough, Ade had developed hay fever during the last few years we were living in London. I thought he’d suffer even more once we’d moved to the country, but it’s actually gone away. Could it possibly have something to do with the stinging nettle he now includes in his diet?)
So, this is how I’m using the wild flowers that are currently popping up in our garden, but there are many more uses for them. It’s easy to dismiss them as weeds and get rid of them, but I’d always encourage you to try to identify them and learn about them. They often have nutritional value or healing properties, and even if they’re not useful to you, they’re probably a valuable food source or habitat to something hiding in your garden.
Tell me about your weeds and what you do with them!