From March until well in to May there is the uniquely wonderful opportunity to reap the vibrant health benefits that eating tender wild greens can bring. In this first of what will become a regular series of short blogs and videos about wild food and related themes, I want to share with you the simple joy of green smoothie making.
Perhaps, like me, when you hear the word “smoothie” you immediately think of a sweet fresh fruit drink thickened with banana? As tasty as such creations are, the drinks I’d like to encourage you to make are savoury and without a banana in sight. The smoothness in a wild green smoothie comes from blending all the ingredients very finely, and using a sufficient quantity of wild greens to result in a smooth and thickened final blend; having said that, there are other ways of introducing additional smoothness that I’ll mention later.
In this video I just used what was to hand. In this case:
Dandelion Taraxicum officinale (Daisy Family)
Cow Parsley Anthriscus sylvestris (Carrot family)
Cleavers Galium aparine (Bedstraw Family)
Garlic Mustard Alliaria petiolata (Cabbage family)
Smooth Sow Thistle Sonchus oleraceus
I also added fennel, spinach, lemon juice, cayenne pepper, salt and water.
Of course there are countless other plants you could make use of right now, such as the leaves of common mallow, hawthorn, lime, small nettle, pelitory-of-the-wall, ground elder, opposite-leaved golden saxifrage, wild garlic, dittander, horse radish, charlock, seabeet, sea kale, hoary cress, shepherds purse, fennel, chickweed and ox-eye daisy, to mention a few of the other plants I’ve incorporated into smoothies since the beginning of March. Use the leaves before the plants come into flower for best results as they are most tender then.
How you decide to balance out the flavours is down to experiment. Nevertheless, for my taste, the addition of fresh lemon juice, a little salt, and a good pinch of cayenne pepper transforms a potential ordeal into a genuine pleasure! Actually, what I didn’t do in the video, but would normally do, is add both a small grated carrot and a large ripe tomato to provide a little extra sweetness; on this occasion though I gave my last carrots and the tomato to the pigs for breakfast before filming. Doh!
Recently what I’ve come to appreciate is the perfection of the present moment, even the seeming paradox of the perfect imperfection of the present moment. That’s partly why after a two year absence I’ve decided to blog again. It really doesn’t matter that in setting up this video I didn’t have all the ingredients I’d have liked to use in an ideal world. Also, it would be wonderful, although not essential, to use a bicycle operated smoothie maker, but I didn’t. Best just to do it; don’t wait for the perfect moment as life passes you by!
Incidental, if you are interested in bicycle smoothie makers, a few years ago I spoke to a chap living in Bristol by the name of Biggles. He was going to build me one of these. It didn’t happen for various reasons. Perhaps he’s still making them? bigglesrecycles. It looks like he is, as I just came across this charming site: http://bristolpedalrevolution.co.uk/machines/
The video is primarily focused on how to utilise wild plants, in this case in a drink, rather than being about clear identification. Of course proper identification must be carried out before you decide to eat any wild food. In my smoothie example, it’s crucial that you can identify Cow Parsley and, in particular, accurately distinguish it from the other poisonous but fairly similar looking members of the carrot family: Hemlock, Fools Parsley and Rough Chervil. There are many good ID guides that can really help with this. I highly recommend The Wild Flower Key By Francis Rose and Clare O’Reilly (for when the plants are in flower), and John Poland and Eric Clement’s excellent The Vegetative Key to the British Flora (for plants when not in flower – very often the time when you want to harvest leaves for eating).
Here are just a few key differences:
- Hemlock (The leaf stems are roundish, purple blotched, and completely hairless.)
- Fools Parsley (The leaf stems are grooved, uniformly green but completely hairless.)
- Rough Chervil (The leaf stems are grooved, purple to green from base becoming purple blotched but with hairs of different length).
This type of green smoothie as demonstrated is relatively easy on the digestion. Perfectly digestible and tasty, although taking longer to digest, is a version I sometimes drink about 2 hours before going for a long swim. The addition of avocado and tofu balances it out with fat and protein. It also introduces a more banana based smoothie type of smoothness. Here’s a recipe.
Over the past couple of years I’ve become a real convert to eating dandelion leaves and other bitter plants. For me now, no smoothie would be complete without the addition of a generous handful of magnificent dandelion leaves.
Beginning in January 2013 I’m planning to eat a 100% wild food diet for the entire year. As part of my preparation in the lead up to this I’ve not eaten any foods with added sugar (including honey and other syrups) for 2 ½ years (I also cut out caffeine and alcohol at the same time). It’s been an amazing journey and has really transformed my palette. Many wild foods, before embarking on this self-imposed discipline, tasted irredeemably bitter and unpleasant to me. That bitterness, of course, is still there, but now, more often than not, the natural sweetness and other subtle flavours shine through, singing and dancing around my mouth.
Wild foods, generally, are a tonic for life and not just for Spring. However, do get out there right now and be revitalized by the uniquely tender plants so verdantly abundant. You will only fully understand how good it will make you feel until you actually do it! Of course, that’s partly self-evident. Nevertheless, it never ceases to amaze me how many people, including myself, simply don’t do what is best for mind and body, earth and soul. In my own case, I’ve been making these smoothies on a near daily basis since the beginning of March, with the result that I felt so much better than I had before: much more awake, happier, more clear thinking. However, on the day the video was made (27th April) I’d not drunk a green smoothie for 2 weeks. Why? Why indeed when doing so had made me feel so great? Partly it’s because I became really busy, and although that’s not a full explanation, the more specific reason involves the lack of balance that occurred from being too busy, leading me to slip back into habitual tonne-of-porridge-eating ways. Although it takes no longer to go into the garden to collect a few wild greens than it does to make porridge, I’d slipped back into the easy and familiar. No more……..
Nevertheless, I’ve come a long way in the past 10 years from being a junk food and sugar addict to a born again wild food enthusiast. Whilst searching through my documents I found a paragraph I wrote a few years ago from a piece on Spring plants. It is written with all the fervour of a wild food fanatic and convert from the sordid world or fodder feeding. It made me laugh, but is just as true and relevant today as it was when written a few years ago.
“Reading both old and modern herbals as well as more recent books on wild food, it is fairly common to come across various plants referred to as spring tonics and blood purifiers – nettles, cleavers, watercress and chickweed are good examples. As a teenager, these vague terms used to drive me mad (before ultimately driving me wild!), unable as I was to see their relevance in a world where, as far as food supply was concerned, there appeared to be no seasons at all or, rather, there seemed to prevail one ceaseless monolithic season of eternal plenty, one long continuous produce perfecting summer. Unquestioningly taking this to be the natural and best state of affairs, the very idea that local, seasonal plants – let alone wild plants – could act as nutritional restoratives relative to a period of depletion and deprivation seemed anathema, even in some way insulting, having no resonance or relevance with regard to my health, eating habits or prior experience and lifestyle. In fact, I had become spoilt, blind, lazy, stupefied and unaware, living in a bubble unchallenged and unresponsive to nature’s dynamic seasons with their inherent change, challenge and delightful unpredictability. Ironically, it is now this very awareness of ceaseless change, transition and unpredictability, of responding to the creative challenges thrown up throughout the wild food year that so stimulates and excites me, that ultimately helps me to feel fully energised and alive. Wild foods in their abundant seasonal variety now serve as hard won year-long counter-tonics to the former dumbed down and beguiling supermarket crap that I used to consume.”