Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Hedgerow Tonic

There is a tradition in Italy, of picking hedgerow herbs and preparing them as a spring salad, a form of pick-me-up after the austerity of the winter diet. An ancient knowledge passed through the women of the family, this mix of plants is in part a feast for the taste buds, a source of vitamins lacking in the foods available in the preceding colder periods, but also, because they are rich in minerals, a medical tonic.
This must have happened in Britain up until the Middle Ages or even later, when this island like Italy in the early 20th century was rurally impoverished and food for free was a larder to be plundered. Against the herbs and greens picked are dandelions, chicory, lovage, borage, sorrel, burdock, burnet, as well as wild varieties of the garden herbs, chervil, thyme, mint, watercress, oregano, rocket etc. More are known by local names both in English and Italian. For instance in Kent, Sorrel was known as Tom Thumb’s Thousand Fingers and of course, dandelion was Piss-A-Bed.
Some are hot, some bitter and others acidic, but appear to be used together in the same medicine-chest salad. I prefer to take my dose in a mixed soup, (Italians, unlike most of my family, seem to have a highly developed taste for raw bitter greens and salad leaves) which I will write about in spring with photographs and recipes.
Wild garlic was also picked and I still use it, cut and eaten when the leaf is young or cooked if larger. My sister has a little wood in her garden full of ‘ransoms’, which have never been subjected to herbicides or other chemicals, important when foraging. As I sit here tonight, with the temperature plunging below -6c, I find myself in need of some of that tonic and plan borage fritters, wild garlic tarts, lovage soup and sorrel or rocket pestos. Oh, roll on Spring.
Above is a snap of my borage plot in flower in June, just in time to add to the Pimms.


Woodland Fay said...

Talking of hedgerow tonics try this:

Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's Dandelion and Burdock Root Beer


2 large Burdock roots
2 Dandelion roots
4.5 litres/1 gallon of water
500g/1lb caster sugar
2 tbs black treacle
Juice of 1 lemon

Wipe the roots clean and cut off their leaves.; cut the roots into small pieces. Put the chopped roots into a pan with 2.2 litres/4 pints water and boil for 30 minutes.

Add the sugar, treacle and lemon juice to the rest of the water in a large pan and simmer. After 30 minutes, strain off the roots and leave the liquid to cool.

Meanwhile, mix the yeast with some warm water so it starts fermenting. When the root liquid is tepid, add the yeast. Leave it to ferment in the bucket for 3-4 days. Put into bottles and drink after a week.

Jan (Thanks For 2 Day) said...

This is very interesting, Faye...but not something I would do, because I don't grow these herbs, roots and plants AND it's more work than I'm willing to do:(
I do enjoy checking in here, though. It's like another complete lifestyle and way of doing things. I think my way is pretty darn lazy. But will I change? Doubtful:)
The garden you picture with your roots and herbs looks gorgeous:)

Philip Bewley said...

I love things like this. And Borage for Pimms!
Ah, the delights of summer!

Woodland Fay said...

Thanks Philip, I've been taking some photographs today to illustrate a new blog on making alcoholic fruit beverages, plum and sloe gin, lemoncello and the like. Now all I have to do is write the blog, later maybe, busy making breads right now.