Late spring to early summer is the perfect time to start foraging, with many of the best seasonal plants common not just in the countryside but in cities as well. Honey&Roots founder Lilo Ask-Henriksen shares her favourite three plants to pick in this period, and how best to reap their botanical benefits.
Food as medicine has been at the core of my passion since I started Honey&Roots around five years ago but it started already when I was a child, growing up in Norway surrounded by forests and fields. I’ve always loved exploring nature.
Over the last few years I’ve been digging up the knowledge that I grew up with and building on it, along with exploring these plants in the kitchen. It’s such a grounding activity that lets you connect to nature while making the most out of the natural resources that surround us. With a little curiosity and a few simple recipes, you can transform even the most everyday plants and weeds, turning your daily walks into culinary adventures.
Foraging is low cost and surprisingly accessible – even in a big city! The everyday plants and weeds that surround us are actually powerhouses of nutrients that can support our own health and wellbeing. But when looking for natural ingredients to pick, it’s important to make sure you know exactly what you are looking for and what to avoid, as there are some plants that could be toxic too. I have therefore decided to introduce you to some of my favourites, which are easy to differentiate from potential lookalikes.
Images: Elderflower, Dandelion
Contrary to popular belief, dandelions are not just pesky garden weeds – they are one of the most nutrient-dense plants you can eat. Dandelions are full of vitamins C, A, and K, as well as and antioxidants and calcium. They are rich in potassium, giving them a strong diuretic quality as well as making them an excellent blood detoxifier. Dandelions are also noted for their ability to stabilize blood sugar, making them an excellent supplement for diabetics. Over time, people have used dandelion for everything from liver detoxification to managing high blood pressure and lowering cholesterol.
Everything, from the flower all the way down to the roots, is edible – not to mention delicious. The taste of dandelion resembles a slightly bitter green like arugula. You can eat them fresh in salads, cook them on the stove or dry them to enjoy all year around.
You can forage them on your own, you’ll find them almost anywhere from your own garden, to parks and fields. It’s best to gather dandelions in the spring when they are young (before they flower) and again in the autumn. This is due to the flavour of the leaves, the more mature they get the stronger the taste. I try to pick the younger leaves. Remember to forage them in areas you know haven’t been sprayed with fertilizers or weed killers, and wash them before you use them.
You can add the young leaves directly in a salad, or you can blanche them in a pan with some oil, garlic, salt and pepper. If you are like me, and want the benefits of this powerhouses all year around you can dry the leaves (and flowers) and leave in a jar, ready to be added to your smoothie or sprinkle over salads. After washing, leave the leaves on a kitchen cloth in a warm area for a couple of days, depending on the temperature. Once they are dry, you can store them in glass jars. Make sure its airtight and avoid direct sunlight – they keep the nutrients for longer in a cool and dark place.
Images: Mallow, Wild Garlic and Nettle
The nettle as often think of as a weed is actually an herb with powerful purifying properties. It helps to release toxins from the body by dissolving them from the metabolism. At the same time, it stimulates the kidneys to ‘rinse’ the urinary track. Nettle also stimulates the digestive system and reduces blood sugar content, which is beneficial for diabetics.
Nettles are best harvested from spring, a few weeks after they sprout, into early summer. The young leaves are what we are after, so fresh plants around 15cm tall are ideal. Larger plants can be harvested from, but in this case, foragers should stick to the new leaves at the top of the plant. At this time of year, the herb contains up to three times as much protein as kale. The leaves can be cooked like spinach but have higher nutritional content and contain less oxalic acid. After midsummer, the vitamin C content of the plant decreases rapidly, but the whole plant is rich in chlorophyll and minerals, especially iron, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, zinc and silicon, plus a variety of trace elements.
Always bring your gloves when you are foraging and handling nettle. It is easy to use as a dried herb (follow the same method as described for dandelion). Once the nettle is dried, you can crush the dried leaves to a powder and use one to two tablespoons daily in porridge, smoothie or soups. The leaves are also wonderful as herbal teas, freshly squeezed juice or tincture.
Images: Rose, Dog Rose
Wild rose flowers are well known for their beauty, scent and medicine. From ancient times, the humble Rose has been used and recommended for various ailments including inflammation, skin health, women’s health, stomach complaints, headache, dizziness and even heartache. It’s wonderful for the height of summer to add to your water, mist on your face or to save for the winter to bring back memories of summer.
Rose petals contain a number of powerful antioxidants, which can help protect cells from damage. They have powerful antiseptic properties, which can prevent and treat infections, as well as healing cuts, burns or scars. Rose has also popular in the beauty word for thousands of years to help skin redness, puffiness and acne, alongside having proposed anti-aging effects.
The best time to harvest roses is when they are most eye catching – in spring to early summer when they have just opened and are very fragrant. Whole flowers can be pinched off but it is better to harvest the petals so that the inner part can turn into fruit called rose hip, which ripens in the autumn. Rose leaves and stems are also harvested for medicine and can be gathered in spring through early autumn.
You can dry rose petals and flower buds for teas and infusions. Harvest the petals and place in a flat wicker basket, lined with a cotton tea towel, and allow to air dry in a shaded place away from sunlight and heat stirring the blossoms occasionally as they dry. Once they are thoroughly dry, put in a glass jar and cap tightly. Brew as a tea with simmering, not boiling water; it is a good tonic, but also laxative so don’t overuse.
Another way to use the petals is to make your own rosewater by infusing them in distilled or filtered water. Simply put a small handful of rose petals in a glass jar of water and let them steep in direct sunlight for up to a few hours; this makes a gentle rose water that is good to drink or use on skin.
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