Traditionally and when eating seasonally, Spring is a time when our reserves are low and we have generally exhausted our autumn stores. The first young leaves and shoots are at their tenderest and are usually best eaten and prepared simply, in our food and as infusions. This is a time when we can enjoy the gathering while soaking up the first warmth of the season.
Thank you to Chef Scott Walsh for his delicious recipes.
© Kelli O’Halloran 2009
Wild Salad Leaves
The secret to a really good salad is something bitter, something sharp and something a little more bland in flavour to add texture and bulk. Dressing can add sharpness. Use roughly four parts oil to one part acid. The oil can be a mixture of clean flavourless oils such as sunflower or canola with a little good olive oil or nut oils such as walnut, sesame or hazelnut for extra flavour. The acid element can be wine, lemon juice, yoghurt, buttermilk or vinegars. Sweeten with a little sugar or honey, season with salt & pepper and add some crushed garlic, shallot or mustard for extra flavour.
Three cornered Garlic
We can still feel chilly on Spring days and there is nothing more satisfying than a hearty soup made possible by an enjoyable afternoons foraging. It never ceases to amaze me how previously rejected green vegetables suddenly take on a magical appetising quality when children have donned gum boots and spent an afternoon in the woods!
2 large onions sliced
3 medium potatoes (roosters)
6-8 fistfuls of nettle heads
1litre (approx) chicken/vegetable stock
Salt & pepper
100ml single cream
Fry finely chopped onion and potato for 3 to 4 minutes in sunflower/olive oil. Add stock and simmer until cooked. Bring to the boil and add nettles. Remove from heat, add cream and purée immediately. Garnish with buttered croutons and a little fresh goat cheese or lardons of smoked streaky bacon.
You can use the same method but replace the nettles with 2 handfuls of wild garlic for a yummy wild garlic soup or 3-4 handfuls of sorrel or watercress.
© Kelli O’Halloran 2009
Spring Foraging Tart
Tart Base for 8-10” tart tin
8oz plain flour
2oz chilled unsalted butter
2oz chilled vegetable/animal fat
3-5 tbsp full fat milk
2 large free range eggs
1 egg yolk
1 cup of double cream
25g grated parmesan cheese
1 clove of garlic
Zest of half a lemon
2 handfuls of watercress finely chopped
Place flour and fat in a food processor and pulse until very fine crumbs. Add enough milk while pulsing the mixture until it just forms a mixture resembling bread crumbs. Gently bring this mixture together in a bowel and allow to rest in the fridge for a couple of hours. Line a greased tart tin with rolled out pastry, prick with a fork and blind bake at 180 degrees Celsius until barely golden.
While the pastry is resting combine the filling ingredients, cover and leave in the fridge to let the flavours infuse the custard.
Pour filling into a cooled blind baked tart base and bake at 180 degrees Celsius until set (the middle should wobble like jelly when wiggled). Allow to cool and serve with a mixed wild salad.
You can substitute a handful of wild garlic for watercress. If you lack the time to make pastry and are feeling ravenous after your busy afternoon spent foraging, then whisk three eggs, add parmesan, season and add your chosen herb for a delicious omelette made in minutes!
Roast Pork Belly with Cannelloni beans, Woodland Sorrel,
Apple & Mustard
1,200g Cannellini beans (cooked & chilled/canned)
1 -2 Apples (hard crisp variety)
1 tbsp flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
Pork Belly (roasted)
3 handfuls of woodland sorrel (leaves & flowers)
© Kelli O’Halloran 2009
Mix 4 parts oil with 1 part white wine vinegar, 1 tsp Dijon mustard and season with salt & pepper and add sugar to taste.
Cut the apple into small cubes and mix with parsley, beans and a light dressing of the mustard vinaigrette. Serve a portion of warm roast pork belly on top and garnish with a sprinkle of the woodland sorrel leaves & flowers. The sorrel adds a zesty sharpness to the dish, aiding digestion by helping to ‘cut ‘the fat of the meat.
Dandelion leaves can be substituted for a delicious alternative.
Woodland sorrel is delicious with hot smoked salmon, yum yum…
Crystallised Violets or Primroses
This is an ideal way to preserve and enjoy some of Springs earliest flowers.
Simply beat some egg white until frothy (but not stiff). Carefully pull the flowers away from the green sepals and dip them in the egg white. Dust liberally with icing sugar and allow to dry on kitchen paper for 24 hours in a cool place. They will keep for many weeks in a sealed jar in the refrigerator.
Wild Pansy, Heartsease (Viola tricolour)
Harvest the pansies when in flower (from April – September). Make a simple infusion and drink three cups daily for chronic eczema and acne. Very small doses (20 drops per day) can be used to treat cradle cap in infants. Generally the herb is useful in treating feverish inflammatory conditions, including cystitis, rheumatic episodes and whooping cough.
Sweet Violet (Viola ordorata)
This is the only sweet scented violet and so it makes it easier for you to identify! All parts can be harvested during flowering and an infusion or decoction made. It is used to treat bronchial catarrh, inflamed mouth, throat and gums (gargle and mouthwash). Also used in treating rheumatic pains.
An ancient Irish cure for disorders of the stomach, colds & sore throats and much more!
I suggest making an infusion with the herbs, strain and use this water to make your porridge. Add the hazel buds as garnish or alternatively just finely chop everything and mix it in. A most nutritious Spring breakfast!
© Kelli O’Halloran 2009
‘The use of Sage in the month of May, with butter, Parsley and some salt, is very frequent in our country to continue health to the body… [use] Rosemary and other good hearbes for the same purpose’
-John Parkinson, Theatrum botanicum
Leaves from a variety of herbs are used in many areas to wrap cheese. These may impart flavour or at least are of decorative value,think of nettles and Yarg. Proper herb cheeses however, are made by mixing the herb juice with rennet and adding it to the milk, then skimming and pressing the rising curd. Simple dips and spreads can be made by adding chopped herbs to soured cream, cream cheese or yoghurt. Leave in the refrigerator for a few hours to infuse the flavour. Try some with the delicious Ransoms!
Honey is antiseptic and drawing. The action can be used to clean infected wounds and heal ulcers. If the honey is too thin, thicken it with a little corn starch (corn flour). A thick layer is needed to draw effectively. Once the wounds are clean, the honey will also act as a healer. Use good local, cold pressed honey. Add fresh garlic to the honey to increase its antiseptic powers.
Honey in hot water is also useful as a soothing drink in infective diarrhoea and vomiting. The sugars in honey are pre digested, making them easily available as energy to a weakened body.
2 whole heads of Garlic
Peel and crush the garlic cloves (alternatively use a very fine grater). Place the pulp in a pestle & mortar and pound until they become partially
transparent. The mechanical action helps to release the active components.
Add 2 tbsp of honey and pound until the garlic is totally transparent. Add the remaining honey and mix well. Pour into a bottle, label, date & write the dose on.
½ tsp daily as a tonic or preventative
½ tsp 3 times daily as a treatment or 6 times daily in acute conditions
Take directly or add fresh lemon and hot water or herbal infusions.
Apply directly to the skin for bites, grazes and wounds.
For infants, rub garlic honey to the soles of their feet.
© Kelli O’Halloran 2009
St John’s Wort Infused Oil
50ml Cold Pressed Oil
100g fresh flowers
sunlight (as available!)
Macerate 100g of freshly picked flowers in a good cold pressed oil. Sunflower or Olive oil works well. Place in a sealed jar on a sunny windowsill for about 6 weeks or until the oil has turned a lovely red colour. Strain the flower material from the oil and rebottle in a sterile container. Label and date.
Topically, this oil is useful to treat burns, wounds and bruises
St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)
Harvest the flowering tops when the plant is in flower (June – September). The plant has a sedative and antidepressant action when taken over a period of time. Infuse the flowers and drink 3 cups daily. It also has astringent, ant-inflammatory and diuretic properties which also makes it useful in treating digestive disturbance, especially cramp and colic and it has been used traditionally to treat bed wetting in children. Topically it helps to heal wounds, is antimicrobial and has analgesic properties. For these reasons, it is beneficial when applied to cold sores and shingles.
The plant has caused photosensitisation in cattle and sheep(probably due to Hypericin) but there have been no human cases recorded (though some adverse effects have been reported from OTC preparations). Before taking St John’s wort, always consult a medical herbalist or doctor if you are taking any medication.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
In Spring collect the leaves for juicing or make an infusion. The leaves are a wonderful diuretic, which has a high potassium content which makes it very helpful in the treatment of fluid retention caused by heart conditions. The leaves offer us a much needed early vitamin shot in early Spring and are particularly good to eat up until the end of May (after this they get a little tougher, but can still be eaten and may benefit from a lightening quick blanch in hot water). The bitter leaf will generally aid the digestion and can act as a gentle laxative. Springtime is a particularly good time to treat your warts (for external use only) with the sticky latex of the hollow inflorescence stalk. You will need to keep it up for a few weeks and be careful not to let the latex in contact with the eyes or other delicate parts. The root is best collected in the autumn and has a much more direct action on the liver. It can be dried and decocted to make Dandelion coffee.
© Kelli O’Halloran 2009
Nettle (Urtica dioica)
In southern parts of Cork county, May Eve (30th April) was known as ‘Nettlemas Night’ when boys would parade through the streets with large bunches of nettles stinging their playmates and the occasional innocent passersby. Girls would join in to sting the boys they held a fancy for! It was also known that taking three meals of nettles in May guarded against illness for the year.
Pick the youngest fresh shoots when only a few centimetres high. Wear gloves unless you want to purposefully sting your arthritic joints. Flaying the joints with stinging nettles is an old cure for rheumatism. Or trust in the old rhyme;
If you grasp a nettle
It will sting you for your pains
Grasp it tightly like a rod of metal,
And as soft as silk it remains
Nettle is traditionally seen as a blood cleanser and so a cure for rashes, pimples, boils and other skin complaints. I tend to use it to treat simple anaemia, skin problems and as a tea for hayfever and asthma symptoms. Start drinking the tea daily about 3 weeks before your usual onset of hayfever symptoms. The seed has also been shown to help in the treatment of the prostate and gout (this requires a more complex alcoholic preparation).
Wood Sorrel (Oxalis acetosella)
The name sorrel comes from the French for sour which is what oxalis means in Greek. It is a refreshing leaf in the summer heat and the leaves will sharpen up and add interest to your homemade lemonade.It contains quite large amounts of oxalic acid, which is responsible for its sharpness and why it is so good with fatty meats such as Pork Belly but for this reason it should be avoided by those with gastric inflammation. For the same reason it should be avoided by those with a tendency to gout or forming kidney stones. Plenty of other herbs for those!! Chew the leaves for infected gums.
Blackberry, Bramble (Rubes fructicosus)
There are over 2000 varieties but fortunately for us we can generalise with the differences being minutely botanical but the properties are generally the same. Blackberry picking must be the most widespread remnant of wild crafting in the modern age. It was used to ward off evil spirits (with Rowen and Ivy) by the Celts. Harvest the leaves in May and use an infusion or decoction as a mouth wash for gingivitis and a gargle for sore throats. It is astringent and so useful for treating diarrhoea. Also high in vitamin C.
© Kelli O’Halloran 2009
Cleavers (Galium aparine)
Cleavers is essentially a lymphatic cleanser with useful diuretic and skin healing effects. Internally it is useful for swollen lymph nodes, especially the cervical lymh (neck glands). It also helps dry eczema and psoriasis. It can help to lower the blood pressure and is anti-inflammatory and can be useful in generalised fluid retention. Externally the juice or an infusion is cooloingfor burns and helps to stop bleeding in abrasions. Springtime is traditionally the cleansing time; nettles for the blood and cleavers for the lymh. An over night cold infusion of the fresh herb is best.
2 handfuls fresh cleavers
Quickly wash the just picked cleavers, roughly chop them and place in a bowel. Add enough cold water to just cover the herb, cover and leave to soak over night. The next day strain, and drink the liquid throughout the day (about 2 glasses).
In Irish Ribwort plantain is known as slánus – ‘health herb’. In Ireland the leaves of greater plantain, known as St patrick’s dock were applied to a wound and covered with a bandage to stop bleeding from cuts and sores.. The leaves of ribwort can be chewed to a pulp and then applied to a cut to stop bleeding.
Ribwort (Plantago lanceolata)
The leaves are best harvested in May and June and a strong infusion is made to treat bronchitis, especially long-standing with scarring and damage, a persistent irritable cough (with or without mucus). It has a general soothing and wound healing effect.
Greater Plantain (Plantago major)
Use the leaves directly on cuts and abrasions as a first aid treatment. Also usefirst aid treatment for bites and stings. Make a compress of the herb or infusion soaked cotton wool applied directly to the skin for acne rosacea. Is useful in the treatment of bleeding ulcers in conjunction with other herbs.
Black Horehound (Ballota nigra)
Rub the leaves, the harsh smell will persist on your fingers. Now you will always be able to identify it!! Harvest the aerial parts during the flowering season (June – October). It is most useful for nausea related to early pregnancy, migraine and travel sickness. Combine it with Chamomile and Peppermint for travel sickness.
Curled Dock (Rumex crispus)
Harvest the young leaves in Spring and use a poultice of fresh bruised leaves for ulcers, sores, psoriasis and for general itch. This plant works by stimulating the liver and has a laxative effect. It is a useful depurative which makes it a valuable herb in the treatment of psoriasis. Useful in chronic constipation and topically for itchy skin and gingivitis. The leaves combine well when taken as an infusion with Dandelion for a Spring tonic.