I have been reading about wild edibles lately, as my recent defence of Wild Carrots and my still more recent experiment with Plantain soup will attest, and I have been especially amused by a book called Feasting Free on Wild Edibles by Bradford Angier. It was first published in 1966, so there are certainly more comprehensive guides now available, but there are few, I suspect, with an author as idiosyncratic as Angier, and his peculiar style has made the book one of my instant favourites.
I will not bother to list his literary mannerisms at length, but will merely let a single example be a figure for the whole: Angier’s peculiar tendency to begin sentences with the adverb ‘too’. In his entry on Watercress, for example, he writes, “The flavour of nearly every salad can be enhanced by the addition of this edible. Too, watercress is famous sandwich fodder.” Another example of this stylistic quirk can be found in his entry on the Willow, where he writes, “Bitterish in many species, in others the inner bark is surprisingly sweet. Too, this inner bark is sometimes dried and ground into flower.” I am unashamedly amused by these things.
More to the point, however, the book has helped me to identify the quite surprising number of edibles that already grow wild in my yard. With a great number of my garden weeds still waiting to be identified, I can already offer a whole range of food for the backyard naturalist, none of which I had to plant myself.
White Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) – The young leaves are edible raw or cooked. The leaves may be substituted for hops in beer. The leaves and flowers may be used fresh or dried as a tea.
Nodding Wild Onion (Allium cernuum) – The bulbs and the young leaves and stems are edible raw or cooked.
Chicory (Cichorium intybus) – The young leaves are edible raw or cooked. The roots may be roasted and ground as a coffee substitute.
Wild Carrot, Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota) – The leaves are edible cooked and may be used fresh or dried as a seasoning. The roots are edible peeled and boiled. The flowers may be used fresh or dried as a tea.
Purple Shiso (Perilla frutescens nankinensis) – The young leaves and shoots are edible raw or cooked. They may also be used dried as a seasoning. The seeds may be used dried or preserved in salt as a seasoning. They may also be eaten cooked. They may also be crushed to produce an edible oil. The whole plant may be used to producee an edible purple dye.
Plantain (Plantago major) – The young leaves are edible raw or cooked. They may also be dried and used a tea.
Lady’s Thumb (Polygonum persicaria)– The young leaves and the seeds are edible raw or cooked.
Dandelions (Taraxicum officinale) -The flowers may be fermented to make wine. The young leaves are edible raw or cooked. The roots are edible peeled and boiled. They may also be roasted, ground, and brewed as a coffee substitute.
Purple Clover (Trifolium pratense) – The young leaves and blossoms are edible raw or cooked. The mature blossoms may be used dried as a tea.
Of course, this list does not even include the more standard edibles I have growing in my yard, like walnuts and red currants and wild strawberries and red raspberries. I almost wonder why I bother to plant vegetables at all rather than just harvest what is there already.