It's Solstice Season, and there's an air of climax around - plants around just seem to exude an aura of vitality and vigour, a celebratory fiesta of these long balmy sunny days that we've been so blessed by. It's a great joy of the forest gardener to feel so connected with the flux of the seasons as we work with these remarkable transformations that faithfully deliver our food year after year.
I've just come back from a two month trip abroad and so am astonished at the transformation here in Devon. Of course, I should know by now, but somehow nothing can prepare you for a change on such a scale! One thing I love about forest gardening is that I can go away for extended periods and return to find all my crops growing wonderfully, albeit often among a jungle of weeds!
This is more jungle gardening than forest gardening! But I'm always amazed by how easily one can retrieve such a situation, as long as care has been taken in the design, and one has not left things too long... and it's not just a chore, because many of these weeds are in fact yummy vegetables in their own right!
Three of the main contenders for me, and many other forest gardeners around are Hogweed, Cleavers and Nettles... but rather seeing them as a bore, lets harness their natural qualities to make nutritious and delicious dishes!
Why not make a solstice soup combining all three?
Though young leaves and seeds can be gathered through other times of the year, this is my favourite season to harvest Hogweed, as it's now that the broccoli-like flower buds are just unfurling. Check out this especially juicy one - just begging to be picked!--->
Anyone who's tried Hogweed Broccoli knows what a treat it is! Succulent and tender with a very unique flavor, I recommend trying this one to all.
As always, exercise caution when foraging - Hogweed's North American cousin Giant Hogweed Heracleum Mantegazzianum is toxic and will even burn skin when cut. The two can be differentiated mainly by the sheer size of Giant Hogweed, which can reach 4 meters tall, whereas our native friend H.sphondylium is normally around head height. Always be sure before ingesting any wild plant!
As nettles and cleavers are already a little tough and stalky, we'll only be using the tips of these which will nevertheless impart their powerfully medicinal qualities to the soup...
So then the recipe! Serves Two Hungry People:
Sultry Solstice Soup
12 heads of Hogweed Broccoli
One handful of Nettle Tips
One handful of Cleaver Tips
One handful of Allium leaves or two cloves of Garlic.
One cup of Red Lentils
Tablespoon of Oil (Cold pressed Sunflower Oil is wonderful!)
Three Cups of Water
Salt, Pepper and Nutmeg to taste...
First harvest all of your ingredients. Pick only the most tender top two inches of nettles and cleavers.. For the Hogweed - only harvest flowers before they have opened. These have a much finer taste and texture than mature blossom.
Babington's Leek leaves make a fantastic perennial garlic substitute - and are available for most of the year. In a forest garden buying onion and garlic can be a thing of the past!
These herb scissors pictured take five cuts every time you take one. Gifted to me by my friend Clare, highly recommended for the forest gardener!
Peel the outer skin off the Hogweed flowers if they are still unopened and throw them in whole (if you have no blending facility, chop them up).
Fry gently for a few minutes.When garlic is beginning to brown, add water and red lentils to the pan. Bring to boil and simmer for 15 minutes.
Remove pan from heat and add nettles, cleavers, salt, pepper and nutmeg.
Blend the soup well, cut yourself a couple of slices of bread and you're ready to go! If you're looking for a tangy twist try adding some Sea Buckthorn Juice to the bowl to give it that forest garden edge! Bon Appetite! :)