Thursday, February 21, 2013

Living in a Wild Garden

I arrived early at the main branch library for a seminar last night, and with those spare minutes, made a beeline for the botany section and browsed the the titles on the shelf, head slightly tilted to the left, quickly scanning the book spines for something of interest. I found this delightful little gem and snatched it up.

Living in a Wild Garden was written by UK author Roger Banks and published in 1980.

Opening his story he writes, "This then is the ground I wish to cover in this book, the triangle between the obvious rural charm of wild flowers, ordered cultivation in the garden, and the kitchen. Usually it is a rubbish dump but I make no apology. In an over-tidy world it is on just these waste lots, often at the city centre, that one may find something of interest, useful or good to eat."

Later he recounts how Cousin Mary turned them on to nettles. "When she said, 'We must all eat stinging nettles; we did in the war. Find me an old glove', we did and thereby crossed unknowingly in another, older, more delightful world of people who are always on the look-out for something free to eat rather than being tied by the nose to the dreary compulsion of shopping."

Ok, clearly this is a man after my own heart!

He gives a Lebanese recipe for dandelions in oil called Hindbeh.
     Boil 2lbs of leaves until tender, strain and squeeze out excess moisture
     Mix with 1/2 cup of oil, 1 1/2 cups of chopped onions and salt to taste and fry, stirring occasionally
     Hindbeh should be served cold with lemon.

To make a tea from the lime or linden tree, "simply gather flowers dangling from low branches on their little 'aeroplane propellers' which later will whirl the seeds away on the wing...Dry them on a tray and store in a jar, using a good pinch at a time in boiling water like ordinary tea." 
I love his description of horseradish leaves: "...the leaves of the horseradish are some of the most beautiful I know; up to two feet long, each arches from the central growth almost describing a semi-circle like a palm frond.  It is V-shaped with a tooted fringe which grows so strongly from its central rib that it develops a rhythmic undulation, all dark green with well defined veins yet, because of this serpentine growth habit, the light can be seen alternately to shine through it and be reflected from it in the most subtle way."

Roger gives a fascinating account of Bishop's Weed, or Goutweed (Aegopodium podagraria).  Often despised by gardeners for its aggressive spreading nature, he reminds us that this is an ancient food plant, having been discovered in the stomach of the Tollund Man, who lived in the 4th century BC.  I gather it every year, dry it and include it my herb salts.
He includes a number of medicinal plants and their uses in the book.

I love this drawing of chicory.  All of the artwork in the book is a joy to look at. The writing style is warm, inviting and humorous. I'm glad I stumbled upon the book and look forward to making my way through it in the next few weeks, while I dream about living in my own wild garden!

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