Updated: Nov 19, 2020
Eating wild green shoots growing in your own backyard is not as odd as it may sound. My parents, like generations before them, have been picking edible wild greens from their land all their lives. What my generation growing up in the suburbs would consider weeds. We're quick to rip out, mow over and pave on top of. Just so we get that picture perfect backyard.
Now, before you head out into your backyard to collect dandelion sprigs*, there's a bit more to it when it comes to cooking them. Note to self, you don't just rinse and boil.
What you need to do is fill the sink with cold water, enough to cover the greens. Scatter in a spoonful of salt and leave them sit for awhile. What this step does is remove any bugs that will naturally be found on them outside. If you're scrunching up your face with horror, just think – if there's bugs on them, they're not flooded with pesticides. Bonus for your insides.
Now you can scoop the greens out of the cold water, let the water drain away and rinse the greens under tap water, to remove any dirt etc. What you will see at the bottom of the sink is quite a few little bugs. Your kids will either be fascinated or put off for life. I leave this to your discretion.
Bring a pot of water to the boil, salt it and place your greens in the boiling water. If they are very long, cut them first. This next step should not be rushed (as I tend to do). Allow the greens to boil well past Al dente. You are not cooking pasta here! Neither are you cooking string beans to a crisp snappy texture. My parents always thought these were well under done when eating at my place. These wild greens must be cooked for quite a long time so they are very soft and tender.
Photos clockwise from top left: Costoli; Mum picking a "feast" from the long grass; Mum explains what to pick and what to avoid to class participants; a mix of wild greens including wild fennel; greens rinsed and chopped ready to cook.
Once cooked, drain the water (but don't throw it away). Serve the greens as a side dish, drizzled with a generous amount of olive oil. Or you can sauté them with a small amount of garlic and olive oil, which is absolutely delicious. Or you could chop them finely when raw and add to omelettes or soups.
If you've done it right, the greens should be soft to eat. If you come across any that you can't quite chew on, that will be because you didn't cook them straight away or you picked older tougher shoots. So when picking, look for thin delicate brighter green shoots rather than the older more woody looking ones. A tip when rinsing them out under tap water, discard any that look or feel a bit tough.
Edible wild greens. Not only are they quite delicious but they’re free!
Now, what about the water in the pot? Put some in a cup and drink it as a cleansing broth. You may be surprised as to how sweet it will taste. This will depend on the age and also the type of wild greens you pick. They all have a distinctive flavour and taste, sometimes the broth being bitter. My dad always said "the more bitter, the better".
Wild greens that we know to be safe include dandelion leaves, stinging nettles, wild fennel, chickweed and wild brassica. In mum's dialect from Calabria, they are called ardicha (ortica), costoli, veriduni, iuncha and citoleda. But I can't tell you which is which as the Calabrian dialect is hard to come by in written format!
Ask us about our classes on what to look for, how to pick and prepare them. And of course, how to eat them 😋.
*Never eat anything you are unsure of. It is recommended to take your wild greens to a local garden centre or nursery to be identified as safe to cook and eat. It is also important to pick them in a clean, unpolluted environment. So if your backyard is pesticide free and isn't right next to a major highway, this is considered to be a clean environment. I remember making a pit stop on the highway one year from a trip back from Canberra. To my mum's delight there was a bountiful amount of wild fennel growing next to us. As she started picking the fennel, she soon realised it was heavily polluted by the passing traffic fumes. A definite no go.