© Kat Morgenstern, June 2002
Summer is finally here - in fact, midsummer has come and gone. The season of bountiful blessings, of flowers and berries, of buzzing bees and butterflies invites us to join in the dance of life, manifest in the cosmic rhythms of nature. Each foraging foray is a journey of discovery, and a sharing in all the great and small miracles of life that happen all around us, if we only open our eyes and ears, our hearts and souls to contemplate this miraculous power called life. I love pondering these mysteries while communing with plant spirits as I munch my way through fields and forest, that's when I feel closest to the Gods.
For me, heaven is a Wild Strawberry patch (Fragaria vesca). Time and space just seems to melt into insignificance when I let myself be seduced by the allure of these sumptious little 'scrummy yums'. It is an art to catch them at just the right moment, when all white patches have turned a glowing red yet before they are gobbled up by other, equally keen competitors or, heaven forbid, they have started their rapid process of decay. Wild strawberries are a food for instant gratification, to be enjoyed in the here and now. Gathering them for later is not impossible, but barely worth it. By the time one has picked enough and taken them home they will have started to go mushy. Though they might still taste good (never as good as straight from the bushel), they no longer look appealing. Plus, given the temptation to put all those little 'bonnes bouches' straight down the gob instead of into the pail, it could take a very long time to gather enough for later. Strawberries are not just delicious, in former times they were highly regarded as aphrodisiacs an association which is not hard to understand. Artists throughout the centuries have used the Strawberries as a symbol of sexual allure. Strawberries are also healthy. The fruits contain the highest amount of Vitamin C of any berry. They are a good cleansing food, acting mildly diuretic and diaphoretic. The dried leaves are used as a popular breakfast tea, often mixed with Raspberry (Rubus idaeus) and Blackberry (Rubus fruticosus) leaves. However, some unfortunate people are sensitive to Strawberries and get allergic reactions, so individual tolerance levels should be carefully monitored unless you are absolutely sure that you are not allergic.
Similar to Strawberries in terms of their instant gratification value and heavenly taste are Raspberries. They too are a very watery and soft fruit, which makes them vulnerable to any kind of pressure or strains of storage. They too are best enjoyed immediately, though if the way home is not too far it might be worth gathering some for later use as jam. Raspberry leaves are one of the best supportive herbs to use during pregnancy, especially after the first 3 months. The first 3 months are the most delicate in terms of maintaining a body balance so it is generally not recommended to experiment with any herbs during this time.
Bilberries (Vaccinium myrtillus) are soft and watery but their skin is relatively tough and thus they are much easier to transport for later processing. Bilberries are extremely staining and it is difficult to avoid the purple blue stains, not only on the hands and lips but also all over one's clothes. Bilberries are very healthy and recent studies have indicated that they are useful in cases of eye troubles related to diabetes. Bilberries apparently have the ability to increase blood flow to the extremely small blood vessels like those that supply the eyes. It should be noted that fresh Bilberries tend to have a laxative action, while dried one's have the opposite effect.
Other delightful fruits that are bountiful right now, though usually not encountered in the wild, are Gooseberries (Ribes grossularia), Cherries (Prunus ssp.) and Currents (Ribes rubrum). A delightful berry dish, perfect for a sweet summer lunch is known as Rote Grütze' in Germany. It is a cold soup prepared with fruits, generally red fruits, such as Cherries, Strawberries, Raspberries, Bilberries, Red Currents etc. though in recent years 'Grüne Grütze' and 'Gelbe Grütze' have also become available. For those who wish to make their own, here is a basic recipe:
Simmer about 500g mixed red fruit (Raspberries, Strawberries, Bilberries, Currents, Cherries etc., destone Cherries) with a little cherry, current, cranberry juice or wine. Add cornstarch or sago to thicken, but not too much. The mixture should have the consistency of runny jam. Sweeten with sugar to taste. Serve cold with vanilla cream.
For other foraged goodies the early summer months are not the best: Leaves are beginning to get tough and old and nuts or roots are not ready for harvest yet. Still, it is quite possible to carry on collecting the young leaves of any of the edible herbs, such as Goosefoot (Chenopodium album), Purslane (Portulacca oleracea), Mallow (Malva sylvestries), Bistort (Polygonum bistorta)or Sow thistle (Sonchus arvensis. These can be added to soups, salads, or fillings for quiches or piroggies.
However, playful and adventurous foragers will delight in the season's blessing of flowers many of which are edible and not only add a wonderful subtle taste to numerous sweet or savory dishes but also add a bold and cheerful splash of colour that is sure to get attention. Borage flowers (Borago officinalis), Nasturtiums, Calendula (Calendula officinalis) and Rose petals (Rosea canina) are favourites. One wonderful speciality of the season are filled Squash (Cucurbita pepo) flowers. Being big, bright, fairly tough and edible they lend themselves perfectly for this unusual dish. The filling is only limited by your imagination, but a stuffing type filling, neither too runny nor too heavy work especially well. Mix grains such as bulghar wheat or rice with onions, garlic and mushrooms and sprinkle with a fairly soft, quickly melting cheese and some parmesan cheese and grill until the cheese is melted. Or mix breadcrumbs and cornflakes with butter to make a crust and grill until golden brown.
Some delicious flower recipes can be found here:Edible Flower List.
Also, many herbs are in season now. They tend to be best just before or during flowering, before they set seed. Herbs can be dried for later use or frozen to preserve the fresh flavour (especially recommended for Parsley, Basil and Coriander).
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This Article was originally published in the Sacred Earth Newletter. The Newsletter is a FREE service containing articles, news and reviews on all things herbal and/or ethnobotanical, with an approximate publication cylce of 6 - 8 weeks. If you wish to subscribe, please use the subscription box to submit your e-mail address.
Please note that although all the references to edible and medicinal herbs are tried and tested, their efficacy cannot be guaranteed and has not been approved by the FDA. Furthermore, everybody responds differently to various plants, and adverse reactions cannot be ruled out. Historical information regarding poisonous plants is included for educational purposes only and should not be tried out at home. Everybody uses herbs at their own risk and thus must make themselves fully aware of their potential power. Any information given here is educational and should not replace a visit to the doctor should this be necessary. Neither Sacred Earth nor Kat Morgenstern accepts responsibility for anybody's home experimentation. Links to external sites are included as pointers to further resources - we do not endorse them or are in any way responsible for their content, nor do we thus verify that their content is accurate.