This winter has been tough for foraging of any kind. Just when I thought that spring might be on its way, a load of snow dumped upon us, burying beneath it my hopes of foraged greens. Everyday I watch to see if it might melt and wonder which intrepid herb might be the first to break the ice and snow. So far nothing is stirring, but I bet Daisies will be among the pioneers.
To me Daisies represent the epitome of youthful innocence: white petaled flower garlands that adorn little girls heads and necks as they play 'fairy queen' and dance ring-a-ring-a-roses.
While the English name seems best suited for a cow, the origin of its Latin name seems rather more surprising and even a little controversial: Some, taking the obvious route, derive the name from the Latin word 'bellus' - pretty, while others suggest quite a different interpretation: Mrs Grieves mentions that it may have been named after a dryad called Belidis, while an old Nordic name 'Baldur's Brow' associates it with the ancient sun god Baldur. However, the most intriguing interpretation is the etymological connection to Bellona, an ancient Goddess of war- who also gave us the words 'bellicose' and 'belligerent'. At first this suggestion seemed quite improbable, until I began to understand the essential nature of this little herb beyond the layer of its simple, superficial beauty.
Apparently, once upon a time the little daisy used to be much appreciated as a wound herb as well as for inflammatory conditions and fevers, which does suggest a Marsian (astrologically speaking) character.
The very fact that it intrepidly pops out as soon as the snow has disappeared, should give some cause for thought. (At times it even seems as though the Daisies themselves possess the power to melt the snow away.)
The flavour of the leaves and roots is quite astringent and almost hot, though it is an odd sense of heat, quite unlike that of chillies for example. Instead it is a spreading, radiating sort of warmth that acts more like an internal hot water bottle rather than a burning sort of heat.
The leaves are a little rough and moist, with a demulcent quality to them. Thus, the old herbalists would say, its signature suggest a use against retracted, cold phlegm that needs a dose of heat to be removed from the depth of whichever organ happens to be congested - however, in modern herbalism the common daisy has long fallen out of fashion. Her sister, the Ox-Eyed Daisy has taken her place. The old herbals also praise its virtues: an excellent remedy for chronic bronchial conditions, asthma and whooping cough as well as nervous excitability, and a lotion or ointment as a wound herb.
Although I intend to focus on edible herbs in this section of the newsletter, it is always worth remembering that foods also heal, and especially so our wild foraged friends. The herbs of early spring are little miracles in that they often provide exactly the sort of food-remedies our bodies need to restore themselves after the attacks of various winter bugs.
Daisy leaves and flowers can be added to salads. The young, tender leaves that are not yet covered in hairs are preferred. They act diaphoretic, so ought to be mixed with other herbs. The fresh leaves are a very rich source of vitamin C.
What is usually known as capers are the unopened flower buds of the caper tree, but creative wild food cuisine sees no reason not to apply the same method to other flower buds, like Daisies or Dandelion, for example (of course, only edible flowers should be used!).
The basic recipe is quite simple: Pick about one cup of Daisy buds, wash them and put into about ½ litre of salt water. Quickly bring to a boil and strain through a cheesecloth or sieve. Place the buds into a stone jar and pour ½ litre of boiling vinegar over them. Make sure they are completely covered. After about 4-5 days return the buds and the vinegar to a pan and still making sure the buds are covered, bring to a boil. Allow to cool and cover with jam cellophane, so as to avoid direct contact between the buds and the air so they can't get mouldy.
A quick and easy soup that can be prepared at almost any time of year calls for the whole plant, roots, leaves and flowers. I normally refrain from suggesting recipes that call for roots. Only pick them if Daisies grow en masse in your area and you can be sure that there is not going to be a shortage of them. The plants are picked easily enough, especially if the ground is dry. In clay soil there is a tendency for clots of dirt to cling to the roots and all their little hairs.
Pick about 6-8oz of flowers (roots, leaves and tops), clean well and chop them up (not too small). Fry them briefly but briskly in a heavy skillet with a little olive oil. Add about half a cup of white wine or apple cider and then stir in a litre of vegetable broth. Season to taste and perhaps add a little dash of cream right at the end. Serve with croutons.
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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.