GROW FOOD slow food Have your garden and eat it too. A practical guide to organic gardening in the sub-tropics with step-by-step instructions and delicious seasonal recipes. Come with me too on some of my travels in Australia, Europe, Asia and beyond.

Making summer salads when your lettuce just wants to bolt!

I recently had friends over to dinner and was making Greek lemon chicken – a deliciously rustic dish with lemony carrots and crunchy, rosemary potatoes, but I was a bit stumped for something green and fresh to go with it?

And then I just thought – I’ll do what the Greeks do – make a salad of wild greens from the garden in their centuries old tradition of horta.

Wild rocket that has seeded in my verge-side meadow – I’ll put a link at the bottom of the page

Horta is simply the word given to all wild plants, collected from the hillsides, and either eaten fresh or cooked quickly and then tossed with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. They do this with the plants I’m going to highlight today, but also beetroot tops, dandelion leaves, chicory, wild fennel, nettles, chard, purslane, amaranth, samphire and, in Greece, I have even eaten the young leaves from the tamarisk tree.

It was, while putting a fork of these surprisingly delicious greens into my mouth, at a beachside taverna on Sifnos, that I had one of those ‘light bulb’ moments when I realised that, of course, the word horticulture is derived from the same root as horta – living greens (from the Latin hortus – meaning garden). And, it is not only the Greeks that eat wild foods as a common and healthy part of their diet – just ask anyone from Europe or the Middle East?

What did St. Augustine say about travel? “Life is like a book, and if you don’t travel you only read one page”

Herb scented hillsides, tamarisk trees and beachside taverna. Vathy, Sifnos 2006, Diane Hart

So, if you are travelling anywhere in the countryside in Greece and you see a parked moped and nobody about – the owner will inevitably be scrambling over the herb-scented hillside picking wild food.

It is very difficult to grow traditional lettuce through the summer in the sub-tropics – they just bolt and go to seeds – but these plants are real winners that survive the summer heat and humidity.

These greens are also budget superfoods – jam packed with nutrition – and this is why they form an important part of the healthy Mediterranean diet.

But, however tough they might be – these plants are best grown in a mixed border where they will get some shade protection.

Wild Rocket

Diplotaxis tenuifolia

An annual plant in the mustard family with edible flowers and leaves. Once you plant this, you will always have it because it readily re-seeds. When flowering, it hums with bees and is a great host plant for beneficial insects.

I love its mild bite in salads or wilted in pasta dishes.

Nutritional value: chlorophyll, amino acids, beta-carotenes, glucosinolates, vitamins C, E, B and K.

Sorrel

Rumex acetosa

A perennial plant that is related to rhubarb. I also have the Red-veined Sorrel Rumex acetosella (pictured above) The leaves of the green sorrel have a sour, lemony tang that is a lovely fresh addition to any salad – but also great cooked. The red one is not so sour and packed with goodness. See this previous post on ways to cook sorrel. https://growfoodslowfood.com/2012/01/10/recipe-sorrel-tar/

Nutritional value. Phytochemicals, flavonoids, calcium, potassium, magnesium, vitamins C and B’s.

Purslane

Portulaca oleracea

This is a highly prized salad plant in eastern Mediterranean countries – eaten fresh or mixed as a mezze dish with roasted walnuts and yoghurt. See this previous post for details. https://growfoodslowfood.com/2020/01/06/purslane-wonder-weed/

Nutritional value. High in omega-3 fatty acids, normally found in fish, but without the calories and fats. High in iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium and manganese as well as vitamins A, C and E.

Lebanese Cress

Aethionema cordifolium

This pond plant has been a new addition to my edible garden – and I simply love it – it is so easy to grow in a pot in a bath of water. It readily roots from the stems so will also spread in a really damp spot. It has a fresh, lettucy flavour.

Nutritional value. A good source of protein, iron, calcium, phosphorous, potassium and vitamins A, B, and C.

Nasturtium

Trapolaeum majus

I have written extensively about this plant in the past because it is an absolute must in any garden. As well as all parts being edible – leaves, flowers and seeds – it makes a colourful living mulch and companion plant.https://growfoodslowfood.com/2011/07/25/recipe-pickled-nasturtium-seeds-false/

Nutritional value. Leaves – Vitamin C, iron and other minerals. Flowers – B1, B2, B3 and C and magnesium, iron, phosphorus and calcium

How to serve? Simply pick over the leaves, give them a good wash and toss the leaves in some olive oil with a sprinkle of balsamic vinegar and top with toasted, crushed walnuts. If this is going to be a main part of the meal, add some crumbled feta too for added protein. Kali orexi!

Harvesting wild greens from the hillside in Crete. A sketch in my travel diary inspired by the marvellous 1986 book by British writer, Patience Gray, Honey from a Weed – and here is a quote from the chapter on edible weeds; ‘Edwardian Englishmen laughed at French governesses for picking wild chervil, dandelions and sorrel in spring for salads, and for cutting nettle-heads for soup. She laughed at them for stewing rhubarb’

Previous post. Recipe for Greek Lemon Chicken. https://growfoodslowfood.com/2014/04/28/lemon-chicken-greek-style/

The importance of meadows and how you can make one on a grass verge https://growfoodslowfood.com/2013/09/07/prince-charles-gives-birth-to-love-child/