April and May are the best times for gathering edible wild herbs, because now the young tender leaves and shoots are sprouting from the earth everywhere. These fresh greens are particularly suitable because they taste very mild. Older leaves become increasingly bitter, fibrous or tannic. It is best to limit your collecting tour to a few tasty wild herbs that can be found everywhere and have no poisonous confounders: These include, for example, stinging nettle, ground elder, dandelion and chickweed.
Where you can collect wild herbs
The Federal Nature Conservation Act allows you to collect wild herbs for private use anywhere in the countryside. As with mushroom picking, the amount collected must be proportionate, i.e. one small basket or hand bunch per person. In nature reserves, however, collecting is absolutely prohibited – even for “commonplace plants” such as stinging nettle! If you are on other people’s land, harvest as carefully as possible so that the owner does not have to be angry about a trampled meadow. To allow the plants to survive at the place where they were found, always leave some and continue harvesting elsewhere.
In your own interest, do not collect near busy roads and do not collect near fields that are sprayed with pesticides. You should also eliminate paths where dogs are walked from your collection route. The same applies to meadows where animals graze.
If you find many different plants on your “collection tour”, it is advantageous to separate them by species in the transport container. On the one hand, the herbs are often used separately in recipes, and on the other hand, you can check much better at home that no inedible or poisonous plants have been found.
Tips for processing fresh wild herbs
Process your collected wild herb treasures as fresh as possible, preferably only a few hours after harvesting. You will save yourself a lot of work in the kitchen if you take a closer look at the plants while they are still being harvested, i.e. before they are put in the basket. Sort out dirty, diseased and eaten parts of the plant right outside. In the case of ground-covering leaf rosettes (e.g. dandelion, ribwort), it is best to take only the inner “heart”. This is usually not only cleaner, but also particularly fine and tender.
Plant breeding has primarily trimmed our vegetables and lettuce plants for mild taste. For example, the bitter substances in our food have been largely suppressed. Our taste buds have now adjusted to mild foods. That is why the multifaceted wild vegetables with their partly tart, bitter, pungent and sour taste nuances are unfamiliar at first. With the help of the following tips, you can slowly get to grips with the wild flavours. You will soon discover that there are indeed very fine exquisite bitter flavours. You simply have to relearn tart and bitter! Then your dishes will get a special kick and you won’t want to miss out on the nuanced fireworks of enjoyment.
Tips for getting started in wild herb cooking
There are a few little tricks you can use to tone down the bitterness for your introduction to “wild cuisine”:
Place bitter wild herbs in lukewarm water for five minutes before processing. Balance out dominant bitter tones with the help of cream, sour cream, crème fraîche or white almond paste. Too much pungency, for example caused by wild garlic or foamy cabbage, can also be balanced out with this. Potatoes are also suitable for softening tart flavours, which is why wild vegetables harmonise very well with potato dishes. So, for example, you can thicken a wild herb soup with potatoes instead of flour. The sweetness of fruit is also a good way to soften the bitter and wild. Both juices and fresh fruit are suitable for this. Of course, the sweetness has to fit into the recipe. This is not a problem with salads, where chopped apples or pears can be integrated well. And the combination of wild and sweet is also no problem in smoothies and desserts.
What makes wild herbs so valuable?
Edible wild herbs are very different from the cultivated vegetables that are on our menu. On average, they contain about three times as much protein, vitamins, minerals and trace elements. The garden weed goutweed, for example, contains about 15 times as much protein and vitamin C as endive. Chickweed has 14 times as much iron and 4 times as much potassium as Chinese cabbage. Stinging nettle provides 15 times as much vitamin C and 5 times as much magnesium as lettuce.
Wild plants also contain 4-5 times more so-called secondary plant substances than garden vegetables. These substances are incredibly valuable for health because they have antimicrobial, anticarcinogenic and anti-inflammatory effects, for example. Wild herb cooking is, so to speak, health prophylaxis.
3 Recipes with versatile wild herbs
You can use wild herbs in many different ways in the kitchen. They are excellent as an addition to salads, and the eye can also eat along by sprinkling plucked flowers of dandelion, deadnettle or daisies over them. Wild herbs can also be used in soups, pesto and as a substitute for spinach. The best thing to do is to get a book where you can get recipe suggestions (Waschbär recommends: Rudi Beiser: “Wildkräuter – Von der Wiese auf den Teller”, Trias Verlag).
The following three delicious recipes will whet your appetite for experimenting with wild herbs:
Wild herb quiche (vegetarian)
Ingredients for a round baking tray
Dough: 250 g spelt flour, 100 g cold butter, about 70 ml cold water, ½ tsp salt, 1 tsp baking powder.
Filling: 350 g wild herbs (e.g. nettle, goutweed, dandelion and wild garlic), 1 onion, 2 tbsp olive oil, 2 tsp yeast broth or vegetable stock, 1 tbsp soy sauce, 150 g sour cream, 150 g low-fat curd cheese, 2 eggs, 150 g grated cheese or feta, salt, pepper.
Knead a dough from flour, butter pieces, water, baking powder and salt and chill for 30 minutes. Chop the wild herbs and fry them briefly in oil together with the onion pieces. Season with vegetable stock and deglaze with soy sauce. Mix the sour cream, quark, eggs and spices with half the cheese and fold into the wild vegetables.
Roll out the pastry and place in the greased tin. Spread the filling on top and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Bake in a preheated oven at 180° C for approx. 30 min. until golden brown.
Wild Herb Spinach (vegan)
1 onion, 2 tbsp. olive oil, 750 g wild herbs (preferably nettles, goutweed and wild garlic), 3 tsp. yeast broth or vegetable stock, pepper, 6 tbsp. spiced tomato sauce,1 tbsp. olive oil, 200 g tofu,1 tbsp. curry, 1 tbsp. soy sauce.
Fry the finely chopped onion in oil. Chop the wild herbs and add to the onions. Allow to cook. Season with vegetable stock and pepper. Add the tomato sauce and cook for 5 minutes.
Add olive oil to a pan and fry the diced tofu with the curry. Deglaze with soy sauce and continue to sauté until the liquid has evaporated. Then mix everything together and serve with rice or potatoes.
Wild Herb Noodle Casserole (vegetarian)
350 g sedanini, 1 onion, 2 tbsp. olive oil, 350 g wild herbs (wild garlic, nettle, goutweed, dandelion buds), 2 tsp. yeast broth or vegetable stock, pepper, 1 jar tomato sauce (approx. 250-300 ml), 50 g feta cheese, 100 g grated mountain cheese. Mountain cheese
Cook the sedanini in salted water until al dente. Fry chopped onion in oil and add chopped wild herbs. Add dandelion buds (very tasty!) whole. Season with vegetable stock and pepper. Stir in tomato sauce and chopped feta and let steam for 5 minutes. Fold in the sedanini and fill into a greased casserole dish. Sprinkle with cheese and bake at 180° C for approx. 30 minutes.