The last three of our wild delights. Free and all the body needs nutritionally.
Chickweed (Stellaria media)
Although often more prominent in January than August, the fragile-looking chickweed plagues gardeners at any time. But its succulent sweet leaves hold ample minerals - especially copper and iron - and they are the equal of watercress in both vitamins and (with suitable preparation) flavour. Gather vast quantities, for it reduces dramatically during cooking.
To guarantee winter supplies, cover a promising bed with dry leaves from October on.
Cook washed leaves for just two minutes in minimum water and add nutmeg, chopped onion greens and chives and a squeeze of lemon. This can be used as a bed for game, poultry or rich meat.
It is excellent raw in salads and can offset tartness of dandelion or sorrel. For a colourful buffet dish, mix them with whole nuts; sliced apple (sprinkled with lemon juice to retard discolouring,) chopped raw cauliflower and orange segments.
Plantain (Plantago major)
In common with chamomile and grass, plantain seems to thrive for being walked on and luxuriates throughout even winter months by city paths. It is high in minerals, plus vitamin C and K and a factor said to check bleeding.
It is not only a perennial 'anti-scurvy' vegetable, but its juice also gives year-round first aid for small wounds and soothes insect bites or stings. 'Wild food' guides disdain it because its ribbed spear or shield shaped leaves are fibrous and tough. But for its convenience as a hoard of important nutrients within continual reach of any city dweller, it amply repays acquaintance - and a little care in its cooking.
Use it very finely chopped to add extra vitamins to salads of potatoes or pulses, especially with yarrow and dandelion. Exploit its slight bitterness in mayonnaise sweetened with honey or a dressing mixed from cream, apple or orange juice and a dash of lemon.
Young plantain leaves washed and cooked gently in minimal water for 15 minutes, then well pureed with butter, make a ready base for any rich flavourings, herbs or sauces in pasties, pizzas, open tarts or ravioli.
Plantain will even yield a sophisticated soufflé, made quickly in a liquidiser: Preheat the oven to Mark 5/375oF/190oC.) Blend together until smooth;
3 tbsp of vegetable oil
4 egg yolks
1 cup of water
1 tbsp of milk powder
2 tbsp of honey
1 tbsp of wheat germ or soy flour
1 tsp of salt
A large dash of pepper
Blend 8oz (227g) of washed plantain leaves with 3tbsp flour. Beat 4 egg whites until stiff. Fold all together and put into a greased straight-sided oven dish. Bake for 30 minutes and don't open the oven door until the end.
Grass (Poa annua etc.)
Most of us have chewed a grass stem at some time. But you have only to suggest that grass, with simple preparation, can be made a nutritious everyday food suitable for human consumption, for your audience to edge - and to become suspiciously agreeable.
Yet common lawn grass is more nourishing than virtually any other green vegetable. It contains every vitamin, mineral and other nutrient essential to health, with the exceptions of vitamins D and B12 (which are claimed, somewhat controversially, to be synthesisable by the body itself under special conditions.)
When dried, grass contains nearly half its weight in protein (i.e. three times the protein of prime beef,) and a mere 15lb (6.8kg) of dried grass is said to contain the nutrient content of 350lb (159kg) of other fresh vegetables.
Today it's smuggled in to convalescent food supplements, chlorophyll tablets and toothpaste. Grass is the perfect survival food. It's ubiquitous, sustaining - but universally unsuspected.
Grass can be made into chlorophyll biscuits or juice.
Chlorophyll biscuits: Into 8oz (227g) of wheat or barley flour, rub 1oz (28g) of fat or oil and one teaspoon of salt. When amalgamated, add powdered grass to make up 25% of the volume, plus enough liquid (ideally, milk or vegetable cooking water) to make dough. Beat the dough for 10 minutes with a rolling pin and roll into small pieces, as thin as possible. Prick all over and bake for five minutes in a very hot oven or until the edges are brown.
Brown food colouring can be added to hide the green tinge.