A surprise phone call conveyed to good news. Via the waiting list I slipped into yet another city college course: Wildkräuter am Wegesrand – foraging wild herbs. We’d stroll along the riverbanks of the Isar, pick flowers and herbs here and there. Smell them, nibble on them, rub their leaves to see the colour change and smell their heavy fragrance. Our guide Miriam (who also runs a herb store in Freising and runs whole bunch of different herbal walks) had just given birth a few weeks earlier was was bustling through the meadows straight towards the plants she wanted to show us.
Obviously I don’t remember half of what I could have learned that day, but I believe knowledge like that needs to grow slowly – you can’ just indulge in it and still truly understand and remember.
Spitzwegerich – ribwort
Spitzwegerich is one of those ubiquitous herbs that, if you don’t look closely you just consider it grass. Though realistically, that might be true for most people for most herbs. I remember not quite knowing what to do with it as a child. The flowers look cute but not like flowers, more like buds with a white fluffy halo, yet they where something that my little Playmobile figures could hold only with their stiff hands. If you’re patin, you could collect the flower buds before they extend their little halo and sprinkle them over a salad. Miriam just pointed out the long, slim leaves to us and the next moment she would have a few edible buds in her hand. For us in turn it was a seemingly never ending quest and whenever we thought we had found a good bud it turned out that it had already wilted.
The leaves of Spitzwegerich is a remedy for ant and nettle stings. The method however is requires some getting used to: chew a few leaves, spit them out and press them onto the sore spot.
Brennnessel – stinging nettle
When Dub first moved to Germany he couldn’t identify a stinging nettle. I would have expected he’d learn quickly after their first rendezvous: in one of my softball games a ball flew past the fence and into a patch of nettles, no one else went to get it so he did. He was wearing short and when he returned with the ball in hand his legs were prickly red with nettle stings.
Stinging nettle are a bit of an everyday herbal superpower. My mum uses them to make ridiculously smelly Jauche for fertilising the garden (submerge a good bundle of stinging nettles – before they go into bloom – in a bucket full of water and let it stand in a warm sunny spot for three weeks. When it’s really smelly and gross it’s ready to dilute it with rain water and water the vegetables, tree, flowers etc. with it). In April in San Francisco I bought a bag of nettles at the Noe Valley farmers market and chopped them into salads or sautéed as side dish. You can steep the leaves to make tea (apparently good for cleansing). And on the walk I learned: you can eat the seeds, too!
If you’re sensitive to stinging nettles, definitely wear gloves when picking leaves or seeds. This time I had no trouble picking seeds, but having itchy, burning fingertips isn’t fun. The seeds have a slightly nutty flavour – maybe another good sprinkler for salads or soups?
Wilder Oregano – wild oregano
The most fragrant herb we came a across was by far the wild oregano that grew all along the path and in the meadow in abundance. I loved just chewing on it as we strolled along, but I’m sure it would be phenomenal as crowning piece of a herby salad of decoration in a root vegetable soup like parsnip.
Wilde Pastinake und Wilde Möhre – wild parsnip and wild carrot
We didn’t end up digging up the roots for the wild cousins of our well known supermarket vegetables, but I’m sure I will try it out before long. The roots are apparently quite small so „it would take a lot of stamina and a strong back to feed a family on them“. Luckily the white bushy flowers of the wild carrot are edible, too. Careful though, there are other members of the family that aren’t so tolerant about being eaten. To identify the edible wild carrot, look for a small dark purple/black bloom in the middle of the umble.
Johanniskraut – St John’s wort
When I think of medicinal herbs, I think of Johanniskraut. It’s supposedly good for calming moody nerves. It’s also one of the most omnipresent herbs in herb bundles around summer solstice and St. Johanni (June 24) and Mary ascension (August 15). The oil is good for when you got sunburnt – but never before going into the sun! Miriam told us that she once had a student in one of her tours who was curious about whether that was true, rubbed his arms with Johanniskraut oil and went sunbathing. His skin burnt so baldly that you could still see the scars weeks – months later.
Wegwarte – wild chicory
I have no clue anymore, what this lovely lady is good for. But her German name evokes this feeling of love and longing, of loneliness and hope – „waiting by the path“.
Baldrian – valerian
Karthäuser-Nelken – carthusian pink
No other herbal powers that sheer beauty to uplift the heart