Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Waldensian Roots and Shoots

(No plants listed below should be eaten from the wild without first seeking qualified advice)
The old Waldensian farmers and villagers lived in four Waldensian Valleys in the Cottian Alps including Val Pellice and Angrogna. They have much to teach us today about self-sufficiency as they were isolated from the outside world for centuries due to religious persecution. Hence, they built up an advanced knowledge of local herbs as food and remedies, often eating young leaves and roots, taken from the wild, as well as wild local fruits:

Yellow Goat’s Beard (Tragopogon pratensis) is probably what is locally known as ‘Barbabuc’. The leaves, flowers and root are edible, though reports are that the root is not very appetising. The stem can be eaten, like asparagus. The young leaves can be eaten boiled and the flower buds stir-fried.
Corn Salad (Valerianella locusta) is also known as Lamb’s Lettuce but known locally as ‘Saladet’. The leaves are a delicious addition to salads. One can cultivate this in a kitchen garden. It delivers high levels of Vitamin C and potassium
Chicory (Cichorium intybus) known as ‘Socoria’. Parts can be used as tonics and fodder, and the baked ground root is used as a coffee substitute. One can buy it in 'Camp Coffee' in supermarkets. Chicory leaves, which are delicious, can be used in salads. Radicchio is red chicory and Belgian Endive is white chicory. Both can be cultivated in kitchen gardens.

Chicory root, baked and ground used for coffee and leaves for salads
Common Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) known locally as ‘Girasole’. Dandelion leaves can also be used for wine and greens, and as a coffee substitute (ground and baked roots).
Common Stinging Nettle (Urtica Dioica) is known as ‘Urtia’. The leaves which are rich in nutrients, picked before flowering, can be soaked in water to remove the sting and cooked in soups, polenta, pesto or for nettle risotto but specialist advice probably needs to be taken on picking and preparation. The leaves can be soaked and dried for nettle tea.
Bladder Campion (Silene vulgaris) looks toxic but with precaution, the young leaves can be boiled. The leaves are used in Italy in risotto.
Wild garlic growing in a wood (not to be confused with toxic Lily of the Valley)
Wild garlic (Allium ursinum) is 'Bear Garlic' often seen growing, en masse, in woodland, with leaves on individual stalks (use under supervision). They are easily mistaken for poisonous Lily of the Valley and two other toxic plants. Leaves, correctly identified, can be used in salads. The Swiss have fed cows with bear garlic and produced butter with a slightly garlic taste.
Chives (Allium schoenprasum) can be grown in kitchen gardens and added to pancakes, soups, fish and sandwiches, but should not be consumed in huge quantities.
Woodland Angelica (Angelica sylvestris) Traditionally named after the Archangel Michael, Angelica can be muddled with similar plants in the same family, which are toxic. The root is fragrant and the stem was eaten as a vegetable until the 20th century. Angelica is used to flavour liqueurs or aquavits, (e.g., Chartreuse, Bénédictine,Vermouth, and Dubonnet), omelettes, trout and as a jam (‘Angelica Jam’). The long, bright-green stems can be candied and are still used as cake decoration (recipe here). One can buy it in supermarkets' cake sections.
Cow Parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris) know as ‘Chafoulhet can be used for salads and omelettes but one must not mix it up with giant cow parsley, which can cause very serious skin burns or poisonous hemlock. Considered rather bitter to the taste.
Lady’s Mantle (Alchemillia Xanthochlora). It grows on rocky ledges and parts can be used for soups and for a Lenten pudding, but check for toxicity.
Shepherd’s Purse (Capsella Bursa-pastoris) - its young leaves can be used for omelettes.
Common Borage (Borage Officinalis) has blue flowers which can deliver a blue edible dye. Borage leaves can be added to salads and to drinks like Pimms or cooked. In Liguria, the leaves have been used to fill pasta.
Hawkbit (Leontodon Lispidus) known locally as 'Plissa', is related to the Dandelion. The leaves of some varieties may be used in soups and salads.

Further information
Old Waldensian Medicine Chest
Old Waldensian fruits
Old Waldensian afternoon tea
Field study of old Waldensian plants and uses

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