Ramsons flower buds lacto-fermentation

Ramsons flower buds lacto-fermentation Or, wild capers with Bear Garlic!

If you live near old woodland, especially towards the Western Atlantic coast of Britain, you will be easily able to find  ramsons flower buds and make a quick lacto-fermentation.  You can pick enough in a day to make this superb health-boosting condiment last almost all year!

A spring walk in woodlands can often reveal extensive carpets of this supreme wild garlic  (Allium ursinum). It is found growing in luscious dense swards from January onwards in many areas, through to late May.

You can read more about the medicinally valuable bulb garlic and wild garlic, in my garlic species profile, published last year.

This bite size video shows the plant enjoying woodland life in spring

You can harvest ramsons flower buds from early March carrying on through until mid April. To preserve by lacto-fermentation them, you can get to eat their powerhouse of vampire-killing medicine later on in the year, when the days are short, temperatures drop again, and various bugs and virus are doing the rounds.Image of ramsons flower buds

You will need:

A bag for harvesting (resealable is best for preserving freshness), a clean glass jar and lid, and the following ingredients:

A few hundred grams of ramsons flower buds.

A few grams of Sea salt.

Spring water (or dechlorinated tap water).

What is lacto-fermentation?

This simple preserving method has been employed for thousands of years, and it’s name comes from the type of bacteria working their magic in the fermentation process, which in this instance are various Lacto-Bacillus species of bacteria, and very similar to the ones found in milk and yoghurt.

These beneficial organisms are anaerobic (perishing in air and only growing in oxygen-starved environments) and thriving in reasonably acidic conditions. Fermentation happens in a couple of stages….firstly by wiping out the nasty spoiling bacteria that cant survive in salty conditions, then through encouragement of the good guys, who produce lactic acid from the lactose and other sugars present in the plant material.

The benefits of fermented foods are that they help your digestive system, enabling us to recover from yeast infections, give us a wider array of beneficial enzymes, and are supposed to have anti inflammatory activities. Oh and they taste fantastic!

When placing the your plant material in jars, you need to ensure a couple of things:

  1. Every 100 grams of material added requires about 2-5 grams of salt. Sea salt will be great. Try and avoid the man made table salt, with added iodine as this is thought to inhibit the fermentation process. The level of salt in the 2-5% per volume range can alter rates of fermentation; affect preservation longeivity, especially in warmer climates; together with the obvious impacts on flavour. It not only makes it impossible for many species of nasty spoiling microbes to survive, but also creates the perfect conditions for an array of beneficial Lacto-bacillus species.

  2. By packing the material in as much as you can, you will be excluding the air as much as possible. If you bruise the material and draw some moisture out, then less water will be needed to cover. After absolutely packing the jar, you need to make sure the material is covered and remains covered, which can easily be done by a small stone.

The jars need burping once fermentation has got going, which is noticeable by numerous bubbles appearing in the jar, and will be accompanied by an audible release of CO2 when opening the lid. Store in a warm dark environment. Fermentation is of course temperature dependent, but should be evident within 72 hours. 

How long you want them to ferment is up to you and your tastes. The longer you leave them then the more acidic the fermentation will taste. After 2-3 weeks you may want to place in a fridge if you have one, which will halt the ferment.

If you would like to learn more about the arts and crafts of the forager, then book on one of my  all year round foraging walks today!

More wild food recipes coming soon!

Japanese knotweed & beetroot relish

Try this fantastic japanese knotweed and beetroot relish, that livens up your lunch and is simple to make.

Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) is an infamous schedule 9 herb, yet also edible, so turning it into this super japanese knotweed and beetroot relish, or other exciting foods, is a great way of  dealing with it in your local area.

Make sure you are picking from a patch of knotweed that isn’t sprayed with herbicides. So it’s better to find some well off the beaten track.

Word of warning: This japanese knotweed and beetroot relish is seriously good!

How to make japanese knotweed and beetroot relish

Ingredients: (all approximate, sorry!)

Good big bunch of beetroot

About 15 or so decent sized young knotweed shoots

Japanese knotweed shoots
japanese knotweed shoots are typically cut to about 6-8 inches for cooking

1 large onion

4 cloves garlic

Approx 300 ml vinegar (white wine or cider vinegar)

300 grams soft brown sugar

Spices, including:

Cumin, coriander, cayenne pepper, fenugreek, cloves, all spice, cinnamon, 2 bay leaves, salt and pepper

 

Method:

Peel and chop the beetroot into small dices approx 1 cm.

Bring the beetroot in water to the boil for 20 mins or so, then strain and set aside. (Depends how much bite you like in your veg in a pickle)

Peel and finely chop the onion and garlic.

Chop the knotweed shoots into small rings, discarding the very tops.

Add the beetroot, onion, garlic, spices (in a muslin bag if using whole spices), vinegar and sugar into a pan and bring to the boil. Turn down to a simmer and reduce the mixture for a while, until is starts to thicken a little. Carry on simmering.

Add the knotweed shoots to the pan, and continue to simmer. Keep reducing until a consistency where you are able to bring the wooden spoon across the bottom of the pan, revealing the base.

Add some salt and pepper to taste.

japanese knotweed and beetroot relish
Beautiful colour from the finished japanese knotweed and beetroot relish

The mixture should be pretty thick but able to slowly pour of the spoon. You are after a similar consistency to a good jam.

Immediately decant into sterilised jars.  Label and store in a cool place.

Enjoy this japanese knotweed and beetroot relish with whatever you fancy!

Oats. A monograph for foragers

Oats. The ancient grain with remarkable healing powers.

Avena sativa & Avena fatua

Oats / wild oats

Poaceae family

 

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Cereal grain crops continue to be the dominant component of human diets, comprising more than a third of what we eat. Oats are my favourite grain because it can be used as a preventative and curative medicine for a number of serious diseases.

The common wild oat is one of 15 species in the genus, which are found growing wild in North Africa, South-Eastern Europe and Western Asia. The generic name Avena is the old Roman name given to the plant. The specific name sativa is from the Latin, meaning cultivated.

The wild form (Avena fatua) is thought to have originated in Southern Europe, and subsequently brought northwards by various tribes during the Iron Age, eventually becoming the major sustenance crop of Scotland.

In the more northern climates, the oat enjoys the climate, requiring more moisture and humidity than wheat to grow well, especially in early summer. In the wild, the oat is a natural lowland plant, typically growing at elevations up to 280 metres or so.

Oats are one of the seed crops absolutely suited to growing in temperate zones such as Britain. Although the wild form is reasonably common in Britain, the chances of seeing cultivated oats growing in your garden are pretty slim, although it can occasionally be spotted by roadsides having escaped cultivation, as well as in alleyways and such like.

Wild oats will often be found populating agricultural land and meadows, as well as roadsides and waste-grounds, here in Britain and throughout Northern Europe.

The cultivated oats (A.sativa) has a smooth stem and grows to roughly 90 cm high when flowering (compared to the wild oat which often reaches 140-160 cm high). Both plants have linear-lanceolate, parallel veined, rough leaves.

The flowers of both species are borne on loose spreading panicles which form sizeable, pendulous spikelets that eventually contain pale gold / brown seeds. It is these seeds that are instantly recognisable to many people when in their processed forms of rolled oats and oatmeal.

Parts used – Seed and straw.

Harvest – Seeds when ripe; straw following harvest.

Key constituents – Saponins; flavonoids; minerals (magnesium, iron, zinc, selenium, calcium); alkaloids; steroidal compounds; vitamins B1, B2, D, E; carotene, avenanthramide, gluten; starch; fat.

Actions – Nervine-restorative, relaxant, nutritive, mild diuretic, lipid- lowering, hypoglycaemic.

Pharmacology and Uses – Until recently, oats might have been seen as the poor relation amongst the cereals due to a reputation for having a poorer nutritive profile than wheat or barley.

The dried grain contains more moisture than most other cereals, and is prone to going rancid more quickly than wheat, for example. For this reason, the Romans apparently only fed oats to horses, and even today, only 4-5% of all oats grown are for human consumption.

However, recent research has begun to reveal the outstanding nutritional / medicinal benefits to be gleaned from eating oats. One of which is a potential lifesaver…the carbohydrate fibre, ‘beta-glucan’.

Oats and beta glucan

Oats, oat bran, and the various grades of oatmeal available all contain beta-glucan. Since 1963, study after study has proven the beneficial effects of this special fibre on our cholesterol levels.

Research has established that for individuals with high cholesterol, consuming just 3 grams of soluble oat fibre per day (an amount found in one bowl of oatmeal) typically lowers total cholesterol by 8-23%. This is significant since each 1% drop in cholesterol levels reportedly translates to an approximate 2% decrease in the risk of developing heart disease.

A number of studies have reliably determined that beta-glucan also has beneficial effects for sufferers of diabetes. Research carried out by the Optimum Nutrition Institute of London (pioneers in modern nutritional health care) and other similar research organisations, has regularly reported that people with Type 2 diabetes given foods high in this type of oat fibre (or oatmeal or oat bran rich foods), experienced much lower rises in blood sugar compared to those who were given white rice or bread.

Beta-glucan also significantly enhances the human immune system’s response to bacterial infection. As well as helping our neutrophils (the most abundant type of non-specific immune cell) navigate to the site of an infection more quickly, beta-glucan also enhances their ability to eliminate bacteria they find there.

Oats and cholesterol

Oats enable the production, assimilation and transportation of high-density-lipo-proteins (HDL), popularly called ‘good cholesterol’. As a result, oats are a great preventative medicine. Lipo-proteins enable cholesterol and tri-gycerides to be transported in the bloodstream. HDL are the smallest and most dense of the five major groups of lipo-proteins.

Up to 30% of blood cholesterol is carried by HDL. Cholesterol deposited within an arterial atheroma (see cardiovascular chapter) is now believed to be removed by HDL and transported away to the liver for excretion or re-use.

This contrasts to low-density-lipo-proteins (LDL), which are known as ‘bad cholesterol’ because high levels in the blood can penetrate the endothelium (lining of artery walls), and initiate the beginning of plaque deposits. ‘Statin’ drugs are frequently prescribed to patients with high levels of LDL.

Furthermore, low levels of HDL in the diet will mean that cholesterol transport in the blood becomes inefficient, and allows for an increasing build up of cholesterol in the vessel wall. This can quickly lead to cardio-vascular diseases, for which other common herbs to to help were documented in my article on herbs to help the cardio vascular system.

Oxidation of LDL also results in severe vascular damage. Commonly, ageing individuals have a reduced internal production of anti-oxidants. A recent discovery from oats reveals that a reduction of LDL oxidation and other cardio-protective actions has been documented for the polyphenol avenanthramide, which suggests oats will protect against the common cardio-vascular disease, atherosclerosis. Avenanthramide is only found in oats.

The grain and the straw are recognised as excellent nerve tonics. The oat can assist recovery from nervous exhaustion due to stress, depression, and lethargy; even helping us to cope better in difficult emotional times by acting as a daily preventative medicine. Other herbs to help the nervous system will be found in this article in the reclaiming health autonomy series

Oats as a healing food par excellence

As a nervine restorative food, oat seeds are quite simply…super! Imagine the glutinous oats soothing frayed nerve endings. These simple grains nourish, protect and help restore correct nervous function.

Oatmeal, when moistened and applied topically will also be useful in relieving itching from rashes such as chicken pox, eczema, cold sores, and shingles.

Oat straw has traditional use in a tea to promote bone health due to its mineral content. Oats and other whole grains are a rich source of magnesium – a mineral that acts as a ‘co-factor’ for more than 300 enzymes, including enzymes involved in the body’s use of glucose, as well as insulin secretion.

Co-factors are molecules needed by enzymes for a number of reasons, such as to enable transportation between cells or within the bloodstream, or for creating specific molecular shapes required to reach various targets in the body, and sometimes simply in order for the enzyme to function correctly.

Rolled oats are a good source of calcium for pregnant women and nursing mothers. This is because they help guarantee that mum’s calcium store in her skeleton does not get depleted by the demands of the growing baby.

“When young, sow wild oats…When old, grow sage”

Oats are also a very good source of selenium. This trace element is a necessary co-factor of an important antioxidant, glutathione peroxidase, and works together with vitamin E in numerous, vital anti-oxidant systems throughout the body ncluding sperm production in the testes.

Vitamin E is also known as ‘tocopherol’, from the Greek word ‘toco’ for birth and is vital for the proper production of sperm. This vitamin is found in profusion in green leaves as well as nuts, grains, and seeds.

Low levels of vitamin E are known to lead to low sperm count. In addition, selenium is involved in our body’s repairing of DNA, (Deoxyribonucleic acid, our genetic code), and has also been repeatedly associated with reducing the risk of cancer, especially cancer of the colon.

Now, will you be having porridge for breakfast tomorrow?

Garlic and wild garlic

Wild garlic, Bulb garlic

Allium ursinum, Allium sativum

Liliacea family

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Only comparatively recently have the British public embraced garlic, a plant renowned globally for its culinary uses.
Before the 1980’s it wasn’t used anything like it is today.

In this discussion I deal with the similar culinary and medicinal aspects of both our native wild garlic (A.ursinum), commonly known as ‘ramsons’, and the better known medicinal food, bulb-garlic (A.sativum).

Although you won’t come across the bulb-garlic in the wild in Britain, it can be easily grown and acquired most everywhere, and is truly medicinal food, so, warrants inclusion in any discussion on the medicinal prowess of Alliums.

If you are yet to discover the carpets of wild garlic in British woodlands in early spring or to grow any in your garden, where have you been? In any case, you will want to soon after reading this!

The garlic’s are some of the many thousands of lilly family members, grouped together in a large genus comprising no fewer than 700 species of bulbous and rhizomous biennials and perennials.

They are native to the northern hemisphere, and are believed to have originated in Asia. Bulb garlic is certainly one of the most ancient of medicinal herbs, documented in Babylonian times (c.3000 BC), and found in the tomb of Tutankhamun (c.1370-52 BC).

Botanical description to help identify garlic

Both the bulb-garlic and its wild version are naturally biennial, taking two years to complete their life cycle. Bulb garlic is usually propagated from the individual cloves of the bulbs and grown over one ‘season’. In this respect, we grow bulb garlic as an annual crop in the garden.

Bulb garlic’s leaves are thin lanceolate blades, of a dark green hue, although not as large as their relative, the leek (Allium porum), which has a blue-green look to the foliage. Unlike the onion (A.cepa), bulb-garlic’s leaves are not cylindrical or hollow.

All Allium leaves have parallel veins on either side of the mid-rib, ad-pressed somewhat and creating a creased-blade effect. Bulb garlic can grow up to 45 cm high, although during flowering, the terminal spike can reach up to 75 cm.

The wild garlic is a similarly pungent plant to the cultivated bulb-garlic, but looks very different in appearance. It begins to poke out its leaves from small underground bulbs during the first, warmer and longer days of January.

In some shady areas the large succulent leaf stalks on ramsons will be up to 25 cm in length, even before broadening out into their lanceolate leaf shape. The actual blade is approximately 6-7 cm wide and commonly around 25 cm long.

Care should be taken before harvesting that you have identified the plant correctly, as wild garlic has a couple of similar looking plants.

As with all edible wild plants, we get at least three opportunities to ensure we have the right plant. First is the point of harvesting, second is during preparation of the material, and third is before adding to the pot or pan.

Make sure you aren’t harvesting the poisonous look-a-likes known as lords and ladies (Arum maculatum), or Lily-of-the-valley. The former is far more common than the latter. Both can be found in woodland habitats.

Lords and ladies will grow amongst wild garlic, but has arrow shaped leaves with two rounded lobes at the base of the leaf, as well as having a net-veined leaf pattern, which helps easily distinguish it from ramsons when looking closely. Knowing and observing this will save you from disaster if soley listening to that often heard advice about “…if it smells like garlic, it is garlic”.

Anyone who has handled ramsons, will know that the garlic smell will easily transfer onto your fingers ,and therefore it is possible to hold a leaf of lords and ladies to your nose and smell garlic! Far better to learn how to identify each plant!

Lily-of-the-valley on the other hand, has leaves that are pretty much the same shape as wild garlic, although without the long, alost transparent leaf stalk, or the clump habit that ramsons does, plus it has a very different inflorescence. I’ve not actually come across ramsons and lily-of-the-valley together, but that’s not to say I won’t tomorrow!

Ramsons is indicative of ancient woodland, and easily found throughout March and April where it often creates extensive carpets, at least it does in woodland in the more western and southern areas of Britain. It can be found at altitudes up to 450 metres.

Ramsons is an ephemeral bulb, flowering before the woodland canopy trees are fully open in spring. Typically their flowers open and set seed from April through May, with seeds maturing late June to July. Its dormancy period is during our summer time and this is the best time to harvest the underground bulbs. These are relatively small, coloured a light creamy-white, approximately 5 cm long and 1 cm wide.

The flowers are a creamy-white colour, sat on solitary, terminal stems. The small, star-like individual flowers are borne into an overall spherical shape. The unripe green seeds swell in late spring. These are excellent eaten green and raw, being fleshy, crunchy, and exuding garlic aromas and tastes.

Parts used….. Raw cloves are best, as they maintain all the medicinal potency which otherwise rapidly diminishes with cooking. For medicinal use, the advice will always be to use raw cloves. Leaves of wild garlic can be picked as soon as found in the early spring.

Harvest….. Bulb-garlic: When leaves turn yellow around mid-late July, dependent on region. Wild garlic: leaves; Feb-April. Flower buds; March-April. Flowers: March-May. Green seeds; April-may. Black seeds; May-June. Bulbs; June-December

Key constituents.…. Garlic cloves: Volatile oil (containing alliin, which after crushing or chewing is enzymatically converted to alliciin, one of the major active components of garlic); germanium; selenium; saponins; mucilage; amino acids.

Actions…… Anti-bacterial, anti-septic, anti-fungal, anti-viral, expectorant (due in part to the mucilage), anti-platelet, anthelmintic, hypo-lipidaemic, vaso-dilatory.

Pharmacology and uses of garlic….. Much of the pharmacological activity of this plant stems from the many acrid, volatile sulphurous compounds. They are known to inhibit cholesterol synthesis as well as fatty acid and triglyceride synthesis.

Therefore, regular use leads to less chance of fatty deposits on artery walls, and with it, less chance to develop the serious condition – atherosclerosis.

Anti-oxidant effects have been shown in animals (in vivo) and the test tube (in vitro). Garlic enhances the activity of free radical scavenging enzymes such as superoxide dismutase, whilst protecting lipo-proteins from oxidation. Both these factors point to its use in treating conditions such as atherosclerosis.

Bulb garlic is known as ‘lashuna’ in ayervedic medicine, being used for whooping cough, heart trouble, flatulence, dyspepsia and colic.
Immuno-stimulatory actions have been recorded for high-molecular weight proteins extracted from Garlic.

These reportedly stimulate the activity and production of some of our immune system defence cells known as macrophages, lymphocytes, and natural killer cells.

Another long-standing and well documented traditional use of garlic is as an expectorant, to help clear coughs and colds. The saponins are almost always linked to this effect.

Garlic is also used in dietary control of diabetes and hypoglycaemia because of the resultant improvement in pancreatic abilities to produce insulin.

Ramsons also contain alliciin, so will therefore be anti-septic, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory, just somewhat milder so. Throughout the countryside in southern parts of Britain and Ireland, wild garlic has been noted as good at defeating coughs, colds and other ailments.

“Nine diseases shiver before the garlic”, was a saying in Sligo, Ireland, only 100 years ago. This points to the faith people placed in the herb to ward off many illnesses. This belief may have been reinforced during the 1918 global flu pandemic, when people carried around a clove in their pocket for protection. Garlic kills vampires remember!

Alliums thin the blood and will interact with aspirin, and could increase bleeding, as well as interacting with HIV drugs such as protease inhibitors. It also interacts with ‘warfarin’, and may potentiate the drug as well as increasing the chances of internal bleeding. More than 5 grams of garlic per day when taking warfarin can reportedly lead to problems.

The fiery nature of garlic brings with it some contra-indications for use. Namely, conditions of chronic or acute stomach inflammation, and low thyroid activity.

The compound allicin is responsible for many effects as well as the much documented anti-microbial effects. Many harmful micro-organisms are destroyed by Garlics, including Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, Proteus and Salmonella spp.

The bulb is a very useful source of selenium, This particular element can assist the body in cleansing itself of toxic heavy metals, as well as protecting the cardio-vascular system in a numbe of ways.

As a food, wild garlic lends itself very well to a pesto, in place of bulb garlic. It also goes well in white sauces with fish, and as a salad leaf, chopped as you would chives.

Raw wild garlic can add an extra healthy punch to the salad bowl. To reduce the strong flavour, just blanch slightly, or steam for a minute or two.

The leaves, leaf stalks, flower stems, flower buds, green seeds, and bulbs, can all be preserved by lacto-fermentation (my favourite method of preserving food, using salt and water) and I rate these plant parts really highly when treated this way.

The bulbs will stink when preserved as a ferment, but after a few months their flavour mellows to something similar to roast garlic.

The flowers make an interesting garnish, especially if dried, when their flavour takes on something akin to cheese and onion crisps!

I have yet to make a dried garlic seed / peppercorn mix, but nevertheless, ideas such as this encapsulate the beauty of finding your own food plants and playing with different parts of plants we already know. Through these experiments, we can rediscover ancient flavours of the countryside by creating new recipes or adapting old ones.

More could be written, and more will be discovered, if you trawl the web. These medicinal food plants are quite simply, super!