With the arrival of spring comes the need to embrace nature, break the weekly routine and rediscover the sensation of wellness in both mind and body that comes from breathing in fresh air and being enveloped in green.
In recent years, many new green trends to reconnect with nature have sprouted, but in reality many are already ancient traditions in our region: consider foraging for instance, which is the gathering of uncultivated and naturally-occurring wild herbs.
Once upon a time, the task of gathering these herbs was reserved for women. They knew how to recognise and choose them as well as knowing their uses both in the kitchen and as medicine.
Thus foraging–an art as old as the world–is now the emblem of these changing times, reflecting the desire to rediscover nature and her bounty in a sustainable way.
There are many good reasons to get back to foraging.
Consider the Planet
First of all, going out to gather wild herbs is an activity which makes us aware of the environment surrounding us and encourages us to be sensitive to it in a tangible way.
We feel the need to repair the damage of past actions and the negative impact these have had on our planet; running along paths, immersed in nature, rediscovering the importance of locally-sourced food and finding the time to appreciate Mother Earth makes all of us feel more connected to her and interested in protecting her.
Spring eco-weekend with sustainable activities
Secondly, there are more and more people choosing holidays and activities for the weekend that are ecologically sustainable and support local economies.
Foraging can help us get to know our own territory. This is Piedmont in our case–an area considered the most beautiful in 2019, according to the Lonely Planet guide. Amid the rows of vines in the Langhe and Roero regions local biodiversity is just waiting to be discovered.
Meandering along any of the region’s many paths inspires a sense of wellness and serenity. In the vineyards it’s easy to spot wild herbs such as purslane, nettle, common dandelion, aniseed, wild chicory, lamb’s quarters, borage and wild hops.
Wine producers attentive to plant biodiversity encourage these herbs to grow between the vine rows. They choose agricultural methods with low environmental impact and tend towards organic and sustainable agriculture.
(Sara Vezza’s vineyards – Cellar Josetta Saffirio in Monforte d’Alba”)
Local sourcing – discover the importance of locally-grown food
For many of us it’s a way to rediscover local products in a new way. We are so used to buying foods from all over the world in the supermarket–irrespective of season–but we are unaware of 100% natural products, such as wild herbs, that grow spontaneously close to home.
These can attune us to the rhythm of the seasons and the cyclic nature of time–help us to benefit from nature in an eco-sustainable way while leaving it intact.
Spring recipes with wild herbs
Wild herbs foraged on our walks have great value in the kitchen. Many healthy, nutritious and low-cost recipes are a perfect accompaniment to spring weekends spent outside.
Here are some ideas for simple yet excellent dishes to put in the picnic basket for lunch in the open air.
Given that we are in Piedmont, here is a typical local recipe: Luvertin frittata, a word from Piedmontese dialect meaning wild asparagus or wild hop, a plant that grows in ditches and vineyards and is easy to find in the spring months.
Ingredients and preparation
A large bunch of luvertin tips;
100 grams of Parmesan cheese.
Blanch the luvertin tips–they are always eaten cooked–in boiling salted water. Drain and sauté in a tablespoon of olive oil in a non-stick pan over a low heat.
Beat the eggs in a bowl, add the grated Parmesan, the salt and pepper and mix.
When the luvertin tips have wilted, add to the egg mixture.
Heat sunflower oil in a pan and pour in the mixture.
Cook on a high heat for 15 minutes, turning the pan from time to time.
This recipe is equally delicious prepared with other wild herbs such as dandelion, chicory, aniseed or nettle
Quiche with wild herbs
Quiche is tasty alternative to eat cold or hot, at brunch or on a picnic.
Ingredients and preparation
A large bunch of dandelion leaves
A package of puff pastry;
200 grams ricotta;
extra-virgin olive oil;
aromatic herbs–thyme or parsley.
Wash and dry the dandelion leaves, soak for a few minutes with a spoonful of bicarbonate and rinse thoroughly.
Blanch in boiling water for two or three minutes and drain.
Chop the onion finely and soften in a small amount of oil in a hot pan.
In the meantime, chop the dandelion leaves coarsely and sauté with the onion for about 10 minutes.
Season with salt and pepper to taste. Allow to cool.
Line the quiche pan with parchment and drape the puff pastry over it, pricking the surface with the tines of a fork.
Add the dandelion leaves to the ricotta along with the cooked onions and aromatic herbs and mix well.
Add pine nuts to taste and spread filling over the pastry.
Bake in a hot oven (190°C) for about 20 minutes until golden.
You can indulge the taste for wild herbs in many ways–they are excellent in salad or deep-fried and served hot as in, for example, elderberry fritters.
After an invigorating day out in the fresh air you can also relax with herbal tea, prepared with mallow, mint, melissa, horsetail, or elderberry, each with its own curative properties.