Herb salads

We grow a number of edible plants in our garden, and we like tasty salads. So as soon as there are enough plants growing in early spring, we start eating salads. The salad will be different depending on season, whereabouts we start in the garden and whether we move clockwise or anticlockwise round the garden. Certainly shop salads do not taste half as good as our own and I am sure the list of plants we may use in our garden will surprise you! links are to the page in our index of wild food plants.

For added flavour, why not try making your own oil-free salad dressing (though olive oil has proven health benefits) and you can easily make your own apple vinegar.

There are also a number of plants with known medicinal benefits and little flavour that can be added to salads. Some of them are:

Yes, we do grow various lettuces and other salad crops, but we tend to use these to bulk out the salad as necessary.

Now most of the plants listed above are not ones most people would consider suitable for salads. Many of them are herbs used conventionally in cooking as a flavouring ingredient, so too strong for salads? Don't you believe it! Rocket and watercress are now sold as commercial salad mixes. Onions are very often added to salads. Radishes, a conventional salad ingredient, can be just as strong tasting as anything in the list above.

Salad dressings, particularly an oil and vinegar 'vinaigrette' modify the way you taste things. A dressed salad needs in fact to be much stronger tasting than an undressed salad because of this.

If you have access to a wild watercress bed, try watercress dipped in vinaigrette. The vinaigrette takes most of the heat away, leaving the flavour! The result is that watercress vinaigrette is probably the nicest single-plant salad you can have. I say 'single plant' rather than single leaf, for the watercress stalks are succulent and crunchy and (unless you pick them far too low down) not at all stringy (depending on season). So too are the stalks of most other plants above.

So how about texture? You may think that rosemary is a woody herb, not nice to eat in the raw. If you pick the young, fresh growing tips they eat superbly and add a lovely flavour to the salad. Same with sage - but the leaves are a bit large, so we coarsely shred them.

So - branch out with your salads. Even if the flavour of the plant is strong and not to your taste when eaten on its own, a small amount added to a salad can expand the salad and subtly alter its flavour, so experiment!

Another consideration with our salads is health. Various scientists keep finding new remarkable properties in different plants. The human race evolved to live on a wide variety of foodstuffs. If we have the right foods, the body will use just what it needs from the mixture. Mixing salads from many varied ingredients surely gives us lots of trace ingredients that we need so it can only be healthy. But I do not eat these salads just for good health - they are far too appetising for that!

Salads are also low calorie - apart from the dressing. Filling up with a very good helping of mixed herb salads surely goes a very long way towards the recommended 5 a day fruit and veg.

Also, most of these salad crops come from our own garden, we know they are clean and so do not need washing. When mankind was evolving, he ate wild, unwashed, edible plants and, if there are any bugs on them, these are either insects such as greenfly (we give a quick inspection for these and other unwanted visitors!) but is eating a few greenfly or a caterpillar in any way harmful? OK, there are airborne fungus spores, pollen and bacteria which do settle on food plants. But these are airborne - you are breathing them in with every breath. Ingesting them is surely less unhealthy that breathing them in - and the human immune system evolved to fight harmful bacteria. Surely any spores that you do eat are just as good as taking live yoghurt or any other 'live' food for health purposes?

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Page first published 16th May 2008.
Last modified: Sat, 19 May 2018 10:34:24 BST
Written by and © Richard Torrens