If you like beautiful books as much as I do, maybe you won’t mind that the Foraging Resource I’m sharing today is in German. And out of print. You see, I’d like to continue introducing edible plant resources that I personally use, even if they are specific to Berlin or in German, since those are the ones I know well. I hope they will inspire you to find your own favorite resources. Also, I’ll also share tips and info from them, giving you a peek into the books and websites, so you can benefit from them right here on this blog. Read on to look inside this book…
Lexikon der Küchen- und Gewürzkräuter (encyclopedia of kitchen and seasoning herbs) is one of several 1970s-era plant guides originally published in Czech by Artia, then re-published in German, which you can now find easily and cheaply at flea markets and used bookstores in Germany. This one is focused on plants (and mushrooms) used as herbs and spices in the kitchen, both wild and domesticated ones.
As you can see, a two-page spread is devoted to each plant, such as this one depicting the nutmeg tree, source of both nutmegs and mace (the bright red hull in the picture). The jam-packed text, covering everything from growing conditions to cooking methods, is accompanied by a full-color botanical illustration, beautifully printed in Czechoslovakia. While the recipes and usage notes are a bit outdated (for example, garlic seems to have been considered very exotic in 1970s Germany), the book remains a useful reference, and a feast for the eyes.
Let’s look at two plants from the book that can be foraged in the wild. Pictured above is common purslane, or Portulaca oleracea, a juicy, sour, salty and savory plant that grows both wild and in cultivation in a variety of forms, from tall and upright to flat on the ground. I have found it growing as a weed in gardens both in Germany and the US.
The book informs us that common purslane can be grown in April and harvested until just before it blooms. Vitamin A and C, minerals, protein, and positive effects on the stomach make this a refreshing vegetable or seasoning in the spring, it says. Suggested preparations include purslane salad with vinaigrette or simply seasoning other salads, sauces or herb butters with chopped purslane leaves. I personally find purslane too sour and slimy to eat in large quantities, but pleasant as a garnish.
Of course, a Czech herb book would not be complete without hops, the most beguiling ingredient in all those excellent beers. But did you know that hops can be found wild – and can be eaten as a vegetable? Indeed, the hops plant, Humulus lupulus, earned its name with its wolflike, almost predatory character: it’s a wild vine that quickly wraps around any plants in its vicinity (this last fact is actually from Elizabeth Westphal).
Here, we read that the wild plant is common all across Europe and in Western Asia. Since it’s cultivated everywhere people drink beer (or imported), I would guess it has escaped cultivation in other regions too. Its favorite habitats, we read here, are forested areas bordering water. The blossoms have a calming effect and can be used to treat insomnia, as anyone who’s ever drank a beer might know. Hops are used in beer for their positive effects on the brewing process, as well as their antibacterial effects.
The book goes on to lament that, though hop blossoms and sprouts have been used as vegetables since ancient Rome, these uses have been largely forgotten except in Belgium and France, where they are still used in salads. I personally have not yet found a place to forage hops, but I am very curious to find out how they taste. If you’ve tried them, please let me know!
Well, I hope this little edible plant reading hour has been helpful and inspiring. If you read German, you can still find used copies of the book on Amazon – and probably at your favorite flea market as well. Otherwise, stay tuned for the next Foraging Resources post, where I will read you another German plant book. Till then, happy foraging.