Yarrow (Achillea millelium) Tortino of Yarrow and Courgettes

 There is lots of Yarrow growing nearby at present. It grows in groups and grows to about 50/60 cm .  It has dainty white or pinkish white flowers. In some places they are yellow, but not here. It's called Achillea or  Millefoglio  in Italian, which means "a thousand leaves" and refers to the fact that the leaves are made up of many small segments, like a fern or feather. The Greek hero Achilles  is believed to have used it to cure his soldiers' wounds. It has a rich history of uses and has been used for many reasons;
 for divination in China, to heal soldiers  in  Greece and Rome, for nosebleeds, toothache, women's problems, as a tisane and foodstuff,  for clarifying beer, as an oil for skin problems, to promote sweating and many other reasons. It has a mild aromatic scent, a bit like camphor and a bitter, but not unpleasant taste.
 Only pick it if you can be 100% sure it's yarrow. Do not confuse it with  Poison Hemlock, which is deadly.  The flowers are similar, but it's smaller and  the  the leaves are very different. It was sometimes called "Devil's Plaything" and I remember reading somewhere  it can enhance the way you see colour (if you drink lots of tisane), I have no idea if that is true, but I guess it should  be used in moderation for short periods of time..

I have dried some to make an anti- mosquito spray.
I have also   collected some more (just the top 10-15 cm) to use the leaves in a "tortino"recipe and the flower heads in an aromatic wine.

I found this recipe in an Italian book "Wild plants in the kitchen" by Christina Michieli.
Separate the leaves from the stems and wash and dry them.

         Tortino of Yarrow and Courgettes
8 courgettes
2 cups of Yarrow leaves
2 cloves of garlic
1 cup Cous Cous
2 and a half glasses water
3 Eggs
Fresh Marjoram
A pinch of salt
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

The recipe calls for rounds of courgettes, but I prefer strips.
Cook the courgettes with the garlic slowly in a covered frying pan Towards the end of cooking add the yarrow leaves. In a separate pan boil the water, remove from heat and let the cous cous  absorb the water for 10 minutes. Beat the eggs and mix everything together with a pinch of salt and some fresh marjoram.

 Heat some oil in a non-stick frying pan and press the "tortino" into it. Cook slowly on both sides until golden. Use a plate to help turn it over.

I found this recipe pleasant tasting, but couldn't really taste the yarrow. It was rather bland for my taste, perhaps I didn't use enough marjoram.  It was very easy to make and my kids ate it, although my son commented that he prefers plain omlettes.

April 2013

Make this with young yarrow leaves before the plant flowers. They are more aromatic and less bitter.


Sun-dried Figs

 One of the things I love about living it Italy is being able to pick  and eat Summer fruits straight from the trees.
The figs are now becoming large and ripe. Figs are at their sweetest when they fall from the trees. However I decided to pick some figs a few days  early as a little bird has its eye on the same tree as me.

Can you spot the  gobbled fig in the top, left corner?

Freshly picked figs oozing milky sap.

  Although I love eating figs straight from the tree, my favourite way to eat them is freshly sun-dried.
I cut them in half, squash them a little and place on a tray lined with grease-proof paper (sometimes a piece also on top if there are a lot of flies/wasps) under the sun for 2/3 days. I bring them indoors at night and turn them once. You can also dry them in the oven (50°C overnight) or in the microwave for 10 mins, but sun-dried is best.

I like to eat them with  seasoned cheese (cacciotta or pecorino).

Or soft cheese (stracchino,squacquerone, marscapone).

Yum, I even tried a drop of elderberry vinegar...which actually made them taste more figgy!


Elderberry Red Wine Vinegar

BECAREFUL when collecting elderberries read this post first 

The first recipe from my list that I decided to make was Elderberry Balsamic Vinegar http://www.eatweeds.co.uk, but when I  looked closely at the ingredients I was shocked by the quantity of sugar. I'm trying to cut down on carbs and sugar (especially during the beach season), so I decided to add only 100g instead of 700g. I adore balsamic vinegar from Modena, especially the more  expensive, aged versions. I can't afford the most expensive ones!
What makes balsamic vinegar so delicious is the aging process and denseness of the vinegar.

        Elderberry Red Wine Vinegar 
               (Adapted Version)

400g ripe Elderberries
500ml of organic red wine vinegar
100g organic cane sugar

Bash the berries gently with a rolling pin/large pestle and mortar.
Place in clean jar with vinegar, cover with tea towel and place in a dark place for 10 days
Strain out the berries with a fine seive/gauze/filter.
Pour the vinegar into a pan, add the sugar and heat until the sugar melts.
Simmer gently for 15/20 minutes, longer if you prefer a thicker, stronger vinegar.
Open the windows at this stage.
Allow to cool and bottle.
Use carefully (it stains).

It's not really like balsamic vinegar, but it is delicious.
My son loves it and completely soaks his salads in it.
 I think I might have to hide it until the Autumn months, hopefully it will boost our immune systems and nip colds and flu in the bud.  I will definitely make this recipe again.


Dos and Don'ts when collecting Elderberries-Black Elder and Dwarf Elder (Sambucus nigra/Sambucus ebulus/)

 There are various species of Elder that grow around the world. I only have experience with two types;                  "Black Elder" and "Dwarf Elder", so this information only covers these types. Please research or talk to a local expert before gathering Elder in your area. There are a few Dos and Don'ts to take into account before picking;

DO wear rubber/plasticgloves (if you don't like purple-stained fingers).
DO take a pair of scissors/clippers to cut the whole clusters.
DO wear long trousers (if you want to limit bites and scratches).
DO take a plastic lined basket if possible, but remove from plastic as soon as possible.
DO look for small trees and shrubs(4-6metres) in shady or sunny places, often near water, along roadsides/country lanes.
DO collect ripe, black berries which are hanging downwards(Sambucus Nigra).
Do cook before consuming.

 DO gently  shake off  insects that are feasting on the berries.

DO try to avoid unripe or GREEN berries.

 Do collect whole clusters, wash and dry before use.

Do freeze whole clusters and then remove berries
 (a fork can be helpful).

DON'T collect berries which are pointing upwards
(Sambucus Ebulus) which can be toxic. It's a tallish upright plant(1-2 metres) with one main stem (not woody).

Don't collect berries from plants which aren't connected to woody stems eventually .

Don't collect from or near  large patches of Sambucus Ebulus.

Don't collect red berries (Sambucas racemosa)

DON'T mistake these leaves.
Sambucus nigra(Black Elder) on the LEFT
Sambucus ebulus (Dwarf Elder) on the right
Don't collect all the berries in anyone spot.

There is conflicting advice and information when it comes to the Elder. Generally green berries/ uncooked berries/leaves/stems etc are considered poisonous and should be avoided, however many people make wines/vinegars/juice without cooking and with no ill effects. Sambucus ebulus/Sambucus racemosa  are considered very toxic  and should be avoided at all cost. Between 1995-2007 there were 140 cases of poisoning in just one hospital in Milan due to mistaken  identification of Sambucus Nigra. I advise caution, especially when consuming for the first time or  giving to children.

Intoxications_from_outdoor_toxic_plants(centro antiveleno Milan)

 (All foragers and  would-be foragers should read this)