“There may not be much lettuce in the garden right now, but there is plenty else out there to be picked and put in a salad.” – Murray Rogers, Trustee for Te Wharerangi Trust
With Spring well and truly sprung, the Beyond Organics Programme (BOP) began on a bright and sunny Monday morning, with sixteen new volunteers all gathering at the Golden Bay Sustainable Living Centre (GBSLC) to embark on sixteen weeks of learning all things to do with permaculture, regenerative living, soil health, organic growing, and so much more. Easing into the course with a generous retelling of the history and kaupapa of the centre, the team then embarked on their first mission – foraging a tasty salad for lunch. Trustee Murray Rogers guided us through the beautiful gardens here at SLC, sharing his knowledge for all things edible. “There may not be much lettuce in the garden right now,” he prefaced our foraging mission, “but there is plenty else out there to be picked and put in a salad.”
Get Creative With Your Salad
When picking for a salad, it is important to get creative. Many plants which may be known more commonly as weeds, are in fact tasty and nutritious, adding variety to your salad bowl. Flowers from plants which have gone to seed can appeal to the taste buds and also beautify your meal. Furthermore, you might be discarding parts of your home-grown vegetables which in fact can be eaten and enjoyed alongside lettuce, kale, and other more common salad greens. While your compost and the worms in your worm farm may enjoy this, you could be missing out on delicious opportunities for maximising your garden produce.
Broad Beans Aren't Just About The Beans
This is something Murray pointed out as he lead us to our first stop at a towering patch of broad beans. Often growers wait with baited breath for the juicy beans to be ready to harvest, but Murray drew our attention to the soft leaves, which have the same buttery taste and are a perfect addition to any salad. The best ones to use are the newer shoots near the top of the plant, as they are the most tender and sweet.
Eating Seasonally With Trusty Greens & Seeds
Making the most of what is seasonal and growing around you is a key to sustainable living. Broccoli are being harvested at the moment, but if you want to use the heads for elsewhere in your cooking, the yellow seeds and flowers are a sweet addition to any salad, as are the leaves, although again its best to stick to the newer shoots as older leaves can be slightly more bitter.
You may also have some staples in your garden. Trusty greens you can always rely on. For our salad lunch we added kale, which is rich in antioxidants and vitamin K, as well as spinach beet, which is actually a chard (part of the beet family) but similar to spinach in taste. This is a great leafy vegetable for those interested in urban-growing or with limited garden space, as it is easy to grow and constantly reproduces new crops when picked. It’s also great fresh in salads!
Making the Most of Edible Flowers
Edible flowers are another beautiful and flavourful addition, and many hold powerful medicinal properties. Growing edible flowers in your garden is an excellent way to attract bees, beautify your space, and brighten up your cooking with nutrient dense pops of sunshine!
Calendula petals are packed with antioxidants and have been used for centuries for immune support and for its anti-inflammatory properties (you can also use the leaves in your salad for a slight bitter taste).
Borage flowers and leaves are another easy addition to any bowl of greens, with a mellow taste comparable to cucumber. Here at GBSLC we have blue and white flowering varieties of borage growing, and both went into our salad bowl.
At this time of year, our rocket has gone to seed, meaning many of the leaves have become bitter. The flowers, on the other hand, are zingy with flavour and so also went straight into the bowl. We also added the pink buds from pineapple sage, for some colour and that delicate minty taste they offer.
So Onion Weed Is A Thing
By this point, our foraging basket was
looking quite full, but there were still a few more things Murray had to show us, one being onion weed. This plant grows profusely and gives off a sweet oniony garlic smell when picked – both the leaves and flowers are edible and taste similar to spring onion in a salad. Onion weed, as well as comfrey and fennel, which we also added to the basket, often crop up in
public spaces and are great to forage for your salads, although be careful picking onion weed flowers for display – you might find your room smelling of onion!
Best Way To "Cut & Come Again" Lettuce
Finally, GBSLC’s Gardens Manager Elliot Cleland joined us to harvest some "cut and come again" lettuce. These little plants are easy to grow and regenerate quickly, with each plant fully replenishing itself a week on from being harvested. Elliot suggests growing these in rows and making your way down the line each time you want to harvest lettuce – by the time you have reached the end of the line, it is likely the beginning plants would be fully grown again!
Picking Salad As Meditation
Meandering through the garden, with the sun warming our faces and the birds chirping, Murray made a point of emphasising the meditative nature of foraging and how mindful the activity can and should be. For more on this, check out our blog post “How Gardening is the Best Therapy.” After washing our beautiful pickings and dressing them simply with some olive oil, lemon juice, and a pinch of salt, our salad was ready to be eaten.
"Te kai whakapākara – food mouth-wateringly good, and so mouth-wateringly good because it grew in your garden!"
So there you have it folks. A beautiful Spring salad, making use of the best cultivated and wild foraged plants, flowers and weeds found in most gardens at this time of year. There are many many more that can be used. Have fun tasting new flavours.