Another holiday weekend in Switzerland leads to another new discovery… This time, we foraged for edible plantes sauvages, or “wild plants,” during a recent walk in the hills above our small Swiss city.
Thankfully, we had a very thoughtful Swiss friend who served as our guide—especially because we didn’t want to make any toxic mistakes by picking the wrong stuff! We really enjoyed hunting for fresh, local food at an affordable price (free!). In all, we tried four plants and some new recipes, all of which we plan to make again.
Nettle (Ortie, Urtica Dioica)
I’ve grown up with stinging nettle and always thought of it as a plant to avoid. My youngest just got a rash the other day after running into a patch of nettle. Who knew you could eat it? And, why would you want to try? For generations, people have used nettle for medicinal purposes (e.g., treating eczema, urinary problems and muscle pain).
My friend suggested making soup with the tender nettle leaves, mixing them with some broth and potatoes. When she makes nettle soup, she also stirs in some cream. With this in mind, my husband found a quick recipe online that I used as a base for my own version.
First, I sautéed some onion, garlic and potatoes in butter and olive oil until they became tender. To protect my hands, I covered them with plastic bags while I washed and prepared the nettles. Then, I added the nettles, water and some vegetable bouillon powder. After letting it simmer for about 10-15 minutes, I pureed the soup with an immersion blender. Right before serving, instead of cream, I stirred in some room temperature coconut milk.
I had no idea what to expect, but we all loved the soup—except for my youngest, who used his spoon to splatter it on our floor. The flavor was actually quite mild and similar to spinach. I really wasn’t expecting to like it so much!
Ail des Ours (Bear’s Garlic, Allium Ursinum)
Ail des ours is a springtime plant that’s related to chives (a.k.a. ramsoms). Also used for medicinal purposes (e.g. indigestion and high blood pressure), ail des ours tastes like a mix between garlic, chives and onions.
After seeing a few recipes online, I decided to try it in pesto. I based my version on a recipe I made months ago using pumpkin seeds. Instead of the basil, I used ail des ours—although a mix of the two would have been even better. We ate this for lunch tossed with leftover spaghetti.
Aillère (Garlic Mustard, Alliaria petiolata)
Back in the Massachusetts, where we used to live, aillère appears on a list of prohibited plants—it’s illegal to import, sell or trade it. Aillère is not native to the United States, and it’s considered a noxious weed. It was likely brought over by European settlers, as it was first recorded in 1868 in Long Island.
On my friend’s recommendation, I tried making a salad with aillère. I took the leaves and mixed them with doucette (a.k.a. mâche), beets, bacon and toasted pumpkin seeds. Then, I topped it off with Basel-style salmon and balsamic dressing. So delicious!
Gaillet (Sweet Woodruff, Galium)
The fourth plant we discovered was gaillet, and our friend recommended using it to make mai wine. We found myriad recipes for the stuff, many of which call for champagne, strawberries, lemons, etc. In the end, we just soaked the leaves in a local white wine for about four hours and had it with dinner. The gaillet added a light and woody scent, maybe even with a hint of vanilla. I would like to try this again with some fruity ingredients to sweeten it up a bit.
More foraging adventures are likely in our future… If you have tips or recipes to share, please let us know. In the meantime, I will hopefully share a new bread recipe later this week. Thanks for your continued interest and support!