Can I eat weeds? Yes, you can!

Make this fabulous-looking cake with... nettles!

Make this fabulous-looking cake with... nettles! - Credit: Julie Bruton-Seal

Why should we eat our weeds? Because they are delicious and nutritious, that's why!

Weeds are actually more nutritious than most of the vegetables we grow or buy, say the authors of a fascinating new cookbook which celebrates weeds and invites you to see them in another light.  

Eat Your Weeds!, written by expert Norfolk herbalists Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal, takes inspiration from around the world with 90 plant-based recipes. It contains a wide variety, both savoury and sweet, for food and drink, snacks or main meals. 

The old definition of weeds is that they are plants growing in the wrong place, from a human point of view. What Julie and Matthew are saying is that they are actually in just the right place, in our garden, for us to harvest. 

"Weeds are hated by gardeners, especially ground elder and honey mushroom, and in practice are almost impossible to get rid of. If you are stuck with these tenacious life forms, perhaps it's time to appreciate their good side – if you can't beat them, eat them!" say the authors.

Here are three of the recipes from the book for you to try for yourselves. Bon Appetit!

Eat Your Weeds! is published by Merlin Unwin books for £25.

Delicious chickweed crostini

Delicious chickweed crostini - Credit: Julie Bruton-Seal

Chickweed Crostini 

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Fry 1 long shallot, diced finely, and 2 tablespoons pine (or cedar) nuts in a little oil, until translucent. 

Rinse 4 good handfuls of chickweed and chop coarsely (remove stems if stringy).  

While still wet, add to the shallot and nuts, then cook gently until wilted and the smell has changed from chickweedy to mild.  

Add salt and lemon juice to taste. Grill 6 to 8 slices of baguette both sides and heap the cooked mixture on.  

Alternatives: The chickweed mixture is also good with boiled new potatoes. 

Ground Elder Frittata

Ground Elder Frittata - Credit: Julie Bruton-Seal

Ground Elder Frittata 

This vegan frittata can be made with all sorts of wild greens, but ground elder has become our favourite. And if you have ground elder in your garden, you probably have plenty of it!  

Preheat the oven to 175C (350F).  

Put in a blender:  

1½ cups water 80g (¾ cup) gram flour (or chickpea/garbanzo flour) 30g (¼ cup) raw cashew nut pieces 1 or 2 peeled cloves of garlic 1 teaspoon turmeric powder or 2cm (1in) fresh turmeric root ¼ teaspoon salt or black salt  

Blend until smooth, then set aside while you sauté the vegetables.  

Put 1 to 2 tablespoons oil in a cast iron skillet (ours is 22cm/9in diameter). Add a couple of handfuls of sliced mushrooms (about 80g), fry until beginning to brown, then add a couple of handfuls of chopped ground elder leaves (20 to 30g). Stir until the leaves have wilted.  

Then pour the mixture from the blender over the vegetables, continuing to cook until the edges of the batter begin to set, then transfer into the preheated oven.  

Bake for about 15 minutes. The fritatta should be set, and gently browning on top. Cut into wedges and serve warm. Serves 2 to 4. 

Make this fabulous-looking cake with... nettles!

Make this fabulous-looking cake with... nettles! - Credit: Julie Bruton-Seal

Nettle Cake 

This cake is a gorgeous bright green colour.  

Preheat the oven to 175C/350F.  

Cake  

Heat gently in a pan until soft:  

1 tablespoon vinegar, 50g (2 tablespoons) golden syrup (light treacle) , 4 tablespoons olive oil , 4 tablespoons coconut butter, and 130g (1 cup) soft light brown sugar  

Beat well and stir in 1 cup nettle pur ée (see p183)  

Sift 240g (2 cups) unbleached white flour and mix into the batter.  

In a cup, pour 1 tablespoon boiling water onto 1 teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)  

Pour into batter and stir well. Pour batter into 2 greased and floured 20cm (8in) cake tins.  

Bake at 175C/350F for about 25 to 30 minutes, until the cake looks done and an inserted straw comes out clean.  

Cool on a rack before removing the cakes from the tins. Trim off the top of one of the layers, if necessary, to make it flat.  

Lemon icing (frosting)  

Beat to a cream: 250g (2 cups) icing sugar (confectioner’s sugar)  
125g (½ cup) vegan butter or coconut butter, warmed to soften juice of half a lemon finely grated zest of half a lemon  
Spread a layer of icing onto the bottom cake before placing the other cake on top.  
Ice the top and sides of the cake, using a spatula or a piping bag. In the nettle cake pictured I've used double the quantity of icing as a special treat.  

Decorate with edible fresh or crystallised flowers, such as violets, violas, primroses or lilac.  

Alternatives: We sometimes double the recipe to make 4 layers, or three layers of cake and some cup - cakes. You can use any icing or topping that you like. If you want it less sweet, try draining thick coconut yoghurt in a jelly bag; rest this on a sieve over a bowl for half an hour to remove excess water. Add vanilla extract or other flavouring to taste and spread on the cake. Keep the cake chilled.