I love roses, and of course they are also one of the many symbols of love. Here in the UK we have several wild varieties and the cultivated ones are, almost, infinite. After a hot, sunny day, I particularly love to be overcome by the…
Summer is here in Cornwall, there is no doubt, even the sea, at long last is starting to warm up (relative, of course!). Because of our slow start to spring in the UK, many plants are still behind. I saw May (Hawthorn) flower in June,…
A long held discussion or even conflict within the world of wild foods is that of comfrey & whether its healthy or potentially harmful to humans. I’m sure this discussion will continue for, well, a while, meanwhile I thought I’d add my contribution. I’ve also included my latest recipe, alongside some reasons (including scientific ones) of why I like this plant.
Comfrey leaves – Symphytum officinale – has been used for thousands of years as a food & medicine, some of its common names include ‘knitbone‘ because of its internal & external application for broken bones. Indeed, it has been held in high-esteem by herbalists for its healing properties, in particular reducing inflammations by aiding cell regrowth & repair (1).
Just on a side line, if you research into comfrey as a plant food (a liquid green fertilizer) you will find lots of positive reports of its nutritious benefits of ‘greatly enhancing the fertility of your soil‘. I am aware that people are not plants – although an interesting topic based on our intake of so many nutrients from the plant world that are then laid down as vitamin & minerals in our bodies which create our bones, repair our cells – I digress!
Meanwhile, more recently, comfrey has been approached with more caution & in some incidences considered a potential poison that should not be used as a food, or indeed a medicine at all. Only last month, when speaking to a reputatable & quite open-minded scientist about wild food, he quoted to me the risk of eating comfrey in the context of the dangers of wild food foraging. Now, while I want to promote safe foraging ( some plants are most definitely poisons, for example, while others need to be processed), I also want to promote a balanced approach to plants as foods & accurately represent the benefits.
As a non-scientist, I’ve chosen to refer to research done & leave you to come to your own conclusions… In particular, everybody’s body is different & reactions, can & indeed have, occurred. In particular, the main research that is often cited is from 1978 when rats were fed comfrey leaves (8-33% of their diet) for a durational period, which resulted in liver tumours developing in all cases (96% turned out to be benign by the way) (2). However, as pointed out by Health Practitioner, Dorena Rode (through her extensive & thorough research on comfrey – well worth a read), further scientific research has been carried out where no such results were found (3). I also usually add the obvious; that we are not rats & I challenge anyone (not literally) to even try & eat comfrey as a third of your diet for half a year!
So, am I promoting comfrey as a food, or am I not?
Well, over the past 5 years I have certainly used comfrey as an ingredient in wild food events & dinners (with no known negative side-effects). Excellent in curries, we were particularly pleased with our Sea Beet, Comfrey & Black Mustard Thoran – a South Indian style dish using coconut that Sara created on one of our inspired walks through the Cornish countryside.
Personally, I also remember over 15 years ago sitting in a wood with my boyfriend, it was morning time & he was cooking up comfrey fritters (quite a traditional & classic recipe quoted for this food) & frying wild mushrooms for people to taste – delicious! However, I have also remained cautious around using this plant too often.
Now, coming back to the present day. This morning I’ve been looking at those comfrey leaves I picked yesterday morning; a glorious summer wander with comfrey looking too good to be passed by. The combination of sunshine, the outdoors & wild food just gets my creativity going sometimes & I want to play! The heat also doesn’t inspire a laboured curry for me & one of things I enjoy about comfrey is the cucumber-like flavour & freshness.
Armed with a little research, a healthy appetite & travelling past my local shop for a few ingredients – I set to. Before I tell you my recipe, I want to share with you a few tips that I decided to take on board regarding eating comfrey;
Here are 4 reasons why I continue to eat comfrey – occasionally:
1. Apparently the older leaves are meant to be less potent in the Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids (4) that are thought to be harmful in comfrey – so I focused on picking these older leaves
2. I like life & have no desire to push the boundaries of nature, so am adhering to not eating comfrey too regularly or in large amounts (for my own comfort & peace of mind)
3. That comfrey is also RICH in many beneficial nutrients for us humans (great!) including; Calcium , Magnesium, Vitamin C, Vitamin B12, Beta Carotene, Phosphorus, Potassium, Vitamin E, Vitamin A, Iron, Sulfur , Copper & Zinc (4)
4. I’ve never felt any ill-effects from eating comfrey & I enjoy eating wild foods.
Back to my recipe. Based on my love of that cucumber-like flavour of comfrey, plus reading that protein deficiency & lack of sulphure containing amino acids may contribute to the ill-effects of comfrey (3), I created this;
Comfrey & Yoghurt Dip
1 handful of comfrey leaves (older ones)
200g of natural yoghurt (the proper full fat stuff)
1 heaped tablespoon of good honey
1 squeeze of lemon juice
1 shake of liquid amino acids (google it!)
Put all the above in a food blender & whizz together. The result is a sweet, cucumber-like dip (think tzatziki) that I thought was delicious! Perfect for a summer spread of salads, dips & fruits. Let me know what you think..
(1) Comfrey 2011 University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC)
(2) Hirono, I., H. Mori, and M. Haga, Carcinogenic activity of Symphytum officinale. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 1978. 61(3): p. 865-9.
(3) Comfrey Central – A Clearinghouse for Symphytum Information www.comfrey-central.com
(4) Comfrey is Poisonous? Dherbs Article
Researching regional names of plants is a fascinating and usually an amusing pastime. Common Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium) is one of those plants, and as it’s now in season (april to june) I thought I’d dedicate a whole blog article to it. Inspired also by local…
Last month a few hardy foragers (actually it was a lovely bright, wintery day) joined me at Cape Cornwall for a wild food walk with tasters. At a welcomed break we sat down with a large flask of ‘Wild Spiced Cleaver Coffee’. The drink went…
Everyone has there own traditions for Christmas Day. For me, I’m satisfied if I’m in good company, have a dip in the sea & there’s a healthy amount of indulgence.
Down here in Cornwall I’ve plenty of people to share these common themes with; least of all bracing the elements & stripping off on the beach for that ceremonial plunge – nothing like it for feeling alive & building up an appetite! So on the morn of the 25th, Sennen beach (just a mile from Lands End) was pretty packed with rosy faces & cold toes as we raced towards those rolling waves to start the day splashing about, all with good company, of course.
The rest of the essentials for the day already prepared, there was little left to do except dry off, drink hot tea & eat. As a lover of good food, I enjoy the simplicity of a good roast with lots of colourful veg to accompany it. I could tell you a good story of a wild meal, but in all honesty, for this day I’m on holiday, want to think as little as possible about food & just allow it to happen.
However, I had put my creativity together in the form of gifts & brought out some wild ingredients to invent new chocolate recipes. For weeks I’d been thinking about combinations that would excite & please. Who in my family likes richness, who needs to watch there blood sugar levels & who prefers a savoury twist. Of course, its impossible to please everyone, though the fun for me is in the creating & the making.
I created 8 recipes in all, some wild, some not, some rich & dark (I’m a Green & Black’s fan myself) & some with raw cacao & agave syrup (far richer in minerals & with less of a caffeine hit – though still chocolate!). Cinnamon, fruit, Cornish sea salt, nuts & vanilla all featured & for the wild ones; laced with sloe vodka of course, & a white chocolate with dried blackberries in (good for children if you want to reduce the risk of too much hyperactivity).
The verdict? Well the large box of chocolates is being taken to family tomorrow & I’ll see which ones disappear first & let you know! Its a time a year for many things & for me, there’s definitely a place for good, indulgent chocolate, especially handmade. Wishing you all a joyous festive season & here’s a couple of recipes to be going on with. x
White Chocolate with dehydrated wild blackberries – goes like raisins, though with more seeds/texture!
Last year’s sloes had been soaking in vodka for 12 months, de-stone & chop them, add a couple of tablespoons of the sloe vodka & stir into the melted chocolate. And one image of the final box of chocs! Most of them I’ve tasted, of course, so I’m quite confident about the results!
Autumn is full of potential pleasures, warming foods, sweet dishes and a bounty of autumnal fruits to enjoy. Personally, I take particular interest in creating desserts with wild ingredients, so when Sara from Cotna Barton suggested we made a wild apple meringue pie on our…
Not much time left and many are just out of reach! Remember to take a ladder foraging with you or a good friend with climbing skills…
Last Resort – I’ve had to resort to just picking one or two heads this time of year, and drying them for elderflower tea. You may have more luck! Though drying Elder flowers for tea is great medicine for the winter months, read below to find out more.
Elderflower syrups and dishes are potent medicine – they can help counter hayfever, fight colds, boost your immune and send you to a delightful floaty place with those sweet aromas…
Choose from fresh or dried elderflower tea (just add hot water), elderflower fritters, or cordial for sorbets and ice creams, mix with summer fruits or into cocktails. Here’s a simple recipe for cordial and a tempting image of local fruits cooked with elderflowers – delicious!
(photo: Elder flowers and Yarrow)
This is classic recipe with a bit of a twist, I like to change things sometimes, so here I use a mixture of orange and lemons, and add a little honey too. If you want a more traditional recipe, here it is; Elder Flower Cordial and Elder Flower Sorbet Recipe.
This cordial is a wonderful refreshing summer drink, and elder flowers are also a great remedy for colds. You’ll need some pre-planning – a 1 litre container, clean screw-top bottles, a funnel and a seive/muslin cloth is needed, or improvise with what you have. Adjust the amount according to the number of flowers you have picked.
- 450g unrefined caster sugar
- 1.5 litres boiling water
- 20 elderflower heads (flowers left on stalks)
- 2 unwaxed lemons
- 1 orange
- 4 tbsp honey
- 2-3oz citric acid (if you’re going to store the cordial for a whole
Ideally pick the flowers in full sun. Place sugar in a pan and pour boiling water over, stirring until dissolved. Place the elderflowers (check to remove bugs) in a clean bucket and pour hot sugar mixture over it. Grate the lemon and orange zest, then cut the fruits into slices, squeeze, and plop into the container (it could be a saucepan, or a large heat-proof bowl). Stir, in the honey until dissolved, cover, and leave for 24-48 hours, stirring occasionally. Strain the mixture through a sieve, or preferably a fine muslin cloth, and funnel into clean bottles, or dilute and serve immediately!
(Photo: Elderflowers cooked in a summer fruits pudding)