Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) was one of the first wild herbs I got to know. I used to love lying on my belly and introducing it to people in their garden lawns, where it often grows side-by-side with grass. I've even written a song about yarrow that I share on The Singing Forager Experience as a way for you to learn about and remember yarrow's qualities.
If you're lucky enough to see yarrow in wilder areas you'll get to know its lightly furred, dry stems and tight, umbel flower heads that smell of honey in the hot summer sun. Ooh, that scent. The flowers tend to be white with a pale yellow centre, though can be tinged pink. There are many colourful garden varieties too.
Yarrow is strong in many ways; with firm, upright stems it thrives in harsh environments from sand dunes to mountain sides. It bounces back, even after been regularly mowed, and has powerful medicinal qualities from stopping blood flow to treating colds. Yarrow has quickly become incorporated into my tea cupboard, my first aid kit, my salads and my creative memory bank of flavourings. Actually, I admire its qualities so much, I have a dried sprig of it sitting opposite me in my office window sill.
I've used it for years as a Winter tea when I get colds (it helps reduce fevers), I've used it directly on a small open wounds to stop bleeding (also known as woundwort it has anti-inflammatory qualities too) and I've used it in cold and hot infusions for drinks, ice cream and creme brulee.
Using Yarrow in Creme Brulee
Yarrow has a variety of culinary uses and scents, depending how and when you use it (too much to go into here), though chewing on a little of the summer leaves have always reminded me of lavender (don't eat too much). I remember making a lavender-scented creme brulee the day my sister went into labour with her second child. Something relaxing while we're waiting, I thought. Then her waters broke. We never got to enjoy the creme brulee properly, though the seed had been sown for a wilder version of this classic dessert.
On another note, since popping out to buy the double cream, I bumped into two neighbours who both said they don't usually go for dessert, unless it's creme brulee. Something about the dairy, the small portion and the not too sweet, it seems. I digress.
Yarrow Creme Brulee Recipe
This recipe captures the mild herb flavour of yarrow, building on the 'not too sweet' dessert theme. It uses dried yarrow, so can be made in Summer or Winter, for medicinal or pleasure reasons, or both.
- 350 ml double cream
- 3 heaped tbsp dried and chopped yarrow leaves and flowers
- 3 large organic egg yolks
- 2 tsp soft brown sugar
- 1 heaped dessertspoon dried and chopped yarrow leaves
- 75 g water
- 100 g unrefined caster sugar
Pour the cream into a small saucepan and pop in the yarrow. Leave to 20 minutes before heating over a very low heat. Stir every so often, bashing the leaves and flower heads to help release the flavours. Do not bring to boil, only heat until a skin forms or until the surface starts to quiver. Combine the yolks and sugar in a heat proof bowl and when the cream is ready, pour it through a jelly bag or fine sieve, into the egg mixture. Stir continuously, rinse out the pan if necessary and re-pour the whole mixture into the pan over a low heat. Give the jelly bag a good squeeze so you extract all the aroma you can, then stir the pan while the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon.
Pour into 4 ramekin bowls and leave to set in the fridge overnight. Before you go to sleep, boil the kettle and pour 75 ml of hot water (5 tablespoons) over the herbs for the topping. Cover and leave to infuse. The following day, strain the water, discarding the herbs and boil with the sugar until it turns a dark brown colour (about 280°C if using a sugar thermometer). Pour a thin layer over the each custard ramekin and leave to cool. Serve the same day, or the caramel will start to dissolve again. To eat, crack open the top and enjoy.
Like to learn more?
I run foraging courses throughout the year where you can learn about common wild plants such as yarrow. I cover up to 10 plants per course, as thoroughly as possible. You can ask questions, we can discuss, share, smell, touch, taste and ruminate about all the possible recipes and uses of each plant (and I'll share facts and my experiments too!). Oh, and the Singing Forager Experience is my new venture - it's a foraging walk with songs and a fire, where I share knowledge about plants in all the ways mentioned above, with the addition of songs (join in or just listen). Would love you to join me on either of these.
Having watched spring slowly arrive over winter, in the last few weeks it has speeded up & fully arrived in all its glory. I love spring, perhaps because it's the season I was born, or maybe because of those lovely bouncy baby lambs in the fields... Then there's the increase of day light & all the spring foraging to enjoy too. An abundance of smells, tastes, textures & goodness - all oozing with vitamins & minerals. Basically a multitude of reasons to have a spring in my step & that madness of energy that's associated with this time of year.
Teaching foraging is largely seasonal, mainly because people want to forage to certain times of year, rather than there being a lack of plants during the winter months. As my season starts of kick off, my days feel fuller - bookings, organising & planning. At the end of the day there's nothing fresher for me than to take a walk, get away from the computer & amble along, lazily picking as I go. It's relaxing, valuable time-out, all with a flavour of spring madness of the plants I have to choose from as I walk.
Ooooh, what catches my eye today? So much to choose from. Today I chose just a few spring greens for supper - nettles, cleavers, & tri-cornered leek for soup. Chickweed & yarrow for frittata. I could go on about the bounty to enjoy, though really I just want to sit & eat, then do it all again tomorrow! Wishing you wonderful spring foraging - this really is the time to go mad out there & forage to your hearts content.
Shopping down the supermarket aisle? Not for me, in spring all my greens come from the hedgerow.