The deli in the ditch: foraging for Silene vulgaris (bladder campion)


I took photos of this flower back in May – but I didn’t know it was edible till I read The LightFoot Guide to Foraging – Wild Foods by the Wayside, by Heiko Vermeulen, Nobel Peace Prize winner*. The book’s available from Pilgrimage Publications here.

Nowadays if I look at a meadow I think lunch – Heiko Vermeulen

For most people in Britain these days, gathering wild food is restricted to blackberry picking.  Since most plants are in fact edible, it’s strange how all the rest have come to seem suspect. The tradition of foraging is more widespread where I live in southern France, I think: people I know remember being sent out as children to pick a salad from leaves common in the vineyards and verges, and neighbours and friends wait impatiently for the season to arrive for wild leeks, wild asparagus and mushrooms. Not forgetting that for thousands of years wild plants have been the poor man’s health service.

Wild Foods by the Wayside is a guide for those who want to renew these traditions and take advantage of a free, delicious and healthy resource.  While it continues in the path of well-known forerunners such as Richard Mabey’s 1972 guide, Food For Free, the new book is a step into the 21st century with colour photographs and internet links for over 130 plants commonly found in north and Mediterranean Europe. And recipes. He’s tried everything himself and reports how each plant tastes to him, and maybe it also helps that the author lives in Italy: I can’t flick though without resolving to pick, cook and eat something new the next time it’s in season.  The recipe for Silene is arroz con collejas, a wonderful-sounding herb, rice and fish dish from Spain.

It’s also very accessible. It’s written very clearly, with the entry for each plant following the same pattern: description, where it’s found, when it’s in season, culinary and medicinal uses, recipe and link to a website (a very good link for Urospermum dalechampii – to this blog!  See post for 13th May). Where necessary, cautions are given in red, a very good idea.  Heiko’s sense of humour, familiar to readers of his blog Path to Self-Sufficiency (see here), is well in evidence in the book too: he comments that Arbutus unedo (strawberrry tree) gets its name from unum edo: Latin for ‘I eat one [berry]’, suggesting that:  ‘once you’ve eaten one, you’re not really tempted to eat another’. I agree – it’s not unpleasant, just bland.

Italian bugloss flowers, steeped in a litre of red wine for a week, can apparently ‘drive away melancholy and depression’.  I’d suggest that Heiko’s book – also taken with a litre of wine – can have the same effect. Am I being a bit partial?  Let me be completely open: Heiko is a commenter on this blog, but I did pay for my copy and I will be using it. Often.

*Along with me and 500 million other citizens of the European Union – joke courtesy of Heiko.

For music – I’ve just noticed that Eric Bibb, one of my favourite songwriters,  has a new album out, Brothers in Bamako, recorded jointly with the Malian guitarist Habib Koite.  Here they are in concert with a great song about Western consumerism, We don’t care:



Filed under Silene

10 responses to “The deli in the ditch: foraging for Silene vulgaris (bladder campion)

  1. oh, if only i could forage accurately – to my great embarrassment, i’m a complete klutz at it – perhaps a clue to my uselessness is my second-hand use of the word klutz . . . next year in languedoc, perhaps

    • Heiko says on his blog that he finds 150 types of edible/medicinal plant over the year within walking distance of his house. I could maybe think of ten, but then I’m a bit of a con….I guess all language is 2nd hand, at any rate we get it from someone else. Next year comment a toast I’ll drink to..

  2. I would guess that a litre of wine, with or without bugloss flowers, would do much to banish depression–at least in the short term. We don’t do much foraging in the USA either, but we do love music.

    • I confess I’m more familiar with the treatment without additive – enough to know that there are, as with much medication, several side-effects. Not so with music, which has never given me a hangover, though it does make me dance very badly.

  3. Many thanks for the kind review! The brown envelope is in the post… 😉

  4. Ceridwen

    I have at least a dozen books on wild foods, the earliest (The Wild Foods of Great Britain by LCR Cameron, 1917) having several pages of hand-written addendum by my father. I have not though tried bladder campion despite the fact that it grows profusely on the coast here. Heiko’s volume looks a worthy addition to the collection.

    • I’m sure you could easily fill your own volume with the knowledge you’ve generously shared on blip and here – including your tip about thistle cheese, an updated report of which will appear here soon. As it is with many plants, it seems to be the young leaves of campions which are most edible. The white ones are profuse enough to pick freely here too, but I haven’t seen a single pink one – maybe they prefer acid soils.

  5. Pingback: In the vines, part two: Malva sylvestris (Common mallow) | an entangled bank

  6. I’ve just included a link to this post as I’ve reviewed Heiko’s book aswell : )

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