Category Archives: Silene

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:



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