Tag Archives: Dalechamps

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

Urospermum dalechampii

This looks like a big dandelion, but it is a lovely lemon-yellow, often with a black centre, and I like it because it brightens up the roadside verges – and because of its historical connections. It’s a member of the Compositae family, which means that the flower head is made up of many ray-florets, tiny flowers with a long strap-like ray at one side. The centre is often black, and the outer florets often reddish-brown on their underneath edges.

A Mediterranean perennial plant, not found to the north of the Ardèche.

The young leaves can be used raw in salads: like dandelion they are quite bitter but a few will jazz up a bland lettuce, or you could follow Jane Grigson’s advice for dandelion leaves and add diced bacon, croutons, and chopped boiled egg.

So, to the history. It’s in the name: Urospermum is from the shape of the seed, but dalechampii is because it was described by the botanist and doctor Jacques Dalechamps (1513-1588) in his Historia generalis plantarum in 1586,

Jacques Dalechamps

which described 2,731 plants, the greatest number of any book then available.  Dalechamps was then practising medicine in Lyon, but had studied at the University ofMontpellier, just 16 years after Nostradamus (Michel de Notredame, 1503-1566) was expelled from there for having been an apothecary, by the very man who was later to become Dalechamps’s teacher: Guillaume Rondelet.  By that time Montpellier had already been a centre for herbal and then medical training for about 500 years: the school became a University in 1289, only  32 years after the Sorbonne.  I’ll be coming back to this topic because of the large number of plants first described byMontpellier graduates.


For the music link, back to the colour – it’s the Neville Brothers’ Yellow moon from the 1989 album of the same name. For K, and I hope this brings back some memories of New Orleans.


Filed under Urospermum