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Blurring the edible/ornamental divide with The Garden Forager

‘Growing your own’ has been an enduring trend in British gardening over the last few years. Whether it’s because of an interest in healthy food, a desire to protect and reconnect with the environment, or simply a need to reduce the food bills, more and more people are dabbling with growing a few fruits and vegetables in their garden. In our increasingly small gardens, it can be tough to find space to squeeze them in, especially as  - for good crops - most fruits and vegetables require prime locations.

For a long time now, British gardens have had a divide between edibles and ornamentals. The veg patch tends to be further from the house, shrouded from view by the pretty things. There’s always a sense that you can’t combine the two, although thankfully that’s changing. But there is a different way to eat your garden, and that’s what Adele Nozedar explores in her book, The Garden Forager.

nozedar-cover

This beautifully-illustrated small hardback book (there is also a Kindle version) explores more than 40 of the most popular garden plants grown in the UK, and finds that they have culinary or medicinal potential. It includes recipes, remedies, and interesting facts for each species.

The idea behind the book is that you can explore the edible potential of your existing garden, but of course, you can also use it as a handbook for adding new plants that are both edible and ornamental, and make really good use of the space available.

Berried treasures

2-dotberries

The plants appear in alphabetical order by their common name, so quite early on we come across the Autumn olive, Eleagnus umbellata. It’s an adaptable and low-maintenance shrub or small tree that quite often finds its way into municipal planting and hedging. It is often planted in gardens for its dense and shiny foliage, although its rather insignificant flowers also pump out a sweet fragrance in the autumn.

Most gardeners probably don’t realise that the berries that are produced in profusion are edible, but in Iranian and Persian cooking, the berries are known as senjed, or wild lotus fruit. Nozedar notes that North American tribes in Alaska used to eat the fruit (including the small, edible nut in the centre) after frying them in moose fat. Most people find them a little too tart to eat fresh, but they’re great dried for adding to muffins and cakes, and can be made into jam. The book contains recipes for autumn olive brandy and a spicy ketchup.

Lubera have developed varieties of the Autumn Olive geared towards fruit production, and called them Dotberries.

3-dogwood

The Chinese dogwood (Cornus kousa var. chinensis) is another ornamental shrub with overlooked edible fruit. It’s usually grown for a specific purpose - to brighten up winter gardens with its colourful stems - but also has large and showy white or pink ‘flowers’ (botanically speaking, they’re bracts). The knobbly fruits, looking like a cross between a cherry and a lychee, are produced in autumn, and ripen to magenta-red. When properly ripe, they are soft and can be eaten raw, although they tend to be a bit on the seedy side. If spitting out seeds isn’t your thing, they can be juiced to produce jam, and there’s a recipe for that in the book, along with one for wine and one for posset.

 

4-fuchsia

Most gardeners don’t know that all fuchsias produce edible, purple berries. The only problem is, the search is still on for the best ones. Flavours vary from sharp and peppery (and good for chutney) to sweet (suitable for jam and pies) - Nozedar includes recipes for both. The berries aren’t always produced in quantity (it depends on the variety), or all at once. It’s helpful to know that you can collect them as they ripen and freeze them until you have enough to use. If you have a fuchsia in your garden, then it’s worth investigating its fruit. Those of us who are keen on unusual edibles have been known to nibble berries in other people’s gardens, hoping to identify the best varieties. There’s still room for improvement!

Voluptuous veg

5-dahlia

 

The Garden Forager is one of the few books that goes beyond mentioning that Dahlia tubers are edible, and gives you some ideas on how to use them. Lubera, of course, have developed DeliDahlias, varieties developed for their edible tubers, each with a slightly different flavour. You don’t even have to miss out on the flowers, as the tubers aren’t harvested until the autumn. They have long been used for food in Central America, and dahlias were originally introduced into Europe (at least in part) as a root vegetable. The book tells us that dahlia tubers can be eaten raw or cooked, and suggests they make a nice substitute for water chestnuts in Chinese recipes. It includes a stir-fry recipe.

 

6-hops

I’ve long known that the young shoots from hops can be used as a vegetable, early in the year, but the book tells me that the larger leaves can be used (in the manner of vine leaves) to make dolmades, and that hop flowers (for which the vines are often grown) can be used as a rub for lamb or pork, infused into milk to make an interesting ice cream, or into olive oil for salad dressings. Two recipes are included, one for bruschetta with hop petals, and one for hop shoot relish.

 

I’ve picked out just a few perennial treats - there’s plenty more plants to explore in the book, including some annuals. There’s no suggestion here that nibbling your way through the hedge and the flower borders will stop you having to go to the supermarket. However, if you have an open mind about your food choices then it’s possible that the plants in your garden can add some delight and diversity to your diet, as well as brightening your day with their ornamental qualities. One or two could save you money on exotic ingredients, that have been happily growing in the backyard all along.

Who knows, you might even get to know your neighbours better, as you point out the edibles on their side of the fence!

The Garden Forager, by Adele Nozedar, is published by Square Peg and illustrated by Lizzie Harper. Its RRP is £12.99

 

Emma Cooper

 

 

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