The news these days is that weeds are in. Along with other elements of the Mediterranean diet such as olive oil; food writers, nutritionists and others are examining both the nutritional and culinary aspects to a diet that includes what many of us have always taken a weed wacker to.
I’ve seen two aspects of this recently. The first was a look at a current menu from one of New York’s trendy chefs, Jean-Georges Vongerichten. He has burdock, hyssop, borrage and other wild greens on his menu and plans to add more. Weeds are the new flavouring and even according to the Mediterranean diet theorists, the new panacea.
The other experience was much more vivid and immediate. I was in Tuscany last week shortly after the grape harvest. Just outside of Lucca I had a profitable weed lesson from a young girl named Eugenia who had an extensive weed vocabulary culled from her fathers vineyard. As she showed me each plant that she was picking she said: This is for cooking or this is for salad (her plant categories).
The Tuscan vineyard weeds, and there are many of them, divide into two kinds, those that are boiled, radici, which includes wild leeks and wild garlic, corn poppy, comfrey, borgae, rampion, sweet violet, campion and alexanders plus numerous others and the salad kind which include the flowers of borage, rocket, campion leaves and wild radish. Burnet is another salad plant as well as wild fennel, plantain and various wild lettuces. All of these vineland plants are painstakingly washed and culled for fading leaves before being incorporated into delicious mixed salad, dressed with olive oil and wine vinegar.
Where I only saw a small vineyard with fading leaves, others saw a diversity of tasty and health giving foods providing ample evidence of depth and complexity.