Since coming back to Bulgaria I have discovered a new passion for gardening and have been using the time in quarantine to learn from my mother and grandmother. My grandma has been working the land for as long as she remembers and my mom has always had a deep interest in natural remedies and ways the Earth can help us heal. I have a growing interest in both and hope one day I can live off my land! For now, I am satisfied with learning and retelling their stories and experiences and that’s exactly what we’re here for today.
From the garden to your plate – here are 3 of my favorite plants that you can use to nourish and heal your body. Plus they’re all easy to grow or forage if you live somewhere with a similar climate to Eastern Europe!
Every single person that I know has been stung by nettles at least once in their life and many end up hating the plant because of that. However, few know that nettles are actually packed with nutrition! Rich in vitamins A and C, and the minerals calcium and iron, nettles make a valuable addition to your diet. Cooking the nettles removes the sting so don’t be afraid to eat them – you won’t end up with a tongue rash! My mom even says that a little sting by nettles is good for you and helps with arthritis, just like bee stings. However, keep in mind that the substance that causes stinging in nettles is the same as that in bees – formic acid – so if you are allergic to bees, maybe stay away from nettles too! Hard core fun fact: my grandma picks nettles BARE HANDED but unless you’re an Eastern European grandma, I would strongly advise against this practice.
“Now how can I use nettles” you ask? Dry nettles can be made into tea by boiling a handful for just a couple of minutes and fresh nettles can be cooked in soup. A little tip – adding rice to the soup makes for a more filling and hearty meal. I recently saw a recipe for nettle pesto that I am yet to try but this is another creative dish you can use the herb in. Also if you’re lucky enough to harvest more nettles than you can eat, you can easily freeze some for a later date!
This leafy green from the Buckwheat family grows all over the world and is also known as “spinach dock”. Just like nettles, it is packed with vitamins A and C as well as folate and has a slightly tangy and acidic flavor. A cup of fresh sorrel is only about 30 calories so in order to make a filling meal you can add rice or pasta and make a hot soup out of it. My grandma makes a mean sorrel and spaghetti soup! You can also use sorrel in any recipes with spinach by replacing one green with the other, as they’re quite similar in the way they cook. I personally love it not only in soups but in quiches and banitsas (Bulgarian pastries).
To prepare the sorrel for cooking you should remove the stem. An easy and quick way to do this is to fold the leaf in half, exposing the stem on one side. Hold the leafy parts tight and pull down on the stem. It takes quite awhile to de-stem a whole bucket of sorrel so you might want to put on a Netflix show while you do it.
To make a quiche or banitsa, you should blanch the sorrel leaves for a couple of minutes by placing them in boiling water. This will soften them and make them ready to cook. In soups this is not necessary as the leaves cook in the water.
Also known as calendula, this common herb has exceptional properties! Pot marigolds have anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties, making the little orange flowers perfect for helping wounds heal, soothing irritated skin caused by eczema or diaper rash. You can boil a handful of dried calendula flowers for about 30 seconds, let the infused water cool and soak any affected area, placing cotton pads soaked with the infusion on parts of the body you can’t soak in a bowl. You can use the calendula water to rinse your face if you struggle with acne and even drink it to help with any inner inflammatory problems. Pot marigold tea is actually delicious and refreshing!
If you want a more concentrated version, you can make a tincture.
– Mixing the dried petals with 80-proof alcohol (1/2 cup of petals to 1 cup of alcohol) in a sealed jar
– Leave it out of sunlight for 2-8 weeks
– Once ready, strain and transfer to a glass bottle
Voilà, your tincture is ready! Use a few drops of it mixed in water to treat rashes or mouth sores or even make a hair rinse to ease itchy scalp. This is more convenient if you use it often as it’ll save you time from making a fresh batch of tea every couple of days.
Last but not least, you can make an oil infusion to use on your skin or scalp:
– Choose your base oil considering what you’re going to use it for – for face, aim for a non-comedogenic oil such as argan, sweet almond or grapeseed oil.
– Fill the jar with dry crushed petals, leaving an inch of space at the top.
– Pour your oil until the flowers are fully submerged and you have reached the top of the jar. This is important as the less air there is in the jar, the less of a chance there is for your flowers to get mouldy and you’re also reducing oxidation of the oil.
– Place the sealed jar in a sunny window. Cover with a paper bag in order to protect from damaging UV light. Shake daily for four to six weeks.
– Once ready, you can use your oil daily or as needed for up to 2 years!
Have you ever drank nettle tea or eaten sorrel quiche? What about using calendula oil to sooth your irritated skin? Share your experience or recipes in the comments bellow!