My generation must have been the last that remembers women picking wild greens in Athens. I grew up in the suburbs, where there was still enough open space, not covered with cement. I remember older women early in the morning during winter and spring picking wild greens, zochi (prickly goldenfleece), dandelion, rucola, even nettle, holding a plastic bag and a small knife. It used to be a social activity, since they were going in groups of two or three chatting and gossiping. I was familiar with the picture of women picking greens but, personally, I had no idea how to distinguish the edible greens and the different kinds.
The school of nature
When I came to Laconia to live, I wanted so much to learn about food foraging, about all the goods nature offers us and especially, the wild greens and herbs that are out there and their medicinal qualities. The field became my school and all those grandmas, that I was randomly meeting, became my teachers. They are always so willing to show younger women Greece’s food heritage. They explain in detail how to distinguish the one variety from the other, share recipes with horta and of course are proud of their age and the fact that they grew up in the fields picking greens since they were 12! And that was a great learning experience for me! I learnt so many things, from the different varieties of the edible wild greens to the gossips of the village.
My, myself and horta
I have to admit that I really enjoyed the hours I spent with the elders, but picking greens is now mostly a meditation activity for me. I can’t imagine a better way to spend a sunny winter day in the farm, than being out to the field, listening to my favorite music and looking for my favorite horta. Time flies and I find myself after 3 hours many kilometers away from where I started, with a crate full of fresh horta! Foraging means you are walking and harvesting. And yep that’s right, you get exercise and vitamin D, all in a relaxed natural setting. So rewarding!
The varieties of horta that I usually pick from our farm are agrioradiko (common dandelions), zochi (prickly goldenfleece), radiki (common chicory), rucola and kafkalithres (Mediterranean hartwort). They all grow in the winter, from December to March. I also find vlita (spiny amaranth) during summer, but I prefer the cultivated to the wild ones. Kafkalithres are used as a fresh herb in pitas or other dishes while the rest are most commonly eaten boiled as a salad with extra virgin olive oil, lemon and sea salt. Of course, they can all be included in the “hortopita” (wild greens pita), or sautéed with wine and sausage, in omelets or even in soups with pork. What is very interesting is that you can also drink the water where the horta were boiled adding some lemon juice, it’s the best natural protection for your immune system in the winter.
Why you should eat wild greens?
Boost your immune system
Actually, wild horta are a super food, are high in antioxidants, and with an abundant quantity of fiber, a great aid in the digestion process. Wild plants are genetically stronger and more potent than commercially raised greens or herbs. Eating local wild plants means the plant fights off the same organisms as your body does. Making the wild plant more beneficial to your immune system.
Greens are recommended as a weight-loss food. You might think this is because greens are low calorie. But there’s more to it than that! Yes, greens are low caloric while still being packed with nutrients and other active compounds, however, greens’ effect on weight loss goes beyond just calories.
The high vitamin K, folate, beta-carotene and lutein consistency in these greens as influencing an anti-aging effect. Green’s antioxidants, brain protection, cellular support, anti-inflammatory benefits, and essential fatty acid nutritional contribution (in particular, the much-appreciated ALA omega-3 fatty acid) all contribute to anti-aging as well.
Benefit your heart
Cardiovascular health is positively influenced multiple ways when making greens a continuous part of your food choices.
Glucose imbalances, which can lead to complications such as diabetes, can be prevented and regulated by introducing greens into your diet. Magnesium, ALA omega-3 fatty acid, and polyphenols found in greens are considered to be of crucial importance in managing glycemic load and insulin sensitivity (which both need to function properly to keep diabetes at bay).
If you are not convinced about eating them yet, I have some really cool resipes!
Now back to the kitchen
Before we eat them we have to wash them and finally cook them. To properly wash the horta you need to soak them in plenty of water, to clean the soil off. You do this process at least 3 times with clean fresh water each time or until you see that the water is clean with no dirt.
The boiling part is very easy: In a big pot you bring plenty of water to boil with one spoon of salt and then, you add the horta and push them under the surface of the water periodically. You also have to mix them from time to time. You let them cook for about 15 minutes or according to your taste (if you want them al dente or melty in the mouth)
How to serve them
Pour generously extra virgin olive oil while the greens are still hot and enjoy the mesmerizing aroma of the olive oil. Add some lemon juice and sea salt and you will hear yourself saying “They taste too healthy!” Believe me, it’s the simplest and purest dish that you will have ever had and you cannot imagine how elevated the taste is.
“We’re being manipulated by food engineers who have figured out how to tap into our brains. But if we can kick our addiction to junk food, we become better able to distinguish the fake stuff from the real, and that chemical aroma will lose its power to hook us” (SuperLife, pg. 22).