Category Archives: Recipes

Yellow day lily soup

June has been an extraordinary month in Aberdeen. We have been living in an almost permanent gloom – overcast, foggy, drizzly, dreich and occasionally torrential. When the cloud base rises above the rooftops it counts as a good day. We read of drought on the west coast – whisky distilleries having to suspend production for lack of water – and grit our teeth. That’s not the deal: they get the scenery and we get the drier weather.

All this dampness is not without its consequences in the forest garden. Anything that needs sun to bring it on is looking bereft and the snails are having a field day. It’s also creating an unexpected glut of yellow day lily (Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus) flowers. Usually any unused flowers dry on the plant and can be gathered for later use.

Yellow day lily (in the dry)

In this Month of Gloom, however, nothing is drying whatsoever, so we’re having to use the day lilies as they are produced. The result is that we’re eating lots of miso soup: partly no doubt because it’s salty comfort food but mostly because it’s a great way to use the flowers. Here’s the recipe from last night’s soup, which in no way needs to be followed exactly. In general, day lily flowers will also add flavour, colour and thickness to any soup you like.


  • Oil for frying
  • 2 small onions, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic scape (immature flowering stem), finely chopped
  • 1 potato, chopped
  • 1 piece celeriac, chopped
  • 2 fresh shiitake mushrooms, chopped
  • 200g yellow day lily flowers, chopped
  • 1 litre stock
  • 1 handful dulse (seaweed)
  • 3 heads sweet cicely seeds
  • 3 courgette flowers
  • 2 very generous teaspoonfuls of miso

Fry the onion in a pan for a couple of minutes, then add the garlic and fry until soft. Throw in the potato, celeriac and mushrooms and fry a little more, stirring occasionally. Add the lily flowers and fry until wilted. The add the stock and dulse and simmer for about 10 minutes. Use whatever stock you may have left over from other dishes but it’s important not to use a salty stock or stock cube as there is more than enough salt in the miso. Water will do fine as a substitute. Near the end add the sweet cicely seeds and courgette flowers. Once the soup it is cooked, remove the pan from the heat. Put the miso in a cup and stir it to a liquid with some cold water, then stir the lot into the soup. Serve as soon as possible.

This recipe can also be made with larger day lily flowers (Hemerocallis fulva), in which case it is a good idea to chop them roughly before adding. They wilt but don’t disintegrate, which can make for very messy eating when they’re in a soup!

Turkish rocket

With an exotic name like Turkish rocket, you would expect Bunias orientalis to be a bit more than a perennial version of broccoli, but that is what it is.

According to Ken Fern of Plants for a Future, ‘the cooked leaves make an excellent vegetable’. I’m afraid I can’t agree. To me, the leaves have an odd bitterness which is capable of spoiling an entire dish. I find a number of plants that Ken Fern recommends too bitter for my taste; I don’t know whether I’m just a fussy eater or whether there is some side effect of growing plants a few hundred miles further north.

The parts of Turkish rocket that I use are the immature flowering stems, like sprouting broccoli (I call them ‘rockoli’). They have an unusual, slightly shellfish-like flavour that at first I found frankly disturbing in a plant, but I have come to like it and now look forward to the rockoli season keenly. They stir fry well, or are very tasty steamed with a dressing of soy sauce, apple juice, lemon juice, vegetable oil and a few drops of sesame oil. Another way I have cooked them is in a white sauce with a little cheese and mustard.


Turkish rocket illustrates well why you shouldn’t be too quick to give up on a plant. I almost wrote it off after trying the leaves, then discovered the rockolis but found it a rather unproductive plant. More recently I have discovered that it is much more productive if you pick a good long stem along with the flower head. Not only is the stem  soft and tasty, this method also seems to have the advantage that it prompts the plant to produce another – and another – crop of large flower stems. If you just pick the tip of the stem then the result will be a great mass of thin side shoots which rapidly become too spindly and fiddly to deal with.

TR is the yellow-flowered one under the raspberries

Eventually however, Turkish rocket will get away from you and start to flower. This then attracts clouds of hoverflies which are good for keeping down pests like greenfly.

If you allow Turkish rocket to seed, you will probably find that it self-seeds quite happily. I usually chop it down after flowering to avoid that, but if you find yourself with more plants than you really intended, you might want to try a final harvest: the grated roots have a horseradish-like flavour; not quite so strong as horseradish but pleasantly spicy.

Turkish rocket is a very easy plant. It’s easy to raise and easy to grow. Its deep tap roots which scavenge water and nutrients from deep in the soil and its strong spring growth mean that it never needs weeded or watered. It’s untroubled by diseases in my garden: my plants are over ten years old and look like they plan to go on for ever. It seems unfussy about soil. In my garden it thrives in the dappled shade under an apple tree but would grow well in full sun too.



Salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius) is a member of the daisy family traditionally grown as a root vegetable, but I find its uses in the forest garden are much more varied than that. Its natural habitat is by the sea and it won’t grow in deep shade, but it seems very happy to seed itself around the more open parts of the garden. It’s a biennial and dies after its seeding year, but it self seeds so effectively that once you’ve got it, you’ve got it. The seedlings are very tolerant of being transplanted, which is handy if you want to do a bit of rearranging it from where it has offered to grow. On top of their edible uses their deep tap roots mean that they probably act as dynamic accumulators, bringing nutrients up from deeper in the soil.

The leaves of salsify make a handy early salad and a component of forest garden spinach, but my favourite part is definitely the flower buds. I pick them just as they are about to open (or even a little after), put them in boiling water and cook for a couple of minutes. I then drain them and add a little oil, lemon juice and salt. They taste a bit like artichoke hearts and make a nice side dish, especially with a mezze-type meal.

One slightly alarming feature of salsify is the gush of milky latex from its stem when you break it. If this is allowed to get on anything else it turns brown and clarts it irremovably. Fortunately it washes off very easily while still wet and doesn’t produce any more after the first rush, so I simply gather a handful at a time then wash the ends under the allotment tap before I put it into anything.

So long as you keep it picked, salsify has a long productive season, but if you stop picking it will successfully set seed and stop flowering. It makes a large, dandelion-like seed head with substantial seeds. These can be harvested for sprouting or for seeding into new parts of the garden.

VERB – to spinach

Spinach used to be a noun, a particular plant, Spinacia oleracea: a pleasure to eat but a pain to grow, requiring lots of feeding and watering and running to seed the minute you look at it. Now, in the forest garden, it has become a verb, a way of cooking, something you do with a great variety of leaves.

Here’s my spinach recipe. Gather a mixture of wild garlic (Allium ursinum), leaf beet (Beta vulgaris), perennial kale (Brassica oleracea ramosa), red mustard (Brassica juncea), hedge garlic (Alliaria petiolata), Good King Henry (Chenopodium bonus-henricus), salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius), pea (Pisum sativum), Hosta and mallow (Malva sylvestris) leaves. Give them a quick wash and chop roughly.

Now fry an onion and some garlic (or any of the other alliums from the forest garden, but I won’t go there just now) in a large pan. Then throw the leaves on top, sprinkle on a little salt, cover and cook slowly. The jucier leaves will cook in their own juice if there is still some water clinging to the leaves, but with the others you will need to add a tiny bit of water.

To my taste, the result is simple but delicious. I also love the texture. Frozen spinach from the shops goes to a horrible mush, but the large leaf size in this recipe gives it a firmness and integrity.

If the taste isn’t enough, spinach is, as your mum no doubt told you, very good for you. Apparently spinach got its near supernatural reputation for iron content and strengthening properties (think Popeye) when an early table of the nutrient content of different foods accidentally slipped a decimal place, giving spinach ten times the iron content that it really has. None the less, all green, leafy vegetables do contain plenty of iron and also high levels of protein. On top of that, they encourage the growth of Lactobacillus in the gut, the beneficial bacteria that some people spend a fortune ingesting in ‘probiotic’ yoghurts and such.

I quite enjoy a dollop of ‘green’ as a side dish in any meal, but there are lots of other ways to use it, such as spanakopita, lasagna or spinach, feta and dill filo triangles. It seems to have a bit of an affinity with chickpeas, as in many Mediterranean recipes.

Many of the above species are natural shade plants, but even those which aren’t can benefit from some shade. Leaf beet naturally grows in the open, but shade leads it to produce larger, more tender leaves, so I layer it under the apple tree. It isn’t a perennial but self seeds so reliably that it doesn’t really matter.

Eating hostas

One of my favourite seasonal treats from the forest garden is the hostas. No, no spelling mistake: hostas are really edible. In fact, they are a near perfect forest garden crop. Woodland is the natural habitat of many hosta species, so they like moist soil with plenty of organic matter and tolerate a considerable amount of shade. A friend tells me that they have a positive allelopathic relationship (i.e. they secrete chemicals that help each other) with apples, and since the research on it is published in Russian I’ll have to take her word for it. Hostas are no novelty nibble: they have the potential to be a major productive vegetable.

hosta clump

The best part of the hosta is the ‘hoston’, the rolled up leaf as it emerges in the spring, although many varieties are still pretty good even once they have unfurled. The best way of cooking them depends on the size of the hostons. Small ones are delicious if you fry them for a few minutes, then add a little light soy sauce and sesame oil. The slight bitterness of the hostons complements the saltiness of the soy sauce very well. Similarly, they go very well in stir fries. The chunkier hostons are better boiled briefly and used as a vegetable. In the picture below, the hostons on the right are bound for frying, those on the left are for boiling.


Hostons are best cropped by gripping them firmly near the base and snapping ones off the edge of the clump. If you can snap them off right at the base they will hold together as a whole instead of falling apart into individual leaves. The short leaf scales around the base are bitterer than the larger leaves so they are worth removing. It is much easier to harvest the hostons if the crown of the plant is a little above ground level when it is planted. It is possible to harvest the whole first flush of leaves of an established plant without killing it: ornamental hosta growers will sometimes ‘mow’ their plants to get a second flush of fresh, attractive leaves.

Later on, the open leaves can be used as a general pot herb or substituted for spinach in recipes like ‘hostakopita’. The flowers and flower buds are also edible: the Montreal Botanical Garden lists all species as edible and Hosta fortunei as the tastiest.

It seems to be an open question whether every single species of hosta is edible and therefore whether it is a good idea to try any unidentified hosta that you may happen across. The species I have eaten regularly myself are H. sieboldiana, montana and longipes. Martin Crawford lists H. crispula, longipes, montana, plantaginea, sieboldii, sieboldiana, undulata and ventricosa. Plants for a Future add H. clausa, clavata, longissima, nigrescens, rectifolia and tardiva and list no known hazards for the genus as a whole. This covers all the common ornamental species except H minor, which probably isn’t worth it anyway, and H fortunei, which must be edible since the most popular variety of it, ‘Sagae’ originally arose in hostas being grown for food in Sagae City in Japan. On the basis of that I’m happy to try any hosta myself, but if you’re going to do that, remember to try only a small piece first and test for a skin reaction by rubbing a piece on your skin before putting anything in your mouth.

Picture by ‘dcarch’ on the Seed Savers’ Forum

For more on eating hostas, there is a discussion and some astonishingly beautiful pictures of hosta dishes on the Seed Savers’ Forum. There was also a very useful article in Permaculture Magazine No. 58. It isn’t online unfortunately, but you can buy the back issue if you are really keen. A fellow wordpress blogger has also been writing about eating hostas here.

In Japan, hostas are prized as sansai or ‘mountain vegetables’, a class of plants that are usually gathered wild from the mountain and are considered to be particularly strong in vitality. There’s a great blog post about sansai at

It’s Spring!

Ground frozen all one week, T-shirt weather the next. What’s a poor plant supposed to think? Well, a lot of forest garden regulars are hardy creatures and have decided to think that it’s spring already. The Japanese plum has started to blossom – fully five weeks before it did last year.

plum blossom

However, spring always comes early to the forest gardener and quite a number of early species are now into production. The first leaves of wild garlic (Allium ursinum) have spiked up through the soil and unfurled. The alliums are obviously a competitive family, because the chives, welsh onions and tree onions (A schoenoprasum, fistulosum and cepa proliferum) are all not far behind.

A perennial relative of spinach, with the splendidly silly name of Good King Henry (Chenopodium bonus-henricus), has been sending up tentative leaves for a couple of weeks now, as has Turkish rocket (Bunias orientalis), which has unpleasantly strong-flavoured leaves later in the year but is sweet and mild when young. Sea beet (Beta vulgaris maritima) seems to come in both perennial and biennial strains – both are starting into new growth. It’s probably my favourite ‘spinach’ after spinach itself and is almost embarrassingly easy to grow.

While all these leaves are probably best cooked, salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius) is a salad leaf. As a root vegetable, it is known as ‘vegetable oyster’ but to me this is the least interesting part of the plant. In summer, I’ll steam the flower buds which taste quite like globe artichoke and once the flowers open they’ll go into salads, but at this time of year it is the young leaves I’m interested in. While later on they will become tough and bitter they are now juicy and sweet and already being produced in enough quantity to make them the basis of a salad.

Finally there are two plants that I don’t encourage in the forest garden but which make very fine greens if you know how to cook them. Nettles grow anywhere but the ones from shade are the best for eating; ground elder mystified me for years as to why anyone would eat it, till I discovered that it is a gourmet dish if you pick the youngest, hardly-even-unfurled leaves and fry them in olive oil. Which makes sense for a plant introduced to Britain by Italians.

Marvellous Malvas

musk mallow

musk mallow – Malva moschata

If you like both your food and your vegetable garden to look beautiful, then the Malvas are the plants for you. I grow two: musk mallow (Malva moschata) and common mallow (Malva sylvestris). Musk mallow is the prettiest – even its names are evocative. Its best feature is its flowers, which come either in fairy white or candy pink, are produced throughout the growing season and have a melt-in-the-mouth texture when used in salads. Their one drawback is that they don’t keep for very long once picked and will go rather yucky left in a salad bowl overnight. Their leaves are also useful and – yet again – very attractive, with deeply-cut palmate lobes. They taste fine and look great in a salad but unfortunately I’m not very keen on the texture and prefer them cooked as a pot herb. They are a useful plant for this as they carry on producing leaves throughout the winter.

Musk mallow is usually described as an annual but I have plants that have been going on for several years. It will usually self-seed quite happily and is a strong grower, enough so that it can hold its own naturalised in long grass. It likes a sunny spot.

Common mallow - Malva sylvestris

Common mallow – Malva sylvestris

Common mallow isn’t quite such a beauty as musk mallow, but it is perhaps even more useful. The flowers are smaller but still edible, the leaves are edible all year and its seed heads, known as ‘cheeses’, are edible too. It is a forest plant, meaning that it takes a bit of shade, making it an ideal forest garden inhabitant. All the mallows are members of the Malvaceae, a family that includes hollyhock, abutilon, marsh mallow, Hibiscus, okra (bhindi or lady’s fingers), Lavatera (tree mallows) and Sidalcea (prairie mallows). Pretty much all of them have flowers that are edible to some degree and some have edible leaves or fruits too. One obvious family trait is a certain mucilaginous (okay, slimy) quality, most famous in the okra-based dish gumbo. Both flowers and leaves of mallow have this quality, but not to an unpleasant degree. The people who appreciate mallow most seem to be the Morroccans and all the best mallow recipes come from there. It’s used to thicken a soup called harira which is used to break the fast during Ramadan.

There’s a rather fine recipe for Wild Celery and Common Mallow Harira at Professional forager Miles Irving recommends wilted mallow leaf and scrambled egg for breakfast and shares a fascinating recipe for mallow soup with smoked oil. Personally, I’m happy to put mallow leaves in almost anything, including salads, soups, stews, stir fries and pasta sauces, and also use them cooked on their own as a sort of spinach.

mallow flower

One problem with pretty much the whole mallow family is a susceptibility to Puccinia rust, which causes orange flecks to appear on the leaves as if they have indeed gone rusty. One or two varieties of mallow, such as ‘Zebrina’ have been bred for a degree of resistance, but I haven’t found one which is also tolerant of the cold in these parts. I’m hoping to cross Zebrina with a locally-collected strain to produce a cold-tolerant, rust-tolerant mallow.

Opium poppy

For pleasures are like poppies spread / You seize the flow’r, its bloom is shed. – Robert Burns, Tam O Shanter

I recently walked into my allotment to find a Bangladeshi friend looking enquiringly at my poppies and asking “Are those poppies … like in Afghanistan?”. The answer was yes, but I’m afraid opium poppies aren’t as interesting as they sound. You need a hot climate to make much of the ingredient that gives them their Latin name, Papaver somniferum. On the other hand, they do produce very tasty seeds, enough of which tend to get spilt to ensure that if you sow them one year you will have them coming up for ever more.

The way the seeds are shed is very elegant and pretty handy. The spherical green seed capsule slowly dries to brown and as it does so it reveals a ring of pores around the plate at the top. If you turn it upside down the seeds cascade out like a pepper shaker. I pick them off just as they turn and put them into a large bowl. A bit of shaking up and almost all the seeds fall out into the bowl.

When fresh, the seeds have a delicious nutty flavour that makes me quite happy to just scoop them out of the bowl and eat them by the spoonful. Being seeds they are particularly nutritious and full of protein. I also use them in more traditional ways in baking bread.

In world cuisine, poppy seeds have much wider uses. In central Europe, they are often made into a paste for filling pastries and in the Balkans there is a poppyseed version of halva that I like the sound of. The one that I think I will try myself though is their use in making korma curries. The seeds are dry-fried, then ground and added near the end of cooking.

Although poppy seeds keep for a long time, they lose their nuttiness, which is probably the poppyseed oil evaporating from them, so they are best used within a few months.

Photo by Andy Coventry

Cherry plums

Cherry plum (Prunus cerasifera) is described by Andrew Lear (a.k.a. Appletreeman) as ‘Scotland’s most undervalued fruit’ and I completely agree. It is just a little too big to have in my allotment, but I would definitely have one in a larger forest garden. Fortunately, in Aberdeen I don’t have to grow it myself as they are all over the place in my neighbourhood. It’s one of the first plums to flower, so it’s often planted as an ornamental, and it makes a good hedge (although don’t expect any fruit from it growing it this way), and abandoned hedges sometimes grow into dense rows of fruiting trees. Whatever the reason, there are long lines of cherry plums in my local park and behind the nearby botanic gardens.

cherry plum

Cherry plum fruit is very variable. With some you can clearly see the reason for the common name as they are no larger than cherries, others are more plum-sized. The colour ranges from yellow to a speckled red through to a dark, plummy purple. Taste and texture vary too, but in general they are nice, but not strongly flavoured for plums. They are generally poor keepers and have a habit of falling off the tree the second they are ripe (although again, this varies). This means that they are not the best eaters, although they are juicy and somewhat moreish when munched directly off the tree.

Where they really come into their own is when they are cooked. This seems to enrich the flavour and they make lovely jam. I usually make dozens of jars every year and it is easily my favourite jam. They often fruit very heavily, so it doesn’t take long to gather bucketloads. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you how to make jam, so I’ll just pass on a couple of tips. Ripe cherry plums are soft and fleshy, so it’s easy to get the stones out of them before you cook up the jam. Either use a cherry-pitter or just use a sharp knife cutting down on top of the stone and forcing it out. This saves all that mucking about skimming stones off the top of the boiling jam. The other tip is not to add water to the recipe. Just put the sugar (I use about half the weight of the fruit) on top of the fruit (cut in half) in a bowl and leave it overnight: the sugar draws the water out of the plums and in the morning they will be floating in their own juice.
The cherry plums in our park have become very popular and these days I have to fight for a share. Here’s a recipe for cherry plum chutney from the park’s Facebook page.

  • 900g plums
  • 2 medium onions – roughly chopped
  • 700g mixed sultana and raisins
  • 600ml spiced malt vinegar (or malt vinegar with a pinch of allspice)
  • 500g brown sugar
  • 15g ground ginger
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 45g salt

Chuck everything in a big pan. Let it simmer for 40 mins until thick and jammy. Remove the plum stones as they rise to the top of the mixture. Spoon into hot jars and seal with lids. Makes approx. 5x 450g jars of delicious tasty chutney!

There seems to be a lot of confusion between cherry plums and another kind of plum called the mirabelle. This isn’t helped by the similarity of the alternative name for the cherry plum – myrobalan plum – to mirabelle. It is hard to be sure whether the similarity reflects the two words coming from a common source, representing long-standing confusion, or whether they just happen to be similar-sounding names from different sources (etymologies are given for myrobalan from Ancient Greek μυροβάλανος (murobálanos), meaning something like ‘juicy date’, and for mirabelle from Latin ‘mirabilis’). The two kinds do indeed look very similar, but the true mirabelle, Prunus domestica ssp. syriaca, is a much more southerly plant, flourishing mostly in the south of England on this island. Unfortunately the confusion spreads into the nursery trade, so it can be difficult to be sure whether what you are being offered is a cherry plum or a mirabelle. There are a few named varieties of cherry plum, such as ‘Gypsy’, ‘Countess’ and ‘Golden Sphere’. ‘Countess’ is a freestone variety, meaning that the seed is not stuck to the flesh of the fruit but separates easily.

Cherry plums grow easily from seed and I have been planting seedlings around the housing estate where I live to provide for the next generation of foragers. If you grow seed from a tree that you like, you have a good chance of getting a good tree, although unfortunately there is also a good chance of getting a cross with an ornamental variety such as ‘Atropurpurea’, which rarely make good fruit. They also seem to cross readily with my Japanese plum (P. salicina) tree, which has the same chromosome number (2n=16). Alternatively, if you have found a tree with good qualities, you can produce an exact clone by grafting cuttings. Cherry plum seedlings are widely available as hedging plants and could be used as rootstock, or you can use a standard plum rootstock like St Julien. Plums can also be cloned by detaching suckers (shoots thrown up from the roots), but in my experience cherry plums are less keen to produce these than other plums.

Finally, it used to be thought that domestic plums (P. domestica) were a cross between cherry plums and the blackthorn or sloe (P. spinosa), but apparently there is now evidence that P. cerasifera is the sole ancestor of all our domestic plums.

Japanese plums

Japanese plums

I harvested my favourite fruit today – Japanese plum (Prunus salicina) They look like the sort of plum you would get in the shops, with one subtle difference – they have flavour! Not just any old flavour, but the richest, most complex flavour I have ever come across in a plum, plus a juicy, melt-in-the-mouth texture. In fact, they are the same species as the hard, tasteless supermarket ones, but growing your own allows you to harvest them ripe and experience them as they really should be.

Nor are the virtues of Japanese plums limited to eating raw. They are surprisingly good cooked in savoury dishes: they are great frittered and the plum stir-fry season is one of the keenly awaited annual culinary milestones in my household. They also make an exceptionally good fruit leather, either on their own or in mixes with other fruit. My favourite fruit leather of all is pure Japanese plum with a little bit of ginger added. They can also be into thin strips and dried. The result is very tasty and stores well. On the other hand, Japanese plum jam is only okay – I think that tarter plums such as cherry plums generally make better jams.

Their all round deliciousness isn’t lost on the local wildlife and the big hazard with Japanese plums is that the birds and wasps will get them before you do. Fortunately, they ripen up well on the window sill if you pick them a few days early and that is what I generally do.

I am always surprised that Japanese plums haven’t become more popular in Britain. Perhaps it’s because most fruit guides will tell you that they aren’t very hardy here, but my biggest tree has been growing for over two decades in Aberdeen and fruits well every year. I strongly recommend seeking out the cultivar ‘Methley. which I believe my original tree to be. I have planted some other cultivars since, without nearly such good results. Unfortunately the two nurseries I have bought trees from in the past both seem to have gone bust, but Orange Pippin Trees sometimes have stocks.