Edible Alchemy on Crete – Episode III – Cretan Wild Edible Herbs

Here at Edible Alchemy we are always expanding our skills and knowledge and sharing it with you! Foraging is just another in the skill-bucket and on the island Crete there is an endless amount of wild, edible plants to find.

If you have been to Greece, you will have probably heard about, and hopefully tasted, horta. (Χόρτα)

Horta directly translated means ‘weeds’ – but is widely understood as ‘wild edible greens’. One person’s weed is another one’s salad. Such as dandelion, wild radish leaves, wild leek, fennel etc.

Because of Crete’s mild winter climate – the south of Crete is even considered north African climatically – as well as the rain at this time of year, wild greens are simply popping up everywhere.

What kinds? Many that we know already like nettle, goose-foot, edible succulents like purslane. Many that are considered delicacies here that are serious pests elsewhere, like the dozens of varieties of dandelions. And then many varieties of greens that I have never seen growing anywhere else!

Aside from the edible greens, there are also many tea (i.e. tisane) plants here that are native to the island. One must be cautious when using these herbs as teas, as they often have a stronger taste than one is used to (I once overdosed on sage in a pumpkin soup using a ‘normal’ amount of sage with Cretan sage and couldn’t eat the soup as it was far too strong), and some of these tisanes and herbs have medicinal qualities.

Many people have forgotten the knowledge how to collect horta and what to collect. In larger cities, most people can simply go to the market and get what they need there without going into the backyard or up the mountain side and pick some themselves.

During this artist residency with Event Horizon on Crete, I have been introduced some horta experts and foragers to see how they do it, what they pick and how they prepare these selected greens.

Besides the joy of foraging out in the open mountain-sea air, there are many advantages of these wild leaves, flowers and seeds.

First, their wonderful delicate taste. Various kinds of bitters and sweets and even salty herbs mixed together to make amazing salads or spinach pies.

Second, the many sources of vitamins and minerals. Often because of their unadulterated wild qualities, they have more vitamins than conventional, greenhouse grown veggies says a study done by Trichopolou et al. (Food Chemistry 70 (2000) 319-323)

Third, they are part of getting to know your land. What grows where, in which soil and even get down to know how the soil is doing!

As Crete is an island with high mountain ranges there are many micro climates where various things grow and also at certain times of the year. You can find vastly different things in the mountainous regions up in the rocks, by the ocean with the salty air, somewhere in between and all around.

Click on the links below to check out the albums from our horta foraging adventures on Crete.

Album 1 of Foraging with the Experts by @Event_Horizon

Album 1 of Foraging with the Experts by @Event_Horizon

Ethical foraging comes with responsibilities and considerations

As a forager, it is smart to follow some basic guidelines for mindful and ethical foraging.   

Leave the first one you see

  • Be mindful. If there is only one, and you take it, there will be no more. When you find many more, just sporadically take in the area rather than clear-cutting the area or branch.

Be gentle and use a knife

  • Be gentle with the plant if only taking the fruit or leaves. The nicer you are to the plant, the more you can get out of it.
  • Use a knife for a cleaner cut rather than tearing the plant or ripping its roots 

Consider the plants lifestyle 

  • The pants you want may be sprayed, or simply exposed to lots of car fuels if on the side of the road, or in an ideal place for dogs to do their business. Be aware, as plants will have these materials as their inputs and then you too will take it in. Be aware of this especially when picking mushrooms.

Ask if it’s not your land

  • If you are on someone’s land, don’t be shy to ask if you can take a few. Maybe they would even want help picking all those apples or oranges so they don’t rot on the ground! But best to ask first – making new friends and connections is always a bonus!
  • If its private land, respect that – the weeds you want might even be sprayed with things you don’t want to consume

If in doubt, go without

  • Don’t take a lot of something you don’t know. It might be endangered, poisonous, or useless and that would be a waste.

Take only what you need

  • Leave some for others, for the animals and for seeing next year’s harvest
foraging wild plants

Want to learn some more about Greek Horta? There are few online resources out there, but the couple that I did find and found useful and that also coincide with what the locals teach me I will list here. #sharetheknoweldge

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