leafy greens

gewone melkdistel1

(Nederlandse versie hier)

Common and spiny sow thistle (Sonchus asper and S. oleraceus) aren’t just two very common weeds, Both of them are also very tasty free vegetables, and they even do pop up right in the vegetable garden: Both are best used young, before they flower, and can be used to replace a slightly bitter lettuce or endive, were it not that they are often quite prickly, being a thistle and all. This makes them not that suitable for raw use (depending on the specimen,  some are still soft enough for a salad, and the leaves are, always very soft and tender, regardless of the spines). I mostly use them for my wild ‘andijviestoemp ” (Flemish traditional mashed potatoes with endive, very delicious with a baked  sausage), or a simple mixed vegetarian lettuce soup, like I did ​​today.

The recipe for the soup is very simple:

1 onion
1 small potato
2 hands of  milk thistle leaves
a borth cube, salt, pepper

Cut the onion into small pieces and fry,  add potato cubes and chopped milk thistle and let simmer with a little water; Add broth and herbs, and then when everything is cooked, mix with an immersion blender.  Add water and then let it cook for the flavors to mix and develop some more …

That’s all…
It’s just a nice simple vegetarian summer-soup, made of a vegetable that you would otherwise just have disposed of as a weed …

Tip: this kind of mixed soups has an even better taste the day after you’ve made it …



(Dutch version here)

This winter I’ve been seed-swapping around a bit, and that means I’ve also obtained some things that were unknown to me, from all over the world… One of these things is something called ‘garden huckleberries’, a type of edible annual berry-bearing plants that seem to enjoy a naming confusion in both common english names and scientific name. The seeds, of which I only have a zwarte nachtschade1few, arrived from 2 different sources, as ‘Solanum burbankii’ and ‘Solanum melanocerasus’ (and the seeds do look a bit different as well), but if you look those up on google they seem to have a lot of synonyms too. S. burnakii is also known as S. retroflexum and wonderberry or sunberry, and S. melonanocerasum is sometimes seen as a subspecies of S. nigrum, the infamous black nightshade, a plant both resemble and are close related too.

But wait, we’re talking about edible berries here. Wasn’t the infamous black nightshade one of those legendary poisonous plants? That’s what everybody knows, right?

That’s what I have believed all of my life, and what a lot of people think. But is it true? Some people seem to doubt it. (read the linked article!!) And upon looking further it seems that both the (ripe) berries and the leaves of S. nigrum and its close relatives (sometimes lumped together as the ‘Solanum nigrum complex) are eaten by people in Asia, Africa and Nprth-America and even Europe. The ripe berries (unripe berries are considered poisonous) are eaten raw or processed as a fruit, and the leaves are eaten as spinach, sometimes explicitly after getting rid of the boiling water.

So there’s 2 possibilities about the edibility of this poisonous plant: 1. there are indeed very poisonous plants in the S. nigrum complex, and some of which are fine to eat, depending on the type, or 2. S. nigrum and its close relatives are all edible, but we think they are not. Most sources seem to think (2) but some people like Sam Thayer (who did a lot of research for his linked paper) seem to think that the plant isn’t that poisonous after all… After all it is a foodsource on all Northern continents in a lot of non-Western cultures..

It seems that people also confuse the black nightshade with the deathly nightshade (Atropa belladonna), which is one of the most deadly plants of Europe and surrounding areas. And coincidently, according to Thayer, people eat a lot of black nightshade all the time all over the world and do not die, but here in Europe we do not eat it at all, and regard it as poisonous, while the last 50 years no-one has died of poisoning with the plant, and most cases of earlier poisoning are likely to be Atropa-poisoning…

And yet, I’m still not going to eat wild black nightshade berries, but I’m going to give those garden varieties a try this year. Not that I expect too much of them, it seems that not everybody is that enthusiastic about the taste, but I’ll try a few plants of both ‘garden huckleberry’ varieties to see if the berries are indeed useful for desserts…

And no, I’m not ready to eat Solanum spinach at all… I’m okay with amaranth and pumpkin leaf and other versions of horta, but no nightshade please…

So here’s my question for the readers: Anyone here who knows more about the edible uses of S. nigrum plants, or who has seeds of edible strains used for spinach or with very tasty berries? Or anyone who knows of poisoning cases?


Some pictures from october, from right before the first nocturnal frosts…/Een paar foto’s uit october, van vlak voor de eerste nachtvorst…

Tomatillo (Physalis ixocarpa), rabarber/rhubarb (Rheum rabarbarum), biet/beet (Beta vulgaris), wortel/carrot (Dauca carota) , jaltomato (Jaltomato procumbens), bladbroccoli/leaf-broccoli (Brassica oleracea) , amarant/amaranth (Amaranthus ssp.) , postelein/purslane (Portulaca oleracea), Courgette (Cucurbita pepo)

Ijsplant/Iceplant (Mesembryanthemum crystalinum) tastes like something in between sour-salty watermelon and iceberg lettuce…/smaakt als iets tussen zoutzure watermeloen en ijsbergsla

Epazote (Chenopodium ambrosioides)

Niet nader geïdentificeerde blad-broccoli/ An unidentified leaf-broccoli… (zie ook foto 1/see also picture 1)



We are currently at my parents’  place for a couple of days with the children. It’s in their garden I grow most of my plants, So I can relax, and just try some experimental food stuff and do some works that need to be done in the garden  … Currently it’s a bit quiet here in terms of vegetables: pumpkins have been harvested, and a few things like the last beetroots (eh, some huge beets actually) are still there ready to be harvested. But not much exciting stuff going on at the moment…

The nocturnal frosts of last week killed off  a number of plants for this year, including the garden Nasturtiums, and the foliage of my oca’s, and I also noticed that the cold weather had done some damage to my Malva verticillata ‘ crispa ‘. I’ve noticed that this plant was totally gone last winter after a full week of temperatures below zero Celsius, and it had to come back from seed. So I tried to do something with the leaves before they were gone, but used them in for an afternoon soup. It was a recipe for a soup of Egyptian origin,  that I encountered as a child in ‘wild food’ by Roger Phillips, a fantastic book that I unfortunately do not have in my possession, but I did come across the recipe against when I was looking for recipes for Mallow on a Dutch site.

The original recipe is meant for Molokhia or Mulukhiyah, the leaves of the same plant of which jute is made (Corchorus ssp.), from the same family as our mallow species. It is apparently popular as a vegetable in (sub)tropical areas. This recipe can also be done with other plants of the family malvaceae, Roger Phillips used the common allow, and I have now tried with Malva ”crispa’. That curly mallow species (see photo) is a cultivar of an East Asian species, and also an old and not always that well-knoywn vegetable that grows quite well, and of which I still don’t know what what to do with. Except for letting it grown really big there’s not that much that I’ve ever done with it, except for some leaves in mixed salad or other leafy vegetable mixes then …

This mallow soup is very simple, but quite tasty. Mallow has a slightly slimy feel, but is otherwise a very tasty spinach-like leaf vegetable. I do not know whether an Egyptian would recognize his soup the way I made it, but I found it very tasty, and my family members who tasted it too last evening were also enthusiastic…

(My version was also somewhat ‘wilder’ than what I write down here, because due to a lack of garlic I did use some crow garlic (Allium vineale) bulbs.)

The recipe is simple, but fun to make:

Mallow Soup

A large bowl of mallow leaves, very finely chopped
Bouillon (water with broth cube for example)
garlic cloves
coriander and pepper
olive oil

Make a soup base with water and a broth cube. When it’s boiling add the very finely chopped leaves and boil through briefly. Turn the fire off then.

Crush the garlic with a garlic press and heat it with pepper and coriander powder in a small pan with a little olive oil until the color changes, and then add to the rest of the soup. Let the tastes mingle for a few minutes.

Serve for example  with brown bread and mature cheese (like this traditional ‘oud Brugge’ cheese). (Probably not specifically Egyptian, but a very good combination…)



(Original version posted on blog van Brambonius in dutch on October 6th, 2011, this version is slightly edited. Dutch version here)

Late last summer, just before the frost killed off everything, I managed to find the time to try a recipe that I had been wanting to do for a long time, but I hadn’t been able to find the right moment for it yet: an African stew of pumpkin leaves with peanut . Today I made a variation on the same recipe for my family, and it was very well received and  apparently it was worth repeating, so I though to also post it here.

About the most specific main ingredient: pumpkin and zucchini leaves (actually all edible varieties of Cucurbita pepo, C. maxima and C. moschata, but in Africa leaves of other species like gourds are eaten too) are very edible, though it is not very well-known over here. In Africa, however there are more dishes based on it, and it is a cheap, tasty and original dish if you have some pumpkin plants in your garden, and a nice extra from your pumpkin patch, apart from the pumpkin harvest itself.

Young leaves are preferred since older leaves can get quite tough, and in fact you can use all the young parts of plants, including young stems and flower buds. Wash them very thorough. If you don’t have any pumpkin leaves want to try this recipe nonetheless, you can still use other leafy vegetables, although the flavor will be a bit different probably. In the African cuisine amaranth leaves are used as an alternative in this recipe, but I think spinach, tree spinach or beet greens will also work fine.

The variation on chicken satay here is one that I invented on the spot. I vaguely had ordinary satay from the supermarket in mind, but also Japanese yakitori. The use of a baby pumpkin (just a very young immature pumpkin, the size of a peach), adds a special touch. The taste is somewhere between pumpkin and zucchini if you harvest it young enough. This year I didn’t just use a baby yellow pumpkin, but a young fruit of an accidental cross between zucchini and spaghetti squash from seed that I had saved from a spaghetti squash last year. (See photo left. Taking pumpkin seed yourself without precautions against intercrossing is not the best idea if you have more varieties. Both varieties are Cucurbita pepo and can easily cross, and crosses between pumpkin varieties can be very tasty, or disappointing in terms of edibility. This one was good and fitted perfectly into the dish.)

ingredients for 2 persons:

pumpkin-leaf stew:
1 onion
1 medium tomato
peanut butter
curry powder
salt and pepper

1/2 chicken breast
1 baby-pumpkin
1 half peppers
Japanese soy sauce
chicken spices
white wine
(And skewers)



Pumpkin Leaves-peanut stew:
Wash the pumpkin leaves thoroughly, chop them into small pieces, and fill about three quarters of your pot with it. Then add chopped onion to it, and let simmer for a while with a minimum of water with your pot closed. when the vegetables are tender and cooked thoroughly, add the tomatoes, chopped into small pieces, and season with curry powder, salt and pepper. Keep it on the fire until the tomato is tender (add a little water if necessary) and then add 2 tablespoons peanut butter) You better put the heat lower, and now stir continuously and let simmer a bit.

Chicken satay
Cut the chicken breast into cubes, and let marinate for at least 15 minutes in a mixture of Japanese soy sauce, chicken spices, a little white wine, salt and pepper. Cut the baby pumpkin into very thin slices, and do the same with half the pepper.(The second time I made this recipe I used onions instead of paprika, and that works well too!)

Thread the chicken cubes on a satay stick alternated with one time a narrow slice of pumpkin baby, the other time a slice of pepper or onion. These skewers are then baked in the pan until tender.

Just  prepare it as you are used to. I like it with sticky rice.

Serve with a nice red wine!



(Dutch version here)

Quickweed, Galant soldier, or Galinsoga is one of the most terrible weeds that make work in your garden a lot harder here in Belgium, and in big parts of the world.A very fast-growing annual that  disappears as soon as the first frost comes, but it does spread a lot of seeds and will be back as soon as the temperatures climb back at the end of spring.

Less known is that this same plant, under the name of ‘guasca’, is a very important kitchen ingredient in south-America for certain dishes, like the Columbian ‘ajiaco‘,a very heavy soup with chicken, 3 types of potatoes, and whole combs of sugar-maize that are cooked as a whole, for hours and hours until the small potatoes have dissolved. If you go looking on the internet for recipes you’ll find it described as very mysterious native stuff from Anti-Americanism Mountains, but in both Europe and N-America you have a big chance it’s growing in your garden, and that you’ve even been cursing it!

There are 2 species of Galinsoga in Flanders and in this part of Europe, (G. parviflora and G. quadriradiata), and identifying them is more for specialists. Both can be used in the kitchen, but be sure to use young plants, and don’t use too much stems. When they start to form seeds the edibility of the plants goes backwards..
My first try to make something like ajiaco (but with influence of our Flemish chicken waterzooi) did not have 3 species of Andes potatoes, but 2 varieties of waxy potatoes, one with a yellowish peel, one with a red peel. Also I didn’t use combs of maize but just a simple little can of sweetcorn-grains. Recipes say that it should be served with slices of avodaco, capers and sour cream, but I didn’t have sour cream so I made some guacamole.

The result was surprisingly good, and a very strong soup good for a whole meal. The guascas contribute a very interestingtaste that is (to me at last) quite new, and that reminds me of sunflower petals (am I the only one to ever nibble on those?) New combinations with it are waiting to be invented! But for those interested, here’s the first aijaco-recipe:

ajiaco-waterzooi with guascas (for 2 persons)

1 onion
1 shallot
1/2 chicken breast
2 red potatoes
2 yellowish potatoes
2 big handfulls of fresh guascas
2 cubes of chicken broth
1 tomato
a hanfull of fresh peas
1 small can of sweetcorn
pepper, salt, chilli pepper, oregano…
1 avocado
1 spoon of yoghurt

chop the onion and shallot in small strips, and sauté them in a little oil. Cut the chicken breast into small pieces and fry it with some of the chopped Galinsoga. Then add the potatoes, diced or sliced. (I vary the shape of the pieces per variety.)

Add a can of sweetcorn grains, peas and a diced tomato, and cook everything for at least an hour simmer (don’t forget to stir occasionally)  until the potatoes begin to dissolve and a thick sauce is formed. Add new water when it all is boiled away. Add the rest of the chopped quickweed 10 minutes before you serve it.
Meanwhile, make some guacamole with a soft and ripe avocado and a spoon of yoghurt, some lemon juice, salt and pepper, and pepper. Before serving add guacamole ass well as capers like you prefer it.

Serve with red wine.

A vegetarian / vegan version should also work very great here btw!

What’s growing in the garden this year? (For some reasons I only take pictures of the more special plants… There are also a lot of more regular vegetables like peas and beans, pumpkins, radishes and beets. But these are more ‘cool’ I guess…

The first one is Shungiku, the Japanese edible chrysantemum (Chrysantemum coronarium) , which is actually from the south of Europe, but like burdock (Arctium lappa) and water-pepper (Polygonum hydropiper) that both are native here, is is not at all eaten where it grows in the wild, but cultivated in Japan, where it doesn’t originate at all….


The second one is the famous Oca (Oxalis tuberosus), the Andean wood-sorrel tuber.  I lost most of my tubers because it let them in the ground, and we had a complete week of frost in februari, but the ones I’ve saved are starting to grow.

These are tree spinach seedlings. I really like the color of this plant, and the taste. I wrote about them earlier. I still have some seeds if anyone would like them….

This is a young tomatillo plant (Physalis ixocarpa). A physalis species that is used as a vegetable in Mexico, where the unripe berries are used for a salsa sauce. The last 2 years I’ve been growing white ones, this year I try the black ones as well…

This is my favorite type of rocket-salad: the perennial wall rocket (Diplotaxis tenuifolium). Perennial leafy salad plants are very interesting! This species is sold, but my plants are from seed that I’ve collected in the wild.

These are baby Mashua or Anu (Tropaeolum tuberosum ‘Ken Aslet’) plants, another Andean tuber, and one with a strange reputation. It seems like not all people like the very particular taste (like you can see it’s closely related to garden Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus), which might say something about the taste.) and it is also reputed as an anaphrodisiac for men if eaten too much. I’ll find out more about it

This is a blue potato ‘Vitelotte noir’ (I suppose, there was no name of race on it but that’s the most sold blue potato over here) and I also have another weird potato race called ‘corne de gatte‘. I suppose both are Solanum tuberosum, but I’m not 100% sure. (notice the tree spinach seedlings, that’ll end up in the salad if I weed them out…)

And here is some Elderflower (Sambucus nigrum) which I use to make a very tasty lemonade!

And the last plant is the ‘weed orchid‘ (Epipactis helleborine) that comes up between the herbs. The only common wild orchid over here. But hey, an orchid is an orchid, and doesn’t get weeded out just for nothing..

And finally, something else: A dragonfly that wasn’t afraid at all when I put my cheap camera quite close to it to take this picture. I think it’s the broad-bodied chaser (Libellula depressa).



Ground-elder (Aegopodium podagraria) is olne of the most agressive weeds that one can have in a garden in this part of the world. A quasi-undestructable plant that made the hairs of quite a lot gardeners turn grey long before their time. But maybe the hate that some people direct towards the plant is quite exaggerated, in fact it’s not ugly at all, and a very interesting native ground-cover, which bears beautiful white flowers in the spring. The fact that not everyone hates the plant can be proven when we see that there are even garden varieties of this plant.

But ground-elder is quite useful too on other domains than aesthetics, and it actually has a long and interesting history. The Romans used it as a vegetable, and they imported it everywhere, to have a very easy source of food, and the plant is indeed a tasty and nutritious vegetable. Very young leaves can be eaten raw, but the older leaves are too tough, and taste too strong. They are better when cooked. After flowering time the leaves are too strong and they become inedible. The taste is somewhere in between parsnip, chervil and celery, a mix of other members of the umbilifer family.

It is also used in herbal medecine against rheumatism and painful joints, and this use dates back to the middle ages, when monks grew the plant specifically for that person.

If you still want to fight the plant, in spite of all it’s usefulness, then the best way is to exhaust it. Pulling and cutting away every part of it until all underground storage is lost and it doesn’t come back. You can use those leaves in the kitchen, and it’s possible that you start to miss it when the time is there that you’ve finally gotten rid of it…

This simple soup is one of my summer soups, and very similar to my basic recipe for nettle soup. It appears to be very popular, and it also is very easy to make, and quite cheap!

!!If you collect plants in the wild (even in your own garden), you should always be sure that you have the right species, so use a good flora or fieldguide. Never use anything unless you’re really sure!! The umbilifer family happens to include some quite poisonous plants that no-one wants to put on his plate, but (at least in this part of Europe) it has no real dangerous lookalike, with the same leaves and the triangular stem profile if you cut of the leaves.

Groun-elder soup

1 onion
1 potato
2 hands of ground-elder leaves
broth-cube and water

Cut the onion in little pieces, and heat it with a little bit of oil. cut the potato in small pieces, wash and  and slice the ground-elder, and add it to the onions. Let it boil with a tiny bit of water, until everything is soft. Then add more water and a broth cube, and go through it with an immersion blender until there are no pieces left. Let it boil again so the tastes can mingle some more.

serve hot!



(English version, for the dutch version see here)

I do have some self-grown tree spinach seed packs left, and I’m willing to trade them for other seed, or you can come get them in Antwerp and buy me a beer for it in a local pub, or I send them and you pay back the cost of shipping!! Contact me at Brambonius [at] gmail [dot] com

Tree Spinach (Chenopodium giganteum ‘magentaspreen’) is one of the easiest plants found in the category of ‘unusual vegetables’, and one that can be satisfying to grow without much problems. The name already suggest that the plant is related to spinach, and can be eaten as such, but unlike you might think it isn’t a tree at all. It is just an annual herb, though one that can grow up to about 3 meter in one summer when the circumstances are right.

Tree spinach is just one name on the list of goosefoot-like plants that can be eaten as a vegetable, a list which also contains names like real spinach (Spinacia oleracea), strawberry blite(Chenopodium capitatum) ,orache (Atriplex hortensis) and the beautifully named plant called good king henry(Chenopodium bonus-henricus). It also is closely related to Quinoa (C. Quinoa) of which the seeds are used but which has also edible leaves. Even closer is it to the white goosefoot or fat hen (C. Album), which is one of the most common weeds on the planet, and also an edible green that can be used in the same way.,. The tree spinach is more robust than his relatives, and also more aesthetically interesting: the young tops are powdered with fluorescent violet, which makes the plant very decorative in both the garden and in a salad. The color will disappear when cooked though.


The use is quite simple: the young leaves and growing tops are edible when cooked or used raw in a salad, and the older leaves can be used cooked. Young flowering tops should be edible also, but I don’t have much experience with them. So as a rule of thumb you can use the tree spinach for everything you’d use the real spinach for, and for any kind of salad

 The seed can be used also, but it’s quite hard to collect in a pure form. The seeds are much smaller than those of quinoa, and more like those of fat hen, a plant which isn’t used as a grain plant anymore although in prehistoric times it has been used that way here in Europe. Since the plant does produce plenty of seeds it’s probably something to experiment with for more adventurous gardeners….

 Growing tree spinach:

Tree spinach is extremely simple to sow, and survives on most soils (in a temperate climate) but with the right amount of water and sun it’s grown really fast. You can seed them inside in little pots and later plant the seedlings out, or you can sow them outside on the spot, like you want. The only rule is to not cover the seeds with sand, because they need light to germinate. It’s important to remember that the plants grow te be real big though, so don’t plant them too close to each other. When the plants are 20 cm ofr so you can start using the young leaves and tops, which will grow back. The plant can be harvested until it starts to blossom and form seeds after the summer.

 Tree spinach is an annual plant, but if makes plenty of seeds that are easy to collect. Just don’t let too many plants make seeds and spread them, the plant is self-sowing and forms a seed bank, out of which new seedlings will appear whenever the seeds come to the light…

 !!Warning: Like other leafy vegetables including real spinach you have to watch out for nitrates. If the plant is grown somewhere where there’s too much nitrogen in the ground (chemical fertilisers!!) the leaves can contain a lot of nitrates, so it’s better then to boil the leaves for a short time and throw the boiling water away before using them in your recipe!