The pandemic is still limiting our travel to Italy, so we’re digging up posts from our archive to hold us off until we can visit again. The article that follows is written pre-pandemic by one of our Local Hosts who lives in the Umbria region of Italy and is sharing with us about discovering wild herbs in Umbria.
After a long, wet winter here in Umbria, spring has finally arrived. And it has come in all its glory with a thousand different shades of green, birds twittering in the early morning and colorful fields of wild flowers and wild greens that the Italians love to gather. For years I have been eager to learn the various edible greens that abound in the fields and hills where I live in Umbria. At last, this weekend, a good friend of mine called and invited me to meet her in Casco dell’Acqua at 8:45. There we would join a group of eager gatherers for a 3 hour lesson on finding and picking greens.
I am a forager – I love to look for mushrooms, wild asparagus, eggs in a chicken coop or fish in a stream. Looking for the “erbe campagnole” was the one thing I still had not learned and now on a sunny, hot spring day in April I was heading out to forage.
We were a group of about 20 people on a mission to discover wild herbs un Umbria. Our three knowledgable “donne di campagne” (country women) pointed out and explained all the wonderful grasses that we could pick. I brought my basket and knife and started to head out into the field. If I saw something I thought was edible, I would cut it out of the ground and take it to one of the trusted women. Apparently, I have a long way to go because every time I showed her a green, she would take a quick look and then toss it back in the field exclaiming: “no, quella è erbaccia” (no, that is a weed). So I stuck close to her and decided to hone in on just two very good, but not easy to find greens – gli strigoli and i rapunzoli.
The “strigoli” were easy to detect once I got the hang of seeing the clusters of long, oval-shaped leaves with pointed ends. The “rapunzoli” are harder to find and a lot more work. These you find in places that are damp and humid, hidden in moss. You have to cut around the green and then dig under to pull out the carrot-shaped root that is the best part of the plant. After digging it out the root must be cleaned of its outer skin and then you can simply soak them in water and serve them up in a fresh salad.
While searching for strigoli among the olive groves it was also easy to find wild asparagus. One of my favorite spring time activities!
At noon we finished our treasure hunt and headed home to cook and prepare our produce. We made a tasty frittata using the strigoli and wild asparagus and a big salad with the rapunzoli, pimpinella, wild arugula and fresh lettuce from our local farm. I was so hunger and eager to taste the bounty that I forgot to take a photo! Next time!