We were lucky enough to catch up with Franck Bortolotti, mountain guide in the summer and ski instructor in the winter, for one of his guided walks exploring edible plants. Franck was brought up surrounded by alpine skiing and the mountains.
“If the human environment is based on competition, the world of wildlife is based on cooperation” begins Franck as he commences his guided tour. The multitude of various plants all live together and support each other in the most incredible manner. As they communicate via their roots some even prepare the terrain for other species to grow whilst others reign in peace and harmony.
So, we start out on our trip only 50m from the village to explore our surroundings and discover commonplace plants growing in the wild.
Wild rhubarb is closely related to the dock leaf. Both sweet and sour, this well-known plant may be used in tarts, cakes, jams and purées. Cut off the stalk and pan fry it with a sprinkling of sugar. Leave to cool and you have a bowl of acid drops.
Qualities: rich in vitamin C, potassium and phosphor. It also supplies a good dose of calcium and magnesium.
Tip: A folded leaf can also be placed under a backpack strap during a hike for comfort and freshness!
Also known as ‘Alpine Ach”, edible celery may be found in every household cupboard. Its raw leaves may be used in relishes (in stocks and fish en papillote). Celery salts can easily be made by combining finely sliced celery sticks with coarse salt. And at aperitif time, the stalks are perfect dipped in a cream cheese and mustard dip.
Qualities: A very effective diuretic, it is also rich in calcium and vitamin C.
An extremely rich source of protein, vitamin C and mineral salts, the nettle is the king of edible wild plants. It is particularly rich in protein. It may also be used to make pesto for your aperitif by mixing nettle leaves, parmesan, olive oil, garlic and pine nuts, in soups, omelettes, cakes … the list is endless …. It’s also a perfect garnish mixed with butter and served with a platter of snails.
Qualities: containing not only zinc, calcium, magnesium and potassium, it is also a rich source of plant iron and vitamins C, and B.
The small flower buds (akenes) may be pan fried with a knob of butter. The small, young leaves are primarily served in salads. They are also perfect in soups and its sliced roots are great roasted. They may also be used as a coffee substitute. The inflorescence (the yellow flower petals) are often used to make “cramaillotte; also known as dandelion honey, whose delicate flavour is perfect both on bread at breakfast and on foie gras toasts.
Cramillotte recipe: Place 400g of inflorescence in 2 litres of water, add 2-3 apple cores and 2 orange quarters and boil for 15 minutes. Leave to cool. Remove the ingredients and boil once more. Pour into small pots and cool upside down. For a thicker consistency, add a sachet of agar agar during cooking.
Qualities: Rich in iron, protein and vitamin A and C.
Lemon thyme may be used to flavour fish dishes, salads and various desserts (fruit salad, cream desserts, flans etc)
Qualities: As a strong antiseptic, lemon thyme is used in tisanes for coughs. It is also very effective as a cataplasm for sore muscles as well as intestinal pains. It is also a good homemade moth repellent.
A foot note from Franck
Always use common sense and pick with moderation. Do not gather plants from the roadside, a path or field with livestock. Be careful and well informed about whether the plant is fit to eat. If you have the slightest doubt, ask an expert (there are many edible plant associations, training courses and books)
Never store mixed, picked plants in a plastic bag as they may give off toxic emanations between themselves. Carry each plant separately in a paper bag and pick your plants at the end of a walk so they stay as fresh as possible.
Rinse the plant 2 or 3 times in water before eating. In case of doubt, boil the plants at 100°c for 1 minute.