Editor's disclaimer: This article is informational only - you should exercise extreme caution if you decide to eat wild flora and plants and doing so is at your own risk.
The art of hedgerow picking for nutritional foods is still very active in Cyprus. Each season offers the Cypriot a wide variety of edible wild flora and fauna.The village residents on the Southern side of the island can be seen gathering armfuls of greenery to be served for the evening meal.
Packed with vitamins and minerals, such as potassium, calcium,beta-carotene, vitamins C, E and B, Iron, phosphorus and many more, these fresh foods are a valuable part of the Cypriot diet. The Mediterranean diet is classified as one of the most healthiest eating plans to follow, adding fresh hedgerow produce adds the the nutrition of the Cypriot plate. If followed correctly, it can assist with weight loss.
Many of the foods eaten are classified as weeds in other countries around the world and pesticides have destroyed them. It is important to know the area that the food source will be gathered from, it must be free from chemical aids and car fumes. A sharp knife and scissors are used when cutting the plant. Ripping and tearing at it causes damage and can destroy the plant for good. Respect for the plant encourages new healthy growth.The minerals in the plants also contain medicinal properties, they contain ingredients that activate enzymes in the body. Enzymes are responsible for breaking down and sorting out the nutritional properties of our food. These properties are then distributed around the body to various organs. Chemicals activated by the hedgerow plants assist with combating ailments, such as; arthritis, Hypertension (high blood pressure), arteriosclerosis and many more health problems. Many target the liver and assist with cleansing the organ, this helps it dispose of toxins and fats much better. Milk Thistle is a well known supplement for this and it grows wild in Cyprus.
Other plants, such as the wild artichoke (above), and wild garlic are useful for lowering cholesterol and blood pressure. The wild garlic grows in abudance in the fields and hedgerows and is a valuable antiseptic/antibacterial for the gut.
Bramble is not considered just for its fruit, the blackberry. The leaves are an important part of the diet too. The leaves and flowers (when just buds), are used to make a tannin tea. This is used to combat diarrhea and to encourage the flow of a new mother's milk.
The Caper has a pretty flower and sharp thorns, but it bears a young shoot which is very popular with the Cypriots. The shoots resemble small, minute gherkins, they are as small as a baby's little finger or round like a little bead. They are preserved in vinegar and are known as ' Kappari' pickles. They are considered an aphrodisiac, have diuretic properties and assist with arteriosclerosis.
Chamomile, wild Marigold, Dandelion and wild Fennel also grow in abundance and are used for salads and tea infusions. Certain thistle leaves and stems are boiled or eaten raw. Seabeet (wild Beet) leaves are steamed, mixed with lemon an olive oil as a side dish. Purslane is collected for salads, it is rich in iron, it is also infused as a tea to combat headaches.
Salsify (above and also known as Goat's beard), bears a beautiful spikey flower, but only the stem and new leaves are used in salads. The Hawthorn tree and Carob tree bear fruits that are widely used on the island. Syrups and jams are made from them, they are often given as gifts. Wild pea leaves, especially the young green tips and pod, are also used in salads. Wild broad beans add to the wide, free food resources of Cyprus.
NB: If tempted to try hedgerow picking in your own country, hunt out an expert in the field of edible flora and fauna. There are plants that look tempting but are not edible and in some cases, poisonous.