FOOD The wide, wild world of veg

Outdoor Living


Wild garlic grows in abundance in Irish woodland during spring.
BUSH TUCKER?Wild garlic grows in abundance in Irish woodland during spring.

The wide wild world of veg

Hans Wieland

What’s your favourite dinner? Meat, two veg and potatoes was once the standard answer from many of my Irish friends. Coming from Germany, I was baffled that potatoes were considered to be in their own special food category – but what did I know about Irish people’s obsession with potatoes! That was 25 years ago, when nearly all my neighbours grew potatoes, cabbages and some parsnips and carrots.
Things have changed since. Many any more people – not just vegetarians – now see vegetables as the heart of the meal and meat sometimes as an accompaniment. The obsession has moved on from potatoes to broccoli, a vegetable that has become associated with being anti-carcinogenic. And the oca tuber is now competing with the humble spud (see my March 5 article ‘New potatoes and old ocas’, available on
Home-grown vegetables are valued more highly now not only for their flavour but also for their nutritional value as part of a healthy diet. At the same time more and more new vegetables and varieties have appeared on the market. But there are plenty of ‘old time’ foods there to be rediscovered on our doorsteps – foods that often grow wild as well as in the garden and that also offer health benefits.  
My personal selection of these wonder foods include garlic, onion, mushrooms, rosehip, crab apple and sugar kelp.
Wild garlic is a real sign of spring – its unmistakable aroma permeating the shady woodland spots in which it grows. Towards the end of the season it produces beautiful white flowers. Some of the most popular traditional uses of garlic, wild and domestic, have been for treating colds, coughs, yeast infections, asthma, leprosy, bronchial congestion and gall bladder trouble. Garlic is believed to be good for the heart, as well as anticarcinogenic.
Onion is another healing vegetable. Research has shown onions to have strong anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-allergen properties, which could be why they are the starting point of choice for the cuisine of so many cultures around the world.
Use the ripe bright red berries of the common wild rose (rose rugosa) to make rosehip syrup or puree with honey. Rosehips are a great source of vitamin C.
When it comes to mushrooms, the only two mushrooms I can identify without a doubt, because my parents collected them all the time, are ceps (known as ‘porcini’ mushrooms in Italy) and chanterelles. Found in mixed woodland, bright golden, fleshy chanterelles grow mainly near beech and birch trees. They smell of apricots and taste fantastic. Mushroom season will be kicking off soon too…
I planted two crab apple trees at the Organic Centre with resounding success – last year, some branches broke off under the heavy weight of the fruit!
Another one to forage for sugar kelp – it’s one of my favourites, because we use it to make crisps. Although the tide has to be far out to be able to harvest it, it is easy to identify by its distinctive wavy crinkly appearance.

Hans Wieland is training manager at The Organic Centre, Rossinver, Co Leitrim, which offers courses, training and information on organic growing and cooking, and runs an Eco Shop and an online gardening store. For more information, visit
Gardening questions or comments? Contact Hans at