SSunday morning, a parking lot at the edge of the forest. “Are you here for the mushroom hike?” a man in an official-looking outdoor vest asks me. That would be obvious on the first rainy weekend in autumn, but today I want to collect wild herbs. With the professional support of Petra. She works for Wildschytz, the company offers guided herb and mushroom hikes in many places in Germany. More and more people are probably interested in this, in bookstores you can find hip designed books on the identification of wild plants. That fits the zeitgeist: what could be more sustainable and regional than eating weeds from the side of the road?
In fact, it’s a bit late in the year for fresh wild herbs. “Spring is ideal,” explains Petra, who is actually an engineer. Nevertheless, we found what we were looking for directly at the dingy S-Bahn station, on the small lawn next to the entrance, between cigarette butts and scraps of plastic bags, the Canadian goldenrod with yellow flowers is growing. These are said to taste like honey and the bitter substances contained in the leaves of the neophyte relieve stomach problems. Like Petra, I boldly pluck a leaf and bite into it, but I must have rushed the wrong choice, it tastes bitter. “You always pick the young, tender leaves,” explains Petra. The older ones contain more bitter substances and are tough. In addition, there is a higher risk that a dog – the natural enemy of the herb collector – has peed on it. The plant that we discover a few meters further on is even tastier. It looks like rocket: a wild rocket, explains Petra.
Alone I would have just walked past the plants, but Petra even recognizes inconspicuous undergrowth at the edge of the forest as wild carrots. However, she advises consulting a determination book or an app when in doubt. Rule number one when it comes to wild herbs: don’t eat anything you haven’t properly identified. The wild carrot, for example, can easily be confused with the poisonous dog parsley and, like many plants that we encounter during our walk, is wrongly reviled as a weed: tea can be made from blackberry leaves, and the dried root of the clove root tastes like – You guessed it – carnations. Others are good household helpers, such as the Rhine fern, which repels vermin, and the leaves of the ivy contain soap substances. You put a handful in a laundry net and add it to the next load instead of detergent; The poisonous leaves should not be eaten.
In general, I ponder, still with a bitter aftertaste in my mouth, about the term “edible”, which basically only means that the plant will not send you to the emergency room. “Non-toxic” does not automatically mean “tasty”. A lot of it is probably getting used to – such a lettuce is not a taste explosion either, the white goosefoot and the nettle probably just lack the right balsamic dressing. It is different with so-called spice plants, which have a strong taste of their own. In my eyes, they are withered stalks, which Petra is now pointing to, but these turn out to be garlic mustard. She picks a pod, opens it and gives me long black seeds to try. They taste spicy, like wasabi or peanuts. I’ll pocket a few in a minute. The leaves carry the flavor of garlic, reports Petra, just less intense and without the annoying aftertaste. That sounds promising. However, the young leaves only grow in spring – so I will start looking again next year.