Thursday, May 12, 2011

Foraging 12: Daisies, daisies, everywhere… and something to eat!

There is a flower, a little flower, With silver crest and golden eye, That welcomes every changing hour, And weathers every sky. – James Montgomery

Wild daisies planted in a garden border. Photo: Jerry, Flickr ccl
So the time is fast approaching, if it already hasn’t arrived where you live, when the perennials poke their heads through the ground and reach toward the sun.

There are three particular ones that I would like to discuss today, and all are named “daisies.” It can get a little confusing when different flowers share the same common name.

The ones of which I speak are Leucanthemum vulgare, Leucanthemum supurbum and Bellis perrenis. Huh? you say… Well, they’re all called daisy but are different beasts—and you are probably familiar with all three.

Leucanthemum vulgare. Photo: Wiki Common
Leucanthemum vulgare
The most common of the three is most certainly vulgare. Vulgare means “common.” This is the daisy that covers meadows, fields and ditches in Nova Scotia. It grows just about everywhere in North America and Europe and is a much loved wildflower. Children’s rhymes and poems often mention them.

In actuality, they’re a perennial herb. They’re also a bit of a weed, but an appreciated one as their bright flowers continue from late Spring to early Fall. They reach a height of no more than 2 feet, with 2 inch wide flowers consisting of white petals surrounding a bright yellow centre. They spread by seed as well as creeping rhizomes. 

If you want more of these around it’s quite easy to grant your own wish by collecting seed and sowing. Some people plant them in their flower gardens where they do well, but no matter how much you coddle them they will never be more than what they are in the wild. 

Shasta daisies now come in various forms.
Photo: beautifulcataya, Flickr ccl
Leucanthemum supurbum
That’s where Leucanthemum superbum comes in. This is the “shasta daisy” that so closely resembles its wild cousin. Shasta daisies were bred from previous attempts at improving the wild daisy for garden use. They were formerly classified as chrysanthemums, but have been moved to their own genus. Aster is the “umbrella” classification of both the wild and cultivated daisies.

Shasta daisies have all the characteristics of vulgare except they’re larger. They can reach heights of 3’ (I’ve seen taller) and are hardy in zones 4 to 10. Shasta daisies bloom a little later than the wild form, but continue to bloom through to mid Fall. They are attractive to bees, as are the wild form, and are resistant to deer, supposedly. Also like the wild vulgare they have a bit of a rank odor. This is quite common to a lot of the aster family from my experience.

Shasta daisies. Photo: rskoon, Flickr ccl

Bellis perrenis. Note how different the leaves are than vulgare.
Photo: Manuel M. Ramos, Flickr ccl
Bellis perrenis
Now Bellis is different altogether. It is a small low growing plant that besides being called common daisy (confused yet?) is also called Lawn Daisy or English Daisy. 

This is the tiny version of the daisy form with flowers that only reach 1” wide. The stems are leafless and only about 5-6” high. Sometimes the white flower petals are barely touched with pink. 

Although essentially the same flower in miniature as the others it is considered a nuisance for its propensity to populate lawns. Some cultivated varieties of Bellis are available in markets for gardeners. The flowers on these have been bred larger. 

Bellis also has astringent properties. Roman doctors accompanying legions would pick sacks of them for their juice which helped with battle wounds.

But what if you don’t often have sword fights? 
There are two things you can do: either enjoy the beauty of the cheery flowers, or eat them. Yes, eat them. The buds of vulgare before they open are perfectly able to be pickled like—and substituted for— capers. I have found a recipe. So tuck it away for it won't be long until daisy buds will be ready for pickling!

Recipe: Pickled Wild Daisy Buds

Note on harvesting: Use only Leucanthemum vulgare for this recipe. They’re plentiful and easy enough to find. Remember always ensure you pick from an unpolluted spot. That means no ditches… The flower buds must be harvested after they are fully formed – but before they show any sign of opening.

750 ml unopened daisy flower buds (3 to 3-1/2 cups)
7 black peppercorns
4 allspice berries
1 pinches of sea salt
6 mustard grains
1/2 garlic clove, finely sliced
400ml white wine vinegar (2 cups)

Wash the daisy flower buds and trim the stems. Allow to dry thoroughly. 

In a 450g jar* combine the black peppercorns, allspice berries, salt, mustard grains and garlic. Then pack in the oxeye daisy flower buds. 

Add the white wine vinegar to a pan and bring to a boil. Take off the heat, allow to cool slightly, then pour over the contents of the jars, filling them to the brim. Secure with vinegar-proof lids, label then store in an cool, dark, cupboard for at least 2 months to mature. 

* I have no idea how big a 450g jar is. Ours are in ml in Canada. I would suggest that it would be about a 4 cup jar, judging by the 3+ cups of buds and then the additions.

I saw online that a Montréal company sells 110 ml jars of these for for $6.99. The pickled buds can be used as a caper replacement in salads or added to sauces or stuffings for meat, chicken or fish. Perhaps we should all put some up.


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