Sunday 1 April 2012

Conquering Alexanders

Alexanders are everywhere you look at the moment, on, around and near the coast in Suffolk and Norfolk. In Southwold on a recent warm day the honey-like scent of the yellow flowers all along North Parade reached us from several yards away.

Alexanders are edible. The young shoots, the flowerbuds, the leaves and the seeds. Even the roots. They would seem to be the perfect forager food.

Only it's difficult to find that many people who like the taste. Apart from using the seeds as a spice (sort of lovage-like) I've never quite got used to it.

Last Spring at the
Low Carbon Cookbook meetings one or more of us would always bring some alexanders leaves and stems and bravely announce that maybe we hadn't got the preparation quite right and after all, Richard Mabey recommends them braised in butter, let's have another go. Not bad, not too bad, quite, well almost nice...

When Josiah visited last Saturday, I had been digging up some alexander roots in the garden and planned to cook the smaller, younger ones sliced lengthwise in a pan, slowly. He bit into one of the roots and it was so bitter he spat it out immediately.

Oh well, let's have some huevos a la mexicana (scrambled eggs Mexican style with chilli and coriander) and some of Malcolm and Eileen's salad leaves from the veg box instead.

As I was putting the finishing touches on Friday's post, I heard the front gate open and the sound of greetings.

I got up and followed the voices outside and the first thing I heard was a man saying, "I love alexanders."

Alexis had just arrived for the weekend from London (by train and then bike from Darsham). He and Charlotte are working on the pilot for a national Transition newspaper, the Transition Free Press and are spending the weekend knocking the editorial into shape.

Alexis couldn't believe how many alexanders there were around.

"You really like them? I mean to eat? Seriously?" I asked him. He was.

"Ask Sarah when she arrives," he said.

Sarah and Alexis have both been involved in North London's Transition Belsize since the beginning. They have also been instrumental in setting up community gardens, including one at the Royal Free Hospital, permaculture courses and foraging expeditions. Alexis is the author of Communities, Councils and a Low Carbon Future: what we can do if governments won't (Green Books, 2010) and with Sarah runs cuttingthecarbon to help "businesses, organisations and public bodies... understand climate change more clearly and to consider the implications of the inevitable end of cheap fossil fuels that will come with Peak Oil."

I picked Sarah up a few hours later from the station (she would have cycled too if it weren't for a broken leg) and as we drove past the alexander hordes lining the A12, she confirmed that they were in fact one of Alexis's favourite plants and he loved to eat them.

Luckily (for me anyway) alexanders weren't the only food around to be foraged. So far we have enjoyed two enormous salads picked almost entirely from the wild greens in the garden and the neighbourhood.

Here are some of the plants in this one. And PLEASE NOTE: DO NOT EAT the PERIWINKLE (Vinca major). It is FOR DECORATIVE PURPOSES ONLY and is harmful if eaten.

The rest is fine, including the alexanders!

Spring Salad mostly foraged by Alexis with help from Charlotte, Sarah and Mark, includes:

Primrose flowers
Sweet violet flowers and leaves
Salad Burnet
Dandelion leaves and flowers
Garlic Mustard or Jack-by-the-Hedge
Hairy bittercress
Hawthorn leaves
Japanese Mugwort
Rosemary leaves and flowers
Oh, and Alexanders!

Pics: Alexanders conquer Alexis in Southwold April 2012 (MW); Me preparing alexander roots which won't get cooked (Josiah Meldrum); Foraging in the neighbourhood with Sarah, Charlotte and Alexis (MW); Mega foraged salad - don't eat the periwinkles (MW); Foraged lunch (MW)


  1. Lovely post, Mark. I should point out that I had chopped alexanders with my omelette on day one, in my salad on day one, with my tortilla on day 2 and in my salad on day 2...

  2. That's a powerful salad Mark - not for the faint hearted!

  3. Yes a great post Mark, thank you. And for those of us not quite so ecstatic about alexanders for our breakfast, lunch, dinner and midnight feasts, thank you for providing a delicious abundant array of alternative greenery!.

  4. Alexis, I quite agree that Alexanders are a nice herb.

    Mark, do you remember the plants you gave me during that dry spring last year and that I said despite regular watering had died? Well, they're still alive :-) Thank you.

  5. Yes I do remember them Erik. It's great they survived.

    And now I recall that you were indeed more enthusiastic about eating alexanders than the rest of us at the Low Carbon Cookbook meetings last Spring.

    They're certainly living up to their name around here - they've even begun taking over conversations!

  6. Yes, I've got so much alexanders in the garden (threw some wild seed down one year, it never looked back), that I've stopped harvesting the similar ground elder from waysides. Young leaves of that are probably better in salads.
    Also not to be missed - ramsons (aka wild garlic), and sweet cicely.
    I also grow Babington leek, which I cook with alexanders in stir fries etc, and pre-fry together to go on pizzas. Contact me in September if you'd like some - see