Several years ago, we were sitting in the summerhouse at the Sanctuary eating our lunch and one of my apprentices started talking about green powder. I’d never heard the term before but apparently it was something sold in health food shops for large sums of money. The shop variety contained spirulina and other green “superfoods” and the idea was to add it to your daily smoothie along with other nutritious fruits or vegetables.
Later the same year, my friend and herbalist, Lynne Tynan-Cashmore presented me with a jar of homemade green powder which she added to soups, stocks and stews during the winter to boost the immune system and keep everyone as well as possible. I began to do the same. Every time I made spaghetti bolognaise sauce, fish stew, sausage stew or impossible quiche, I sprinkled in a scoop of green powder. I also added it to bones when making stock.
The powder disappeared into the food but definitely added a richness and flavour. I was completely sold on the idea that green powder enhances whatever you are cooking and helps stave off winter lurgies.
There was no way I was going to spend money in a shop when this was something I could easily make at home. What plants would be suitable?
The first thing to do when making something for the first time is to wander around your harvesting area and decide what is there. Whether this is your garden or a local park, canal side or woodland, you need to be certain you can identify the plant correctly to ensure it is edible before you pick it. If you’re in a public space you also need to have permission of the landowner (if you’re on farmland) and make sure the plants aren’t contaminated by dogs, cats, foxes, rats or pesticides.
My basic ingredients for green powder are ground elder and nettles. Ground elder is a major invasive weed introduced to the UK by the Romans to provide a green vegetable during the hunger gap in springtime. You must only pick the young shoots as older plant parts will give you the “runs”. It is chock full of vitamin C and minerals.
Nettles also have to be picked early before they produce their strings of flowers in late May (earlier if the weather is hot). I tend to pick the top four leaves to eat in spring, then do a major harvest of vibrant green leaves to dry in early May. These get stored in jars for nettle chai and other drinks or for adding to soups and stews.
The more you pick nettles, the more new growth you will produce and the longer you will be able to harvest. Nettles are also packed full of minerals and vitamins and are invaluable both as food and medicine.
Other useful green leaves which grow in my garden are sweet violets (plants introduced from the farm) and sea holly (a plant bought specially because the young leaves can be eaten in salad in the spring). You could add fresh hawthorn leaves as those have been eaten as they emerge throughout history. Later in the year, I will dry nasturtium leaves as these, too are packed with minerals and have anti-viral properties. You could add herb Robert leaves, since those also boost the immune system, but not too many as the scent could be overpowering and they are quite difficult to dry.
My favourite herbs to add to the mix are marjoram (because I have loads growing in the garden and it spreads like a weed!) and lovage because I love the flavour. If I had enough parsley, that would go in the mix and small amounts of rosemary. Sage would be good too, but I tend to use all my purple sage in cough elixir and I don’t like it in cooking. Similarly, I prefer to use mint and lemon balm fresh in egg mayonnaise rather than stews. You could add it to tagines, but I find my homemade harissa mix enough.
If you like aniseed flavours or wanted to make an aniseed dominated green powder to use for fish or chicken, then adding fennel, tarragon, sweet Cecily and dill to the background of other green leaves would work.
If you have plants like chard, kale, sorrel, spinach, they can be dried too, but be mindful of only using small amounts if you or someone you feed is prone to producing bladder or kidney stones.
How to make green powder
Gather a basketful of green leaves and herbs. Make sure they are clean and wash in cold water if necessary, drying on a tea towel or air drying outside if the weather is warm, covering with a muslin cloth to stop them blowing away.
Place in a dehydrator at 40 degrees C for one or two days until completely dry. If you don’t have a dehydrator, place in a paper bag and dry in a warm place for several weeks until brittle to touch. Remove any obvious stalks from nettle leaves.
Pound the dried plant material into a powder using a coffee or spice grinder or a pestle and mortar. Pour the powder into a glass jar with a lid. Label and date.
Store in a cool dark place. Should keep for at least one year. If the powder loses colour and scent, you know it will no longer be any good and should be consigned to the compost heap. Add one heaped tablespoon to any meal during cooking.