Local chef João Marreiros from Loki restaurant in Portimão is a bit of a wizard both in the kitchen as well as out in the countryside where he regularly goes to pick a bit of this and a bit of that and then supplements his menu with what he’s found. He’s been writing into The Portugal News every month to let us ‘muggles’ in on a few secrets of what's growing and how it can be used.

As always this isn’t advice on how to pick them yourself, as obviously to avoid mistakes you should only do this in the company of somebody who really knows what they are doing, but it's still interesting to get a little bit of an insight into the incredible edible kingdom of foragers.

Indeed, asking people who really know is how João has come to know so much himself. Books and the internet are a wonderful resource, yes - but nothing beats asking somebody experienced. João grew up in Monchique, where he didn’t just start picking the local flora willy nilly, he first spent a lot of time picking the brains of all his family, friends and neighbours about what was what.

You never stop learning and this month it sounds like João has only just discovered this latest plant himself by simply stopping to have a little chat with his neighbour Dona Cândida. But I’ll let him tell you all about it…

Beta marítima l

Also known as ‘acelga brava’ in Portuguese or sea beet in English.

Near the entrance of Loki restaurant, a lady of a certain age passed me with a branch in her hand. Since she had a warm smile on her face and seemed to radiate a warmth, sympathy and wisdom that only time can sculpt, I decided to approach her and we had the following conversation:

(João) - Good evening neighbour, how are you?! Sorry for the question, but what do you have in your hand?!

(Dona Cândida) - I’ve got some celga, of course!

(João) - And what are you going to do with it?

(Dona Cândida) - I'm going to make soup.

From this little conversation, I learned that in the Portimão area it has been common to use this plant in their cuisine for generations. Dona Cândida’s parents used it for a wide variety of things from soups and salads to ‘guarnição do bacalhau’ (cod garnish).

Habitat: uncultivated land and prefers coastal areas.

Distribution: western and southern Europe, Caucasus, southwest and southern Asia and North Africa.

Parts used: leaves

Food uses: salads, soups and as a hot garnish.

Medicinal uses: it is used as a treatment for digestive disorders and in the treatment of anaemia.