Vegetable grower Anna Greenland champions organic methods of growing and likes to use the edibles she grows to cook fresh, seasonal dishes that support her health and wellbeing.
She started out growing vegetables for Jamie Oliver’s restaurant Fifteen, before becoming head vegetable gardener at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxfordshire. Anna is also the mastermind behind the fruit and vegetable gardens at Soho Farmhouse, which she created from scratch, so she knows a thing or two about growing your own.
Here, Anna shares her favourite recipes for Autumnal herbal teas, as well as some valuable advice for those thinking about creating their own vegetable garden. Plus, she tells us who she’d most like to go for a cocktail with and her favourite way to enjoy nature.
I. What is your favourite way to enjoy nature?
Taking long walks with my dogs to forage wild plants. Gathering food is a primal instinct and once you tune into the range of edible plants growing in the British countryside, walking will never be the same again. You'll always need a bag or basket and you'll forever be scanning the hedgerows. I live close to the coast in Suffolk, so this adds even more diversity to the plants available. Coming home and creating something with these plants in the kitchen completes the cycle, whether it’s a home remedy like Elderberry syrup or a nutrient-packed Nettle soup.
II. You have built a career on growing edibles. What is the best advice you can give to someone new to growing their own fruit & veg?
Go organic! By that I don't mean you have to be officially certified but follow organic or biodynamic principles that put soil health and biodiversity at the forefront. Our soils are being degraded year-on-year and without them we are toast! Soils are 'living' and packed full of microorganisms that need feeding. Learn how to make good compost or use green manures to build fertility. Healthy soil means healthy plants, and that means true health for you!
III.You like to make your own herbal tea; do you have an autumnal recipe that you can share?
I try to use herbs that are seasonally available in my garden, as opposed to those from far flung places. With the shift in seasons from Summer to Autumn, we may be more prone to common ailments such as coughs, colds and sore throats, which start to rear their heads. Thyme is a great ally for this as it acts as an expectorant by opening the sinuses. Plus, it is antimicrobial, antiviral and aids immunity. Make an infusion with 1 teaspoon of Thyme leaves per cup. Steep for 8-10 minutes covered to retain volatile oils. Drink 1-3 cups per day.
I also love making herbal Honey that can then be used in tea. Sage is a great winter weapon against sore throats, so instead of a throat sweet reach for Sage Honey! You can take it straight off the spoon, add to infusions or use as you would normal Honey. To make it, just add fresh Sage (harvest on a dry day) to a sterilised glass jar and top with raw honey to a ratio of 1/2 and 1/2. Wait to let air bubbles escape, then top with more Honey. Cover with a lid and leave in cool, dark place for 2-4 weeks until infused. Sage, Thyme and Honey have a certain synergy so add a teaspoon to your thyme tea to supercharge it.
(Do not take sage in a medicinal dose while pregnant and similarly do not use thyme in large quantities while pregnant.)
IV. What has been the most rewarding moment of your career so far?
I remember the first time I saw my produce appear on the menu at Jamie Oliver's Fifteen Cornwall. It just said "Anna's Beets", but it brought me more joy than anything I'd ever done! I guess it’s because I'd found something I was truly passionate about. More recently the educational work I do around 'grow your own' and herbs feels very rewarding. Be it talks, workshops or panels that I sit on. These are all ways to reach people and share knowledge. If someone goes away inspired to start growing and interacting with plants, then that is a wonderful feeling.
V. Who would you most like to go for a cocktail with?
Lady Eve Balfour, founder of the Soil Association. She died in 1990 but was a pioneer of organic agriculture and one of the first women to study agriculture at an English university. I love this quote from her “The health of soil, plant, animal and man is one and indivisible.”
VI. Tell me something you’re working on?
I'm currently setting up my own organic market garden in Suffolk to use as an educational space. There is an old threshing barn on the land that my husband and I are renovating as a sustainable build to live in. There's a huge amount of work ahead but when it all comes together it should a wonderful space for adults and children to learn more about 'grow your own'.