It’s week 9 of the Urban Herbology Winter Foraging Challenge! This week we’ve had proper frost and I have been laying a woodchip path at my volkstuin garden and am getting really excited as I continue to plan the new layout and detail of that garden. Here’s a little walk around the new path:
This week’s herb is actually too young to harvest ethically at present. In the photos, you can see it’s only just above the fallen leaves, right now. If you harvest them now, you’ll deprive the plants from the chance to self-seed, you’ll deceive wildlife of food and you’ll deprive yourself from more of these delicious plants next year.
Here in Amsterdam, this plant is only a few centimetres tall right now and is found as seedlings. Now, the annual plant in question will eventually grow quite tall and the best time to forage it is during spring and summer. At that time the pretty whorl-leaved seedlings seem to grow a mile-a-minute. They make a fabulous spring cleanser and they smell and taste like lush, fresh cut grass.
However, several of my students have been noticing these little beauties recently so I felt it useful to post about them so that we can identify where they grow now, and return during the coming months, to harvest.
Cleavers (Gallium aparine), is this week’s foraging plant. I use it in general cooking, steamed as an interesting side vegetable, to stuff whole fish and I make remedies from it. This herb can provide gentle and effective nourishment for the lymphatic system.
Let me know if you find any of these beautiful seedlings. They grow in many varied locations but did best when growing amongst task stinging nettles, in neglected undergrowth and nearby chain fences, all of which can offer them support as they grow. And here’s a frosty Stinging nettle photo for you..
It’s week 8 of the Urban Herbology Winter Foraging Challenge! This week I have been foraging Jelly ear fungi from local Elder trees and making orange-jelly-choc’s from them. Delicious! My daughter will show us how to make them on this Friday evening’s zoom, for my course students. Details of the courses are here. Start and stop whenever you like!
This week’s features winter foraging herb is the humble yet beautiful Daisy (Bellis perennis). You can easily tell from the classic ray and disk flowerhead arrangement, that this is a member of the huge Asteraceae family.
Now, that plant family is one of the most common sources of plant allergen in humans, so go careful with it. It tends to cause contact dermatitis in those who are sensitive and the most notable allergens in the Asteraceae family are a group of chemicals called sesquiterpene lactones. Those secondary plant metabolites are present in the leaf, stem, flower and possibly also in the pollen. Individuals who know they are sensitive to those chemicals, or the Asteraceae family, should steer clear of handling and eating Daisy. People diagnosed with the issue some years ago, may know the Asteraceae family as the Compositae family.
Bellis perennis is often known as common daisy, lawn daisy or English daisy. The Dutch name is Madeliefje. It is a small perennial herb that is native to almost the whole of Europe. It has a long history of use in folk medicine in the treatment of various diseases, such as rheumatism and as an expectorant. There is evidence that during the ancient Roman times, army field surgeons used to gather up daisies, from along the roadsides, extract the plant juice, and use it to soak bandages which could be used to dress battle wounds. There are many other references to Daisy in old herbal texts.
In homeopathy, Bellis perennis remedy is used for deep wound healing, including post surgical healing. If you would like to make a flower essence, you will certainly catch people’s attention as the flowers of Daisy look so pretty, floating atop a bowl of spring water.
All of the daisies in my muddy, wintery photos today, lack any tinge of pink on the under sides of the petals but that is a common feature for foragers to look out for, when identifying the plant. One old story explains how that pink tinge came about:
“Rose, the queen of the flowers, had a party and all the flowers were invited. One little flower was left out, however – it was shy of its modest appearance and was happy to whisper its congratulations from afar. But the wind carried the flower’s words to the queen, who assured her that there was no need to be ashamed: Its dress was spotlessly white and it had a heart of gold. This made the little flower blush, and ever since then the tips of its ray-florets have been pink.” Extract from Aegean Edibles website – it’s an interesting website to investigate.
Daisy grows only to a small height of 2 – 3 centimetres, when in bloom and is very tolerant of trampling footsteps, so we often find it growing in lawns, paths and well trodden edges. At this time of year, it stands out to me because it is surviving in quite bare ground and also in ground where only Plantain and Ribwort (Plantago spp.) are usually to flourish. Interestingly, those plants also share some of the therapeutic properties of Daisy. At this time of year though, if we get a cold winter, the plantains dive undergound.
Crush a smooth fleshy leaf of daisy, or its flowers or even the underground roots and a pleasant green aroma is released as the sap inside is freed up. Bellis perennis has been found to contain many active constituents, including at least ten different saponins. The active constituents in this plant grace it with many healing properties. Daisy is known to be anti-inflammatory, astringent, digestive, antispasmodic, healing, laxative, purgative, antitussive, demulcent, and expectorant. I consider it a humble, ever giving, herbal medicine chest. There is increasing anti-cancer evidence, for Daisy but this plant shouldn’t be used as an anti-cancer treatment. Chewing leaves for mouth ulcers or making a salve from the flowers and leaves, is more the level of self-treatment that I think about, with daisy.
To eat daisy – eat only a little. This is a potent medicinal herb. You will need to forage in a clean patch of land. And you need to be non-allergic to it (see above note about the Asteraceae family). All this mention of allergies, makes it seem that many foragers will be allergic to Asteraceae plants. The reality is less dramatic than it may sound but we should be aware that it could happen.
There is not much chance of foraging for daisy above dog-pee height, as it grows on the ground but it can be grown in pots and it will grow as easily in clean soil as in trampled doggy spots. It does best in areas where the surrounding plants are not so tall and heavy that they completely shade the daisy out. So low cut grass – lawns – are perfect territory for this humble, edible and medicinal weed.
The flowers can be added to soups. The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked. Make sure they are clean, whatever you do with them. I find that the leaves taste pretty good as a salad ingredient, surprisingly good actually. Try the flowers or leaves as a tea. Dry them for later use.
If you don’t fancy your chances with eating daisy, you may like to try making a poultice of Daisy leaves, to use as an astringent, anti-inflammatory wound healer. Daisy is also renowned as an effective agent to calm bruises and to prevent them from forming. You could make an oil infusion and then thicken up the oil with some form of natural wax (beeswax, soya wax etc). Or infuse straight into a butter (literally butter or something more fancy such as shea butter).
Do let me know how you get on with your winter foraging. It is great to feel others are doing similar things!
So we’re now between Christmas and New Year and on week 7 of the Urban Herbology Winter Foraging Challenge! Are you managing to find a little something for the plate each week? I hope so. This week’s urban edible is a really easy to identify member of the Lamiaceae family – Yellow deadnettle or Yellow archangel (Lamium galeobdolon). I would love to know if you find it and make something with it.
This plant is native to the Netherlands, UK and a great many countries. In Amsterdam, it is found all over town, spreading ground cover in council plantings, parks, woodland, gardens and in random in between places. Yellow deadnettle is easy to identify. It can grow in very shady environments, but also thrives in full sun. Notice the silver white pattern on the upper leaf surface. That pattern does vary between species varieties but the common characterisic is the silver/white.
The stem and leaf arrangement is characteristic of the Lamiaceae family – square stems and leaves in opposite, alternating pairs. Crush a leaf and a pleasant green aroma is released. It has fine (but not stinging) hairs on the leaves and stems so feels a little bit rough, to touch. Later in spring / summer, knee high flower spies develop, displaying whorls of yellow classic mint family shaped flowers. But we are now focusing on plants for winter foraging, so you the plant will need to be identified without it’s blooms.
To eat, Yellow deadnettle is easy. The best parts are the tender young shoots and leaves but winter foragers can’t be quite so fussy and can do really well with sautéed leaves, from the freshest looking specimens. Harvest sparingly from plentiful patches of the plant, in the cleanest places. Wash well, chop and cook. I find they are also an easy addition to stir fries, risotto and pot type dishes as well as smoothies. The leaves dry well and make a pleasant herb tea. All in all, I think that Yellow deadnettle is a real Urban foraging winner and I hope you like it too!
It’s now mid winter in the northern hemisphere and here in east Amsterdam I have been busy with 6 of the Urban Herbology Winter Foraging Challenge. Several people have been reaching out and asking for more suggestions, of what to forage at this time so I am making a video and will post it later this week. Let’s see if anyone can find this little beauty, this week.. Chickweed (Stellaria media):
This is one of my favourite winter foraging plants. It has tiny, fresh green heart-shaped leaves, tiny white star-shaped flowers, a line of single fine hairs down the stem midrib of the plant. Those can be seen only by sharp eyes or through a hand lens so Chickweed identification provides urban foragers a great chance to get their hand lens out and look scientific. Chickweed grows close to the ground, often in convenient clumps from which we can tear off a small handful, without making a visible impact. One key feature of Chickweed midwinter, is that it looks so fresh and verdant. Not much else here looks so bright and pumped full of chlorophyll at the moment. It looks (and often is) far fresher and more full of nutrients than lettuce in the shops and this is my winter salad of preference.
When you tear open the leaves, it smells fresh and does not ooze a white latex sap. If you should find a little plant, looking quite like Chickweed and yet it does ooze white sap, then you have probably stumbled upon Petty spurge (Euphorbia peplus). Please don’t eat it at all and be sure to wash the sap from your skin as it is a classic garners skin irritant.
The photos this week are of a lovely clump of Chickweed which grows in one of my balcony plant pots – so nicely away from dogs, walkers and road spray. I didn’t plant it, it simply found the place and grows really well there. We get a few city birds which settle on the balcony railing to eat found seeds and bugs so perhaps one of them dropped the seed a while back. In any case, I welcome Chickweed and add a spring or two to my food, a few days a week. And in case you are wondering, yes Chickweed is a favourite of birds. They are sometimes found having a nibble. Always wash your foraged finds well, harvest ethically and very lightly and enjoy the bounties that urban nature provides!
It’s still looking tasty! Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is a wonderfully nutritious herb and is easy to incorporate into the diet.
It is also easy to find and identify. Pick the freshest, youngest looking tips at this time of the year. This body building, protien rich herb doesn’t worry about lock downs. It grows happily in all sorts of conditions and is one of my favourites. Stinging nettle is my fifth Winter Foraging Challenge herb.
It’s getting chilly and dark here in Amsterdam and already we are on week 4 of my Winter Foraging Challenge. Thanks to Louise for the comment and photos about Rosemary last week 🙂 Let’s see if anyone can find this little beauty, this week.. Crane’s-bill geranium:
There’s a lot of variety within this lovely, fragrant group of plants and many are planted deliberately in towns and cities. Examples being Geranium lucidim, Geranium rotundifolium and Geranium pyrenaicum. The pretty flowers are seldom seen at this time of the year but they keep their foliage through winter (although it is less appealing than in spring / summer) and a leaf or two make a great addition to winter meals.
Look out for large clumps of palmately-lobed leaves, atop long almost woody leaf stalks. The leaves are fragrant when rubbed or bruised.
It is the roots which are traditionally used in herbal medicine but I tend to only harvest the leaves. Some of the constituents found in Crane’s-bill roots are: tannins, gallic acid, starch, pectin, and resin. If you are interested to learn more, here is a useful link.
I look forward to finding out who can locate this little winter wonder herb and if anyone is brave enough to have a nibble…
This week’s winter warming herb is a strongly scented evergreen shrub which many people grow in urban gardens. There are a few Rosemary shrubs growing along my street and I am not alone in enjoying a small amount every week or so, in my meals.
If you are able to find some Rosemary, growing near you, I’d love to see a photo and learn what you like to do with it.
Rosemary is in the aromatic Lamiaceae family. It is known for its ability to stimulate the mind and digestive system.
So we are into week 2 of my Winter Foraging Challenge. Thanks to those who tried to find the nourishing leaf buds from Tilia trees last week. Some of you sent me photos of your foraged finds. No one sent me a Lime bud photo but in hunting for them, Stinging nettles, Elder and Dandelions were found so that’s very positive! I have included Agnesa’s Elder bud photo as these are really common at the moment, they do resemble Lime buds in some ways (colour, size, position on bark and timing) but they are not edible and are useful to learn about. Elder leaves can be very helpful additions to ointments and oils so worth keeping an eye on these and returning in the spring.
This week’s plant is the Common mallow (Malva sylvestris). I’ve found quite a lot of healthy looking plants around town lately so I hope you get lucky with them too. Here is a single leaf. Notice that pinky-purple colouration at the centre of the leaf? That’s really characteristic and helps with ID. Breaking the leaf or stem also gives another ID clue – transparent mucilage! It oozes from the broken plant cells.
I harvest just a couple of leaves (along with the long leaf stalks) from large clumps of this herbaceous plant, wash well, chop finely and add to my smoothies. They contain plenty of mucilage and although they look world’s apart, Common mallow actually belongs to the same plant family as last week’s Lime tree (Tilia spp.).
If you find any, I’d love to see a photo or two!
At this time of year, flowers on Malva are few and far between but you may find one and if so, it will look something like this one. Does it remind you of hibiscus? That’s because the plants are closely related. Hollyhocks too. I am a big fan of this plant family and will be foraging it occasionally, throughout the winter.
I’d like to offer you all a little winter-warming challenge. Come forage with me, however near or far away you are! Let’s track down some nutrient loaded plants, cook up a few treats and stir some strange brews to ease us all through the darkest part of the year.
I’ll add ideas here each Tuesday, of plants which can be found fairly easily and suggestions of what to do with them. If you find them, it would be great if you could send me a photo so that I can upload them and we can all see what we’re finding and creating. Fancy joining the challenge? Here we go for this week with:
Winter warmer #1: Lime tree buds They grow out of the trunks of these fabulous city trees. Several species of Lime (Tilia spp.) do really well in towns and cities so they are widely planted. Over 17,000 grace the streets of Amsterdam alone so I’m sure that there’s one not too far from you. When in leaf, you will know them from their heart shaped pale green leaves but at the moment, most of their leaves have fallen or are ready to fall so we don’t forage them.
Where to find them The buds however, are available year-round, if you know where to look. They grow out of the Lime tree trunk, from burrs or simply from low branches and twigs and they contain the leaves which will emerge next spring. So they are tiny, concentrated nutrient bombs and I like to forage a few when I am out walking in autumn and winter. Lime has a habit of being able to grow leaves all down its trunk, so occasionally you will find one with the leaf buds within easy reach.
How to forage them Select buds above waist height from large Lime trees. Snap one off, without causing further damage to the tree, clean it off and have a nibble. They need to be chewed for a while, in order to release the constituents. If you like them, take a few home in a paper bag.
How to use them Lime buds make a great snack to nibble on and they also taste lovely as a tea. They contain lots of mucilage which releases from the cells when chewed or soaked for a while. That’s very soothing for the respiratory system. Lime leaves have been found by many to be helpful for coughs, colds, fevers, headaches, inflammation, as a diuretic, general tonic, to calm the gut and to soothe nerves. These little winter gems are also packed with a gentle nervine. In general, Tilia is thought of as soothing, relaxing and promoting feelings of happiness.
Of course, be careful and follow the foraging rules. Occasional people have an allergy to any sort of plant. Lime belongs to the Malvaceae family, which contains lots of incredible plants and many are considered safe to eat but everyone is different. So as ever, take care and enjoy your foraging.
Find any? Did you manage this week’s challenge? Did you cook up anything with them? What did you think of the experience? I am very intrigued to know.
It would be lovely if you would send me a photo and I’ll add it to next Tuesday’s post. Please send your photos to firstname.lastname@example.org
A few photos from recent days. Recognize anything there? Any idea of what’s edible and what’s poisonous? This is a beautiful time of year and there is plenty to do in nature, whether that be watching it change or transforming parts of it into foods and medicines. Most important of all, I think, is to actually get out and enjoy it!
Reflection It is time to take stock. Time to dig deep and reflect on what’s going well, what’s going less well and what to work on next. I did a lot of thinking about my garden (volkstuin) today. I’ve been quite down about it recently because each time I’ve visited, there’s been very little opportunity to actually work with the plants in the way required, to keep it manageable. Since the start of the whole COVID business, the garden has been getting too out of control for my liking. It is still a wonderful wildlife haven and I love to retreat there but a lot of work needs to be done to make it into the incredible herb garden that it should be.
Everything seems to thrive there. The soil is peat-rich and moist making it a nourishing place for all. Valerian, meadowsweet, sweetwoodruff, lovage and gypsy wort are a few of my favourites there. However, the trees are also nourished so much by the location that their sprawling canopies now give little space for light to hit the ground. Less light breaking through means less healthy ground herbs, so I need to take action before the whole garden becomes a woodland. Woodland is great of course, in fact it is fabulous but I would like to continue growing a wide variety of interesting moisture and sun loving herbs in the main part of the garden, rather than only woodland herbs. There is space enough for those at the entrance of the garden. The intention is for lots of people can learn from these special plants and for them to thrive and be periodically harvested from and used as food and medicine, benefiting those who help with their care.
Winter Work Days Over the winter, I will be hosting a number of work days at my garden. The idea to bring the garden back up to scratch through winter, to allow light back in so that the herbs can flourish again come spring. If you would like to join me to do some energetic branch cutting, or lay some woodchip paths or prune back the elders, hazels, willows, apple and plum, then you are most welcome to join me! Maybe we will be moving the Fish herb – NL Moerasanemoon (Houttuynia cordata) or Selfheal that so loves to self seed between the terrace slabs or maybe there will be some pulling up of Brambles to utilise their roots, or keeping stinging nettle in a suitable corner or pruning back the Grapevine. And the Daylillies! The list goes on and on. Always something to do and something to learn about! Some great plants will be moved around at times and when there are too many they will be shared. Of course, I will brew up herb tea and soup to keep us going but do bring some bread if you need something more substantial.
I have a wooden summer house in the garden and that has a woodburner, so we can get warm and shelter when needed. The loo will not be functional in the midwinter so the winter bucket arrangement will come into action when needed [Sorry, that’s probably too much information but better that you realize this fact beforehand!]
Spring and Summer Harvest Then there will also be gardening days in the garden during the spring and summer, when the leaf and flower harvest can be reaped, plants will be propagated and sunny times in the garden can be enjoyed. I manage the garden along Permaculture principles, in case you are wondering. So in a nutshell that means that yes, it is certainly organic and nature takes the lead. Autumn will bring other treats, and there is always something to do and help with. I hope that this will build into a really mutually supportive gardening community, centered around the herb garden.
Herb knowledge It is so important to share herbal knowledge and I very much hope that this helps to encourage more herb gardening and love of herbs. Because my head is always full of thoughts about herbs, you will surely learn quite a lot about them, whilst we garden together but the objective here is to learn through doing.
Dates and location I will set some dates and advertise them here and then stick to those dates unless we have storms. The volkstuin is in Schellingwoude, Amsterdam Noord. Would you like to join in on making the garden a beautiful productive herb garden so that it can benefit far more people? If so, please get in touch with me! email@example.com.