Herbalists Without Borders now has an Amsterdam group (they call it a Chapter, rather than a group). I will arrange a first meeting soon for anyone interested to come along to, and find out possibilities of how to get involved, in a manageable way. Herbalists without Borders is not just for herbalists. It is a collective of complementary therapists, herbalists, herb growers, herb lovers etc. The thread is that they all want to increase equity of access for herbal medicine and herbal products and complementary therapies. Some offer a discount on their prices for therapy (like me), some take part in actions (like helping refugees grow a herb garden or have access to safe herbal products), some organise regular events to raise awareness of herbalism in places where it doesn’t usually reach, others deliver free street herbalism, have a mass of other ways to help.
Would you like to get involved? You don’t need to join HWB global to get involved but that is a very good thing to do, if you want to. First thing that I would like to arrange for HWB Amsterdam is a date for a small group (4-5) to do a half day food prep, cooking and serving at De Stoelen Project, the homeless shelter/soup kitchen on Marnixstraat. It costs about 100 Euro to feed the clients for one evening, so those joining that small group would need to help raise that money and be happy to do the shopping and cook it and help to serve it (they really want meat and filling items but not too fibre-rich foods in the meals generally, btw). The session is from about midday to about 9pm. Here’s a post from a session I led there previously.
I would really like to deliver some fresh herbs also, possibly from local suppliers, and start to have that long awaited fresh herb bar, which the clients there can take from, to improve their meals. Also to speak to the team who runs the project, to see if we could start to offer some form of herbal/organic/wholesome self-care kit, for them to keep behind the counter to hand out as needed. At present those kits contain items such as new pairs of socks and underpants, a toothbrush and paste. I would also like to speak to them about the most common ailments that we could actually offer support for – skin sores, athlete’s foot etc. Clearly doctors and other health professionals are needed for most issues these people encounter (and psychiatric issues are common) but some issues are about self care and perhaps a simple homemade salve – which some of us could periodically get free tins for, make a batch of salve using local herbs and take over to the centre, could help.
If you are interested in helping somehow, perhaps really locally, perhaps further away, then it is certainly possible and being part of a group helps. HWB global offers members trauma training, and training in many areas such as how to run street clinics etc. Clearly what each person offers has to match their qualifications and their comfort zone.
One thing that is always welcome, fresh herbs from growers – homegrowers and commercial growers. So if you have fresh culinary herbs spare (for Marnixstraat Stoelen Project or similar places), or if you grow medicinal herbs and would like to see some of those incorporated into the local community, somehow, please have a think about how it could be possible. I want to start this slowly, steadily and that the group builds and finds its feet comfortably, but if you already have ideas of what to do, how to do it, who to contact etc, let me know
Would you like to get involved? If so, please get in touch.
About the therapist Lynn is British (born 1972) and has lived in Amsterdam since 2004. She began working as a complementary therapist in 2000, teaching Yoga to groups and running a private natural therapies clinic in her Somerset cottage. Since moving to Amsterdam, Lynn has been helping urban people to connect with nature as a way to enhance their health and well being. She runs popular herbology walks, workshops and courses about ethical herbal foraging, crafting and living in harmony with urban nature. Lynn has a special interest in facilitating mutually beneficial connection between city residents with urban nature. River of Herbs is a local volunteer group which she launched in 2012, to enable city people to learn more about herbs through gardening and foraging. She can be found tending the herbal foraging gardens with that group, some Thursday mornings or at weekends, in Park Frankendael just behind Huize Frankendael.
Lynn holds qualifications in the following: Herbalism / Kruidengeneeskunde, Netherlands 2020, USA 2012 and UK 2003 Precision Reflexology (working on hands or feet), Association of Reflexologists MAR, UK 2001 Yoga Teacher, British Wheel of Yoga, UK 2002 Holistic Massage (Indian Head Massage, Ayurvedic Massage), India 2004 and ITEC, UK 2003 Social and Therapeutic Horticultural, Coventry University / Thrive, UK 2016 Special Educational Needs (PGdip. SEND, current Learning Support Coordinator (SENCO) at a local international school)
Lynn is fully registered with the Complementary Medical Association (CMA), Association of Reflexologists (MAR), the British Psychological Society (BPS) and Association of Foragers. These professional bodies provide quality assurance to clients and support to members who uphold rigorous standards. These professional standards include high levels of qualification, Continuing Professional Development, upholding codes of conduct and being suitably insured. Lynn is also a corporate member of the Herb Society and has vast expertise in the field of Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND). She holds a Master of Public Health degree (MPH), Post Graduate Diploma in SEND and BSc(hons) in Genetics and is a member of the Permaculture Association. As a complementary therapist, Lynn is not allowed to diagnose medical disorders but actively encourages collaboration with each client’s medical team, to help reach their goals more effectively and to ensure safety.
What to expect The aim of Urban Herbology consultations are to set you on a path to address the root causes of imbalances in the body and mind. Also to address your current issues. Lynn takes a Holistic and Functional approach to health. This involves considering how the body and mind functions as a whole, within the situation that you are currently in, rather than simply offering a quick fix to temporarily calm symptoms.
Intake consultations can be at Lynn’s Gardenhouse (a Dutch volkstuin in woodland at Schellingwoude) or outside, in urban green spaces and last approximately 70 minutes.
During this time, Lynn gathers a detailed personal history from you and then discusses a natural treatment strategy which will address lifestyle factors, exercise needs, possible herbal and nutritional advice and possible physical therapy. Depending upon your personal needs, you may receive some reflexology and yoga coaching during the consultation and may leave with a yoga-based home exercise plan, a simple home reflex points plan, along with herbal, diet and lifestyle advice. Due to Lynn’s extensive experience with wild local plants and therapeutic horticulture, you may also be directed towards some local “weeds” and nature-based activities, as part of your treatment plan.
Whatever the outcome, you will leave the consultation as an active participant in your path to optimal health and vitality.
If you are currently taking any medications, supplements or herbs, you should bring these along to the consult. If you are receiving treatment for any persistent or serious condition, Lynn will need to know about that, and your conventional medical team will need to be in agreement with your consulting her.
Who can benefit? This personalized therapeutic approach is suited to individuals who want to improve their health and vitality. It is most suited to individuals with non-life threatening conditions which are not responding as well as hoped to other approaches. Lynn works with both adults and children.
Examples of areas which are most likely to be assisted by this approach:
Stress reduction Pain reduction Emotional support Anxiety and depression
Follow up consultations: approximately 45 minutes €40 (**Walk & Talk, Amsterdam Oost/Oud Zuid) €45 (*Reflexology/Yoga/Herbalism at Garden House, Schellingwoude – Thursdays)
Follow up online or telephone consultations: approximately 20 minutes €20
Mini online or telephone consultations are available: Approximately 10-15 minutes €10 These are only appropriate for minor issues and symptomatic relief/advice e.g. cold and flu. Please note that full (intake or follow up) consultations are default and mini consultations are only offered after explicit discussion.
*Gardenhouse consults take place at Paterslaan, Schellingwoude, generally on Thursdays. **Walking & Talking consultations take place in Amsterdam Oost (e.g. Oosterpark, Park Frankendael), Oud Zuid (Beatrixpark) or Schellingwoude.
Prescriptions for herbs When Lynn is able to fulfill herbal needs, she will send you home with a bag of the appropriate herbs or tinctures. Other-times, these will not be in stock so will advise on where to find or purchase the herbal supplies locally.
Note: The consultation cost does not include the price of any herbal preparations that are recommended following a consultation. These are charged separately or are purchased independently by the client.
To book an appointment for your Urban Herbology consultation, with Lynn Shore, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 06 275 969 30.
Urban Herbology is a proud member of Herbalists Without Borders, working together for health justice and holistic health access for all. As such, sliding scale payments for consultations are possible, to enable more people to access treatment. Please ask Lynn if you require details.
This has been a busy year and yet I see that I have not updated the Urban-Herbology blog for a long time. Rather than give a summary of the summer, I would like to share with you a potted version of the Welsh legend of the Lady of the Lake at Llyn y Fan Fach, it’s intimate connection to the famous Physicians of Myddfai and my decision to join Herbalists Without Borders.
I read about Llyn y Fan Fach (a lake of about 6 acres, in the Black Mountain region of the Brecon Beacons National Park) quite some time ago, whilst busy with Druidry studies. I was captivated by the tale and found that the lake is a comfortable drive from my parents home on the Wales-England border. So whilst visiting them last week, my parents, my daughter and I went to Llyn y Fan Fach, I swam in the lake and then we visited Myddfai. It was a wonderful experience. We walked the mile and a half track up to the lake from the nearest car park, enjoyed breathtaking views of the clouds and sunlight playing across the Welsh hills, and I enjoyed spotting sheep-grazed herbs all the way. The Myddfai visitor centre closed at 4pm, 15 minutes before we arrived so my wander around the tiny village was self-guided and didn’t lead me to the graves of the last known members of the Physician’s family. Or if it did, I didn’t realise it, so that will have to wait until next time.
The Lady of Llyn y Fan Fach A poor sheep herder called Gwyn, who lived with his widow mother, would visit Llyn y Fan Fach regularly, as he tended his flock. One day he saw the most enchanting woman he had ever gazed upon, sitting on the smooth surface of the lake. She was all he had dreamed of and he longed to marry her. Gwyn offered her the only thing that he had to hand, his bread. She refused it, saying that he would have to try harder than that, and that the bread was too dry. He returned the next day with a less dry bread, duly provided by his mother. The Lady of the Lake reappeared and told him this time the bread was too moist, it was like dough, and that he should try harder if he wished to deserve her. So he returned a third time with bread that was just right and indeed to his utter delight, she agreed to marry him. She brought her beautiful prime farm animals out of the lake to join them in their union. However, she told him that when he had struck her three times without cause, during the course of their marriage, that she would leave him directly and return with her animals to the depths of Llyn y Fan Fach.
Time went on, they lived happily on the land and prospered. They had three sons who the Lady of the Lake taught the healing virtues of plants and water. Gwyn was always watchful not to give the Lady of the Lake any cause to leave him but over time three fateful events indeed caused him to touch her without kindness.
Firstly, upon attending a christening, she foretold misfortune for the child and her husband chastised her as he tapped her on the shoulder. Secondly, attending a wedding, she foretold sadness for the newly wedded couple and sobbed pitifully during the event. Her husband again urged her to conform with convention as he touched her on the shoulder. Thirdly, at the funeral of a friend, she laughed heartily among the sad mourners and told her husband this was because the dead have no more worries and are free from pain. He touched her again on the shoulder as he urged her to stop laughing and she replied that this was the third fateful blow. She would then leave him and return to the lake with her animals. And so she did. She returned the way she came, her animals followed and her plough dragging ox, carved a deep everlasting furrow into the mountain that drops to the depths of the lake.
The Lady of the Lake left her husband completely devastated and her sons distraught. It is said that as she left, she commanded her sons to hone the skills and knowledge that she had given them. She told them to heal the ills of all who sought them out and so they did. They lived just six miles from the lake, in the village of Myddfai and became known as the Physicians of Myddfai. For generations to come, they passed on their herbal knowledge, recording it in now famous texts and healed all who needed them. However, there was one person who they could never heal, their mother, the Lady of the Lake, for actually there was nothing wrong with her.
Many wonderful Celtic themes and learnings can be taken from this legend. The tale at first glance can seen irrelevant to us today but I feel that it has a great deal to teach. For a detailed version of the legend (including some direct translation from the Welsh), I recommend a blog post by Rambling Man’s Adventures.
Herbalists Without Borders After my cleansing swim in the waters of Llyn y Fan Fach, I decided to join Herbalists Without Borders. This is an excellent organisation, striving for health justice and holistic health access for all, around the globe. I look forward to getting involved in HWBs existing activities and developing ways to enable more people to access herbal medicine and knowledge here in Amsterdam or wherever I happen to be As part of this, I am offering payment for consultations on a sliding scale, to those who need this facility.
I hope that you can take something useful from the story of the Lady of Llyn y Fan Fach and that it will not be so long until my next blog post.
Just want to reblog this – I first wrote about Magnolia in 2012 and updated the post in 2019 with the video and some extra info. A lot of people are reaching out to me about the tree this year. I am worried it is being over harvested! Please read about how little you need, to make really great foraged treats from this tree. It is so sad when I see photos of people encouraging whole flowers to be picked – there is no need. Anyway, enjoy the post (click at the end, ther’s a lot hidden including the recipes) and let me know your thoughts…
Magnolia is a tree which I fall in love with again, every year. Everything about it enthralls me. From the graceful angles of the branches, the bark, exotic blooms to the glossy evergreen leaves. A huge magnolia in bloom is a show stopper. One such tree arches quietly over the terrace behind Huize Frankendael, in Amsterdam east. Hundreds of visitors must walk beneath it without giving the tree much thought, until in March or April it explodes into bloom. There is no other tree that I would rather sit beneath and gaze up through than that magnificent magnolia in spring!
Edible and Medicinal Magnolia Petals The flowers of Magnolia trees are edible and medicinal. In traditional chinese medicine, Magnolia flowers are known as Xin yi hua and are associated with the lung and stomach meridians. I enjoy eating them fresh plucked each year and happily report that they taste fragrant and spicy…
What a special time of year! This, although it may not feel like it with frost on the ground, is the very beginning of spring. As you wander through city parks and green edges, at the start of February, notice just how many signs of spring there are about us. Wild garlic / Daslook is now up, standing young and proud. Cleavers has started to spread, seeking taller plants and fences to scramble up, and stinging nettles (which never really seemed to go away this winter) are looking delicious!
I enjoyed sharing some of my favourite winter urban foraging plants with you over the past few months. Those still hold true as we gently move into the spring which we will all recognise, full of flowers and fresh leaves. I will start sharing ideas for spring cleansers over the coming weeks. A lovely and helpful herbal pastime, is to eat a little herbal foraged cleanser, every day between Imbolc (start of February) and Alban Eilir (Spring Equinox). So today, I’ll be looking to add a little bit of one of those mentioned herbs, to my food or drink. And will aim to do so until the 20th March.
Celebrating the turning year I enjoy celebrating the changing seasons alone and I also greatly enjoy marking them with like-minded friends. Yesterday, a group of us shared an online celebration of Imbolc, following the basic format of druidic seasonal ceremonies – interesting via Zoom but it somehow works. I am setting up a group to keep this going, under the very helpful umbrella of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD). The group is called the Meadowseet Seed Group. The intention is for people in Amsterdam who are members of OBOD, to have the possibility to meet in person, within the city, to celebrate each of the eight seasonal festivals together.
The intention is for the seasonal celebrations will be outside in Amsterdam and for full moon meditations to be mostly at the same time each lunar cycle but conducted physically apart. At some of the celebrations, as yesterday, other folks who are not members of OBOD but are interested in the spiritual path will be welcome to take part also. If you are an OBOD member in the area and are interested in joining the group, or would like to attend some of the seasonal celebrations, please contact email@example.com.
Sunday 31st January – 17:00 – 18:30 ❤ We will greet (seeing how everyone is, saying hello!), then I will lead a short Ceremony (which will start at 17:15 – sundown) which everyone can participate in from the comfort of their homes. Then we will have a simple Eisteddfod ❤ An Eisteddfod is a traditional Welsh gathering and is often quite competitive – where individuals take turns to present something that they have created or simply want to share with the others. Ours will not be competitive but it should be fun! Classically these sharings are read pieces of literature, poems, playing tunes, singing etc. They are lovely events which celebrate creative expression. Do not feel that to join in the Imbolc celebration, you must also have something to share, but feel free to do so, if it so moves you! ❤ For the ceremony, please have a candle at the ready Bring a little food and water Wear whatever you feel comfortable in ❤ Those following my courses, may like to read through the course unit about Imbolc before attending. I will update it again, in the days leading up to Imbolc. ❤ Link for the Imbolc Celebration
Grant, O God, O Goddess, O Great Spirit, thy protection; And in protection, strength; And in strength, understanding; And in understanding, knowledge; And in knowledge, the knowledge of justice; And in the knowledge of justice, the love of it; And in that love, the love of all existences; And in the love of all existences, the love of God, Goddess, Great Spirit, and of all goodness.
We swear by peace and love to stand; Heart to heart and hand in hand. Mark O Spirit and hear us now. Confirming this, our sacred vow.
It’s week 10 of the Urban Herbology Winter Foraging Challenge! This week I have laid more paths at my volkstuin garden, edged some with wood and am ordering plant labels. Have been listing the edibles and medicinal plants which are already growing there and making a crazy-long list of plants that I intend to add there this year. At present there are over 40 distinct types of herbs growing in my volkstuin garden, some as single specimens and others as abundantly as weeds! Am looking forward to welcoming more of my students there this year for walks, 1:1s and workshops. I think that some good labelling will help this along – and help prevent me from trampling on sleeping herbs during the soggy winter!
Here’s an update ..
This week’s herb grows prolifically in my volkstuin garden. Many gardeners pull it out as they find it can smother an area with some speed, but I welcome it and try to guide it to provide me with wildlife friendly fence and frame covering. It is evergreen and a very overlooked historic herb. This week’s herb is Ivy (Hedera helix).
Ivy is a cunning shapeshifter! It has various leaf shapes, depending upon it’s life cycle stage and location. It readily creeps around damp soil, covering the ground and taking full advantage of any sunlight but perfectly tolerating shade. It is found often in woodland settings and my volkstuin provides it with the dampness and shade – hence, it grows abundantly and very healthily there. Notice the smooth, barely lobed leaf shape, on leaves attached to a flowering stem of ivy:
Many people who come on my walks, ask me about Poison Ivy, as found in the USA and Canada. That plant (Toxicodenron radicans) causes contact dermatitis, which is a cause of great irritation to gardeners and foragers. Sometimes, reactions to the plant can be serious. The Ivy which I am familiar with (Hedera helix), is an unrelated plant. It can cause contact dermatitis in some people but this is far less common than for Poison Ivy. I am interested to hear from anyone who has had a reaction to Hedera helix, as I have not had direct contact with any such people over the years. Whereas I know many who have had uncomforatable times due to Poison ivy!
Here are a few photos of Hedera helix at different life cycle stages. Notice the classic five lobed leaves, as the plant spreads and climbs just a little.
Ivy seems to like climbing high, to produce flowers which have the best chance of being fertilised by bees and then to give the seeds the best chance for dispersal far and wide. The flowers are quietly beautiful and the developing seed heads looks space age. People often ask me about them. Ivy grows up to about 30m high but to do that, it must have support.
This summer, I witnessed a mass of wasps, boring into the unopened flowers of ivy, at the end of summer, and I guess, drinking the nectar, before the flowers had a chance to open. Come autumn/winter, Ivy flowers are often in abundance (although we rarely notice them due to their yellow/green colour) and they provide an essential source of food for bees and other insects, before they bed down for winter.
Ivy is often given a hard time because it grows up buildings and trees. It has suckering roots growing along the stems and these embed it very effectively into cement, stonework and onto tree bark. When it is pulled off – which is quite easy to do – the suckering roots will pull off cement, small pieces of stone or brick and some tree bark. One fear for them growing up trees, is that the ivy becomes so heavy, it destabilises the tree or it causes too much shade or it strangles it. I disagree with all these thoughts. Mostly ivy, growing up trees is a wonderful thing; providing incredible wildlife habitats and actually protecting trees from harsh climatic conditions. Some green space contractors rotate which trees they de-ivy each year. I think it a pity and unnecessary work.
Ivy can help to stabilise old piles of racks and ruins but it will of course cover then and hide them from view. Note the old painting of Tintern Abbey – what a lovely place that is, not far from my parents home. I remember it being ivy clad as a child. Now it is clean of ivy and the ruin is somewhat renovated. Removing the ivy will have caused some damage and certainly makes it look less romantic but now the abbey structure can be more effectively maintained in a safe structural state.
So how can we use ivy as food or medicine? The leaves and berries can be used both externally and internally. They contain saponins, sterols, polyacetylenes, flavonoids and volatile oils.
Externally, ivy can be used as a poultice or compress and has an age old reputation for calming inflamed and painful rheumatic joints. It is also used as an infused oil as an anti-cellulite preparation. I mentioned above that some people will develop contact dermatitis from Hedera helix. So always be wary when trying this herb for the first time.
Make infused oil from fresh leaves, if you would like to try it as a gentle skin stimulant. Macerate for about 6 weeks, strain and use as a salve base or as a massage oil for congested skin areas. Ivy is a constituent in many expensive anti-cellulite preparations.
There is some much lore associated with ivy. Like Holly, Ivy has been used to decorate homes since ancient Pagan times. Poets’ wreaths are made from ivy leaves, as is the wreath of Bacchus. It was thought that gently boiling bruised ivy leaves in wine would remove the wines powers of intoxication. Perhaps the alcohol simply boiled away? Perhaps not. Ivy has long been a sign of fidelity and was given to newly weds in ancient Greece.
Another traditional use for Ivy is as relief for sunburn. Soft ivy twigs, when boiled in butter were thought to produce a useful remedy. Clearly, not for experimenting on severe burns but worth investigation.
Internally, it is a renowned expectorant and decongestant of the ear, nose and throat. Ivy has with an affinity for the upper respiratory system. It has a good reputation for easing bronchitis symptoms. It can be taken as a medicinal tea. You should not have too much of it and avoid it during pregnancy and breastfeeding but this is actually a more widely used herb than you may realise. Extracts of Ivy are found in a very popular over the counter mucus relieving product called Bisolvon. In some countries, Bisolvon packaging shows ivy leaves. Interesting to see how a commercial product contains some of the constituents of this common plant.
A pleasant tasting tea, which can help to ease congestion in the nasal and upper chest could be made from 1/2tsp of dried and then crushed ivy leaves. Infuse for 5 minutes then strain and sip. It combines well with Elderflower and Thyme (you may like to try 1/3 teaspoon each, dried, in a large cup). You can easily dry Ivy leaves in a paper bag. Make sure they are not tightly packed in the bag, label and leave in a room temperature, dry environment. Fresh leaves can also be used. Dried ones are convenient for use.
I find that working in the garden, or wandering around ivy rich woodland and streets, has a really opening and refreshing action on my respiratory system. It also seems to clear my mind. I like to crush a leaf (which is not so easy – Ivy leaves are built to last!) and deeply inhale the released volatile constituents.
Other uses There are many other ways to weave ivy into your life. I love to grow it as a cover plant, over piles of sticks, over dull looking fences and especially over arches. As a semi-glossy evergreen, it can provide amazingly effective form to a garden in the wintertime.
I also like to make simple crowns from long ivy stems. I did this in the autumn at one of the Witching season gatherings. I find that ivy crowns provide comfort, clarity and protection. Ivy can be grown inside of the house and I find it a quiet, refreshing presence to have around the place. Be wary though, ivy needs some moisture but not too much. It appreciated a gentle rinse occasionally and not to be dried out. When I make an alter with ivy wound around, I find it helps to splash or spray the ivy each day, to keep it fresh and vibrant.
Next Zoom meeting for my course students is this Friday evening. We will be focusing on Ivy, learning more about its active constituents, actions and uses and we will meditate on it to see how we can weave it’s magic and medicine into our lives. If you are joining the Zoom, you may like to bring a candle and some fresh Ivy leaves to the online meeting. If you have enough ivy growing near you and you feel the urge for full urban herbology immersion – why not make yourself a simple crown from a long stem of ivy? I look forward to seeing you there!
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!