Many moons ago, I set up an urban gardening project in Amsterdam, called River of Herbs. It is to teach people how to grow and use edible and medicinal herbs, for free. Via River of Herbs I have been managing four quite large orchard gardens, in Park Frankendael, for the past years. Volunteers help to keep the place tidy but in harmony with nature. We garden there at different times and days, to do a little peaceful gardening as and when we have time. And the place is thriving, with beautiful herbs, fruit and wildlife, mingling with the occasional foragers who come to learn and harvest in this place.
Saturday Mornings I am now trying to get a regular Saturday morning gardening session running at the River of Herbs orchards, weekly, from 9.30 – 11.00.
The location is directly behind Huize Frankendael (Middenweg 72, 1097 BS Amsterdam), four hedged orchards, on two sides of the formal Stijltuin. The orchards are a beautiful green oasis, where you are welcome to spend time, feed your mind and body, whilst gently nourishing the environment.
All welcome, no experience needed No heavy gardening happens here, the work is generally tasks such as light pruning of bird cherry and rose bushes, and thinning out the edible and medicinal wild herbs such as Geranium, Cleavers, Nettle, Sweet woodruff etc. Sometimes it’s Zen work such as removing little tree seedlings from a woodchip path, other times it’s clearing Cleavers which tend to choke the fruit shrubs, or removing baby Wild garlic plants from a path. The plants and animals lead but as gardeners, our task is to keep it looking tidy and accessible. The work we do is kind to the plants, animals and land, and they depend on the season.
You can take home the cuttings/harvest to use for food and home remedies. It’s organic and managed in a permaculture-food forest kind of a way. Would you like to join to help with this?
I can’t be there every Saturday morning but if we can build a small group of folks who can sometimes meet and help at that day and time, it becomes simple for everyone to know confidently what to do and how to do it, on the days I’m not there.
Would you like to come along this Saturday morning? I’ve got some spare hand tools and gardening gloves to use. I advise you wear long trousers and sleeves, closed shoes, bring a drink and snack. But mostly bring an open heart, love of nature and desire to learn from the plants and creatures of the herbal orchards.
Merry Beltane to you! I hope that you manage a dip in the spring dew or a nibble on some Hawthorn, at some point today.
Yesterday, I led a Mediamatic workshop about how to forage Japanese knotweed for food, drink and some home remedies. I would like to share my JKW shrub recipe with you here.
A shrub is an old fashioned drink, either alcoholic or not, containing some degree of vinegar. The following shrub recipe makes a refreshing non-alcoholic drink composed of a herb syrup and a herb infused vinegar, the herb being Japanese knotweed. There are endless ways to make a shrub but they should all be somewhat fruity and somewhat acidic.
Japanese knotweed (JKW) is not a fruit, it is a remarkable invasive medicinal and edible perennial weed which looks a little like bamboo and belongs to the Buckwheat plant family. Being a close relative of rhubarb it can be used in foods with that flavour in mind.
Infuse the vinegar: Infuse a jar full of clean chopped JKW leaves and stems in apple cider vinegar for a couple of weeks. Strain and bottle.
Make the syrup: Simmer a cup of sugar, a cup of water and a couple of cups of clean chopped knotweed leaves and stems for about 20 minutes. Cool, strain, bottle.
Make the shrub: The exact ratio will depend upon the sweetness of your syrup and the sourness of your vinegar but as a rough guide try 3 parts JKW syrup to 1 part JKW vinegar. Add a splash of water. Too sweet, add a dash more vinegar. Too sour, add a dash more syrup.
I will not get into the details of JKW foraging today. Suffice to say, I enjoy carefully foraging it and I love making food, drink and medicine from it. Japanese knotweed is an incredible immigrant which has so much to offer.
Do let me know if you try it and of other things that you like to make with Japanese knotweed.
Health Insurance Update Since I last posted here, I have been working hard to become fully registered with BATC, a Dutch association for nature based complementary therapists. All has gone smoothly so I am happy to report that full or partial costs of my private natural healthcare consultations (not my walks, workshops and talks) are now covered by health insurance (aanvullende zorgverzekering) for many people here in The Netherlands. Details on my other website – Mugwort and Marigold
Walks and Apprenticeship My next public herb foraging walks are advertised on the events page and meetup.
The latest apprenticeship group begins today so the next opportunity for people to join my Urban Herbology apprenticeship course will be 21st June 2023. A small group will be able to join at that time. If you would like to apply to join please see this page for information.
Ate my first wild garlic leaf of the year, whilst leading an Urban Herbology Walk, this morning. It was delicious and I’m now filled with spring fever (and garlic breath ;).
Wild garlic / Daslook / Allium ursinum is always to be found here in January, if you know where to look, but it’s a little ahead of normal. There are also lots of other bulbs pushing up, such as crocus and daffodil and you wouldn’t want to confuse those as they are not to be eaten.
My next public walk is February 9th (a Thursday) and I’ll set another date very soon for my Wild Garlic Workshop. Didn’t do it last year but feels good to offer it again soon.
So, today we all took home some oyster mushrooms and wild garlic bulbs, as well as a selection of edible leaves. Ground ivy and violet leaves being my favourites at present
I made an omelette of Oyster and Wood ear mushrooms, comté and brie. Hard to describe the experience in my body cells, which the wild garlic brings.
I could smell spring yesterday evening, cycling through town, didn’t dare mention it, but today it’s conclusive – Spring has Sprung! Well at least for foragers and those affected by Hazel pollen…
Please remember that you shouldn’t dig out any bulbs or roots, as a forager, unless it’s your garden (or the paths in the foraging orchards). If you’re determined to harvest so early, be sure that what you pick, stinks of garlic. And that you only take a little from a plant, so it can quickly bounce back and grow new leaves. Also keep your harvesting tidy and sharp, so it looks like you’ve never been there.
Happy foraging me hearties – May you be glowing with the chlorophyll, glutamyl peptides and sulfoxides of Allium ursinum, before too long!
This shortest day certainly has all the mist and magical low sunlight that I enjoy at Yuletide. I hope that you are able to get outside and enjoy some of it, especially before 10am, when being out in fresh air, preferably in some degree of greenness, has been found to have the biggest positive impact on your mental health.
Today, I have set new dates for foraging walks and apprenticeship workshops throughout January and February. They are listed here and on Meetup. I also welcome a small group of new Urban Herbology Apprentices to my course today, as a celebration of Yuletide. The latest group is now complete but if you are interested to join the next one, which will start on 1st February, please read through the information on my Courses page and then get in touch with me.
Winter herbs to lift your spirits and immunity My next few posts will be about locally growing “weedy” herbs which may help to lift your spirits and immunity through the winter months. The first one to look at is Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea), known as Hondstraf in Dutch and le gléchome lierre terrestre, in French.
Ground ivy is a power packed shade-loving perennial plant, which creeping unnoticed throughout parks and gardens, could help you out if you catch a slimy cold. This plant belongs to the mint family and likes to grow in the shade of flowers, shrubs and trees. It needs that shade through the summer months but when autumn leaves fall, Ground ivy becomes glossy and full of energy, because it can access just the right amount of light for its needs.
Although we can forage this plant year round in Amsterdam, winter is my preferred time to harvest it, perhaps because this is the time when we most need its help.
Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea) releases a strong aromatic scent, when the leaves are crushed and many people find this uplifting. It has square stems and leaves which come off the stem in alternate pairs just like most other members of the Lamiaceae plant family. Thyme, Rosemary and Sage are also in the mint family; If you take a close look at their flowers, they are all similar to the pretty little purple flowers of Ground ivy.
Uses Ground ivy has been used in Europe since ancient times, to flavour and clarify ale, to calm fevers and chronic coughs, and to clear mucus from the nose, throat, ears and sinuses. It can also be helpful for acid indigestion and some stomach upsets. So it could be a great choice for a foraged herb tea, when you next catch a cold, have a stuffy headache, feel mentally blocked or to help you to digest a heavy festive meal. There are more scientifically proven uses for this herb, so if it grows in a clean space near you, and you like the taste, I recommend you find out more about it. An interesting place to start your investigations, could be what Mrs Grieve had to say about ground ivy, in her 1931’s Modern Herbal.
A word of caution Although most herbalists like myself, consider this a safe herb, especially when taken as a tea or occasional nibble, it should not be taken by pregnant women. And of course, as you already know, we are all quite individual, so do notice how you feel with the first sips of a mild ground ivy tea and don’t continue, if you feel it is not for you in any way.
So how can we use ground ivy? I suggest that you keep some ground ivy aside, when you next find it when out foraging or want to weed it out from your garden. Brush off any dirt, maybe pick off the roots, discard any brown leaves before placing it in a paper bag. Label the bag (date and plant name) and leave it somewhere cool and dry for a few weeks. Allow the ground ivy to dry to a crisp. You could then crumble the dry leaves into a labelled jam jar. They should keep well for a year and could make a great base for a garden weed tea blend. Or use it alone when needed, by adding up to one teaspoon per cup of hot water. Let it mellow for 10 minutes before straining and sipping the infusion.
Another simple way to use ground ivy, is to infuse it in runny honey. Simply fill a clear glass jar with clean fresh leaves, then pour over a good quality runny honey. Poke gently up and down through this minty gooey mix with a chopstick, to let any air bubbles out, then top up with a little more honey. Let this one mellow in a cool dark place at home for about six weeks. After which you could use it in drinks and deserts, or just take a teaspoonful directly, to soothe a sore throat.
For those of you who prefer your medicine a little stronger, replace the honey with vodka or a strong Jenever, to make Ground ivy tincture. Just a few drops are taken for colds and ear congestion. Or, if you like to homebrew your own beer, why not try making a traditional ale using some ground ivy in your mix, for a change. I will add some traditional recipes for that next time.
Foraging and gardening for mental health If you would like to find ground ivy with me this week, or in January, there are currently two spaces remaining on my Friday 23rd December herb walk in Park Frankendael, or you may like to join one of my Foraging for Mental Health workshops, at Mediamatic in Central Amsterdam, (close to the Scheepvaart Museum and Central Station). Next Mental Health workshop will be 24th January 2023. Links for booking are on my events page.
Also, if you don’t mind getting your hands a little dirty, there is lots of ground ivy, growing in the community garden which I run in Park Frankendael. So contact me, if you would like to help out there sometimes, or if you would like to know where that ground ivy grows.
Last night was the first session of the Witching Season and I thoroughly enjoyed spending time in the woods, marking the autumn equinox with six wonderful nature-spirited people! The rest of that series is fully booked. I am planning a Winter Witching Season series; details to be released shortly. Feel free to email me or join the Meetup group, to hear about this promptly. I have set a date for an Autumn walk (Wed 19th October) 12 October please see my events page for this and other upcoming events. My Foraging for Mental Health – Mediamatic workshops are also listed.
Also yesterday, I was a guest at the kickoff night for the gastronomic plantcentric artistic gezellig Ears of Earth. It was wonderful and delicious; introducing me to so many intruiging flavours and unexpected creations, from the world of grains and microbes! It was an allround sensory delight. Mediamatic are enabling and hosting this wonderful series of meals, which is only running until 29th September. I think there may be some seats available still for a few of the dates. I highly recommend it!
The photo above is from one of the Mediamatic biome zones, used to host the event. I find this display of grasses and grains so fitting; Yesterday, being the equinox, was a traditional time to gather seeds on stems and weave them into a lovely creation, to store as an overwinter insurance. I often weave a plantain dolly but yesterday, didn’t manage to make one myself. As I entered the biome, I saw this lovely natural work of art, which serves a very related purpose, displaying the beauty of these grains.
Schools are back, holidays are over and the Witching Season has begun to creep in. I love this time of year! Seeds and berries are maturing, pumpkins are ripening and the smell of soil sometimes completely fills the air, even though we have had such a warm dry summer.
This time of year allows for deep connection to nature, before the time of greatest seclusion. As we move from the Autumn Equinox (Mabon) to Samhain (Hallowe’en), it becomes ever easier to connect with the many dimensions from which this world is woven, and to make peace with our need for quiet through the coming months.
Throughout the Witching Season 2022, I will be holding three small gatherings in Amsterdam as I last did in 2020. The purpose is to help others find ways to nurture their nature based spirituality through the autumn and winter. We will explore a number of local magical herbs, tune into the powers of nature, develop a moon practice to help you become more empowered as each month turns, and celebrate the very different qualities of Mabon and Samhain. We will walk, connect, enjoy some simple peace-filled ritual and outdoor crafting together.
The number of places available for these gatherings will be limited. The total cost per person is €60. Each meeting will be two hours long and will embrace whatever weather is present! They will take place in Park Frankendael, Amsterdam Watergraafsmeer. We will start the gatherings late afternoon, a different time each meeting, to allow us to work with the twighlight. The group will attend all three sessions, there will be some simple activities to do in between sessions. The intention is that the same people come for all three sessions, to give us continuity and deeper connection on this witching season journey. For this reason, I ask you to sign up if you plan to join all three of the sessions. These outdoor sessions will take place at the set times and dates unless we have extreme weather. In which case, I will contact you and we will postpone.
Just felt like posting a few photos today, of herbs grown, found or harvested recently. Also to mention that I now have more availabilty to run workshops and walks, so have set some new apprenticeship dates for September – October and will soon be setting some Amsterdam herb walk dates.
This summer, I have been spending lots of time at my volkstuin. Teasle (Dipsacus fulonum) is a tall wild flower, not best known in gardens because it tends to do its own thing, growing exactly where it likes, often at the edge of where humans would like to walk, and as the plants develop the often lollop over paths and catch on humans clothes. Clearly, this is not always desired (although this makes/made teasleheads perfect for carding wool – the Dutch name for the plant is Kaardebol – literally carding ball). Anyway, I love teasles and tend to encourage visitors to work around them and admire them in my garden, rather than pulling them up. They don’t transplant so well for me. People transplant with far more ease.
I love watching these plants develop through the year, from their characteristic sturdy seedlings in spring to tall summer beauties. They always get me excited – in a herbalist kind of way. How tall will they grow? How many flowerheads will each plan bear? Will they make it through possible summer storms? Will I tincture the root of a two year old this autumn? How many bumblebee species will visit them this year? Is there a way to encourage more flowerheads on one plant? and so on..
Last week, each morning that I woke at the gardenhouse, I pulled back the curtain and lay in bed admiring the bumblebees as they worked the teasle flowerheads. As you can see here, the flowerheads are made up of tiny pale purple flowers, apparently around 2000 per flowerhead, arranged in a phenomenally pleasing arrangement which seems to me to match the Fibonacci series. They open in sequence, as a ring, starting low on the flowerhead and day by day this ring to move up the flowerhead. Sometimes several rings are progressively ripening, moving up the flowerheads. The cause of this is progressive maturation of the tiny flowers, from the base to the top of the flowerhead. I looked up how this happens. For those of you interested in this, here’s an interesting research paper about the patterns of development in teasle flowers.
The bumblebees are essential to the process of pollinating those tiny flowers. They busy about, over the purple rings, from about 8am, each day that there is sun. As they wander around the flowers, burrowing in for nectar, they also kick off the dead flowers of the day before. They do literally seem to kick them off. If you manage to watch a teasle being “worked” one morning, you may be lucky enough to see the tiny purple flowers falling to the ground, as a bumblebee wanders around the flowerhead either biting or kicking them off. This appears to be pure symbiosis and is a great pleasure to observe. It puts the day to come in perspective and I recommend it!
Next is Meadowsweet. I adore this herb. She is the absolute Queen of the Meadow in my eyes. She smells sweet and dreamy, is as tall as many teasle plants, is slender, takes away pain, eases the stomach and aches and pains of joints. She is oh so light and yet strong, effective and intoxicating. I make my mead when Meadowsweet is in bloom. I see these flowers as an essential ingredient in any mead. Perhaps that’s just me. This year, the fruits of my previous Meadowsweet planting labors have been rewarded as I now have several garden areas where the meadowsweet is flourishing. Meadowsweet is also beloved of bees, hoverflies and many other insects. The OBOD Seedgroup which I run, is also called Meadowsweet. We met amongst the flowers this weekend, to celebrate Lughnasadh, Druid-style.
These beautiful berries are growing throughout the beds at my volkstuin. They have almost no flavour and belong to the wild flower Potentilla indica (Schijnaardbei). It creeps between other plants, has trifoliate leaves and small 5-petalled yellow flowers, At this time of year, they may develop into bright red achenes which are fruit, covered with tiny seeds. The leaves, flowers and fruit of this plant are edible. The leaves are quite medicinal and can be added in small quantities to soups but in my opinion the best way to eat this plant, is to preserve the ripe fruits in local honey or in a Rumtopf.
From September this year, I will be working only three days a week at school so will have far more time for running herbal workshops and walks. Many dates are already booked up, but if you are keen to book a walk during the autumn or winter, let me know and I hope that we can organise a green exploration together. I also offer private consultations. Please see my events page, or join Meetup.com for Urban Herbology happenings. Apprenticeship meetings are already listed there until end October. Meadowsweet OBOD Seedgroup gatherings are not listed there. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org, if you would like to be informed of open gatherings, for those interested in nature-based spirituality, and the closed gatherings which are only for OBOD members.
Thursday 21st April Herbalists Without Borders – Gardening & Harvesting Morning 09.30 – 11.00 At the River of Herbs Orchards, in Park Frankendael (Behind Huize Frankendael – Middenweg 72, 1097 BS Amsterdam) We will be pruning the Elder shrubs, first harvest of the stinging nettle and more wild garlic harvesting. Loads of other herbs looking great at the moment so we will see what we have time for. Herbalists Without Borders remedies are the destination for the nettle tops today and the wild garlic. Donations in effort, money or oil/vodka/jenever etc welcome but just bring yourself to join in, if possible. Come join me if you would like to – bring gardening gloves (not essential but handy) and a pair of secateurs if you have them (again not essential) and maybe a mug and flask of warm drink. Call or Whatsapp me if you can’t find it – 0627596930
Thursday 14th April 2022 Ethical Spring Foraging Walk 10.30 – 12.00 Park Frankendael
Join me for a walk around parts of the best park in Amsterdam! We will look at many different edible and medicinal plants, which grow in and around Amsterdam. Learn how to identify, ethically harvest and safely use the plants for health, connection to place and to increase urban self-reliance, whilst caring for the environment. €15 per person Booking and details on Meetup
Learn heaps about incredible local herbs, how to find them, ethically forage, craft, eat and preserve them. Full details and booking on Meetup [Apprentices free – please contact me directly to let me know you are joining the walk rather than booking via meetup]
Lynn is a professional foraging teacher and forager. Also a qualified herbalist. She is a member of the Association of Foragers.
The next organized gardening morning at the herb orchards, in Park Frankendael will be this coming Thursday 10th March (10.00 – 12.00).
Light gardening, tidying up, some pruning to be done, and fallen twigs. No experience necessary!
The intention is to spruce it all up a little and may be able to begin some light-harvesting for Herbalists Without Borders remedies. We need to leave the major tree work to the gemeente so will stay away from the area where the tall tree fell during the storm (nettle orchard).
Come join me if you would like to – bring gardening gloves (not essential but handy) and a pair of secateurs if you have them (again not essential) and maybe a mug and flask of warm drink. If you need more information, email me or send a what’s app (0627596930).