There are many public spaces in the heart of Amsterdam where ripe herbal fruits, leaves and flowers can be found at the moment. Wild cherry, chickweed, dandelion, mallow, nettle, chestnuts, yarrow, walnuts and sloes, are just a few treats you could find. Today I also noticed that scented geraniums have been planted in the tree pits on Mr Visserplein. Urban herbs are rarely far away, growing on walls, roadsides, between paving stones and in untended spaces. Pollution from cars, people and pets mean that not all locations are suitable to harvest from, but urban foraging is good fun and can be very rewarding throughout the year.
Most people have foraged fruits such as blackberries at some time or other but few harvest herbs on a regular basis yet there are so many available to us! This weekend consider taking a herb walk with family or friends, through some local green and relatively clean area of your city. Try to build your knowledge of local herbs and how to use them. I’ll be looking for rose hips in my local park and will post a simple syrup recipe next week. If you don’t feel confident enough to pick, then notice where a few useful herbs grow on your way to work or in your local park. There are so many edible wild plants in this part of Europe, I’m sure more people could find and make use of at least one or two.
The following is a brief outline of how to set about foraging. It is certainly not a full guide, you should consult a good book on the subject and perhaps join a weed/foraging walk in your area for further guidance.
Where to look:
I prefer to harvest from the greener parts of cities and in Amsterdam there is choice. We have some relatively clean canal side verges, lots of parks, trees on quiet roads and hedgerows away from main roads. I avoid herbs from beside busy roads or other places where pollution is likely. I also try to pick from as high up as possible, to avoid plant material that has been soiled by passing people and animals.
How to identify the herbs:
Stick to herbs you are certain of and use a good field guide and foraging guide when harvesting any herbs you are new to. Mostly I use The Wild Flower Key: British Isles – N.W. Europe, by Francis Rose and Food for Free, by Richard Mabey. The Self Sufficient-ish Bible, by Andy and Dave Hamilton is too big to carry around but is also a great foraging resource.
- Double check the identity of everything you pick (or consider picking). If in doubt don’t pick or use.
- Forage easily identifiable herbs and avoid those which may be easily confused with poisonous relatives.
- Try anything new to you in very small quantities.
- Forage only from areas where there is plenty of the herb you are interested in.
- Be considerate, careful and moderate.
Pick sparsely to help conserve the health of the plant, it’s appearance and the wild animals it supports. Never strip all the leaves, berries or whichever part you are interested in from a plant, however tempting. Take only a little from each plant, leave plenty and avoid harming plants by rough picking.
- Flowers or seeds of annual plants shouldn’t be picked, their seeds are needed for their survival.
- Never pull up whole plants or pick from rare plants.
- Have fun foraging!