Midwinter Herbology

It was such a pleasure to take a group of 9 people around the woods for a herbology walk recently. We found a lot of beautiful plants and some delicious fungi. Unfortunately, the second planned walk had to be cancelled as the latest Dutch lockdown restrictions came into effect overnight. I hope that we can schedule some more group walks together very soon. In the meantime, I am able to offer 1:1 herb walks, as during the previous restrictions. The cost for a one hour 1:1 walk is €60. If you would like this, please email me so that we can schedule a time. If you would like to be alerted when the next group walks are set, please sign up to my Meetup group.

The shortest day in Amsterdam this year, was relatively cold, bright and delightfully crisp. The drop in temperature showed that Yuletide had arrived and made it easy to identify with the time of natural darkness, inner reflection and allowing things to brew within the inner cauldron. I took a walk through the park, bathed in the sunbeams and enjoyed the shortest day. I also ate rather a lot of this year’s Yule log. Holly and it’s berries (on our cake) are not edible but they certainly belong to Yuletide festivities though. The berries were returned to the local birds when the cake was eaten and the holly leaves are now around our Yuletide candle.

Aside eating chocolate cake, it also felt good to make some incense, so I crafted some from a handful of dried roots, bark, berries, resin and leaves. Incense making is a real multi-sensory pleasure. After grinding the ingredients finely enough, and balancing the scents and colour, I combined the mix with some secret sauce before forming my Yuletide incense and allowing it to prove for a while before use.

Gelatinous fungi have been quite a foraging feature recently. The weather must have been just right for them. Here is a photo of a bright orange Witches Butter (aside another gelatinous snot-like fungus) and the other two photos are of a fungus, which I am currently trying to identify. It is quite beautiful, with rings, a sort of shag pile velvet atop a sturdy jelly bracket type of body. It is growing along my favourite Wood Ear fungus Elder tree, in Park Frankendael. If you happen to know the name of the fungus, I would also love to know it and share it here. Witches butter (Tremella mesenterica) is (in principle) edible although I find it rather watery and best left on the tree. It apparently feeds on other fungi. I much prefer eating Wood Ears or Jelly Ears (Auricularia auricula-judae). They grow on several tree species, the most reliable being Elder. These are closely related to the mushrooms of Chinese Hot and Sour Soup fame. They are fairly bland, but have substance to them; bound gelatinous substance. With a heavenly velvet outer membrane. They smell of the woods, dry well for storage (in a paper bag) and give a very pleasant crackle sort of experience when bitten into. They also explode (a little) when cooked for long enough. Not to everyone’s taste, but I like them a lot. They also have cardiovascular health benefits.

The Wood Ear tree gives me the feeling that it has not too long left to stand. We have been very fortunate to have such a generous tree close by for the past years. My feeling is also that the mystery fruiting fungi is indicating the beginning of the next phase for this tree.

I do hope that you can get out in the fresh air and enjoy Yuletide and I would love to know what kinds of plants, animals and fungi you have been noticing in your area. There is so much to see even in the middle of winter and always something to help us connect with nature. Journey well and see you soon!

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