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 email@example.com, 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).
Here’s a short Urban Herbology post from 9 years ago, about how to make a little harvest of wild garlic go a long way. Click on View Original Post, to open up and see some of the benefits of this herb and a simple way to use it over several weeks. I hope it helps you. If you want to learn lots more about wild garlic, I run workshops about the plant, throughout the season. The next one is on Sunday 6th March 2022. Details are on the events page.
The woodland floor in Frankendael Park is carpeted with flowering snowdrops and the emerging leaves of Ramsons (wild garlic, Allium ursinum). I’m sure snowdrops have their uses but when you find them, Ramsons are an urban herb forager’s dream. All parts of the plant are edible and very useful, though the leaves and flowers are all you should use. The bulbs should be left alone and only pick a leaf or two from any plant. They taste truly delicious – if you like the taste of garlic! They taste best, by far, before the pretty white flowers open and can be eaten from early spring, when the first leaves emerge from the soil.
Ramsons have similar properties to Garlic but are milder in all respects. They are also more tolerable to those you have difficulty digesting other members of the onions family.
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!