Category Archives: Alchemy

Lilac Wijn

For English click here
Excuses, ik heb je enigszins misleid. Dit bericht gaat eigenlijk over het maken van Lilac Mead en Lilac Honey, in plaats van Lilac Wine.

De reden voor mijn bedrog is dat ik elke keer dat ik langs een lila boom kom, denk aan mijn moeder, onze oude tuin, haar beste vriendin Francis en Jeff Buckley. En lieve Jeff Buckley zong adembenemend goed Lilac Wine, dus als ik over Sering schrijf, kan ik dat alleen maar bedenken en vandaar de misleidende titel.

Het horen van het lied brengt me terug naar een tijd dat ik de hele dag naar hem zou luisteren en elke pauze zou vasthouden. Als je ook een beetje romantisch bent, raad ik aan om de track te spelen terwijl je mijn instructies voor het maken van mede leest. Ik kan niet goed ademen terwijl ik naar Mr Buckley luister (ik schijn met hem mee te ademen) dus vergeef me alsjeblieft als ik zo nu en dan mijn draad verlies …

Laten we eerst wat lila honing opzetten

Ja, de bloemen van de Sering struik (Syringa vulgaris) zijn eetbaar. Deze plant komt uit de Olijffamilie (Oleaceae) en je merkt misschien dat de bloemen lijken op die van Liguster (Ligustrum vulgare).

Sering is gemakkelijk te herkennen aan de grote trossen van vierbladige bloemen, elk met een kleine buis, die het verbindt met de bloemclusterstelen en de nectar bevat. Sering bloemtrossen hebben een sterke geur en zijn over het algemeen ongeveer 15-20 cm lang. Volwassen Sering bladeren zijn hartvormig en ongeveer 10 cm lang, terwijl Liguster kleinere bladeren heeft, een kleinere gestalte in het algemeen en veel kleinere witte bloemtrossen.

Liguster wordt vaak wild gevonden en wordt geplant om een dichte haag te maken. Sering wordt soms buiten tuinen gevonden, maar wordt vooral gekweekt vanwege de ongelooflijke bloemen en de aantrekkelijke dikke stelen. Ik klauterde altijd rond en picknickte met slakken in onze oude Lila struik, als kind.

Syringa vulgaris

Ja, alle kleuren van Sering bloemen werken hiervoor. De geur is het belangrijkste eigenschap, een beetje kleur is een bonus. Het is het beste om de witte, lila of paarse bloemen te oogsten terwijl ze in topconditie zijn, maar zoals je kunt zien op de afbeeldingen hieronder, gingen sommige van de bloemen die ik vandaag heb geplukt gedeeltelijk over. Maakt niet uit – het is gemakkelijk om de beste onderdelen van de rest te scheiden.

Ik weet niet hoe het met jou zit, maar mijn materialen voor het maken van mede zijn momenteel niet steriel en mijn beperkte kastruimte in het appartement zit boordevol ingeblikt voedsel en gedroogde bonen. Dus terwijl de lila bloemen een week of twee in honing trekken, kan ik een kleine gistingsfles en waterslot vinden en steriliseren en ruimte maken om de fermenterende mede te bewaren. Ik woon in een appartement in Amsterdam, dus er is weinig ruimte en ik brouw in kleine hoeveelheden.

  1. Oogst voorzichtig en legaal 1 of 2 volle sering bloemhoofdjes. Met legaal bedoel ik, gebruik een schaar of snoeischaar en vraag toestemming. Neem maar een beetje. De drie koppen die ik vandaag heb geoogst waren van drie zeer grote sering struiken.
  2. Leg de bloemen, bij voorkeur op een lichtgekleurd oppervlak, tien minuten uit om eventuele insecten aan een plakkerige dood te laten ontsnappen. Scheid vervolgens alle dode of onbetrouwbaar ogende bloemen van de trossen.
De paarse bloemen ruiken nog steeds geweldig, maar sommige bloemen in de tros zijn voorbij hun beste

Kies elke kleine bloem uit de trosstelen. Zorg ervoor dat je de nectary niet op de stelen laat staan, die moet in de honing gaan. De nectary bevindt zich aan het begin van de bloembuis, net waar deze het groen raakt. Knabbelen en je proeft de zoetheid op dat punt van de tube.

De geur die vrijkomt tijdens deze verwerkingsfase is geweldig – als je van de geur van sering houdt.

Plaats de afzonderlijk geplukte bloemen in een schone glazen weckpot of jampot. Ik heb vandaag een pot van 2 liter gebruikt en je kunt zien dat er nog veel ruimte over is, wat handig zal zijn als ik over een week of zo water toevoeg.

5. Giet nu voorzichtig ongeveer 500 ml / 2 kopjes vloeibare honing (bij voorkeur lokale honing) over de kleine bloemen en zorg ervoor dat ze volledig bedekt zijn. Zachtjes maar grondig zachtjes om ze in de honing gedrenkt te krijgen. Je hebt zoveel mogelijk contact nodig tussen de honing en de bloemen.

6. Gebruik een schoon, slank, puntig voorwerp, zoals een stok of breinaald, om rond te prikken en eventuele opgesloten luchtbellen uit de mix te verwijderen.

De bloemen zullen naar de top van de honing stijgen als er luchtbellen ontsnappen. Dat is prima. Zorg er gewoon voor dat die bloemen in honing zwemmen en dat je controleert of alle luchtbellen zijn ontsnapt.

Bloemen stijgen op met de kleine luchtbelletjes
  1. Laat het mengsel intrekken zolang je het kunt verdragen om te wachten. Het basisproces duurt niet lang (een dag), maar naarmate je langer wacht met deze stap, krijg je een veel interessantere mede. Ik vind dat een paar weken voldoende is om een aangename complexiteit van smaak te ontwikkelen in de honinginfusie. Houd gedurende deze tijd, indien mogelijk, dagelijks de infuserende honing in de gaten. Controleer of de bloemen helemaal met honing doordrenkt zijn, vooral tijdens de eerste dagen, anders kun je bruin wordende bloemen vinden – een zeker teken dat zuurstof de bloemen bereikt en rotten mogelijk maakt. Sommige mensen houden ervan om de verzegelde pot een week lang elke dag ondersteboven te houden om het probleem te voorkomen. Ik ben er meer ontspannen over, maar ik zorg er dubbel voor dat er de eerste paar dagen geen lucht in het mengsel achterblijft en dat de bloemen doordrenkt zijn met honing.

NB: Als je alleen de geïnfuseerde honing wilt, zeef dan de bloemen van de honing op dit punt in het proces. Giet het mengsel door een kaasdoek / mousseline. Bewaar de doordrenkte honing in een schone pot en gebruik de gebruikte bloemen in desserts of voeg een theelepel toe per kopje gekookt water voor thee. Anders composteer je ze. Ik bewaar graag wat doordrenkte honing en gebruik de rest voor het volgende mede-recept.

Nu voor het gist!

  1. Voeg na voldoende infusietijd gekookt en vervolgens afgekoeld (tot kamertemperatuur) water toe aan de honingbloemeninfusie. Verschillende culturen staan bekend om het maken van mede van verschillende honing: waterverhoudingen. Hoe hoger de honingconcentratie, hoe hoger het uiteindelijke alcoholgehalte. Ik heb liever een milde mede

Voor deze voeg ik 3x het volume honing toe, in water. Omdat ik ongeveer 500 ml honing heb gebruikt, zal ik ongeveer 1500 ml water toevoegen. Dat zou de pot vullen, dus ik zal er waarschijnlijk iets minder aan toevoegen. Mogelijk hebt u op dit punt een grotere weckpot nodig. Ik hou van de 2-liter exemplaren, omdat ze een behoorlijke hoeveelheid brouwsel kunnen zetten zonder al te veel opslagruimte in beslag te nemen.

  1. Roer nu alles goed door en blaas lucht en natuurlijke gisten de jonge mede in. Gebruik hiervoor een schone lepel. Er zullen natuurlijke gisten zijn over je Sering bloemen, maar deze stap moedigt meer aan en het stimuleert een beter brouwsel.
  2. Bedek de pot met een doek, bijvoorbeeld een schone mousseline en houd deze op zijn plaats met een elastische band rond de rand van de container. Dek het deksel niet volledig af. Het idee is om te voorkomen dat vliegen binnendringen en gisten in de lucht bij het brouwsel te laten komen.
  1. Wacht een week of twee en houd het in de gaten voor microbiële actie. Schuimvorming is hier een goede zaak. Het geeft aan dat gisten in opkomst zijn en de geïnfuseerde honing beginnen te fermenteren, waarbij alcohol en kooldioxide worden geproduceerd. Roer het elke dag goed door, minstens één keer per dag om meer gisten in te rijden. Mede heeft gist nodig!

NB: Als de lokale moerasspirea rond deze tijd in bloei komt, voeg ik een bloemhoofdje van twee toe aan de mix. Moerasspirea bloemen zijn bedekt met lokale gisten en helpen echt bij het fermentatieproces.

Witte schuimende moerasspirea bloemen, van de kruiden van een vorige brouwsel

Gedroogde moerasspirea zal het doen, maar ik hoop dat je het ermee eens bent, het is veel minder Jeff Buckley dan ronddwalen naar een lokale beekrand en een sterk geurende bloei plukken die bekend is bij de druïden en sluwe mensen van weleer en bij sommigen nog steeds bekend om hun plaats in bruidsboeketten en midzomerkronen. Verder gaan…

  1. Ga door met stap 10 totdat u tevreden bent dat er een goede hoeveelheid actie in uw mengsel zit. Als je helemaal geen schuim hebt, bovenop de vloeistof, heb je niet veel gist en krijg je niet veel van een mede. Geef het dus meer tijd.
  2. Als er genoeg opwinding is in uw met stof bedekte weckpot, haalt u de bloemen eraf (en composteert u ze alstublieft). De vloeistof is je onvolgroeide mede. Behandel het vriendelijk. Het heeft nu een gistingsfles nodig met een luchtslot en dat moet een mooi geschrobde en steriele gistingsfles zijn.

Ik gebruik gistingsflessen met een inhoud van 2 liter van de Brouwnarkt.nl. Ze zijn geweldig voor mijn behoeften omdat ze klein genoeg zijn voor mijn appartement en het groen getinte glas voorkomt dat het meeste zonlicht binnenkomt en mijn gisting doodt. Hierdoor kan ik ze op hun beurt uit de kostbare kastruimte houden en op een plank waar ik ze kan volgen (ook bekend als ze elke keer als ik langskom en Lilac wijn voor mezelf zing).

  1. Pas de luchtslot aan zodra de onvolgroeide mede in de gistingsfles zit. Deze moeten meestal voor de helft met water worden gevuld. De rol van de luchtslot is om frisse lucht en insecten buiten de fermentatie te houden en tegelijkertijd bellen van CO2 te laten ontsnappen.
  2. Laat het zo zitten, zonder ermee te roeren of ermee te rommelen, tot het een heldere week niet meer borrelt. Dit kan een paar weken zijn, het kan een paar maanden zijn. Wees geduldig. Goede dingen komen aan degenen die wachten.
  3. Een lange periode van niet-borrelen geeft aan dat de fermentatie is gestopt. Dit kan echter tijdelijk zijn, bijvoorbeeld bij lage temperaturen. Pas dus op dat je niet te opgewonden raakt en te vroeg flesjes maakt, want je zult merken dat hogere temperaturen later in het jaar ervoor zorgen dat het proces opnieuw start. Als dat in uw afgedekte flessen gebeurt, krijgt u waarschijnlijk een puinhoop van lekkende mede en mogelijk enkele exploderende flessen.

Ik heb de neiging om de luchtslot op mijn voltooide mede maandenlang te laten staan. Zolang het luchtslot voor de helft gevuld is met water, kan er niet veel misgaan. Hierdoor kan de mede rijpen.

  1. Ten slotte wordt het afgewerkte deel in flessen gesifoneerd, zoals een sterke glazen Grolsch-fles met drukdop. Hiervoor bewaar ik een meter schone aquariumslang.
zijn ene smaakte erg goed – zelfs na 7 jaar wachten. Elke fles is een verrassing!
  1. Drink onmiddellijk of bewaar om de mede te laten rijpen.

Ik denk dat mede geweldige dingen zijn en ik hoop dat jij het ook leuk vindt. Laat me weten hoe je verder gaat met het recept als je het probeert. En als je van de lila tonen van meneer Buckley houdt, luister dan opnieuw. Misschien is er een lied dat Lilac mede heet? Laat het me weten!


Ik bied een kruidencursus voor diegenen die geïnteresseerd zijn in het gebruik van lokale kruiden en in harmonie met de natuur leven, terwijl ze in de stad zijn. Voor meer informatie, stuur een e-mail of bekijk de informatie hier. De cursus wordt online gehouden met wekelijkse zoombijeenkomsten, 1:1 wandelingen en workshops die opnieuw starten wanneer de corona situatie verbetert. De cursus is beschikbaar in het Nederlands en Engels.

Lilac Wine

Voor Nederlands klik hier

I apologise, I have misled you somewhat. This post is actually about how to make Lilac Mead and Lilac Honey, rather than Lilac Wine.

The reason for my deception is that I think of my mum, our old garden, her best friend Francis and Jeff Buckley, every single time that I pass by a Lilac tree. And dear Jeff Buckley sang Lilac Wine breathtakingly well so as I write about lilac, I can only think of that and hence the misleading title.

Hearing the song transports me back to a time when I would listen to him around the clock and hang on his every pause. If you’re a bit of a romantic too, I suggest playing the track whilst reading through my mead making instructions. I can’t breathe properly whilst listening to Mr Buckley (I seem to breathe along with him) so please forgive me if I lose my thread now and then..

Firstly let’s set up some Lilac honey

Yes, the flowers of the Lilac shrub (Syringa vulgaris) are edible. This plant is in the Olive family (Oleaceae) and you may notice that the flowers are similar to those of Privet (Ligustrum vulgare). Lilac can be easily identified by the large clusters of 4 – petalled flowers, each with a small tube, connecting it to the flower cluster stems, and containing the nectar. Lilac flower clusters are heavily scented and are generally around a 15 – 20cm long.

Mature Lilac leaves are heart shaped and roughly 10cm long whereas Privet has smaller leaves, a smaller stature in general and far smaller white flower clusters. Privet is often found wild and is planted to make a dense hedge. Lilac is sometimes found outside of gardens but is mostly grown for the incredible flowers and the attractive thick stems. I used to scramble around and picnic with snails in our old Lilac shrub, as a child.

Syringa vulgaris

Yes, all colours of Lilac flowers will work for this. The scent is the most important aspect, any colour is a bonus. It’s best to harvest the white, lilac or purple blooms whilst they are in tip top condition but as you will see from the images below, some of the blooms which I picked today were partly going over. No matter – it is easy to separate the best parts from the rest.

I don’t know about you but my mead making materials are not sterile at the moment and my limited apartment cupboard space is chock full of canned foods and dried beans. So, whilst the lilac flowers infuse in honey for a week or two, I can find and sterilise a small demijohn and air lock and make some space to keep the fermenting mead. I live in an Amsterdam apartment so space is at a premium and I brew in small batches.

1. Carefully and legally harvest 1 or 2 full lilac flower heads. By legally, I mean, use scissors or secateurs and ask permission. Only take a little. The three heads that I harvested today were from three very large Lilac shrubs.

2. Lay out the blooms, preferably on a bright surface, for ten minutes to encourage any bugs to escape a sticky death. Then separate any dead or dodgy looking flowers from the clusters.

The purple flowers still smell great but some of the flowers within the cluster are past their best

3. Pick each tiny flower from the cluster stems. Be sure not to leave the nectary on the stems, that needs to go into the honey. The nectary is at the start of the flower tube, just where it meets the green. Have a nibble and you will taste the sweetness at that point of the tube.

The smell released from this processing stage is great – If you like the scent of lilac.

4. Place the individually plucked flowers in a clean glass canning jar or jam jar. I used a 2 litre jar today and you can see there is loads of space remaining which will be useful when I add water in a week or so.

5. Now gently pour about 500ml / 2 cups of runny honey (preferably local honey) over the tiny flowers and ensure that they are totally covered. Gentle but thoroughly ease them around to get them soaked in the honey. You need as much contact between the honey and flowers as possible.

6. Use a clean slender pointy object, such as a chop stick or knitting needle, to poke around and release any trapped air bubbles from the mix.

The flowers will rise to the top of the honey as air bubbles escape. That’s fine. Just ensure that those flowers are swimming in honey and that you check that all of the air bubbles have escaped.

Flowers rise with the tiny air bubbles

7. Leave the mixture to infuse for as long as you can bear to wait. The basic process won’t take very long (a day) but you’ll get a far more interesting mead the longer you wait with this step. I find that a couple of weeks is sufficient to develop a pleasant complexity of flavour in the honey infusion. During this time, keep an eye on the infusing honey daily, if possible. Check that the flowers are totally honey drenched, especially during the first days, or else you may find browning flowers – a sure sign that oxygen is reaching the flowers enabling rotting. Some people like to tip the sealed jar upside down each day for a week, to prevent the problem. I am more relaxed about it but I make double certain that during the first couple of days, there is no air remaining in the mixture and the flowers are drenched in honey.

NB: If you just want the infused honey, strain the flowers from the honey at this stage. Pour the mixture through a cheese cloth / muslin. Save the infused honey in a clean jar and use the spent flowers in deserts or add a teaspoon per a cup of boiled water for teas. Otherwise, compost them. I like to save some infused honey, without straining and to use the rest for the following mead recipe.

Now the yeasty bit!

8. After sufficient infusion time, add boiled and then cooled (to room temperature) water to the honey flower infusion. Different cultures are known for making mead of different honey:water ratios. The higher the honey concentration, the higher the eventual alcohol content. I prefer a mild mead

For this one I’m adding 3x the volume of honey, in water. As I used about 500ml honey, I will add about 1500ml water. That would fill the jar, so I will probably add a little less. You may need a bigger canning jar at this stage. I do like the 2 litre ones as they will make a decent amount of brew without taking too much storage space.

9. Now give it all a good stir, driving air and natural yeasts into the fledgling mead. Use a clean spoon for this. There will be natural yeasts all over your Lilac flowers but this step encourages in more and it encourages a better brew.

10. Cover the jar with cloth, something such as a clean muslin and hold it in place with an elastic band around the rim of the container. Do not fully cover with the lid. The idea is to prevent flies getting in whilst allowing airborne yeasts to get to the brew.

A light froth, on top of the ferment indicates yeast action

11. Leave for a week or two and keep an eye on it for any microbial action. Frothiness is a good thing here. It indicates that yeasts are taking hold and are starting to ferment the infused honey, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide. Give it a good stir everyday, at least once daily to drive in more yeasts. Mead needs yeast!

NB: If the local Meadowsweet comes into flower around this time, I will add a flower head of two into the mix. Meadowsweet flowers are covered in local yeasts and really help the fermentation process along.

White frothy Meadowsweet flowers, from the herbs of a previous batch of mead

Dried Meadowsweet will do but I hope you’ll agree, it is far less Jeff Buckley than wandering along to a local stream edge and plucking a heavily fragrant bloom known to the druids and cunning folk of old and still known to some for it’s place in bridal bouquets and midsummer headdresses. Moving on…

12. Keep doing step 10 until you are satisfied that there is a good amount of action in your mixture. If you don’t have any froth at all, on top of the liquid, you don’t have many yeast and you won’t get much of a mead. So give it more time.

13. When there is plenty of excitement in your cloth covered canning jar, strain off the flowers (and please compost them). The liquid is your immature mead. Treat it kindly. It now needs a container with an air lock and that needs to be a nicely scrubbed and sterile container.

I use 2 litre capacity demijohns from de Brouwnarkt.nl. They are great for my needs as they are small enough for my apartment and the green tinted glass stops most sunlight getting in and killing my ferment. This in turn allows me to keep them out of precious cupboard space and on a shelf where I can monitor them (aka covet them every time I pass by and sing lilac wine to myself).

14. As soon as the immature mead is in the demi-john, fit the airlock. These usually need to be half filled with water. The role of the airlock is to keep fresh air and bugs out of the ferment whilst allowing bubbles of CO2 to escape.

15. Let it sit like that, without agitating or fiddling with it, until it stops bubbling for a clear week. This could be a few weeks, it could be a few months. Be patient. Good things come to those who wait.

16. A long period of non-bubbling indicates that fermentation has ceased. However, this could be temporary, in cold temperatures for instance. So be careful not to get over excited and bottle too soon as you may find that increased temperatures later in the year, cause the process to start up again. If that happens in your capped bottles, you will probably get a mess of leaking mead and possibly some exploding bottles.

I tend to leave the air lock on my finished mead for months. As long as the air lock is half filled with water, not much can go wrong. This allows allows the mead to mature.

17. Finally siphon off the finished mead (I keep a meter length of clean aquarium tubing for this purpose) into bottles such as a strong glass Grolsch bottle with pressure cap.

This one tasted really good – even after 7 years of waiting. Every bottle is a surprise!

18. Drink immediately or store to allow the mead to mature.

I think mead is amazing stuff and I hope you like it too. Do let me know how you get on with the recipe if you try it. And if you like Mr Buckley’s lilac tones, listen again. Perhaps there is a song out there called lilac mead? If so, do let me know!


I offer an apprenticeship course for those interested in using local herbs and living in tune with nature, whilst in the city. For more information, email me or see the information here. The course runs online with weekly Zoom gatherings, 1:1 walks and workshops restarting when the COVID situation improves.

Stoepkrijt tijd

For English click here

De laatste tijd hebben een paar vrienden en familie me een zetje gegeven over deze botanische stoepkrijt die momenteel in Europa gaande is.

Ann van City Plot gaf me gisteravond een zetje, wat de laatste strohalm heeft bewezen – het is duidelijk tijd dat we beginnen met meedoen! Wil iemand meedoen met ons?

Hier zijn een paar dingen die we vandaag in de stad hebben gekrijt …

Overblijvende ossentong (Pentaglottis sempervirens) Green Alkanet

Er gaat niets boven een naamplaatje om mensen te helpen beseffen wat er onder hun neus groeit terwijl ze door de straten lopen.

Smalle weegree (Plantago lanceolata) Ribwort

Veel van ons kennen de waarde van de planten die de meeste mensen onkruid noemen. We zijn gepassioneerd door mensen die beseffen wat er kan worden gedaan met planten die om hen heen groeien en zorgen voor de planten die van nature groeien in vergeten ruimtes.

Grote weegbree (Plantago major) Plantain

Meestal willen we niet van trottoirs oogsten of foerageren, maar die stedelijke kruiden en groenten kunnen een bron zijn van gratis zaad, stekjes, startplanten en leerplanten.

Lindenboom (Tilia sp.) Lime tree

Hier is een Grote stinkende gouwe die ik vorige week uit een stoeptegelscheur trok en nu op mijn dak groeit voor een huismiddeltje en een leerplant. Het gele sap binnenin heeft verschillende toepassingen.

Stinkende gouwe (Chelidonium majus) Greater celandine

Als je niet zeker bent van de naam van de plant, stuur me dan een duidelijke foto via Whatsapp of e-mail van en ik stuur je de plantnaam. 06 275 969 30 urban.herbology.lynn@gmail.com

Ik zou ook graag je gelabelde planten zien en zal hier graag wat foto’s plaatsen, en op het Urban Herbology Facebook pagina.

Chalk and talk

Voor nederlands klik hier

Lately, a few friends and family have nudged me about this botanical street chalking that’s going on in Europe right now.

Ann from City Plot gave me a nudge last night which has proved the final straw –  it’s clearly time that we start to join in the fun!

Anyone in?

Here are a couple that we did today across town…

Green alkanet (Pentaglottis sempervirens)

Nothing like a name tag to help people realise what’s growing under their noses as they walk around the streets.

Smalle weegree (Plantago lanceolata) Ribwort

Many of us know the value of the plants which most people call weeds. We are passionate about people realising what can be done with plants growing around them and looking after the plants which naturally grow in forgotten spaces.

Grote weegree (Plantago major) Plantain

Mostly, we won’t want to harvest or forage from pavements but those urban herbs and veggies can be a source of free seed, cuttings, starter plants and teaching plants.

Lindenboom (Tilia sp.) Lime tree

Here’s a Greater celandine which I pulled from a pavement crack last week and now grows on my roof for a home remedy and teaching plant. The yellow sap inside has several uses.

Greater celandine (Chelidonium majus) Stinkende gouw

It you’re not sure of the name of the plant, feel free to send me a clear photo by What’s app or email and I’ll send you the plant name. 06 275 969 30 urban.herbology.lynn@gmail.com

I’d love to see your labelled plants too and will happily post some photos here, and on the Urban Herbology FaceBook page.

Prickly Bear Sauce

It’s stinging nettle top plucking time here in Amsterdam. Most people realise that they are edible and that they sting.  I”m often asked how to eat these prickly iron and protien-rich freinds.  There are many ways!

Some people like to roll them up and eat then raw. I prefer them cooked or added raw to smoothies. Nettle soup is popular and I like that but I’m fonder of incorporating nettles into creamy, garlicky sauces.  I’m making one this evening so I thought I’d share how.

I’m calling this little sauce recipe The Prickly Bear because it contains stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) which are clearly prickly and wild garlic, scientifically known as Allium ursinum, Bear onion. You may know it better as Ramsons, Daslook or Wild garlic.

To make enough sauce for 4 – 6 people, I used:

Olive oil

3 banana shallots

20 stinging nettle tops (top 4 full leaves and stems)

Handful of wild garlic leaves

5 chestnut mushrooms

3 table spoons sour cream

1/2 good quality stock cube

Salt and pepper

Gently saute a few chopped shallots (or a medium onion) in butter, ghee or olive oil.

Add washed and chopped stinging nettle tops, before the shallots are thoroughly cooked.

Cover with a lid and allow it all to steam for a few minutes. Stinging nettles benefit from being nice and soft when you eat them so don’t rush this step.

Now add the chopped Ramsons. Give it all a good stir.

Add sour cream, salt, pepper or a little of a good quality stock cube.

and then add a hearty pile of sliced mushrooms (preferably chestnut mushrooms).

Replace the lid and simmer gently for 5 minutes or so, until the mushrooms are cooked and tender.

Serve with whatever you like. I stirred it through some gnocchi this evening and sliced some Comte cheese over the top.

Sweet Midsummer

I haven’t posted anything for a while although have been out in the plants a surprising amount, especially considering I’m now classroom bound five days a week. Yesterday was midsummer so I held a small gathering in Park Frankendael. I felt so honoured to be surrounded by such lovely people and freely the urge to share a free photos and words about it.

We gathered early, soon after 5pm under the grandest Lime trees in the park. I laid down an old, well loved and patched gold-threaded Indian quilt on the grass and we spread out the food. By Lime trees, I mean Tilia, linden. Amazing trees, here’s a post I wrote 8 years ago about them if you’d like to explore some of their numerous gifts and folklore.

Sameena came prepared as ever for some ceremony. This time with a sweet ripe melon, orange and apricots. She scooped out enough of the melon and Livvy poured in sunshine coloured fruit juice. This sat in the centre of the quilt, we sat circled around it age then Sameena added a slice of dripping orange and an apricot for each of the group.

We joined hands and shared thoughts about the sun at midsummer. One by one the group swelled in number so extra slices of orange and more sharing of thoughts.

After, we supped from the melon bowl and ate the orange and other foods. Such a simple, homespun and effective ceremony.

I’m dramatically reducing my stocks of herbal concoctions at home right down; pairing it right down to nothing more than I need for one season. My library is also being shared so more people can benefit from it and my energy has more space to expand – More on that from this lovely new post by apprentice and illustrator Hannah McDonald.

I’ve been holding onto some magical homemade mead for quite a long time so last night was the perfect opportunity to crack them open and enjoy. I believe that there’s little happier in the glass kingdom than a bottle of home crafted ferment, being steadily shared between freinds. First to be sampled was a very low alcohol but high energy Elderflower mead. The colour was just right for the bright early evening sun. Later, as the strength of the sun waned, a deep red heady and potent concoction was downed, sip by sip.

Photo credit: Sameena. Midsummer 2019 – Livvy, roly-polys and daisies.

After some wonderful tree song singing courtesy of Grace, lime leaf munching, pistache shell ephemeral creating, catching up on thoughts, roly-polys and eating, we packed up camp and took a stroll through the River of Herbs orchards, just in time for the sun to set over the Limes. How wonderful the herb gardens look too! Full of frogs, scents, flowers and energy. The River of Herbs Monday morning team are doing such an amazing job of caring for them. More help is always welcome to get in touch if you’d like to be involved. I look forward to joining them more during my summer holiday.

We explored the newly crafted fairy homes, harvested a little Motherwort and Bay and observed the Lotus blossoms in the small pond, close up over the time that we were there.

All in all, a beautiful evening with beautiful souls. We’re hoping to meet again for Lughnasa. If you’d like to join, keep an eye on the Meetup group or get on touch.

Wishing you a sweet, wonderfilled midsummer.

Magnificent Magnolia

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!

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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. I can also report that when I eat Magnolia petal, my sinuses become clear, quite like magic.

Imagine a slightly rubbery super sized rose petal which clears the sinuses a little, when you bite into it and you are getting close to the mouth feel and flavour of a magnolia petal. I like them very much and because a little goes a long way with these large petals, I can certainly recommend them to other urban herb lovers. As you may know, via my apprenticeship and walks, I teach how to harvest interesting herbs in towns and cities, in a safe and ethical way. This entails taking only a little, leaving no trace and really make the most of the harvest. Do contact me if you would like to know more – This is my passion!

Medicinal Bark
Fairly recent research suggests that Magnolia bark extract can help with oral health, stress reduction and several other disorders. In traditional medicine it is reportedly used as an antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, anticancer agent, in the treatment of Alzheimer disease, depression, diabetes, and menopause. All Magnolia species varieties are considered to possess the same medicinal qualities and there are apparently no known side effects – although we know that someone somewhere, could be allergic to the plant, so please be cautious. Magnolia Bark Extract is widely available for sale and Magnolia bark is an ingredient in many traditional Chinese medicines including Hsiao-cheng-chi-tang, Wuu-Ji-San, Heii-san, Shimpi-to, Hangekouboku-to, Masinin-gan, Sai-boku-to, Syosaiko-to, Irei-to and Goshaku-san.

Japanese traditional medicine also prizes both the bark and flowers of Magnolia. Bark harvesting is not something suggested for the urban forager because it certainly leaves a trace and it is certainly not ethical.

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Magnolias in Westerpark

Stealthy Petal Plucking
When harvesting from perhaps the most beautiful of city trees, one would perhaps look both foolish and anti-social to pluck entire flowers. So I suggest that you don’t. Instead, I recommend that when stumbling upon a prime Magnolia specimen in bloom, and feeling the urge to eat it, you do the following:

1. After checking for unwanted observers, wander nonchalantly up to the tree. Are the blossoms within your reach? If not move on to another.
2. If so, reach up as if to smell the fragrance of a prime bloom, pull it gently to your nose with one hand, whilst deftly plucking a single petal from its base, with the other hand whilst simultaneously inhaling the spicy aroma.
3. Tuck the plucked petal in your pocket as you gently release the bloom with your other hand.
4. Move along to another flower, as if to compare its scent with the previous bloom. Repeat steps 1 to 3 until you have harvested three or four petals.

A magnolia flower can miss one petal without much issue. If two or more petals are plucked from one bloom, evidence of foraging shows and that is not the plan. So one petal from a flower, move to another, one more petal and so on. When you have three or four petals, you are done. That is enough to make something very tasty and useful and you will have increased your stealth foraging skills..

Magnolia flower
Untouched – Delicious

Favourite Trees
I tend to forage a handful of petals each year, from 6 favourite Magnolias which are dotted around east Amsterdam. They are all growing in public spaces so stealth foraging is required. I don’t harvest from them if other people are around because apart from it just looks silly. I also limit myself to plucking a petal from two flowers per tree. I first wrote about my love of Magnolia petals on 2012. Since then urban foraging has increased in popularity so I also am careful to only pluck from Magnolias which seem not to have been visited by other foragers.

 


Magnolia Petal Recipes
Things that I like to do with a precious handful of magnolia petals. I hope that you have a go and let me know how you get on in the comments.

Magnolia Petal Pickle
They can be pickled, old English style by simply filling a small jar with fresh petals and then completely filling the jar again with rice wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar with a little salt and sugar to balance the flavours. I don’t add sugar or salt so I guess my version is simply Magnolia petal vinegar – I don’t mind because it tastes good 🙂

Fermented Magnolia Petals
You may like to ferment them using a little salt and water, in the style of Sandor Katz.
I prefer to lay them in my handy small Japanese vegetable press. I then sprinkle with a pinch of salt and apply the gentle but consistent pressure of the Japanese press for about 3 hours. This produces a very light ferment and it draws out some of the water from the petals (which tastes good too). You can leave the pressure for a lot longer if you prefer, winding the contraption every few hours to ensure the petals are in fact under a little pressure and to encourage the process.

Magnolia Petal Honey
When I first tasted a Magnolia petal and felt its clearing effect on my sinuses, I decided to transfer the petals’ properties to honey. This is soooo simple to make. It creates something which my family and friends find delicious and I hope you will too. If the honey turns you off, try Agave syrup. It works very well but in my experience is less spreadable (being rather runny).

magnolia honey

 

Magnolia petals infusing in honey

How to Make Magnolia Petal Honey (or use Agave syrup)
1. Gather your petals.
2. I rarely wash magnolia petals because I only harvest clean looking ones, which are from way above the ground but unsoiled by birds. You may like to wash yours. If so, then dry them off.
3. Tear the clean, surface dry petals into a sterile small glass jar. I use dishwasher cleaned pesto jars for this sort of thing.
4. Covered completely with runny honey. Use a chop stick or knitting needle to loosen trapped air bubbles. You may need to release the air and top up with honey several times. The jar should be filled to the brim with honey. The air bubbles won’t all leave the honey but prodding with chopsticks, helps them to escape and thus reduces the risk of contamination.
5. When no more air bubbles are escaping and no more honey needs to be added, close the jar tightly with its lid.
6. The constituents of the petals will infuse into the honey over the following days and weeks but the honey will take on a delicious Magnolia aroma and taste within a few hours.
7. Eat in any honey way (smear on bread, add to smoothies, mix with a little vinegar for an elixir, etc) you choose or take a teaspoon now and them to help soothe anxiety, sore throats or respiratory congestion. I don’t bother to strain this honey as I like the petal crunch. You could strain after 6 weeks if you preferred. It seems a waste of those petals though.

Please note that the herbal honey may start to ferment after a while, due to the high water content in the petals. Keep an eye on the jar, if it starts to bubble, the lid must be loosened to avoid pressure building up and the glass jar exploding. Storing it in a cool dark location will help to preserve its shelf life. Eating it all up will also avoid the problem 🙂


I hope that you get a taste for Magnolia petals this year and have a try at infusing them in honey, agave syrup, vinegar, vodka or olive oil. This herb is so beautiful, so giving and so tasty – it would be a pity to miss the fun completely wouldn’t it? I was looking at my favourite Magnolia at twilight this evening. It will open its blooms very soon and I will be waiting and thanking it for every petal.


Do you like it?
Please do add a comment about your magnolia experiences at the foot of the page or fill in the contact form. I would love to hear how you get on with magnolia and what else you are keen to learn about!


Learn Urban Herbology
If you want to learn more about foraging and using herbs in towns and cities, take a look at my apprenticeship course. I have helped hundreds of wonderful people learn about Urban Herbology over the years and I would love to help you on your journey!

Ramson mackerel spread

Urbanherbology ramson-mackerel pasteThere seems hardly time to do anything except forage and garden at the moment. Spring has truely sprung and wild garlic / ramsons (Allium ursinum) is on my menu each day! As ever,  I can’t get enough of this herb and have been experimenting with how to stretch the harvest.

Mostly, I have been preserving this spicy-pungent herb in ghee or olive oil. The infused ghee is wonderful, easy to make, versatile as a cooking ingredient and a useful ready to use remedy.  Today though, an even smellier yet wonderful flavour pairing emerged.

At lunchtime, a forgotten smoked mackerel, called out to me from my fridge. As I’m off colour at the moment, I couldn’t face eating the whole thing in one sitting but equally didn’t want to waste it.  So I set about making something simple.  Eight silken ramson leaves, lovingly plucked from the orchards on Wednesday also cried out from my fridge. I blended them together into a paste/dip/sandwich spread and the combination works, so here is my recipe for ramson-smoked mackerel paste:

1. In a bowl or food processor, thoroughly combine the bone and skin-free meat from one whole smoked mackerel, the juice of 1/2 to 1 lemon, a small handful of washed wild garlic leaves and a generous tablespoon of ghee or butter. (I used wild garlic infused ghee today).

2. Blend or mix to your desired consistency. Season to taste with salt,  pepper and perhaps extra lemon juice.

3. Transfer to a glass storage container. It should keep for a few days if refrigerated.

Do let me know if you try this recipe and if you have other ways for using wild garlic. On April 3rd I’ll be harvesting and processing more wild garlic at the spring apprenticeship gathering. Let me know if you would like to join us! Details are on my events page.

 

 

 

 

Forager’s Kefir

Aurel Chaoul taught me how to really make water kefir a couple of years ago. One beautiful Beltane evening in the River of Herbs orchards, he showed a bewitched group of us how to set up a batch. He added chewed over apple cores, squeezed out lemons, bits of ginger, a liberal amount of caster sugar and whatever else felt good at the time. I have been hooked on it since and my recipes have become more experimental as I gained confidence with those little living grains. Ginger, Turmeric and Lemon is a firm favourite, reminding me of a Balinese Jamu but taking far less time to prepare. Ginger and lemon, is rather like ginger beer and basil tastes great with most fruits. Stinging nettle infusion, fed to kefir without any sweetener is another top experimental result in this house. It tastes rather like nettle beer and can be made overnight. It’s a complete bargain, especially if you like a slightly beery taste but not the alcohol. The nettle does tend to stain the kefir grains though, not really a problem unless you don’t want nettle in your next kefir batch.

My autumn 2015 favourite is made from foraged rosehips, quince, lemon and honey. The rosehips here have been drying out whole over several weeks, on my dining room table. They looked so pretty when I harvested them and I didn’t feel like scooping out the itchy seeds for rosehip honey this year. So they sat around a candle and shriveled up gracefully. When added to the kefir brew, they perk straight back to life and look gorgeous again. Quinces are exquisite old fashioned fruits which I don’t find often in Amsterdam. However they are currently hanging in a perfectly pluckable state on a grand old tree in Frankendael orchards. Each time I garden there, I take a few home and invariably forget to cook them. They dry slowly in my fruit bowl and release an amazing pear-y fragrance, which is no bad thing. The Lemon is left over from mealtime wedges and the honey is because the kefir grains love a little sweetness to get them going. I find the combination a real pleasure to drink and it always goes down well with the orchard project volunteers.

If you enjoy experimenting with water-kefir and you like to forage, I’d love to know what your favourite combination is!

Sweet Contradiction

oxymel

Let’s face it, some herbs are hard to swallow – not because they are chewy or toxic but because they just taste sooooo strong that they make your toes curl and your hair stand on end!

One solution to the issue of strong but necessary herbal taste, is to create an Oxymel. These are delicious concoctions which take just moments to prepare and have a good storage life. They are made from herbs, honey and vinegar, having a sweet and sour taste which detracts from strong flavours. Oxy- means acid, containing oxygen or contradictory. -mel means honey.  I like to think of them as sweet contradictions. Oxymels combine the properties of the herbs, vinegar and honey from which they are made.

This morning I made some Oxymels with my Rowan apprenticeship group and the apprentices have plans to use them in salad dressings and food dips as well as for the traditional medicinal purposes. You may also like to devise pairs of herbs which work together, either culinary or medicinally. Ginger and garlic is such a combination.

The following is taken from my book which is still not finished!!

OXYMELS
Preparations of vinegar and honey, where at least one has been infused with herb.
The ratio is traditionally 5 parts honey to 1 part vinegar. A traditional method is to combine the honey and vinegar and simmer gently, along with the herb, until the mixture becomes very viscous, like treacle. However I don’t like to heat honey, I follow Ayurvedic advice never to heat it above body temperature.  I prefer to infuse the vinegar and honey separately, for 6 weeks, then to combine them and leave them runny, no need to reduce to a thick consistency. If you have only one constituent infused, the vinegar or the honey, you will also be able to make a useful oxymel. If you have neither honey or vinegar infused, you can simply set up a vinegar and honey herbal infusion and wait up to 6 weeks before straining and storing.

Recipe (with pre-infused honey and/or vinegar)
1. Simply combine 5 parts runny honey (which may be previously infused with herb and strained) and 1 part apple cider vinegar (which may be previously infused with herb and strained).
2. Store in a sterile glass jar with non-metallic lid.

Recipe with fresh herbs
(In the absence of infused herbal vinegar or honey)
1. Fill a small glass jar with chopped fresh herb.
2. Make a non-herbal oxymel using the 5:1 guidelines above (e.g. 100ml honey and 20ml apple cider vinegar). Make enough to fill the jar to the brim as your fresh herb will infuse into this liquid.
3. Pour the delicious liquid over the chopped herbs.
4. Seal jar with a non metalic lid (to prevent the vinegar oxidising the metal).
5. Store for 6 weeks and then strain through muslin into another sterile glass jar.
6. Preserve the oxymel in this glass jar with a well fitting non metallic lid.

Storage
Long term but keep an eye on it. 1 year plus.

Dosage
1 teaspoonful a few times a day, of course depending upon the herb used.

Uses
Oxymels are a very useful way to disguise herbs which have tastes which many find hard to swallow. But they have also been used for millennia to create delicious drinks and deserts. A pleasant way to take them is a tablespoon mixed with a glass of soda water or plain water.

Suggested herbs
Garlic-ginger oxymel is a tasty combination or sweet, sour and spicy. I find it handy to keep in stock for colds, flu or as a sore throat gargle.
Peppermint, Sage, Thyme, Mugwort, Hyssop, Garlic (whole cloves), Onion, Ginger, White Horehound, Rosemary – each makes a good oxymel.

As ever, note which oxymels you have made, tried and what you think of them. Also record which proportions of vinegar to honey you have tried and found best. Only use herbs which you are certain are completely safe for you to use. If you are really sick, consult a doctor! I use my oxymels for simple ailments such as tickly throats.

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No matter how much I know that a strong bitter taste is just what I need at a cetain time, it’s often very hard to swallow unless I can soften the blow to my tastebuds. Oxymels are one way to do this. I hope you enjoy them too.

If you would like to learn more about oxymels, perhaps you would like to sign up for my Kitchen Witchery workshop on 12th October 2015.