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:
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.
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!
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.
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..
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).
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!
There 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.
This time of year provides a bounty of nourishing and tasty spring herbs. Here is one way that I like to cook them – a simple, no-fuss risotto.
Today I harvested two large feathery Fennel leaves and three verdant tops of Stinging nettle (from Frankendael herb orchards). Yesterday I plucked three huge Dandelion leaves from the school garden (where I work). The dandelion leaves were wilting away in my fridge today but still taste great cooked, so those three herbs were chopped and added to the pot this evening. I could have many other herbs of course (Dead nettle, Wild garlic seedheads, Geranium and Ground ivy for instance) and I could have harvested heaps of Nettle and Dandelion leaves but there are other days, other meals, other foragers and other creatures who need those plants. Upmost in my urban foraging mind is that by using foraged material as I would use herbs (i.e. in small amounts for culinary seasoning), I reduce my environmental impact and reduce the risk of eating contaminants and plant poisons (should they happen to be on or in the foraged plants). This is why I call my work Urban Herbology, rather than urban foraging. To find out more, do come along on one of my herb walks soon!
Lynn’s Spring Herb Risotto
Spring Herb Risotto
(makes about 2 main dish sized portions)
1/2 cup risotto rice – (non risotto rice will do, it just won’t become so creamy)
1 cup of good stock and 2 cups hot water (or 1/2 an organic chicken or vegetable stockcube in 3 cups hot water)
1 cup finely chopped seasonal fresh herbs (e.g. Fennel leaf, Dandelion, Stinging nettle).
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup frozen peas
Salt/Nori flakes/pepper/Parmesan cheese to taste.
1. Add the rice, stock and hot water to a heavy based pan.
2. Stir briefly to prevent it sticking to base of pan and bring to a boil.
3. Add chopped herbs and onion, stir and bring to boil again before reducing heat to simmer gently with lid on.
4. Simmer as per instructions for your specific rice, the dish thickens up considerably and may require lots more water, it depends on the type of rice used. My risotto rice took about 25 minutes to cook through completely and become nicely loose and creamy.
5. Whilst simmering, continue to stir briefly whenever you think about it. You may need to add a little more water to prevent stickiness.
6. When the rice is cooked through and of a good consistency, add the frozen peas to the pan. Simmer for a further 5 minutes.
7. Check and adjust seasoning (it may need a pinch of salt,nori flakes or pepper)
8. Serve with a hearty grating of Parmesan cheese if desired.
The past few weeks have seen a bounty of free street food falling from trees in Amsterdam. I’ve been enjoying Hazelnuts, Hawthorn berries & Sloes (plucked rather than fallen) and Sweet chestnuts – all absolutely delicious when prepared! The nuts and fruit are still there for the taking in many places but if you have trouble identifying these, keep your eyes open for fallen orange Gingko fruit, falling to the ground from mature female trees. See here how to harvest, prep and eat them and feel free to join me for a quick lunchtime forage in Oud Zuid, over the next couple of weeks.
I infuse them into casseroles, using a stainless steel tea infuser. It gives a mild boost to the food and avoids me having to deal with the inedible pips. Ripe Haws taste a rather similar to bruised apples. Taste aside, they are reported to have many health benefits.
These are plump plum-like edible fruit which look similar to Sloes (which come from the well known Blackthorn tree (Prunus spinosa) (NL:Sleedoorn)). This shrub is growing in the hedgerow of a local playground and it looks more like a Bullace than a Blackthorn. The fruit are larger and the leaves larger and slightly more smooth. Whatever their exact identity, they are of the Prunus species and they tasted good when ripe.
Turkish Hazelnuts (Corylus colurna) (NL: Boomhazelaar). Larger nuts than the usual multistemmed Hazel (and I haven’t had a blank yet, unlike with the others). I’ve been harvesting lots this year from Pythagorasstraat in Amsterdam Oost Watergraafsmeer. This tree species is used commonly as a street tree in cities, it is very tolerant of harsh growing conditions and doesn’t grow those multiple stems so can be kept easily under control in treepits.
What a wonderful gift from the Amsterdam town planners!
If you are lucky and find some on the ground either within or popped out from these extravagant nut cases, take them home and give them a good wash before drying the surface of the nuts and then get cracking! You can use them straight away as a snack, roast them (when the shell is off) or blend them to make a nut milk, pesto etc. How about mixing them with some cocoa or carob powder and honey to create some choc/carob nut spread? Yum!
And now for the deadly tricks…
These pretty tiny tomato like berries are the fruits of poisonous Bittersweet (Solanum dulcamara) (NL: Bitterzoet). Please note that in the US there is another plant called Bittersweet which is quite unrelated. The one in my photograph here above is a member of the Nightshade family and I wasn’t able to get a decent shot of the leaves but they resemble a potato leaf rather than the long blade seen next to the berries (see the link for a clearer idea and better still, look in a good field guide!)
A female Yew tree (Taxus baccata) NL: Venijnboom, laden with beautiful red fruit. The soft slimey flesh is actually edible BUT the seed within each red fruit is deadly poisonous.
Another red and poisonous autumn beauty, Fly agaric toadstool (Amanita muscaria) (NL: Vleigenzwam). It is also psychoactive. These two were growing in Park Frankendael last week. There seem to been quite a flush of them across northern Europe recently.
Today was a beautiful day to harvest Elderflowers from local trees. Here is one of the simplest and tastiest ways to preserve this delight of the hedgerows and it keeps for as long as you like. This can be used instead of Elderflower syrup. To make a delicious drink, pour a small amount into a glass and top up with still or sparkling water.
Elderflower Honey can be made by filling a clean glass jar with freshly picked fragrant Elderflowers (do check as you are about to pick, some smell distinctly unpleasant 🙂 and then filling the jar again with organic runny honey.
Prod with a chopstick for a while, to release any trapped air then top up to the brim with more honey. Securely lid, label and leave to infuse for as long as you like in a kitchen cuboard or similar place.
After just an hour or so, you’ll have a deliciously fragranced honey suitable for deserts or just eating from the spoon as I do. But if you can bear to wait three days or a week, you’ll have something close to nectar. So simple, so tasty and so useful.
When you pick Elderflowers, gather them into a paper bag if possible, being careful to take the precious pollen home with you. Nip them cleanly from the tree as whole sprays of flowers. I use my thumbnails to do this usually or a small pair of kitchen scissors. When you get them home, lay them face down (stalks up) on a white surface for a while to allow bugs to climb out from the flowers. Here you can see some of today’s harvest drying breifly on my Willow rack. I tend to harvest some Elderflowers to dry completely for winter cold and flu remedies but most of my harvest is eaten freshly or turned into sweet treats and drinks. Elderflower honey is the perfect base for many of these recipes and is far more simple than making a sugar syrup. If you are vegan or just don’t want to use honey, you could infuse a vegetable syrup such as oat syrup or agave syrup in the same way. Honey has the added benefits of being a medicine in itself and keeps indefinately is stored well, so preseving herbs in honey is my logical choice. Be aware that honey may contain Botulism spores which can be lethal to children under one year of age (their immature immune systems are not equipt to fight Botulism).
I’m currently working on a vegetarian Elderflower Jelly recipe, using my infused honey. I’ll post the recipe soon for you to try out. If you want to be ready for it then set up a pot of Elderflower honey tomorrow, as above and keep your eyes open for Agar agar powder in Chinese grocers or for the organic option, visit Deshima Freshop (on Weteringschaanscircuit). My Handbook of Urbanherbology methods is almost complete and the final herb jelly recipe will be in there.
This herb sauce was the result of today’s rainy forage in Frankendael park.
After a quick chat with the park warden who was chopping up a massive fallen tree, Livvy and I collected a little each of Ground elder (Aegopodium podograria), Wild garlic (Galium ursinum), Wild geranium (Geranium sp), Ground ivy (Glechoma hederaceae) and White deadnettle (Lamium alba).
I took those herbs (a small handful in all), chopped them, sweated them down in a pan over low heat, with a splash of water for 10 minutes, then added a little blue goats cheese and a desertspoon of sour cream. I them blended it all to a smooth sauce with a hand blender.
The result was very tasty indeed and the balcony harvest Pansies (Viola sp) also went down a treat!
On a less tasty notes: Here is patch of poisonous Lily of the Valley, growing in the park. Just notice how similar the leaves are to those of Wild garlic. The easiest way to distinguish them (apart from the flowers) is that Wild garlic smells very strongly of garlic and Lily of the Valley doesn’t.
To celebrate the fifth birthday of Pop-up City Live, they are hosting The Pop-Up City Live, an experimental event for urban innovators in Amsterdam on Tuesday May 21st where they will bring the blog to life on stage. They have invited me along for a live cooking show with wild veggies and herbs from the sidewalks and parks of Amsterdam. Eleftheria Rosi, one of my apprentices and an awesome wild food cook, will transform my foraged finds into some tastey treats. Whilst that goes on, they will chat to me about urban foraging.
For more info about my foraging part of the evening For the full line up (The Mobiators, A Physchogeographic tour of Venice, Qion, Saskia de Coster, The Deer Friends… …)
. For tickets (6 Euro in advance, 8 Euro at the door – if available)It is nearly sold out. Please contact via the link for tickets (don’t email me, I don’t have any).
Meat and potato pie is the comfort food that potatoes were designed for. Well, in my mind anyway.
I had lots of yoghurt pastry dough, potatoes and some meatballs to use up today. I also had a couple of succulent, fresh Wild Garlic leaves in my fridge, which I had picked this morning. The logical combination for these ingredients was a meat and potato pie, packed with Wild Garlic flavour.
500g caserole beef
(I used 2 big meatballs in gravy from Scharrel Slagerij de Bouter and 250g organic minced beef)
1 medium onion
500g peeled potatoes
2 Wild Garlic leaves, torn or chopped
1 quantity of yoghurt pastry dough
1 stock cube (I used mushroom)
1 heaped desertspoon miso paste
Chop and boil the potatoes in plenty of water, until just tender, so a sharp knife can go in with ease but they don’t fall apart.
Meanwhile finely chop the onion and fry it gently in a small saucepan with some olive oil, until transparent.
Add the meat to the onion, stir now and them whilst the meat cooks through.
Add the stock cube to the meat and enough water to make a plentiful gravy.
Drain the potatoes.
Roll out 2/3 of the pastry, to a size that will comfortably line the base and sides of a buttered pie dish.
Line the dish with the pastry.
Spoon the potatoes into the pastry, follow with the meat, onion, chopped wild garlic and gravy.
Roll our the rest of the pastry, to make a nice pie top. Lay this over the filled pie, crimp it at the edges so it stats together during cooking and fork the top in several places, to slow steam to escape during cooking.
Beat the egg in a cup and brush the tip of the pie.
Cook on a preheated oven at 180°C for about 40 minutes, until the pie crust is a beautiful golden brown and your kitchen smells of wild garlic heaven!
This makes enough to serve 4 – 6, accompanied with vegetables such as carrots
People tend to call herbs blended with pine nuts and cheese, Pesto. I know of another herb blend called Mojo, from holidays in Tenerife. Green mojo is similar to pesto but has more kick to it due to it containing garlic and coriander and they don’t add pinenuts, basil or cheese generally. I began turning today’s Wild Garlic harvest into a sort of pesto and it turned out far more like spicy Mojo. So I’m calling this Wild Garlic Mojo, because if you know both you’ll find this far more akin to Mojo than Pesto. I also like the name as the garlic properties certainly get your mojo up and running!
Wild Garlic Mojo
Take one handful of ethically harvested wild garlic leaves. Place in blender.
Add 250 ml best quality Olive oil, juice of half a lemon,
pinch of quality sea salt,
handful of freshly grated parmesan cheese.
Sprinkling of pine nuts.
Now blend to a fine consistency which should be very easy to pour. Mojo is runny.
Store in sterile glass containers and use as a spicy, aromatic, digestive dressing for grilled cheese, meat, tofu etc or as a useful cooking seasoning.
Mojo originates from the Canary islands and should have heaps of colour, flavour and punch. This has them all.