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
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.
This week’s winter warming herb is a strongly scented evergreen shrub which many people grow in urban gardens. There are a few Rosemary shrubs growing along my street and I am not alone in enjoying a small amount every week or so, in my meals.
If you are able to find some Rosemary, growing near you, I’d love to see a photo and learn what you like to do with it.
Rosemary is in the aromatic Lamiaceae family. It is known for its ability to stimulate the mind and digestive system.
A few photos from recent days. Recognize anything there? Any idea of what’s edible and what’s poisonous? This is a beautiful time of year and there is plenty to do in nature, whether that be watching it change or transforming parts of it into foods and medicines. Most important of all, I think, is to actually get out and enjoy it!
Reflection It is time to take stock. Time to dig deep and reflect on what’s going well, what’s going less well and what to work on next. I did a lot of thinking about my garden (volkstuin) today. I’ve been quite down about it recently because each time I’ve visited, there’s been very little opportunity to actually work with the plants in the way required, to keep it manageable. Since the start of the whole COVID business, the garden has been getting too out of control for my liking. It is still a wonderful wildlife haven and I love to retreat there but a lot of work needs to be done to make it into the incredible herb garden that it should be.
Everything seems to thrive there. The soil is peat-rich and moist making it a nourishing place for all. Valerian, meadowsweet, sweetwoodruff, lovage and gypsy wort are a few of my favourites there. However, the trees are also nourished so much by the location that their sprawling canopies now give little space for light to hit the ground. Less light breaking through means less healthy ground herbs, so I need to take action before the whole garden becomes a woodland. Woodland is great of course, in fact it is fabulous but I would like to continue growing a wide variety of interesting moisture and sun loving herbs in the main part of the garden, rather than only woodland herbs. There is space enough for those at the entrance of the garden. The intention is for lots of people can learn from these special plants and for them to thrive and be periodically harvested from and used as food and medicine, benefiting those who help with their care.
Winter Work Days Over the winter, I will be hosting a number of work days at my garden. The idea to bring the garden back up to scratch through winter, to allow light back in so that the herbs can flourish again come spring. If you would like to join me to do some energetic branch cutting, or lay some woodchip paths or prune back the elders, hazels, willows, apple and plum, then you are most welcome to join me! Maybe we will be moving the Fish herb – NL Moerasanemoon (Houttuynia cordata) or Selfheal that so loves to self seed between the terrace slabs or maybe there will be some pulling up of Brambles to utilise their roots, or keeping stinging nettle in a suitable corner or pruning back the Grapevine. And the Daylillies! The list goes on and on. Always something to do and something to learn about! Some great plants will be moved around at times and when there are too many they will be shared. Of course, I will brew up herb tea and soup to keep us going but do bring some bread if you need something more substantial.
I have a wooden summer house in the garden and that has a woodburner, so we can get warm and shelter when needed. The loo will not be functional in the midwinter so the winter bucket arrangement will come into action when needed [Sorry, that’s probably too much information but better that you realize this fact beforehand!]
Spring and Summer Harvest Then there will also be gardening days in the garden during the spring and summer, when the leaf and flower harvest can be reaped, plants will be propagated and sunny times in the garden can be enjoyed. I manage the garden along Permaculture principles, in case you are wondering. So in a nutshell that means that yes, it is certainly organic and nature takes the lead. Autumn will bring other treats, and there is always something to do and help with. I hope that this will build into a really mutually supportive gardening community, centered around the herb garden.
Herb knowledge It is so important to share herbal knowledge and I very much hope that this helps to encourage more herb gardening and love of herbs. Because my head is always full of thoughts about herbs, you will surely learn quite a lot about them, whilst we garden together but the objective here is to learn through doing.
Dates and location I will set some dates and advertise them here and then stick to those dates unless we have storms. The volkstuin is in Schellingwoude, Amsterdam Noord. Would you like to join in on making the garden a beautiful productive herb garden so that it can benefit far more people? If so, please get in touch with me! firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 …
Er gaat niets boven een naamplaatje om mensen te helpen beseffen wat er onder hun neus groeit terwijl ze door de straten lopen.
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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com
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!
Here are a couple that we did today across town…
Nothing like a name tag to help people realise what’s growing under their noses as they walk around the streets.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
A few photos and short comments today as we rapidly approach Beltane, the festival of early summer.
This week, the Lime trees which line many Amsterdam streets, burst into leaf. I love to eat these leaves, they have a mild flavour, are not tough and they bring many nutritional and medicinal uses. The trees in this street show a characteristic of Lime, they often grow leaves down the trunk. This is a bonus for foragers as it makes the leaves easy to harvest from a tree species which can easily reach 20 meters.
Comfrey plants are in bloom. This helps up to identify the species and help discern whether the comfrey growing near you in the white flowering Symphytum officinale, which is not seen as safe in internal preparations (such as teas) but helpful in external preparations (such as skin salves) or Symphytum uplandicum, which tends to have leafy parts which don’t contain the hepatotoxins in it’s leaves and flowers.
Next up, Hawthorn. This is called by many names around the world, including May Tree because it generally bursts into bloom around the first of May. Well this year, it is a little earlier than I have seen for a while. It has been in bloom for over a week and it looks very pretty. Hawthorn is a tree wrapped in much folklore and superstition, due to the plethora of medicinal uses associated with it. This is one of my favourite city herbs.
I have been Zooming with some of my apprentices over the past few weeks. I am posting the date and time on the Apprenticeship events page and any who fancy joining me for a chat, do. One week, there was a question about creams so I made them a video about it and have actually been more in love with the cream recipe since! It is a real skin soother. I made this one with orange blossom water and olive oil.
Magnolia is going over now, the flowers that it. If you have uses for the leaves then now is the time to harvest a few of those! Here is a beautiful specimen which grows in my local cemetery which happens to also be the Netherlands national arboretum – A nice double function, you may agree. The cemetery also houses the national funeral museum. An incredibly interesting place.
Below is a photo of an invasive weed which grows in parts of Park Frankendael. I identified it several years ago as Pennsylvania pellitory (Parietaria pensylvanica), a non-stinging member of the nettle family and a sister of the well known traditional herb, Pellitory-of-the-wall (Parietaria officinalis). It is called Glaskruid in Dutch and Cucumber weed in parts of the USA. Both helpful common names as it kind of looks glassy when held to the light (translucent) and it has a mild cucumer taste. Sadly, it is also known as asthma weed because when the flowers start to release their pollen, it can cause havoc for people with respiratory issues. This prime specimen is growing in the woodland area of the park. There is a single mature plant growing in the River of Herbs nettle orchard, on the left hand side, soon after entering through the gate. We are leaving it there and will keep an eye on it when the weedy seed spreading time comes.
Next today, can you see the Elderflower (Sambucus nigra) in the photo below? I found this yesterday, on my walk back home from the supermarket in Oostpoort. Beautiful, fragrant (often nastily fragrant), edible, medicinal and fabulous Elderflower!! I just thought you may like to see it as this heralds the start of the main foraging season for many people. Here are a few recipes and thoughts about elderflower. As you will see from those posts, I am a big fan of them and each year, as well as making foods, drinks and home remedies from them, I dry a batch or two and store carefully to use as a tea during times when my immune system needs a boost. Elderflower tea is a well known traditional remedy for. Since COVID-19 hit Amsterdam, my Elderflower tea has been drunk at least once a day so my stock has steadily been depleted. It will certainly be restocked in a few weeks time, when the flowers are open everywhere and I can harvest some for drying.
I am trying to grow more vegetables than usual at home. I may write a post about these later but for now, here’s a windowsill shot of some veg scraps which I am trying to bring on. The Paksoi is particularly fast!
You may have read about my Rosemary beetle problem. I can now report that the issue is improved but continuing. Yesterday, I picked only 5 beetles from the pruned bush. My poor Rosemary bush!
Lastly, a mention of a Dutch woman who asked for my advice by telephone earlier this week. She had been foraging in an Amsterdam park and noticed a young fern head had been snapped off and removed in an area with many fern heads were coming up. She took this to mean that some knowledgeable forager had found an edible fern and harvested some. She has heard that some young fern heads are edible and she wanted to try so she snapped one off, took it home, prepared and ate it. Unfortunately although now recovered, she became quite ill and she wondered what to do and did I know much about ferns.
My advice was to call her doctor or the emergency services if this sort of thing ever happened again and that if she relapsed at all now, to contact them straight away, showing them a photo of what she had eaten. Also not to follow supposed “leads” from other foragers. That fern head may have been snapped off by any number of things, from kids playing near them, a strong bird animal pecking around, a dog etc. This is just one of the reasons why I teacher foragers to pluck really gently and to leave no trace. When one person sees you have been there, others often think that it is fine to copy. Sometimes with catastrophic effects.
I don’t forage ferns and I keep a few bottles of Norit activated charcoal tablets handy, they may sometimes be helpful at absorbing toxins but hospital is your best bet, if a plant poisoning situation occurs – don’t be proud if it should happen, just call 999 / 112 / 991 etc and get professional help – quickly. And only harvest what you know really well, have identified properly and only eat what you are sure is safe for you. I am looking forward to meeting the woman and us going for a herb walk together.
I had a pavement garden put in by the city council, beneath our Amsterdam apartment, soon after we moved here 13 years ago. Such pavement gardens are narrow strips, right up against the buildings, were the pavers get lifted and removed, making the sand beneath available as a planting area for residents. You need to draw up a plan and get written permission from your neighbours, when you request a new one – It was quite exciting I can tell you. Well, my neighbours approved my idea and after the council workers set it up for me, I poured in a couple of bags of compost and planted it up with Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), Purple Sage (Salvia officinalis ‘Purpurascens’), Rue (Ruta graveolens)and Lavender (Lavendula augustifolia). Everything in there grew really well, even though the little plot faces full south, is under a bay window and gets little rain. It was a lovely, simple Mediterranean herb garden. The herbs were resplendent and many neighbours would snip off a little Rosemary through the growing season, to add to their cooking. That shrub was enormous and very healthy.
Then last year, things started to go rather pear-shaped in the geveltuin. The mature Rosemary had some damage. More than a little damage, in fact it looked decidedly nibbled all over. Only a few flowers pushed through and the plant looked increasingly bedraggled. We also noticed very pretty, metallic striped beetles on the Rosemary sometimes. Often, when we brushed against the shrub, some of them would shoot off and bounce off the pavings making a characteristic crackling sound. We didn’t realize back then but our Mediterranean herb garden was under attack by the Rosemary Beetle (Chrysolina americana).
This week, enough was enough. The Rosemary looked barely alive and as neighbourhood Rosemary bushes were starting to really bush out with lush deep green new shoots, our looked downright grey. To make matters worse, the Purple Sage was almost gone, the Rue totally desiccated and the Lavender was a shadow of its former self. The beetles were more plentiful than before and my herb garden was no more.
Know your enemy I read up on the Rosemary beetle and planned my counter attack; Hard pruning, taking a few insurance cuttings, enriching the soil and removing the thick blanket of dead leaves (which I was building up beneath the shrubs, out of laziness really). Finally a good drenching with water.
Operation Revamp As you can see in the video, I shook out the shrubs onto a bright blanket, placing tumbling beetles and larvae in a glass jar which became enormously interesting to local kids. We had about 30 bugs in there by the end. The leaf layer was totally cleared and I hard pruned all of the shrubs. The Rue had to go, sadly as I loved it and few people seem to grow it these days. However, I was delighted to find that it had spawned a few babies, growing between paving slabs so I hope they will make it in the newly prepared plot. My daughter and I scoured the geveltuin and surrounding area for more beetles and larvae before giving the remaining plants a really good watering and then enriching the soil slightly with a bucketful of spent compost (which I collect from my old rooftop pots). Later, I added a couple of lupin seedlings which I had on the roof, a few radish and beetroot seeds, some potted tulips from the kitchen balcony and some self-seeded Lemon balm, which was growing across the street in the gutter. A cheap and cheerful geveltuin makeover! The project took a few hours and I am satisfied with the result.
Prevention It took me a couple of years to give in to the fact that these pin-stripe armored beetles were beautifully munching through my herb garden and that I was providing them with perfect overwintering conditions. From now on, I intend to keep the plot more open and airy, more species rich and attractive to predatory and pollinating bugs and I will water the plants regularly, especially when they appear to be under pressure. I also plan to place a bird nesting box on the street tree across the pavement and will feed the plants with comfrey & nettle tea, when the mood strikes me.
In the hope that I can help others to spot Rosemary beetle and deal with it more quickly, I made a short video, which you can see here. My daughter and I had fun editing this one so we hope that you find it useful.
Squish or Release? So what happened to the collected beetles and larvae in the glass jar? Well, I did squish one on the pavement in frustration, the day before the clean up operation and I felt really bad about it. Killing them didn’t feel right at all and I knew well that these bugs were here for a while and I had allowed them to get out of control. I needed to help nature to restore beetle balance. After a chat with a gardening friend, I decided that the best solution was release these little beasts into a more bio-diverse area, away from aromatic herbs and where natural predators could feast on them or they had a chance to escape and live among other species of insects. This morning, we took them to a grassy area, close to water and let them go.
Have you got a beetle problem? If so, how are you dealing with it? What would you have done with the captured beetles? Do you have other herby-pesty problems and can you think of better ways for people to keep their herbs healthy? Do let me know as I would love to hear!