Category Archives: Evergreen herbs

Rosemary beetle

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).

Rosemary beetles don’t feast alone! Photo credit: RHS

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.

Part way through the pruning operation

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.

Rosemary beetle. Photo credit: Secret garden.

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!

365 Frankendael day 210

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Inside all day today, my little foraging buddy is poorly and my throat is pounding, so a balcony photo for a change and lots of herbal honey for us both!

This is the Camellia sinensis (Tea) plant which I bought in the summer from Intratuin. It’s still doing well, in the bonsai form and pot.  As you can see here, it is developing pretty little flower buds. I look forward to seeing them open in the very early spring.

I’ve not tried it yet but it is perfectly possible to make all types of conventional tea from the leaves if this lovely plant. White tea being leaves almost straight from the plant. Soon, I’ll give it a try.

365 Frankendael day 204

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Been preparing for Monday’s apprenticeship meeting and almost forgot to write today’s post…

Here’s a delicious and stimulating Rosemary (Rosemary officinalis) bush which resides beneath my apartment in a bone dry  geveltuin. One of the most well known culinary herbs, Rosemary is also very medicinal. It makes an easy herb oil, useful for rubbing on sore muscles or congested chests. It is known as a remedy for indigestion, some scalp ailments and when you brush past the plant it’s obvious that it can clear the sinuses and enliven the senses. Here’s a useful link to lots of information about Rosemary, including it’s drug interactions.

Now is the time to seek out healthy evergreen urban herbs, in readiness for the coldest months when foragers need to

365 Frankendael day 163

I met Youko and one of her friends, in the park today and she asked me about herbs which will be available at the end of October.

Here is one which will be around because it’s an evergreen herb. Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacae) is not closely related to tree and wall climbing common Ivy (Hedera helix) but it does like to grow in semi shaded areas. I found this beautiful patch close to the Hugo de Vrieslaan bridge exit of the park (inside). It tastes minty, makes a good digestive tea and I sometimes like it with chocolate or potatoes.

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Burdock (Arctium lappa) may still be looking good then but will be way past it’s best. Today it’s looking OK, if a little nibbled by something.

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Another herb which will still be very useful for the forager’s plate, come the end of October, is Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). It’s in the middle of Ground ivy in this photo. If the leaves are looking less than appetising, chase down and dig up the taproot. Give it a good scrub at home and use it’s medicinal energy reserves to fuel yourself. Dandelion is often used as a cleansing, strengthening liver tonic and is a well loved vegetable in several European countries. It can be used as a coffee substitute, as a roasted (bitter) vegetable in it’s own right or can be usefully grated into other food to as a bitter dimension. Dandelion is thought of as a weed by most so is unlikely to be missed. But if you begin whipping out the roots from clean locations for your pot, please ensure that you spread every dandelion clock you see around town, next summer! An interesting way of cooking the flowers (they may still spring up through the autumn) is mentioned here.

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I also found plenty of Mugwort (Atermisia vulgaris) today, it’s still in good shape for picking and drying leaves to use through winter.

365 Frankendael day 75

I went for an earlier walk in the park today and was rewarded by finding the freshest and most delicious Lime (Tilia) flowers that I have ever harvested.  Here’s the tree they came from.  I turned them into a tea and shared it with the painters and my little girl.  Lime tea is especially good on a warm summer day like today. It is cooling and refreshing.

Here’s a neighbouring Tilia tree in the park. It must be a different variety as everything about it is a little smaller than most Tilia in the park and the the leaves are a little darker.  The flowers are also placed slightly differently on the twigs. I don’t know so much about the different varieties but I do know that Tilia tastes good and is very beneficial.

Next is a harmonious grassland combination of Plantain, Yarrow and Red clover in bloom.  I set off today hoping to find enough Yarrow to make a tick-deterring tincture. I got rather side tracked by other herbs and in the end, didn’t notice enough to harvest. So instead of tincturing, two flower stalks are brightening up a small vase on my dining table.  It’s good to remember just how many ways there are to benefit from flowers.

Here are two of my favourite things, my little girl and a huge Brassica plant.  As with most naturalised and wild brassicas, all parts are edible and quite strong tasting. Just a carefully picked leaf or two should liven up a meal.  (Thanks Jennie for correcting me on this one, I thought it was Wild Cabbage but that only grows near the coasts on chalky soil). This one may be Rapseed (Brassica napus). My friend Jennie Akse is running a herb walk focused on edible yellow flowering plants, around in Amsterdam at present.  Have a look at the Meetup group for details.

Here is a herb that I find quite wondrous, Dark Mullein (Verbascum nigrum). Useful for many disorders, such as lung weakness and infection and most popular, I think, as an ear infection remedy.

Next up today is another herbal harmony, Veronica‘s towering blue spires mixed with more Mullien, Mugwort and Agrimony.

Here are some striking and Poisonous Lilies, in the formal garden behind Frankendael Huis and Merkelbach.  I add this photo because yesterday I featured the very edible Daylily (Hemerocallis fulva), which can look very similar to the uninitiated.  All parts of Lily are toxic. I have never thought about eating this type of plant but I find the pollen, when trapped in a living room with it for instance, very irritating.

Here is Catnip (Nepta sp). A member of the mint family, it can be used in similar refreshing ways. I like to make a sinus blasting pesto with it sometimes. It has many uses and is quite easy to grow.  Many will already know about cat’s affinity to this herb.  Some love it and find it quite a turn on, others seem to lack receptivity to it and many show more of a loved-up reaction to Valerian.

Another minty wonder is shown below, the often overlooked and trampled Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea). The pretty purple flower spikes are gone from most of the plants now but just look at that rich foliage! Now is a good time to harvest and use it or dry it for the winter. But why bother when this ground covering  plant is around all year long?

Next is a delicious Garlic Mustard plant (Alliaria petiolata), showing different stages of seed pod development. This is a wonderfully tasty herb to add to all sorts of cooking.  It is also great used as a salad leaf or flower.  Looking at these seed pods reminds me of why it’s a pity to harvest the flowers of this super biennial.  Less flowers, less seeds, less plants next year.

Next is a large plant which I’ve been hunting for some time – a first year Burdock (Arctium lappa), ripe for root harvesting.  It seemed that all the Burdock in Amsterdam were second years, in bloom and not very nutritious or medicinal.  Now that the council have mowed some patches of the park, some first year Burdock have been kindly left to develop.  I won’t be digging this plant up but it’s good to see it and be reassured that a first year plant is easy to identify.

Lastly today, a type of Hyssop (Hyssopus sp.).  I used this plant quite a lot last year, it is very aromatic and makes good tea. I’ll have a careful look at this one again soon to identify it fully.

Urban Herbal Planting Scheme in Amsterdam Oost

I was so pleased when I realised that the local council had commissioned simple herbs for the planting scheme at Christian Huygensplein in Oost Watergraafsmeer, Amsterdam.

About a year on, the herbs are looking great so I thought I’d share a photo. I hope you can see a Pine Tree trunk surrounded by thick Lavender and an Ivy plant climbing up the trunk.

Three practical herbs in an area which needed a little smartening up at the time. Mostly the planting, which had a lot of hot dry weather soon after it was completed, has faired well. It looks good, smells good and could be used for a multitude of remedies, should the need arise.

Thank you Amsterdam Oost! Now how about a few more nut trees?

Frankendael 365 day 21


Today Ivy and Horsetail. Firstly Ivy (Hedera helix). Here it is scaling three massive trees on the edge of Park Frankendael. Yes, it is a herb but not really one for the pot. Ivy has mystic qualities and associations as well as medicinal properties and many traditional uses. I’ve also posted a lotions recipe for Ivy cellulite oil today which may be of interest. Ivy is available year round but harvesting it in spring or summer us likely to have a lesser effect on the plant.

Horsetail is very vigorous at the moment and perhaps more useful than you thought. Here’s a link to a lotion recipe for Horsetail cuticle cream and an oil nail treatment.

Ivy (Hedera helix) Anti Cellulite Oil

This recipe for anti cellulite body oil is inspired by one in Josephine Fairley’s book, The Ultimate Natural Beauty Book. My sister gave it to me as a present several years ago and although I don’t use it very often, it always provides inspiration for natural skin care. The recipe in the book uses a few drops of essential oils of Rosemary, Fennel and Juniper.

In my adaptation, I use small amounts of the fresh plants or seeds. I also substitute olive oil, argan oil or sweet almond oil for grape seed oil as that oil quickly becomes rancid whereas my substitutes don’t. If you prefer a lighter oil then you could substitute coconut oil, mixed with a little of one of the other options.

15 large fresh Ivy leaves
Tip of a fresh Juniper sprig
Tip of a fresh Rosemary sprig
1/2 Teaspoon of fennel seeds
125ml oil (see above for options)

1. Bruise the plant material with a pestle & mortar or similar.
2. Place in a clean glass container and put over the oil.
3. Use a chopstick to push the herbs into the oil and to dislodge any trapped air bubbles.
4. Leave in a sunny spot for about 4 Weeks.
5. Strain off and save the infused you’ll into a clean glass container. Compost the spent herbs our return then to where you found them.
6. Use the oil as you would any massage oil, with upward strokes to move the circulation towards the heart. Do this preferably after
skin brushing with a dry sisal brush or similar.

Oregon grape, Berberis aquifolium

I was out walking in my Amsterdam neighborhood today and as usual noticed lots of Oregon grape (Berberis aquifolium) in landscaped areas. Every time I see this plant, I remember reading about how it is edible and in fact, a highly regarded herb. I have never used it but decided to learn and share a little about it today.

You can easily find out lots of information regarding this herb on the Internet or in books. It’s a herb with quite a history, being the state plant of Oregon. I find the most interesting facts are that:

1. It is a powerful liver stimulant and cleanser.
2. The roots are bright yellow and highly regarded by herbalists seeking a strong stimulant effect.
It doesn’t really sound like a herb for me because of this potency. Tonics tend to be much safer and more appropriate for adding to everyday meals.
3. It must be avoided by those who already tax their systems, for instance by eating lots of heavy meals.
4. The berries are black, obvious and plentiful when autumn arrives. They are very rich in vitamin c and have a very bitter taste.

I’ll be sampling the berries in autumn and will post more Oregon grape entries on Boskoi. I’m thinking of adding a handful to a Rumpot. It has obviously been an Amsterdam landscape architect’s favorite over the years consequently there are plenty of dense Oregon grape plantings in town.