Category Archives: Seed saving

Chalk and talk

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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

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


Bifurcated Carrots is all about seed saving: Why we should do it. Who is doing it already. And how we can do it. It’s run from Amsterdam by Patrick Wiebe and Steph Mandel who seem to be as passionate as me about increasing food security. They keep us up to date on the attempts of government and certain corporations to regulate the plants which we can grow and they publish a list of where interesting seeds to swap/sell are available around the world. It’s a very useful blog to follow.

You can watch Patrick, giving part of a workshop on seed saving at the Educational Gardens at Sloterdijkermeer Volkstuin complex, on this video. The River of Herbs demo plot is in the same garden and gets a nice mention.

Hollyhock Seeds & Fraunhofferstraat

Here are some Hollyhock seed heads from the plant which found its way to my geveltuin last year. I harvested one really dry, ripe seed head today and collected the seeds from within. They are beautifully arranged in a wheel-like pattern and are big enough for kids to deal with.

Hollyhock is a biennial, is quite beautiful and can be used to soothe inflammation for such things as cystitis and sore throats and offers a remedy for several chest complaints such as persistent coughs and bronchitis. It is a close relative of Marsh Mallow. Obviously Hollyhocks won’t make a suitable remedy for everyone with a bad chest but it’s a good enough reason for me to want to proliferate them in the city.

I’ll be sewing some of these seeds in nearby tree pits this week and saving others to plant later, just I case the first batch fail.

Since I wrote about the untended tree pits close to my home, on Fraunhofferstraat, they have magically been tidied up! I don’t know when it happened or who did it but every single tree pit now looks really tidy, seems to have been hoed and is ready for seeding or planting! Thank you whoever it was!! I began with sewing some poppy seeds at the weekend and will move a few useful pretty herbs in there, which I find in pavement cracks etc.

365 Frankendael day 97

I collected some more seeds today, from edible, medicinal and beautiful perennials in Park Frankendael. The only wild Angelica that I know of there set and spread its seed in the water some time ago but this beauti in the maintained herb garden is just ripe. I harvested just a tiny proportion of the seeds on the plant and will use them for the River of Herbs project. Angelica archangelica is such a gorgeous plant to look at and has so many uses for humans and wildlife. I hope some other people will enjoy growing it in the city.

If you would like to collect some seeds from plants growing in the city or anywhere else, do remember to:
1. Leave most of the seed on the plant for birds and small mammals to eat and use.
2. Leave the seed heads and stems on the plants, they often make excellent look out posts for birds in winter, create beautiful frosted and dew covered structures until the spring and some become hollowed out homes for all manner of bug life. If you must chop off the seed making structures, to access the seeds, it probably indicates that the seed is not yet ripe anyway.
3. Take only from plentiful perennial plants, which are generally able to proliferate from their root stock and seed. If you take from annuals or biennials the forget to sew the seed, or they fail, then the plants you harvested from may have lost all chance to reproduce.
4. Only harvest seed when ripe and allow them to dry off extra well at home before packaging in small labelled envelopes or similar for future use.
5. Sew your seed as soon as possible. Think about the plants natural cycle, when the plant sets seed the seed usually finds its way to the soil and when ready will germinate. Try to mimick this if possible.

My attempt at Skullcap (Sculleraria sp.) seed collection was disappointing. I had missed the boat almost completely on two accounts, firstly someone had cut off heaps of flower stems from the large plant shown here and secondly when I examined more skullcap plants they had already set seed. I managed to collect about six seeds. Next year I must look for them earlier.

I then turned my attention to the tall wild flower meadow (shown above). Too early for seed collection here but right on time to see Goldenrod in full glory,

And Tansy (here’s a photo illustrating why Tanacetum vulgare is known as Buttons in some regions),

Seed Saving for River of Herbs

This morning we were able to eat breakfast on the roof because the weather was so beautiful. After quite a while, when the morning dew had thoroughly dried off the plants, I set about some herb seed collecting with my toddler daughter. Here she is doing a very good job of rubbing dry Chive heads, to release the tiny black seeds into a paper bag. She loved it and we collected lots of seeds in a very short time.

Seeds are usually the cheapest way to make new plants and we will need lots of seeds to make a River of Herbs in and around Amsterdam. So if you are interested in; building up your own herb seed supply, adding more herbs to urban spaces or simply to eat some edible herb seeds – now is a good time to start collecting! I intend to make up little mixed herb seed packets, to sprinkle in prepared Urban Herb Meadow locations.

Different plants flower and seed at different times so keep your eyes open for maturing seed heads on plants you know and keep a clean paper bag or two in your pocket/ bag when you are out and about. You never know when a perfectly ripe Hollyhock seedhead may surprise you!

Today we collected seeds from:
Welsh Onion

I’m off to the park now and hope to find some Garlic mustard seed to save in labelled paper bags. I love eating the leaves of the plant and would like to see it growing in some Urban Herb Meadows in town.

If you decide to collect seed, make sure you only collect when they are bone dry. They will mould and be useless if they are at all damp. With some seeds it’s easiest to shake the seed head into your bag, allowing the ripe dry seeds to fall into the bag. With others, it’s best to snip off part or all of the seed head with scissors, before sorting it out. Generally if it needs snipping off the plant, its not thoroughly dried out but use your judgement. Get them home in a paper bag and then take osome time to pick through and separate out the seeds from debris. Label the seed bags, seal them up and set aside in a p,ace where they will remain fairly cool and very dry until the planting season.

If you want to help with the River of Herbs then also consider the suitability of what you are saving from the project. Plants need to be non invasive (e.g. Mint wouldn’t be such a good idea unless in a hole-free container where it can’t easily escape, Japanese knotweed is clearly a no no as it comketely takes over/ obliterates wherever it grows) and not poisonous. The plants also need to be insect pollinated as one of the main points of the project is to provide insect friendly corridors in and around the city.

I think it unlikely that on your seed saving missions you’d remove all the seed from a plant but just in case it needs mentioning – remember the foraging rules, take only what you need, leave lots and lots! Also, please don’t harvest seed from annuals and biennials growing wild as they rely on them to regenerate next year. The Garlic mustard I am about to collect is a biennial but I’ll take it from locations where it will be completely strimmed away very soon – such as lamp post bases in concrete.

Good places to collect herb seed, from plants you have already identified are:
Your own pots, tubs and garden,
Untended geveltuinen (pavement gardens),
Public places where the council are sure to mow or strim

Good luck with your seed collecting and do let me know how you get on.

River of Herbs

River of Flowers is a UK based initiative which helps to plant Urban Flower Meadows, of all shapes and sizes, providing corridors of insect pollinated plants throughout cities. I read about it today, in the latest copy of Permaculture Magazine and got very excited about the project! Rather than wild flower meadows (which are of course wonderful and useful in many ways) I would like to create Urban Herb Meadows, here in Amsterdam and beyond.

River of Flowers began in London and seems to encompass many of the ideas that have come up in this website and the Amsterdam Urban Herbologists meetup group. We love nature, we want to learn from the plants, we continue to try our hands at guerrilla gardening and we like to put something back into the environment from which many of us harvest food and medicinals. We also appreciate that a world without pollinators would be very dark.

Amsterdam is rich in plant species and many Amsterdammers enjoy taking care of plants in tree pits, tiny pavement gardens and other strips of reclaimed land. I often look at and photograph these places and wish that more of the plants used could be edible or medicinal. And of course I wish that more of these urban gardeners knew how to harvest and use some of those amazing plants.

So with River of Herbs (the name will stay, if the folks at River of Flowers don’t mind – I have asked them) I’d like to do the following, with your help:

1. Identify and prepare unused spaces, however small, for growing useful perennial, biennial and annual herbs. I’m talking about spaces from plant pots to wasteland.
2. Sew suitable herb seeds and plant cuttings, roots etc. in these places. Suitable for the location, insects and food or medicine.
3. Tend the developing Urban Herb Meadows.
4. Map the locations of these Herb Meadows and photograph them.
4. When ready, harvest some of the material without compromising their usefulness to pollinators such as bees, hoverflies and butterflies.
5. Learn and teach how to use these herbs.
6. Build on successes and learn from the group process, to make more and more Urban Herb Meadows, creating an urban pollinator and food security friendly corridor.

So what do you think of this?
Am I just getting overexcited?
I wonder if our friends at Boskoi and City Plot may like to help out with this in some way?
Design& Collaboration, how about those seeded cards and papers we talked about ages ago?
Would YOU like to come and collect wild herb seed with me, or your friends and family, over the coming summer weeks and through autumn? We can then make little packets of Urban Herb Seedmix, to sew in those new meadows when the time is ripe.

Please let me know what you think. I’m all ears and green fingers.

Wormwood Rescue

When the council next comes to strim weeds in my street, these lovely Wormwood babies would be lost, so this afternoon I whipped lots of them out of the ground, to save them in plant pots.

I grow a vigorous and useful Wormwood plant in our super-dry geveltuin. I wrote about it recently, when I had to harvest lots of its growth to prevent damage by builders.

Since then I’ve been noticing its seedlings all down the street! The recent weather seems to have helped them to thrive in the road gutter, treepits and pavement cracks.

Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) is a herb which gives Absinthe its flavour, works internally and externally as a natural pesticide (think intestinal parasites, plant pests, malaria etc) and can help with several digestive disorders including indigestion, gut spasms and lost appetite. Wormwood contains a mind altering, dangerous chemical which shouldn’t be consumed in quantity. It increases the likelyhood of a person having brain seizures, gives Absinthe it’s flavour, increases creativity and is the reason for Absinthe’s prohibition in some non-European countries. Wormwood is a rare plant in The Netherlands. It can be eaten very sparingly, in salads or cooked food. It is easily vinegared, tinctured, dried, infused in oil and more. Wormwood is the most potent member of the Artemisia family and needs to be treated with great respect. If you’d rather not consume the herb, be aware that it is associated with magical properties related to love and protection and I think it smells very pleasant when dried or fresh. I also find it very beautiful and love seeing it’s shimmering silver-grey foliage outside of my home.

If you would like one of these easy to grow Wormwood babies, please contact me. Bring me a clean small plant container with a little soil and you are welcome to have one or, for a Euro, you can buy one from me that is already potted-up.

I find that the plant grows best in well drained, sandy soil and a good sunny location. I grew it on a north facing balcony for a few years and it did fine but it revealed itself as a real goddess, when I planted it in the south facing pavement garden. I have uprooted only the seedlings that would have been strimmed, about ten more continue to grace the plant pots and tree pits of my neighbours.

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.

365 Frankendael day 52

A lovely walk today, began by spotting this particular Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) plant along the Lime tree avenue. There are many many Garlic Mustards still around But this one has a few really big leaves. The one on focus here was 14cm long! It’s handy to have your field guide with you for recording such herb spotter type things!

I saw this plant from a distance yesterday and mistook it for a Calamint. I have a very stinky sample of it in my field guide, beside me as I type and it is definitely not a pleasant Calamint. It is Field Woundwort (Stachys arvensis) with beetroot coloured flowers atop hairy, strongly “scented” leaves. It is a Labiate of great herbal repute. This particular Stachys has been long used for a huge range of ailments. Have a look at the Wiki link for an overview of them if it interests. I have used it now and then as a tea. I find the taste quite strong but not unpleasant. I think the most interesting uses are to treat pink eye (conjunctivitis) and styes. For these problems, a weak, cooled and very well strained tea is sometimes used as an eye wash.

I think that the above photo is of Hedge Mustard (Sisymbrium officinale). I will need to keep checking as it comes into flower. I did manage to forage our Brassica fix of the day though, plenty of Wild Turnip in full flower alongside the Middenweg today.

Here’s an eye catching member of the Plantain, Plantago genus. It looks like Ribwort but the flowers are super shaggy and I’m not used to seeing that in Ribwort. I have a feeling it is a hybrid between two types of Plantago. Claud Biemans told me about them when she walked with me here in Frankendael. Whatever it is I love those flowers, they remind me of a well worn Afghan coat.

Here is Digitalis in flower. Foxgloves have strikingly beautiful flowers but all parts of the plant are highly poisonous. It provides a well known herbal medicine which acts specifically on heart muscles. Not something to be picked or used.

Here’s another poisonous plant, White Bryony (Bryonia dioica) entwined around Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca). I was looking at Motherwort today because it’s flowers are just beginning to become obvious and soon the leaves of the plant will become more familiar to those who know its flower heads. Can you see the flowers developing in whirls close to the leaf bases and the square Labiate stems? This is a good time to harvest and tincture the plant but you should watch it for a full cycle to ensure its the real thing.

Lastly today, Hound’s Tongue (Cynoglossum officinale).

Edible table planter – self seeding plants

I guess you’d call this a table planter of edible herbs. It’s also a good way to rehome some self seeded plants. I planted it out yesterday using some herb & salad seedlings, which had spread around other pots on my roof terrace. I filled the planter last year, using shop bought seeds and although the plants didn’t have space to grow very large, they were really useful. This time I was able to relocate some seedlings of watercress, lettuce and chamomile, which I added to the pot and supplemented with a sprinkling of old seeds.

Last year the planter provided a beautiful and tastes collection of plants which we would sit and pluck leaves from and eat directly with outdoor meals. I hope it will work well this year.

I also rehoused some self seeded Welsh onions which had jumped ship to our neighbour’s gravel roof. They are now sitting pretty in one of the permapots.