Category Archives: Trees

Ginkgo Harvesting in Amsterdam


For some years, each autumn, I have trudged through putrifying Ginkgo fruits, fallen amongst fossilesque golden Ginkgo leaves, on Albrecht Durerstraat in Oud Zuid, Amsterdam. It is where I work and is a street that the local council chose to line with this amazing tree herb, many moons ago.

Ginkgo biloba is a fascinating plant. Often known as the Maidenhair tree or the living fossil tree, it is incredibly resilient to damage and pollution and is well suited to the urban environment. It has been long revered by traditional Chinese and Japanese medicine and apparently has many uses, particularly for the circulatory system.  This is apparently the most adulterated herbal extract that people buy. Most people seem to take the extract to improve their circulation, for cold hands and feet for instance and to boost their memory. Be aware that there is much conflicting evidence about the effectiveness of Ginkgo for memory loss and demetia. As ever, treat all claims with caution and if trying something new, be very cautious. Here’s a summary of the current research.


This lunchtime I was joined by 5 adults and two snuggly wrapped babies, to harvest some Ginkgo nuts which have dropped onto parked cars and the pavement.  The flesh (sarcotesta) around the nuts is HIGHLY TOXIC, containing the same chemical as poison ivy. Anyone wishing to harvest, should avoid touching it.  The chemical causes a very serious skin reaction and requires prompt hospital treatment.  Likewise, because Ginkgo acts as an anticoagulant, if you are already taking drugs which act to “thin the blood”, you should avoid the herb and consult your doctor for advice, if you really think it could be of benefit to you.   If you are allergic to aspirin or nuts, this is also a herb to avoid.

Please follow the instructions in this link if you want to know how to prepare the nuts. Note the rubber gloves and photo of blistered eyes, on that website!

By removing these smelly fruits from the pavement we are sparing the local residents from some nasal pollution and are harnessing an urban resource that people in some other countries would be very envious of.


So if you want to join me and a few others on Friday at 12:35 or on Tuesday at 12:45, please come equipt with a pair of rubber gloves, a couple of sturdy plastic bags and perhaps a spoon or chopsticks, to pick up the fruit.  Much of the current harvest has already been swept into the gutter but this is still fair game for the well prepared forager! We’ll be meeting outside of the AKO newsagent, on the corner of Beethovenstraat and Gerrit van der Veenstraat (trams 24 & 5). I’ll be wearing my yellow raincoat and rubber gloves 🙂


365 Frankendael day 150

Thank you to the group of Urban Herbies who joined me For the Elder Workshop today. We harvested Elderberries, Elder leaves and Elder branches. We learned about and concocted Elderberry syrup and numerous other Elder based remedies. I had a lot of fun with you all, and the plants!

I was so busy enjoying the time that I forgot to take an Elder photo so here’s one of the syrup that we made together, from freshly pressed Elderberry juice and honey… It’s a clean but scrappy looking jam jar. That doesn’t matter as my portion of the syrup will be wolfed down very quickly!

As well as Elderberries, there are heaps of ripe Hawthorn berries in the city hedgerows at present. I did remember to take a photo of one such tree. It’s time to try out the Hawthorn recipes, kindly sent to me by one of the Amstel walkers earlier this year.

Here’s a link to the recipe for the Banana bread I baked for the workshop. I added a finely chopped 20cm Ginger plant leaf and I forgot to add the dates. All fine though!

Here’s a link to that information about recent scientific research supporting the use of Ghee and Honey impregnated wound dressings for serious wound recovery.

Thanks Nathaniel and Jade for sharing with us how the Native Americans revere their local Elder species. Here’s a link with a little information about that (at the end). Here’s a link with lots of information about Elder, particularly the US growing species. Not much about the indigenous people but lots of useful stuff.

Here’s a link to one of my mentors: Glennie Kindred in Britain. She wrote the hand sewn books I showed you today. We looked at the one called Sacred Tree in which Glennie lays out her interpretation of the Tree Ogham.

As we talked about honey, Katja shared her latest concoction – fresh ginger infused honey with lemon juice. Yum! I’ll be trying that very soon and will post some photos to brighten up the autumn. Maybe Katja has a photo of hers already?

Cindy, I don’t think you took your portion of ointment and certainly not the syrup. I also forgot to give you the Kombucha so let me know when you have time to collect them.

Thanks again everyone. See you again soon! xx

365 Frankendael day 146

In case you haven’t noticed, city nut foraging season is upon us.

I passed by Oosterpark today and noticed a middle aged chap, ferreting around in the undergrowth at one corner of the park, with his young son calling directions to him from outside of the fence. Ah ha Hazelnuts!, I thought and I was so not disappointed when I dived into the same bushes!

During a five minute squirrel-style frenzy, in the soil and dry leaves, I managed to amass a few dozen prime city Hazelnuts (Nl: Hazelaar, Corylus avellana) Delighted, is an understatement! Spurred on by my success, i took a quick tram ride home and sped to a copse of Hazel and Beech at the bottom end of Pythagorasstraat. That spot is a local’s favourite; There is a well trodden path into the copse and a scarcity of nuts but none the less, I didn’t go home empty handed! Later today, I’ll probably toast them all, add some to a hor chocolate and add the rest to Frank’s muesli tub. They should last a couple of weeks in that.

If you’ve never toasted Hazelnuts yourself, and if you like the taste of chocolate, then I implore you to have a go. Buy some from Odin or your local grocery store or better still, get outside and forage a handful yourself. Lear how to identify the tree and get hunting beneath them and I the branches. Green and brown hazelnuts are just fine but the free ones need to be used almost instantly whereas the others should keep up to a year, if stored properly.

How to toast hazelnuts
1. Once dusted off a little, crack them open and discard the shells (return them to the forage spot if possible). Some shells may be empty – hedge blanks. It’s a pity if you find only those.
2. Spread the nuts on a baking tray and give them just a glance of olive oil. To do this you can pour a little into a corner of the tray and toss them all around until they glisten or brush them with a little oil.
3. Set in an oven which has been preheated to about 180°C, leave them to cook for about ten minutes.
3. Remove from the oven (as with all nuts, watch out for explosions, maybe cover with a clean tea-towel as you maneuver them from the oven. Let them cool before using or eating.

The smell in your kitchen should be sweetly, nuttily, mouthwatering after that short time and if you are anything like me, I doubt that many of the toasted nuts will actually make it to a muesli bowl. Lots of recipes make good use of Hazelnuts, both savory and sweet. I think that in combination with chocolate they are at there best. So for me that could mean simply smashing a toasted nut and crumbling it over a hot chocolate or to garnish a chocolate dessert. Or it could mean incorporating it into a dish. Nut roasts are a good way to use up heaps of nuts but I rarely have heaps and I like them to last a while rather than being wolfed down in one sitting. Sprinkled over a bowl of homemade pumpkin soup is another easy way to incorporate them.

You can also make Hazelnut milk for the fresh nuts, as described in the River Cottage Handbook no. 7 Hedgerow, by John Wright (see books page). Soak a handful of shelled fresh nuts in water overnight, rinse and blitz in a liquidiser with about 400ml water or skimmed milk. Strain through a cheesecloth or similar.

365 Frankendael day 113

I’ve been to De Hortus Botanicus today and busy planting exotic things for the workshop with Suzanne from City Plot in the autumn, so not much time to visit the park. Here are just a couple of photos of a beautiful Hazel tree which stands on the outside. It’s quite easy to confuse Hazel with Beech. Both have similar leaf shapes and both have edible nuts but Hazelnuts are my favourite. Roasted they taste almost chocolaty and go really well with it, hence my fondness. I need to make some notes of where I find Hazel this year. Hazel is a very useful tree, it can be coppiced to produce dozens of fine branded, in the same manger as Willow. it’s great to see that the council road cleaners, here in Amsterdam, still use broomsticks make of Hazel. It’s perfect for the job, grows locally and is completely sustainable. I hope the council brooms don’t come from abroad, if they are, at least they are not made of plastic.

Apparently there’s a nice copse of Hazel somewhere at the bottom of Pythagorasstraat, I haven’t found it yet. It’s well worth foraging nuts when you find them. They contain such a lot of nutrition and are apparently the least polluted part of a plant, that may be harvested. That is a great thing to remember when foraging in mucky city autumn weather.

365 Frankendael day 80

Just a quick post today – Chestnuts forming…

on a beautiful old Horse Chestnut tree.

In contrast to the Sweet Chestnut tree I showed yesterday, this tree yields very hard inedible nuts which, when carefully strung with a shoe lace (and further hardened if you are a real pro) serve as a fun autumn toy for children – Conkers!

Medicinally speaking, Horse Chestnut is widely reputed as an effective external treatment for varicose veins and broken capillaries (such as thread veins and hemorrhoids). The ointment is quite simple to make. You need to make infused oil using the leaves and/or conkers first of all. Then when your oil is ready, warm it up gently and blend in enough beeswax to make an ointment of acceptable consistency. I bought some once and it was almost rock hard, not handy for gently smoothing over delicate thread veins…

I’m going to be making a double tincture and double infused oil this year; adding the leaves to both vodka and oil in summer and then add the conkers to the same carriers come autumn. I’ll make my ointment from the oil, beeswax and a little tincture for added effectiveness. Of course varicose veins and hemorrhoids can be extremely serious conditions so this remedy, although trusted by many, shouldn’t be used without firstly checking that more radical treatments are not immediately necessary.

365 Frankendael day 79

Today some photos of small pavement herbs growing in cracks and well trodden corners of the park. You’d have to be fairly desperate to want to harvest them but they are useful for identification purposes and if you suddenly need some Ribwort to stop a nettle rash our Yarrow to stem a noise bleed, it’s good to know that theses herbs really are everywhere…

Here is a mini Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla ). Despite growing in such a restricted little habitat, the flowers do smell great.

Here are two sisters, narrow leaved Ribwort (Plantago lanceolata) and broad smooth-leaved Plantain (Plantago major), growing protected from strimmers, feet and digging claws beneath a small landscaping boulder.

Here’s Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) without flowers because it is constantly pressured by growing on a trampled pavement edge near the children’s playground. This plant is tiny in comparison to its neighbours in the long grassland.

This is part of a Beech hedge (Fagus sylvaticus) in the park. I’ve shown it before and just want to remind people of what tasty and plentiful foliage it has.

Here’s a young Sweet Chestnut tree (Castanea sativa). It’s really nice to see nut trees that have been deliberately planted in public places.

365 Frankendael day 67

Today I cycled along the Lime tree lined route from home to Amstel Station. So many of the tree canopies along that road are within grabbing height from my bike. Some of the trees are still preparing to open their delicious flowers, others are in full, fresh bloom and still others are setting seed and thus carry fading blooms. These should be avoided by foragers as they are past their best tastewise and may even cause ill health. They also are not stable for drying and I wouldn’t want to preserve them by tincturing or other methods.

The photo above shows a just-fading cluster of Lime tree (Tilia sp.) flowers. Notice the colour of the stamens, stigmas and petals. Fresh, bursting-with-sweet-glutinous-goodness Lime flowers are a crisp, pale cream colour. Those past their best are at first pink/beige then brown. You should be able to see all of these in the photo. If you want to forage Tilia flowers, choose only those in clean locations (well, as clean as possible) which are either about to pop open or are recently open and very fresh looking and tasting.

Here is a link to Linden Schnaaps (basically a very quick tincture).

365 Frankendael day 61

Today is the Summer Solstice, Midsummer’s Day and I am having a lovely time! Myself, Livvy, Isobel, Esther, Isobel and the two babies, harvested leaves and flowers from some of the Lime trees (Tilia sp.) Which form the main avenue in Frankendael Park. It was so pleasant to share the Midsummer harvest with other like minded people. We cleaned the honeydew from the leaves, in a bowl of fresh water, made tea in flasks of boiled water and sandwiches from the harvest and some Lime honey.

I’ll be doing this again on Sunday in a different location, but I think there is nothing quite like the burgeoning green energy of Midsummer’s Day. The plants seem to be about to pop with the amount of goodness within them and some of them have certainly sprung suddenly into flower today.

I found lots of Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) just in flower, today and harvested some for a tincture. Likewise, Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) is in perfect form for tincturing. These and Lime are the three summer herbs which I love the most so I spent time with them today.

I was also pleased to see that some of the Mullein plants in the park have quietly started to flower and patches of Feverfew close to Frankendael park are also standing out. The Plantain (Plantago major) leaves are currently enormous and I will be tincturing some of them and their flowers in the days to come along with Lime tree leaves and flowers.

If you tend to see Midsummer as the end of the lightness and you morn its passing, perhaps try and see it in a different way. More as a time to thank the Sun and light for all the transformation it has provided and welcome in the gradually approaching darkness. The darkness can teach us much about ourselves, it gives a chance to reflect inwardly on what has happened in the preceding time and encourages us to appreciate the light, when it returns.

365 Frankendael day 47

Firstly today, fragrant and edible flowers of the urban prolific Rosa rugosa. It is much used by urban landscapers and I think, underused by urban foragers. To be used as any other rose, ensure they are clean and unsprayed as ever.

Next is Cleavers (Galium aparine), still looking fresh and cleansing in the Volkstuin area of Frankendael.

Here is a mature Ginkgo biloba tree which I hadn’t noticed until today. Recently I learned that in some parts of the world it is illegal to plant female Ginkgos because the smell of their fruit is so obnoxious! Perhaps this one is a male? Either way, the leaves will be ripe for the picking and eating or tea making in a few months. There are a great many Ginkgos in Amsterdam.

Above is a small Ladies mantle (Alchemilla) plant. This is a bitter and very useful herb. I grow several on my roof and sometimes eat the flowers as a garnish. The leaves are good as a bitter tea and can be used to make a good breast toning oil. That is one of their traditional uses.

Lastly today, another coppiced Willow living in apparent intimate harmony with a different plant species. This time the lodger USA flowering Elder (Sambucus nigra). Two great herbs together!

365 Frankendael day 41

Today a lovely scene, if you like tended gardens, of the old partitioned garden at the back of Frankendael Huis. I really appreciate how the gardeners allow the plants to spill out here and there and especially so with the stunning Valerian officinalis which is shown here. Valerian medicine is traditionally focused on the roots but the flowers are also useful and have more subtle effects than the other parts of the plant. I have a big Valerian plant on my roof and this weekend, harvested every third flower cluster, for drying. Doing so leaves the beautiful appearance and special scent almost intact, for everyone else to enjoy.

Here is a photo Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), NL: Brandnetel, in bloom. Now is not at all the time to harvest this wonderful tonic herb but I took the photo to illustrate the difference between the plant and other look a likes, such as Lamium alba, White Dead Nettle, shown yesterday.

Here is a photo of a plant that I want to learn more about, creeping along the ground rather like a Strawberry with similar leaves and runners. Growing amongst it, with purple flowers, is familiar Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacaea) which is edible, useful and tastes minty. I have been watching the Strawberry look a like, in several shady parts of the park, for several weeks. Today it is coming into flower, yellow flowers, so I now remember that the plant a little better. It is a member of the Cinquefoil (Potentilla) family, I’ll have a closer look tomorrow to find out which. I brought a sample home but my cat ate it in seconds – maybe that should tell me something!? Strawberries are members of the Fragaria family.

Not one to eat until next Spring, here is an update of how Ramsons (Wild garlic, NL: Daslook) look at the moment. Not very tasty but the seed heads are developing well.

Next, and again for future reference, the closest Sweet Chestnut tree to my home. Totally unrelated to Horse Chestnut, far more tasty but possibly less interesting for herbalists.

Lastly today, an enormous Dandelion(Taraxacum officinale), two 50 cm long leaves of which, are destined for my plate this evening…