Category Archives: Wild herbs

Lughnasadh ramblings

Just felt like posting a few photos today, of herbs grown, found or harvested recently. Also to mention that I now have more availabilty to run workshops and walks, so have set some new apprenticeship dates for September – October and will soon be setting some Amsterdam herb walk dates.

Bumble bee on teasle flowerhead

This summer, I have been spending lots of time at my volkstuin. Teasle (Dipsacus fulonum) is a tall wild flower, not best known in gardens because it tends to do its own thing, growing exactly where it likes, often at the edge of where humans would like to walk, and as the plants develop the often lollop over paths and catch on humans clothes. Clearly, this is not always desired (although this makes/made teasleheads perfect for carding wool – the Dutch name for the plant is Kaardebol – literally carding ball). Anyway, I love teasles and tend to encourage visitors to work around them and admire them in my garden, rather than pulling them up. They don’t transplant so well for me. People transplant with far more ease.

Dried teasleheads in a carder. Photocredit: Pinterest

I love watching these plants develop through the year, from their characteristic sturdy seedlings in spring to tall summer beauties. They always get me excited – in a herbalist kind of way. How tall will they grow? How many flowerheads will each plan bear? Will they make it through possible summer storms? Will I tincture the root of a two year old this autumn? How many bumblebee species will visit them this year? Is there a way to encourage more flowerheads on one plant? and so on..

Last week, each morning that I woke at the gardenhouse, I pulled back the curtain and lay in bed admiring the bumblebees as they worked the teasle flowerheads. As you can see here, the flowerheads are made up of tiny pale purple flowers, apparently around 2000 per flowerhead, arranged in a phenomenally pleasing arrangement which seems to me to match the Fibonacci series. They open in sequence, as a ring, starting low on the flowerhead and day by day this ring to move up the flowerhead. Sometimes several rings are progressively ripening, moving up the flowerheads. The cause of this is progressive maturation of the tiny flowers, from the base to the top of the flowerhead. I looked up how this happens. For those of you interested in this, here’s an interesting research paper about the patterns of development in teasle flowers.

The bumblebees are essential to the process of pollinating those tiny flowers. They busy about, over the purple rings, from about 8am, each day that there is sun. As they wander around the flowers, burrowing in for nectar, they also kick off the dead flowers of the day before. They do literally seem to kick them off. If you manage to watch a teasle being “worked” one morning, you may be lucky enough to see the tiny purple flowers falling to the ground, as a bumblebee wanders around the flowerhead either biting or kicking them off. This appears to be pure symbiosis and is a great pleasure to observe. It puts the day to come in perspective and I recommend it!

Meadowsweet – Filipendula ulmaria

Next is Meadowsweet. I adore this herb. She is the absolute Queen of the Meadow in my eyes. She smells sweet and dreamy, is as tall as many teasle plants, is slender, takes away pain, eases the stomach and aches and pains of joints. She is oh so light and yet strong, effective and intoxicating. I make my mead when Meadowsweet is in bloom. I see these flowers as an essential ingredient in any mead. Perhaps that’s just me. This year, the fruits of my previous Meadowsweet planting labors have been rewarded as I now have several garden areas where the meadowsweet is flourishing. Meadowsweet is also beloved of bees, hoverflies and many other insects. The OBOD Seedgroup which I run, is also called Meadowsweet. We met amongst the flowers this weekend, to celebrate Lughnasadh, Druid-style.

Potentilla indica. Photo credit: Livvy de Graaf

These beautiful berries are growing throughout the beds at my volkstuin. They have almost no flavour and belong to the wild flower Potentilla indica (Schijnaardbei). It creeps between other plants, has trifoliate leaves and small 5-petalled yellow flowers, At this time of year, they may develop into bright red achenes which are fruit, covered with tiny seeds. The leaves, flowers and fruit of this plant are edible. The leaves are quite medicinal and can be added in small quantities to soups but in my opinion the best way to eat this plant, is to preserve the ripe fruits
in local honey or in a Rumtopf.

From September this year, I will be working only three days a week at school so will have far more time for running herbal workshops and walks. Many dates are already booked up, but if you are keen to book a walk during the autumn or winter, let me know and I hope that we can organise a green exploration together. I also offer private consultations. Please see my events page, or join Meetup.com for Urban Herbology happenings. Apprenticeship meetings are already listed there until end October. Meadowsweet OBOD Seedgroup gatherings are not listed there. Please contact meadowsweet.amsterdam@gmail.com, if you would like to be informed of open gatherings, for those interested in nature-based spirituality, and the closed gatherings which are only for OBOD members.

Ramsons (Allium ursinum, NL:Daslook)

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

Urban Herbology

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.

  • Ramsons can be eaten raw or cooked…

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Herb Walk

I went for a walk and forage in the Orchards of Park Frankendael this morning and made some recordings for you. Next time, I will hold my phone the other way so that it records a wider frame but for now, I hope that you can at least enjoy some of the blossoms and bees!

So there we have it, about 30 minutes of my ramblings in the orchards. We saw quite a few plants today but there are hundreds more to find. Let me know what you would like to see next time!

Midwinter Malva

One thing that I really miss when I am at school all week, is a long, relaxed, morning walk. I really need to start weaving more walks into my work week schedule. In any case, I certainly can’t complain as I am now on school holiday for a couple of weeks so started with a leisurely walk today. Taking in the air, sights and plants as I wander for 5km or more through Amsterdam east, is a great way to start the day.

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This morning, my walk took in a long stretch of the Weespertrekvaart. On one side, a cycle path, sport fields, allotments and Amsteldorp (with plenty of Christmas lights at the moment). On the other, a mix of new villas, tower blocks, boats, businesses and the old Bijlmerbajes prison buildings. In between, a wide stretch of canal which a few ducks, gulls and a morning rowing team were enjoying. Between the canal and the cycle path is a footpath and parts of it are edged with reeds and wild herbs.

At this time of year there is a lot of green to be found in Amsterdam but due to midwinter’s reduced light and temperatures, most plants are not in flower or in good shape for foraging. At this time of year, it’s best to look but not touch, unless you find a big area of something quite special which is clearly loving the reduced competition for light, which midwinter also brings.

This Malva patch caught my eye. Not only is the plant quite prolific in places along the footpath, but here and there it can be found in flower. Plants are much easier to identify when in flower so this is great for foragers. Even if you don’t fancy foraging during midwinter, it is a great time to build your knowledge – of plant ID and where the plants like to grow.

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Yesterday in school, one of the classes ran an assembly about different foods eaten to celebrate Christmas around the world. One mention really caught my attention – Malva Cake in South Africa! Malva – in a cake – what a great idea!

I tend to eat malva leaves, of all sorts, in salads or I cook them gently and eat in savoury dishes. They can be chopped up into a tasty falafel mix, fried, stuffed, cooked like spinach and then sprinkled with feta type cheese. The options are endless (so long as you are sure to wash dust off as they can be quite hairy). Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) is in the malva family, so is the Lime tree (Tilia spp) and they have ever so unctuous leaves. The malva in this photo looks like Common mallow (Malva sylvestris) to me. In my experience, it has less unctuous leaves than lime and marshmallow but they are mild tasting, very palatable and quite abundant in the greener parts of Amsterdam. More importantly, Common mallow is neither endangered here in The Netherlands (the Marshmallow plant is) nor is it out of reach (as Lime tree leaves certainly are in winter). So I became more and more pleased with this find on the footpath edge. One of my favourite Amsterdam plants is Hollyhock. That is also in the Malvaceae family and the leaves look quite similar to Common mallow. And while I think of it, some other Malvaceae members are cacao, cotton, durian and okra. This family of plants has high economic importance around the world.

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Found these cacao pods growing from the trunk of a Theobroma cacao tree in Costa Rica (2016).

Malva cake sounds great to me and also brings to mind the big packets of dried Malva leaves sold by my local Turkish supermarket (Yakhlaf on Javastraat). I googled recipes for malva cake and was a little disappointed that most contained no malva at all and looked distinctly similar to sticky toffee pudding. I found one reference to a Dutch cake with malva in the name but no actual malva in the recipe. So I am now on the hunt for a recipe which contains enough malva leaf to make a delicious unctuous cake – and preferably without carb-rich flour (as I am trying to avoid carbs). If you know of a recipe, I would love to hear! In the meantime, I will start experimenting with almond flour and malva leaves.

malva pudding cake
David Lebovitz’ Malva Pudding Cake (click for link) – I know, it’s not exactly disappointing but where is the actual malva leaf in this mouthwatering recipe? Photo credit: David Lebovitz

Do you have any uses for Malva leaves which you would like to share? If so please let me know in the post comments or through my contact page. Malva leaves seem to be very widely used in other parts of the world and right now, they are looking good in both Turkish supermarkets and winter footpath edges here in Amsterdam.

Forage lightly and happily, my friends!


Next Urban Herbology walk in Amsterdam – Tomorrow! 21st December. Check out my meetup group or What’s app me on 0627596930 if you would like to join the Winter Solstice walk.

My Online+ Apprenticeship course is open to newcomers for just 5 more days (until end of 25th December). Then it will be closed to new members until Imbolc (February 1st 2020). For more information see here or contact me.


April stuff

A selection of moments from April:

Meetup walk from Amstel Station to Park Frankendael.

Tempeh making for the apprenticeship module

Relining the little pond with a trailer cover.

Leaf shapes

Magnolia time continues

Speaking about nature based spirituality at University of Amsterdam

Larry the cat and the herbs

Last year’s grape vine leaves come out to play

Cherry blossom gathering at the Orchards

Saurkraut time

Fermenting stinging nettle tops

Urban dandelion and burdock

A walk in the park

Grub

Allium paradoxum

Looks like a baby Giant Hogweed or a hybrid

Mahonia in bloom everywhere

Nettle and friend

Yellow deadnettle all over the place

Purple deadnettles all over town

And it’s almost Elderflower time…

A walk alongside the Wye

Last week, I visited my family in the UK. My parents live in Chepstow and my Dad is a great walker so one afternoon, the two of us headed out to a beautiful spot along the Wye valley, just off the Offas dyke trail at Lancaut Lane, a few miles north of Chepstow.

It is the site of an old village, of which the only remains are derelict lime kilns, some interesting earth mounds, stones and a beautiful ruined church.

The setting is outstanding. The ruined church is found down a steep winding path from the road, in a clearing, close to the banks of the River Wye, as it makes a sharp bend beneath steep raw cliffs. It’s a lovely walk, with wild flowers, catkin-laden hazel trees and greenery all around even in February.

St James’ Church, Lancaut is now cared for by the Forest of Dean Buildings Preservation Trust. It was still used monthly until the 1830’s and there’s a displayed photo as you approach, of the walled graveyard and already ruined church, completely packed with church goers. I imagine that those monthly services were quite something!

Dad found this informative blog post, written 12 years ago by Mercurius Politicus. It traces the history of the location and is certainly worth a read. Here’s a pre-1865 photo of the church, taken from that website.

We loved looking at the old gravestones, a couple of which are now used to mark the graveyard boundary. Within the church can be seen two very interesting headstones from the 1600’s which show a heart in the middle of the text. Other engravings around the church seem to match this flowing, curvaceous style. It is quite beautiful. Can you see the ladybirds on this headstone?

We spent some time sitting a top a mound, watching the River Wye flow strongly by, spotting plants, observing birds feeding in the mud on the opposite river bank and wondering if two distant rock climbers would really make it to the top of a cliff face.

I made a podcast whilst walking around the church, looking for signs of the herb Elecampane. If you’d like to listen, click the link. My Dad features quietly here and there, as the guest Yorkshire accent. I must take a second microphone next time 🙂 We talk about Bramble buds, Hazel, Elecampane, the beautiful views and such like.

Episode 3 – Walking around St James’ Church

We found some lovely plants on our walk including the catnip in the photo below, apparently scampering up an exterior wall. The plant doesn’t look much in February, the dead flower stems gave it away, but it will be stunning in a few months time.

I definitely plan to return to this place. It’s a real treasure. The area is part of a nature reserve and is registered as being of Special Scientific Interest. It is said to be home to over 300 plant species so a visit when more of them emerge from the ground is needed.

The derelict church is now used as a place of worship once or twice a year by Tiddenham parish. It is easy to find from the road and has a strong pull.

I’d be very interested to hear in the comments below from anyone who frequents the place or has tales to share about it. Perhaps you’ve worshipped there or have actually found the elusive Elecampane of the monks?

Spring Herbs Risotto

Fennel and Lemonbalm harvest
Freshly plucked Fennel and Lemonbalm leaves

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
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 stock cube 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.

Method
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.

Autumn Street Treats and Tricks

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.

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Here above is Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) (NL: Eenstijlige meidoorn) in berry. This one is in a hedgerow of Frankendael park. I have mostly been cooking them like this:

hawthorn infused casserole

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.

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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 Hazelnut Spiral
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.
Turkish Hazelnut Case

What a wonderful gift from the Amsterdam town planners!

drying washed Turkish hazelnuts

cracked Turkish Hazelnut

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…

bittersweet

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!)

Yew berries
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.

Fly agaric Frankendael Park Amsterdam

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.

Willow Apprenticeship Meeting

I met with my Willow Apprenticeship Group this afternoon and as usual had a wonderful and enriching time with them.

I took a few photos whilst we were out and about…

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Skullcap (Sculletaria sp.) in the woods. It is best to harness the powers of this bitter labiate, actually at the plant. So take your tincture materials to the woods, harvest just enough, sparsely from across all of the Skullcap plants, in areas where it is abundant and set up your small tincture there and then. Otherwise the active constituents tend to change or evaporate. Either way, Skullcap loses potency hugely if you harvest, take it home then tincture.

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Above is Plantain (Plantago major). Absolutely the best time to forage this healing and nutritious plant. It is easier to eat them if the ribs have been removed first. The leaves make a wonderfully soothing skin ointment. It combines well with leaves of Elder and Comfrey in such an ointment.

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Above is a Verbascum sp. plant. Probably Mullien but we’ll check on it again when the flowers appear. A very useful plant. One traditional use for Mullein is to gradually fill a small jar with individual flowers and olive oil. Harvest only a tiny amount of what is available, leave lots of flowers for the bees and other pollinators! The oil is used by some to soothe earache. Another widely used application is infusing the whole flowering plant to treat allergies and chronic asthma.

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Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris). Not the most productive year for bushy Mugwort plants in Amsterdam. They are far more slender than usual but still taste great and are very potent at the moment.

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Searching for Horehound (Marrubium vulgare) amongst Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) and Jerusalem artichoke (above).

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Elderflower. A superb year and so many uses!

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Hedge woundwort (Stachys sylvatica). We found it full of bees. This has also been planted next to the bee hives of de Hortus Botanicus. Strongly scented, bristly, slightly sticky leaves which seem to ooze potency. This Woundwort had many historical uses and remains very useful today.

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White deadnettle (Lamium album) amongst Ground Elder (Aegopodium podograria). Both are edible, delicious and useful for several conditions. Lamium album being especially useful for helping normalise females flows.

Lots more wonderful plants were spotted today and the time went by so quickly!

And some kitchen inspiration.

Photo credit: gulummse.blogspot.com
Photo credit: gulummse.blogspot.com