Category Archives: Wild herbs

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…

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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

image

Elderflower. A superb year and so many uses!

image

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.

image

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

Come Rain or Shine

image

On Sunday, I took a large group of people around some cold, windy and weedy parts of Westerpark. Today a small group of us walked around the woods of park Frankendael in the sunshine and rain, before enjoying a warm drink in Restaurant Merkelbach.

Here are a few of the things we found and tasted on those walks…

Yellow deadnettle (NL:Gele dovenetel)
image

Urban Dandelion and Burdock honey (NL:Paardebloem en Grote Klis)

20130529-213655.jpg

Wild Garlic Bread Sticks.

Today’s group had the same bread but with Rosemary and roasted sesame seeds, mixed into the oil.

image

Comfrey NL: Smeerwortel (Symphytum x uplandicum), with it’s purple flowers, distinctive cucumber scent and taste alongside those winged leaf-stem joints.

image

Wild garlic (Allium ursinum) NL:Daslook.
image

Catnip NL: Kattenkruid (as also found in huge quantities, planted along side some Amsterdam roads)
image

Here is Ground Elder (Aegopodium podograria) NL:Zevenblad.
image

Skullcap (Sculletaria longifolium) before flowering.
image

Here is a lovely post by Whispering Earth, all about the beautiful Hawthorn tree, which some of us tinctured blossom from today.

image

Both the recent groups also received a packet of River of Herb treepit seedmix. I hope that everyone will find a few moments to plant them in the weeks to come.

I won’t be leading any more walks until mid July but on Midsummer’s day (June 21st, 4.30pm) I am organizing a free Lime blossom (NL:Linden, Tilia sp.) harvest in park Frankendael. Do come along if you would like to meet some other Urban Herbies or simply to learn a little more about this magical tree.

Let’s Make Hawthorn Tincture!

What a perfect day!

image

I finally found time this morning to have a leisurely wander through the woods of Frankendael, seeking out the most pleasantly scented Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) trees.

I was not disappointed! The flowers and leaves of this heart toning tree always taste good to me. Munched on a late spring walk, not much else lifts my spirits and makes me stand tall as does Hawthorn “bread and cheese”. But the flowers (the cheese) do vary in their tastiness, so if you want to capture their essence, it’s worth taking time to seek out the ones which really appeal to you.

Some of the flowers smell rather unpleasant, like cat pee, others are unscented because their insect-attracting job is done. Just a couple smelled sweetly, really sweetly, like vanilla rice pudding. Those smelled and tasted jaw-droppingly good! So guess which ones ended up in my tincture jar?

image

Equipt with a small bottle of vodka and a little glass jar, I made my tincture at the tree. To do it yourself, simply fill a jar well with carefully picked Hawthorn flower clusters and a few Hawthorn leaves (the bread). Then fill the jar again with vodka, brandy or whatever strong spirit you choose. Check that you fill all the way to the brim. Flowers exposed to any air will quickly spoil, they need to be completely submerged in the spirit. Check for bubbles of air and top up if needed.

image

I’ll leave my tincture like this, labelled, in a cupboard until the autumn, when I’ll strain the flowers and pour the liquid over a fresh jar of Hawthorn berries. Then after a further six weeks of infusing, my double Hawthorn tincture will be ready for use. It will be infused with the properties of Hawthorn leaves, flowers and berries.

If a regular few drops of that doesn’t warm, tone and open my heart through the depths of winter, then not much will!

image

I could use the simple flower tincture after six weeks infusion time but I have enough Hawthorn elixir in stock, to see me through summer and autumn so I shall wait. And we all know that the best things come to those who wait 🙂

Hawthorn is an age old preventaive and remedy for many types of heart disease. It is a heart tonic, offering as it were, food specific to the heart. It is used by many, alongside allopathic (conventional drug based) medicine such as betablockers but of course you should always consult a qualified medical herbalist if considering using it as a remedy for heart disease.

If you’d like to join me for a walk in the park, to learn about tasty and useful plants of Amsterdam, and to set up you’re poem tincture, why not sign up for tomorrow’s lunchtime forage?

Embrace Your Weeds!

image

Sunday 2nd June
3-5pm
Westerpark (Proef Restaurant to the Educational Garden)
€25 per person

There are so many incredible plants which we dismiss, dig-up or discard. We could do so much with these humble weeds, if only more people knew how!

image

This workshop with foraging walk will open your eyes to the wonders of the weed world! Together with Ann from City Plot Amsterdam, I will lead you from Proef restaurant in Westerpark through to the City Plot educational garden, right at the back of the park. We will wander through prime public foraging grounds on our way. When we get there, we will plant some of our weedy wonders in the River of Herbs section of the Educational Garden.

Bring (if you like):
Paper bags for foraged finds,
Flask of hot water, to make a herb tea
Hand trowel, if you have one,

image

I will tell you about medicinal, nourishing and historical uses of the plants and Ann will show how to make the most of them in the garden and kitchen.

You will receive a comprehensive colour handout, to help you at home and the chance to spend quality time with us and the weeds, in a small group. To book, please email me or click here.

image

The Educational Garden is an inspirational place: It has been divided into different mini gardens, from a Mushroom farm, Permaculture patch, Medicinals section to the River of Herbs meadow.

image

Proeftuin is maintained as an organic restaurant garden by City Plot.
Westerpark is big, bold and full of foraging spots!

Our walks and talks go ahead, unless there’s a hurricane overhead. So please come prepared to get stuck into our wonderful urban nature, whatever the weather.

20130523-133953.jpg

So whether you have a garden, a plant pot or like to forage, join us to discover how to find, identify and Embrace Your Weeds!

Urban Dandelion and Burdock

Europe is awash with roaring Dandelions at the moment. They are standing proud and showing their wooly faces in parks, along roadsides, in fields and hedgerows. They also grow happily on my roof (and from there I harvest its leaves and roots) .

I love the taste of Dandelion and Burdock syrup, especially when mixed with water and drunk in the summer sunshine. Not many flavours remind me so fondly of my English childhood. But to make Dandelion and Burdock syrup, the roots of Burdock and leaves of Dandelion should be collected and boiled up with sugar water. I don’t use using sugar unless there is no other option and I don’t dig up Burdock roots. Roots tend to concentrate toxins, they are tough to dig up, fellow park visitors may pounce on me and tell me to stop and most of all, I’d like the plants to grow to maturity so that I may harvest the seeds and leaves.

Regarding the Dandelion leaves, I don’t ever harvest them in quantity from Amsterdam public spaces. They live on the plants for a long time, they get walked on and everything else you may like to think of happens on them, whereas the flowers are far more transient. I can more easily see if they are dirty, they only stay on the plant for a short time so are less open to pollution and I just love the sight of them in a jar of honey! Having said this, harvesting herbs from ground level in public spaces is always a bit of a risk, pollution is everywhere. But with syrups, a small amount is consumed in one go, the use of honey kills many bugs naturally and I feel that the benefits far outweigh the concerns. But that’s just me perhaps!

My version of Dandelion and Burdock simply requires honey, 20-30 fresh Dandelion flowers and a small Burdock leaf. That’s all. It has all the medicinal properties that Dandelion and Burdock plants offer, it is quick to make, tastes deliciously bitter-sweet and it keeps well.

20130510-164455.jpg

How to make Urban Dandelion and Burdock Syrup

1. Harvest 20-30 clean, fresh and lively Dandelion heads from a clean area.
Harvest one young, equally vibrant Burdock leaf from a super-healthy looking plant.

2. Place your harvest on a clean white surface for about an hour, to allow any resident bugs time to crawl away.

3. Tear up the Burdock leaf and layer dandelion heads and burdock leaf in a medium sized (250ml) jam jar.

4. As you layer the herb, carefully spoon in runny honey. Poke around a little with a clean chopstick so that air bubbles are released.

5. Continue to layer herb, spoon in honey and prod with the chopstick until the jar is full.

6. Check for obvious air bubbles and prod some more. Top up with honey (right to the lid) and secure with a well fitting lid.

20130510-164708.jpg

7. Leave to stand and infuse for at least three days.

8. Use as it is, as a toast spread or strain (or not) and use as a syrup base for refreshing summer drinks.

Bitter-sweet yum! It taste’s of the English summers of my childhood. We’ll try it on the Pluck Your Lunch! forage this Sunday

365 Frankendael 247 from Tenerife

Whilst away from Amsterdam, I’ve taken some photos of just a few beautiful  Tenerife herbs. So many here are familiar to me and extremely useful. Many are available in Amsterdam as well at present. Some clearly not but most are probably familiar to readers of this blog.

image

Pennywort above. I remember this from my years in Somerset.

image

An extraordinary plant which looks quite like a type of Chicory or Dandelion. I need to look this one up. It grows all around the lush North of the island and is generally found alone, massive and growing out of cracks in stone walls and rocks.

image

Above is Chickweed. We’ve been feeding it to local chickens.

image

Above  an unusual Mallow species, growing beside the Wine museum.

image

A familiar site, African Marigolds, Tagetes, non edible but an extremely potent herb and one used by many as a garden companion plant. They spread like a weed here, at the edge of the vineyard where we are staying.

image

Hibiscus. I can’t stop thinking about the usefulness of Hollyhock, even here. This plant has similar looking flowers and is also a useful herb. More about it later.

image

Pelitory of the wall. Growing prolifically. I look forward to seeing how out is fairing up I the Netherlands at the moment.

image

Beautiful, peppery and healing Nasturtiums. Growing wild and prolific. An old use of these on Tenerife is to use a leaf fresh as a natural substitute for toilet roil. It can cure hemorrhoids when used in this way.

That’s it for today. Time to get back to the plants and the sunshine.

365 Frankendael day 157

image

I harvested three tiny prices of that fungus which I found a couple of days ago. I have checked it’s identity in the woods, at home in books, online with reliable sites and as there is nothing nasty I could confuse it with, I felt happy to cook a little. The photograph above is a little washed out but below you’ll see I’ve placed my test harvest against the photo in one of my mushroom books. What a beautiful colour!

image

It is Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus) and boy does it taste good, simply fried in a little ghee! It does taste quite similar to chicken, it is meaty in texture too. If it sits well in my stomach, I’ll be harvesting some more tomorrow. This isn’t going to turn into a fungus foraging blog, I don’t have enough experience of them and it’s so easy to go disastrously wrong, but if I find more interesting autumn fungi I’ll certainly post them here.

Rosehips (Rosa spp.) continue to ripen.
image

As do Haws on the Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) shrubs and trees.

image

I got all excited to see thousands of fallen Sweet chestnuts, at the front if Huis Frankendael but they are to small to do anything much with. Hopefully they have been shed to help the tree focus on building up carb’s in the rest.

image

It’s still possible to harvest as much as you like of invasive alien Himalayan Balsam. The flowers have a nice taste, quite mild and like lettuce. I heard of someone using the stems as drinking straws recently. That could be interesting too.

image

I think these are the sought after roots of Cat‘s Tails, dredged up in the current canal clearance operation. They don’t look very appetising in that must soup though.

image

And lastly, Feverfew having a brilliant second flower flush. So bitter and do linked in traditional medicine to the treatment of migraine.

image

Danish Hawthorn recipes and simple Haw Honey Syrup

image

Some time ago Amalie and Daniel joined me for a herb walk alongside Park Frankendael. One of the plants which was in bloom at the time was Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna). Amalie knew the berries from Denmark and kindly sent me some recipes to try and share. Hawthorn is in fruit right now, it is a common hedgerow plant and the berries (well “pomes” actually but they look like berries) are edible raw or cooked. Most of each fruit is seed, these need to be strained out of any recipe unless you’d like blunt teeth.

Here are the two recipes from Amalie, plus one I have been experimenting with, which doesn’t need sugar. I also posted a Hawthorn Elixir recipe a short while ago which may be interesting.

Hawthorn puree and juice
1 liter of hawthorn berries
300 grams of sugar
Water

Mash the berries into a puree.
Add the sugar and heat to about 70°C (hot, steamy but not boiling). Strain out the seeds.

The puree can be used for various things including the making of Hawthorn juice, by diluting in water (1 part puree to 10 parts water).

Hawthorn with apples and prunes
½ liter hawthorn berry juice (see above)
750 grams of apples, peeled, cored and quartered
100 grams of prunes, roughly chopped
Sugar (as much as you like to taste)

Cook apples and prunes in the hawthorn juice until the apples turn to pulp and the prunes are swollen, soft and succulent. Then add the sugar to taste. If you like, you can add a bit of melatin with pectin, to thicken it all up.
This can be stored in sterile canning jars or eaten straight away.

image

Haw & Honey Syrup
1. Spread your Hawthorn berry (Haws) out in your kitchen for a while to give any bug residents time to relocate. (dry Haws can also be used but they’ll need to simmer for much longer in step 4, to soften them up)
2. Clean your Haws in fresh water.
3. Place them in a small saucepan and almost cover them with just boiled water.
4. Bring to the boil and simmer for just a couple of minutes, to soften everything up a little.
5. Remove from the heat and slow to cool enough to handle.
6. Strain and push out the juice/mush through a standard kitchen sieve. Get out as much as possible. Squidge it with your fingers and a widen spoon. Combine the mush with the water that was used to simmer.
7. When the juice had cooled to being warm but not hot, stir in a nice big dollop of good quality runny honey.
8. Give it all a good stir and chance to combine before storing in a pressure safe glass bottle or jar (like an old flip bung Grolsch bottle).

image

Use as a tasty winter tonic, straight or mixed. Hawthorn is best known as a gentle heart tonic, for the emotions and the circulatory system.

365 Frankendael day 149

I’ve been busy preparing for the Elder workshop tomorrow and enjoyed a little walk in the park looking for ingredients for ghee based Elder ointment.  Elder leaves are very medicinal but contain a chemical which, when digested by the human body, turns into cyanide so it’s obviously not a good idea to eat it.  The ripe berries and flowers don’t contain this chemical although the seeds within the berries do.  Here are the herbs in my ointment, plus a couple of other plants which are also looking and tasting great at the moment…

Chickweed (Stellaria media)

Elder (Sambucus nigra) growing close to the base of an old Cedar. Here’s a lovely Elderberry syrup recipe, from Mountain rose herbs, which uses honey for sweetness but doesn’t heat the honey – good news and unusual!

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis agg.)  making a stand for itself in a field of Plantain (Plantago major)

Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)

Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacaea)

365 Frankendael day 148

I had a great time today, taking two group on street herb walks, from the OTOPIA festival on the Overtoom. We found lots of herbs in pavement cracks, in intended pavement gardens, tended ones and in curbs. A few plants were around which I didn’t know the names of. Here they are:

Heath speedwell (Veronica officinalis) was creeping around a large grassland area halfway up Willeminastraat and Eerste Helmersstraat.
image

Gallant soldier (Galinsoga parviflora).
image

The plant that looked like Fat Hen (Chenopodium album) but had so many flowers on some examples that it was hard to tell, definitely was edible Fat Hen.

I didn’t take a photo of the Fat Hen today but here’s one of poisonous
Black nightshade. We found heaps of it on today’s walks.

image

The Wild Rocket that was growing at the entrance of OT301 appears to be the perennial species so I hope Cathy will be in luck with the sample she took home.
image

The nettle which the second group found, which wasn’t the regular Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) was Small nettle, an annual, as suspected and both edible and medicinal.

There were two others which I’m still looking up. Will post an update, when I find the names. Here they are, maybe you can help me out with the names?
image
image

Thanks to everyone who joined the walks and thank you to Femke and Tarje for organising today’s festival and inviting me to take part in this way.