It’s stinging nettle top plucking time here in Amsterdam. Most people realise that they are edible and that they sting. I”m often asked how to eat these prickly iron and protien-rich freinds. There are many ways!
Some people like to roll them up and eat then raw. I prefer them cooked or added raw to smoothies. Nettle soup is popular and I like that but I’m fonder of incorporating nettles into creamy, garlicky sauces. I’m making one this evening so I thought I’d share how.
I’m calling this little sauce recipe The Prickly Bear because it contains stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) which are clearly prickly and wild garlic, scientifically known as Allium ursinum, Bear onion. You may know it better as Ramsons, Daslook or Wild garlic.
To make enough sauce for 4 – 6 people, I used:
3 banana shallots
20 stinging nettle tops (top 4 full leaves and stems)
Handful of wild garlic leaves
5 chestnut mushrooms
3 table spoons sour cream
1/2 good quality stock cube
Salt and pepper
Gently saute a few chopped shallots (or a medium onion) in butter, ghee or olive oil.
Add washed and chopped stinging nettle tops, before the shallots are thoroughly cooked.
Cover with a lid and allow it all to steam for a few minutes. Stinging nettles benefit from being nice and soft when you eat them so don’t rush this step.
Now add the chopped Ramsons. Give it all a good stir.
Add sour cream, salt, pepper or a little of a good quality stock cube.
and then add a hearty pile of sliced mushrooms (preferably chestnut mushrooms).
Replace the lid and simmer gently for 5 minutes or so, until the mushrooms are cooked and tender.
Serve with whatever you like. I stirred it through some gnocchi this evening and sliced some Comte cheese over the top.
This is the start of my main edible and medicinal herb walk season and it’s beautiful here in Amsterdam.
The plants are looking wonderful. Bumble bees are buzzing and caterpillars are already nibbling the nettles.
There’s no need for me to purchase as many vegetables as usual because I’m adding fresh Stinging nettle and Ramsons to my diet each day.
I’ve decided to try to bring some of the wild city edibles to the virtual doorsteps of those of you who are hungry to learn.
One day next week, I’ll go for a solo herb walk, somewhere very quiet, during my daily fresh air break. I’ll pretend that you’re with me – in a good way 😉 I’ll record it and share it so that you can see what’s around.
I’ll perhaps look like a mad plant lady as I walk around talking to plants but what’s new? I’d like you to see the plants and learn from them. We need to know what grows around us and how to use them safely and ethically.
Some which we find may be growing right outside of your window, right now. Some may be invading your balcony pots. Let’s see what turns up.
If you would like to see the orchards and hear some bird song, hop over to the River of Herbs blog as I’ve posted a few green video clips and photos there this week.
If you’d like to join my free virtual walk, let me know, preferably in the comments box below and I’ll inform you when it’s online.
Spring is in the air, I can smell it and feel it and taste it! Well, early spring is here at least which means that my apprenticeship is reopened to newcomers, I’ve ordered too many heirloom seeds for the coming season and I’m planning growing projects in each spare moment. I can’t help it, when I feel Imbolc (the first spring festival) approaching, my energy levels pick right up and I need to get busy. Maybe you are the same?
I’m so looking forward to the Urban Herbology walk that’s coming up on Saturday, in Past Frankendael. It starts at 11.45 at the main old entrance of the park and is almost fully booked so have a look at the meetup group if you would like to join or if you fancy joining me on another walk.
I sent a message to people who have signed up, through meetup yesterday. If you have signed up but didn’t receive the message, please let me know (firstname.lastname@example.org).
If you would like to stay informed whenever new walk and workshop dates are set, please sign up to the meetup group as I don’t keep a mailing list and don’t like to spam anyone.
Heaps of edible and medicinal plants are showing themselves at the moment and many are growing so well that we can harvest them from certain places. I’ll show you lots of tasty and useful plants on Saturday.
I’m back at work in school now so not too much time to write posts but I just have to share these images with you. I took an ex-student into the woods for a walk and chat last week and we found these amazing Jelly ear or Wood ear fungi on a mossy old Elder tree. The scientific name for these ear shaped beauties is Auricularia auricula-judae.
Some were enormous!
Jelly ears are one of just a few fungi that I get excited about when out foraging because they are so straightforward to identify and I love to pick, cook and eat them!
I harvested a couple whilst out on that walk and went back for more with my daughter, a few days later. We found them on the mossy Elder but also on older dead trees which now have no bark so I couldn’t identify those tree species (but they are certainly not Elder).
I harvested a small paper bag full, dried most in my oven on a very low heat and cooked up the rest in a curry.
I’ll rehydrate these in a cup of water for 15 minutes or so, when I’m ready to slice and cook them.
Jelly ears don’t have a strong flavour and they smell of the mossy woods which they come from. They have this particular crackle-crunch when cooked and munched and I really like them. They are not crunchy or crackly when fresh however. When on the tree, they are totally gelatinous, unmistakably ear shaped, have a velvety upper texture, a another under texture and are pure jelly in the middle. They can be pulled carefully off the wood rather like a bit of turkish delight. I like everything about them!
Jelly ears are mostly associated with rotting parts of Elder trees (Sambucus nigra) but are also known to grow on other tree species.
I’d love to know your thoughts about these ears of the woods. Have you tried them? Do you like them? How do you like to cook them? Let me know your thoughts.
In October 2019, I took three teenage boys and another senior teacher from my school (The British School of Amsterdam) to Cooking in Another Kitchen (Koken in een andere keuken) at De Stoelen Project, in Amsterdam Oud West. This involved cooking for 55 people at what is said to be the best (most effective and sought after) homeless shelter in Amsterdam. Each week, through the open season, homeless people queue up outside of the shelter on a set day, to request tickets to enable them to stay a few nights at the shelter. A night at De Stoelen Project comes with a cooked meal, a safe place indoors to sleep and washroom facilities. The people who receive tickets are only allowed a few days per month at the shelter, to allow for a rotation of visitors. The tickets are in great demand each week.
I heard about De Stoelen Project several years ago when Henny Heijmans, the project leader, came to speak at my River of Herbs evening at Pakhuis de Zwijger. I am sorry to say it took this long to actually book a date and volunteer there but, having been there once I intend to return often and with gifts.
The Schedule The day made a big impression on us all. It began by our small group traveling to the project from school. The Stoelen Project is located under the multi-story car park on Marnixstraat. We checked out the kitchen facilities and our shopping list with our Stoelen Project coordinator, Mark, and then headed off to an Albert Heijn supermarket. They kindly donated all of the pasta for our menu. Then off to the Yakhlaf supermarket on Vlugtlaan, which kindly gave us an incredible price on everything else for the meal. We were advised by the project to budget about €200 to be able to feed 55 people. I think we spent approximately €70, thanks to the generosity of Albert Heijn Museumplein and Yakhlaf Supermarket.
After shopping, we returned to the Stoelen Project and set to work; cleaning veg, chopping and cooking the food. The project does provide menu ideas and clear guidance on the quantities of ingredients that volunteers will need but the boys in our group had pre-planned the following menu:
Pasta pesto Chicken Salad Baked apples with cinnamon
They did a great job and created a really tasty and nutritious meal.
The day was packed, purposeful and a lot of fun. We were able to serve our meal to the “visitors” as we got all of our washing up done pretty quickly and the cooking was well-timed. Serving up in the dining hall (which doubles as the night shelter) was probably the most impressionable part of the day. The visitors who came to the shelter that evening to eat were of all ages and backgrounds. The atmosphere was extremely calm and I certainly felt very humbled by both the regular volunteers’ commitment and the genuine need of the visitors for a place of sanctuary.
We learned from one of the regular volunteers, Eva, how close many Amsterdammers are to being homeless. In some cases, all it took to become homeless was a family breakup or an unexpected redundancy. So many of us are just a few missed paycheques away from homelessness.
Impact It is still difficult for me to write about this as I clearly remember feeling so ridiculously lucky to be taking a warm tram home that night; Traveling to a safe home, in a safe neighborhood. Knowing that I could change out of my clothes without fear of harassment. Knowing I would stay warm that night, and the next night. Knowing what time I would wake up tomorrow and where I would be heading after breakfast. Knowing I had clean clothes to put on. Knowing I could shower. Knowing I would eat well. Knowing that the law is basically on my side, I have rights and am fundamentally safe and loved.
My daily concerns are minuscule compared to those of the visitors at De Stoelen Project.
The Homeless Issue No one knows exactly how many people are homeless in Amsterdam. Apparently, there are enough beds for each homeless person here to be off the streets at night, so they have a dry place to sleep. But those beds are not available year-round and there are not enough. Drunkenness, theft, drug use, screaming, agitation and sexual abuse are common reasons for homeless people choosing not to visit the shelters. This is a complex and uncomfortable issue for society.
Close to home One of my great-uncles was homeless in the UK. I remember meeting him once when I was young – such a loved, respected and intelligent man. I don’t know why he stepped out of regular society and lived as a man of the road. Perhaps he had some mental health issues, as do many homeless people. I doubt that I will ever know why his life took that turn but I am sure it was not a simple decision. When I was about 8 years old, he came to our home in Bristol out of the blue one day to see my mum, his niece, and her young family. It is a long time ago but I clearly remember how we wanted to shower him with love, shelter, food and anything he needed but he didn’t want it. Or he just couldn’t face it. For whatever reason, he needed to go and so he went. I never saw him again.
We all know that times have changed and so have some of the reasons for increased homelessness but every homeless person has a family somewhere and reasons which prevent them to returning home.
Spread the word In January, my volunteering group is going to give an assembly at school about our day at the project. We want to share something of the experience with the other kids and teachers at school but mainly we want to raise funds and offer some practical assistance to De Stoelen Project. We asked the volunteers and leader what they most needed from us. Yes they can always use financial contributions but we were surprised to learn that they would really appreciate the following items:
The Project Needs: Brand new men’s underwear Brand new men’s socks New toothbrushes Toothpaste
No Beans, Please! We asked about the foods that other groups choose to cook up when they take a turn at catering for the 55 ever-changing visitors. Apparently, most groups try to keep things cheap and nutritious but this generally means beans on the menu. Now beans and rice, or chili and rice sounds rather good to me but as Eva explained, beans are so effective at getting the gut moving, that the visitors need to stay near to a WC for the day following the meal. This is a big problem for homeless people. I certainly have not seen many homeless people lining up for a public loo and I can’t imagine them getting into the loos in shops and restaurants. So, the advice of Eva and Mark was to keep meals bean-free, please! Keep it simple, tasty and nutritious.
Grow and Donate Fresh Herbs I asked if they would like fresh herbs and the unequivocal response was, Yes, please! So here is the second part of my appeal. Come spring 2020, I would love for Urban Herbology readers, walkers and apprentices to consider gifting not only new undies and toothcare to De Stoelen Project but also to grow simple, well-known herbs in pots for the project. I want us to supply them with fresh herb pots every week – Basil, Parsley, Mint and other familiar, easy to use culinary herbs. The herbs need to be familiar because the teams who run the kitchen each day are not necessarily skilled cooks or herbologists! And, really unusual tastes are going to make the food taste odd to the visitors, so they may not feel able to eat it. Simple herbs which the volunteers can throw into the mix will boost available nutrients for the visitors, liven up the meals and add extra love to each plate. What a gift that would be. If we get loads of donated herb pots, there could even be one per table in the dining room, for the visitors to pluck from and add to their own food.
Book a date Here is the agenda link for Keuken in een Anderen Keuken. Book a date. You need a small group of friends or colleagues. (The website has English pages too). The kitchen is great. It is new, has industrial-sized pans and apparatus and accommodates 3-4 cooks. You also need about €200 to buy your menu. I suggest you raise that money, get a good deal on the ingredients and donate the rest of the money to the project. The Stoelen Project has salt, pepper, some dried herbs and so on, in the kitchen. You can check specifics and leftovers from previous groups (such as cinnamon which we needed) when you arrive – before shopping.
Please share If you like this idea and want to get involved, please share this post with your network and keep in contact through the comment box below. If there is plenty of interest and support we could be delivering fresh herb plants and the other items regularly.
Let’s try to stock De Stoelen Project (and homeless shelters everywhere) with as many fresh herbs, clean socks, underwear and personal care items as they can handle!
If you book a date at Cooking in Another Kitchen, I would also love to hear about it!
Wishing You All A Cool Yule And A Happy, Healthy New Year!
Update 26/12/19: Thanks for the positive feedback since I published this post yesterday. One person that I heard from, tells me that De Stoelen Project also desperately need extra volunteers to sleep over at the project. The commitment is apparently two nights a month through the season that it is open. For details, please contact De Stoelen Project directly.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I haven’t posted anything for a while although have been out in the plants a surprising amount, especially considering I’m now classroom bound five days a week. Yesterday was midsummer so I held a small gathering in Park Frankendael. I felt so honoured to be surrounded by such lovely people and freely the urge to share a free photos and words about it.
We gathered early, soon after 5pm under the grandest Lime trees in the park. I laid down an old, well loved and patched gold-threaded Indian quilt on the grass and we spread out the food. By Lime trees, I mean Tilia, linden. Amazing trees, here’s a post I wrote 8 years ago about them if you’d like to explore some of their numerous gifts and folklore.
Sameena came prepared as ever for some ceremony. This time with a sweet ripe melon, orange and apricots. She scooped out enough of the melon and Livvy poured in sunshine coloured fruit juice. This sat in the centre of the quilt, we sat circled around it age then Sameena added a slice of dripping orange and an apricot for each of the group.
We joined hands and shared thoughts about the sun at midsummer. One by one the group swelled in number so extra slices of orange and more sharing of thoughts.
After, we supped from the melon bowl and ate the orange and other foods. Such a simple, homespun and effective ceremony.
I’m dramatically reducing my stocks of herbal concoctions at home right down; pairing it right down to nothing more than I need for one season. My library is also being shared so more people can benefit from it and my energy has more space to expand – More on that from this lovely new post by apprentice and illustrator Hannah McDonald.
I’ve been holding onto some magical homemade mead for quite a long time so last night was the perfect opportunity to crack them open and enjoy. I believe that there’s little happier in the glass kingdom than a bottle of home crafted ferment, being steadily shared between freinds. First to be sampled was a very low alcohol but high energy Elderflower mead. The colour was just right for the bright early evening sun. Later, as the strength of the sun waned, a deep red heady and potent concoction was downed, sip by sip.
After some wonderful tree song singing courtesy of Grace, lime leaf munching, pistache shell ephemeral creating, catching up on thoughts, roly-polys and eating, we packed up camp and took a stroll through the River of Herbs orchards, just in time for the sun to set over the Limes. How wonderful the herb gardens look too! Full of frogs, scents, flowers and energy. The River of Herbs Monday morning team are doing such an amazing job of caring for them. More help is always welcome to get in touch if you’d like to be involved. I look forward to joining them more during my summer holiday.
We explored the newly crafted fairy homes, harvested a little Motherwort and Bay and observed the Lotus blossoms in the small pond, close up over the time that we were there.
All in all, a beautiful evening with beautiful souls. We’re hoping to meet again for Lughnasa. If you’d like to join, keep an eye on the Meetup group or get on touch.
I’m growing chilli peppers from seed this year. They are growing in pots on my bedroom windowsill because that’s the sunniest spot in our apartment and our cat can’t get into the room to munch the seedlings.
I am hoping for a tidy crop from the varieties that I have sown. So far, sturdy little seedlings of Purple Jalapeno and pale green Lombardi Pepperoni are leading the way. They look great! I also selected some heatless varieties with my daughter (from the South Devon Chilli Farm) as she loves the plants but not the spice. So I’m interested to see how it all works out.
Actually, I’m not really interested, I’m beyond excited about my chilli plants!! I’m checking them all the time and I wonder how many other people are out there, living in apartments, tending similar little beauties and getting equally excited!
Today, whilst trawling YouTube for timelapse chilli plant videos (yes, there are many and many people watch them!), I discovered the Clifton Chilli Club which is very informative, which in turn led me to the Dutch Chilli Fest (September 8-9, near Eindhoven). The festival looks great, full of all things chilli. It looks quite a “who can eat most of the world’s hottest chilli pepper” style of event but it looks very interesting.
It got me dreaming of a chilli harvest celebration in Amsterdam. Perhaps there is such a thing? Please let me know if so – I’ve no idea. Anyway, if you would like to share your chilli growing love with me, feel free! Maybe we could meet later this year to admire each other’s chillis, salsas and pickles and swap a few choice seeds?
Want to grab a bag of hyper-local organic herbs in grateful return for a couple of hours light gardening? Sign up through the Meetup link to join the River of Herbs volunteer gardening team on Monday morning. Details are on the meetup event information.
I won’t be teaching here – doing that in the afternoon and the walk is full. This is for gardeners – no experienced required – everyone is a gardener because we all need to eat 🙂
Sign ups must be through meet up please and did bring along a bag to take your herbs home.
Some of the herbs available to volunteers in the foraging gardens pantry this week (in varying quantities) are: