Tag Archives: Comfrey

April

A few photos and short comments today as we rapidly approach Beltane, the festival of early summer.

Lime trees – Tilia – Linden in Amsterdam

This week, the Lime trees which line many Amsterdam streets, burst into leaf. I love to eat these leaves, they have a mild flavour, are not tough and they bring many nutritional and medicinal uses. The trees in this street show a characteristic of Lime, they often grow leaves down the trunk. This is a bonus for foragers as it makes the leaves easy to harvest from a tree species which can easily reach 20 meters.

Symphytum x uplandicum in flower

Comfrey plants are in bloom. This helps up to identify the species and help discern whether the comfrey growing near you in the white flowering Symphytum officinale, which is not seen as safe in internal preparations (such as teas) but helpful in external preparations (such as skin salves) or Symphytum uplandicum, which tends to have leafy parts which don’t contain the hepatotoxins in it’s leaves and flowers.

Another Symphytum in flower – 20 m away from the purple one above

Next up, Hawthorn. This is called by many names around the world, including May Tree because it generally bursts into bloom around the first of May. Well this year, it is a little earlier than I have seen for a while. It has been in bloom for over a week and it looks very pretty. Hawthorn is a tree wrapped in much folklore and superstition, due to the plethora of medicinal uses associated with it. This is one of my favourite city herbs.

Hawthorn in bloom. Crataegeus monogyna.

I have been Zooming with some of my apprentices over the past few weeks. I am posting the date and time on the Apprenticeship events page and any who fancy joining me for a chat, do. One week, there was a question about creams so I made them a video about it and have actually been more in love with the cream recipe since! It is a real skin soother. I made this one with orange blossom water and olive oil.

My Zoom cream. Orange blossom water and olive oil.

Magnolia is going over now, the flowers that it. If you have uses for the leaves then now is the time to harvest a few of those! Here is a beautiful specimen which grows in my local cemetery which happens to also be the Netherlands national arboretum – A nice double function, you may agree. The cemetery also houses the national funeral museum. An incredibly interesting place.

Yellow petaled Magnolia in Neiuwe Osster Begraafplaats, Amsterdam Oost.

Below is a photo of an invasive weed which grows in parts of Park Frankendael. I identified it several years ago as Pennsylvania pellitory (Parietaria pensylvanica), a non-stinging member of the nettle family and a sister of the well known traditional herb, Pellitory-of-the-wall (Parietaria officinalis). It is called Glaskruid in Dutch and Cucumber weed in parts of the USA. Both helpful common names as it kind of looks glassy when held to the light (translucent) and it has a mild cucumer taste. Sadly, it is also known as asthma weed because when the flowers start to release their pollen, it can cause havoc for people with respiratory issues. This prime specimen is growing in the woodland area of the park. There is a single mature plant growing in the River of Herbs nettle orchard, on the left hand side, soon after entering through the gate. We are leaving it there and will keep an eye on it when the weedy seed spreading time comes.

Pennsylvania pellitory

Next today, can you see the Elderflower (Sambucus nigra) in the photo below? I found this yesterday, on my walk back home from the supermarket in Oostpoort. Beautiful, fragrant (often nastily fragrant), edible, medicinal and fabulous Elderflower!! I just thought you may like to see it as this heralds the start of the main foraging season for many people. Here are a few recipes and thoughts about elderflower. As you will see from those posts, I am a big fan of them and each year, as well as making foods, drinks and home remedies from them, I dry a batch or two and store carefully to use as a tea during times when my immune system needs a boost. Elderflower tea is a well known traditional remedy for. Since COVID-19 hit Amsterdam, my Elderflower tea has been drunk at least once a day so my stock has steadily been depleted. It will certainly be restocked in a few weeks time, when the flowers are open everywhere and I can harvest some for drying.

I am trying to grow more vegetables than usual at home. I may write a post about these later but for now, here’s a windowsill shot of some veg scraps which I am trying to bring on. The Paksoi is particularly fast!

Romaine lettuce base, basil cuttings, paksoi base, spring onions, some sprouting lentils, celery base and carrot tops. Day 1.

You may have read about my Rosemary beetle problem. I can now report that the issue is improved but continuing. Yesterday, I picked only 5 beetles from the pruned bush. My poor Rosemary bush!

Rosemary beetle – Photo credit:  Secret garden

Lastly, a mention of a Dutch woman who asked for my advice by telephone earlier this week. She had been foraging in an Amsterdam park and noticed a young fern head had been snapped off and removed in an area with many fern heads were coming up. She took this to mean that some knowledgeable forager had found an edible fern and harvested some. She has heard that some young fern heads are edible and she wanted to try so she snapped one off, took it home, prepared and ate it. Unfortunately although now recovered, she became quite ill and she wondered what to do and did I know much about ferns.

My advice was to call her doctor or the emergency services if this sort of thing ever happened again and that if she relapsed at all now, to contact them straight away, showing them a photo of what she had eaten. Also not to follow supposed “leads” from other foragers. That fern head may have been snapped off by any number of things, from kids playing near them, a strong bird animal pecking around, a dog etc. This is just one of the reasons why I teacher foragers to pluck really gently and to leave no trace. When one person sees you have been there, others often think that it is fine to copy. Sometimes with catastrophic effects.

I don’t forage ferns and I keep a few bottles of Norit activated charcoal tablets handy, they may sometimes be helpful at absorbing toxins but hospital is your best bet, if a plant poisoning situation occurs – don’t be proud if it should happen, just call 999 / 112 / 991 etc and get professional help – quickly. And only harvest what you know really well, have identified properly and only eat what you are sure is safe for you. I am looking forward to meeting the woman and us going for a herb walk together.

Gnarly apple tree – Wishing you a blooming lovely Beltane!

So that’s it from me today. I hope that you are keeping well, getting enough fresh air and are looking forward to Beltane – May Day, this coming Friday. I certainly am! If you are on the Apprenticeship course and fancy a Zoom or socially distant meeting in the plants, let me know!

Putting my feet up

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About 8 weeks ago I strained my foot, lugging a heavy suitcase upstairs, in worn out shoes. Clearly not a good idea as I’ve been annoyed by a sore foot since then. I gave in and headed for the doctor on Friday, suspecting something worse than a strain. Thankfully nothing else seems to be wrong, apparently just more time is needed and some pain killing anti-inflammatories to settle things down. Fed up with limping and not being able to do yoga, I slicked two of the pills. After a 12 hour psychedelic sleep and then a day feeling like a space cadet, it seems I’m allergic to the tablets. So back to the herbs and surprise surprise, they are working a treat and my brain feels clear again.

Here’s what I made to speed the healing and ease the inflammation (if you dislike the idea of lard, use ghee or a quality vegetable oil – which you can later thicken with beeswax). This healing lard based ointment feels silky smooth, cooling, calming and takes the pain away.

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1 block of lard (250g)
9 medium Comfrey leaves (Symphytum uplandicum x)
9 Elder leaves (Sambucus nigra)
Handful Ground Ivy stems (leaves, flowers and all) (Glechoma hederacea)
3 Wormwood leaves (Artemisia absinthum)
3 Ribwort leaves (Plantago lanceolata)

1. Chop all the fresh herbs and place in a heavy based saucepan along with the lard.
2. Heat over the lowest possible flame to melt the lard and then to simmer it for approximately 40 minutes (stay with it and stir every minute or so, obviously the lard is highly flammable if left unattended).
3. After 40 minutes the herbs should be just turning slightly crispy, as all the moisture leaves them. This is a good time to stop, turn off the heat, move the pan from the stove and allow the mixture to cool for a few minutes.
4. Strain the herbs from the infused lard by carefully pouring through a muslin/super clean tea towel and sieve.
5. Add the spent herbs to the compost bin and pour the infused lard into a sterile container or two.
6. I keep this ointment in a fridge and use it freely on sprains, strains and skin irritations that benefit from cooling.

365 Frankendael day 355

I met the gardener who looks after Park Frankendael today. He’s happy with our little Elder babies and suggested another location for additional planting. He also taught me about the the Primrose species which live in the park. I’ll order some seed of those species soon and will be bringing on Primrose and Violet plants to add to the park at suitable locations.

One of the Elder babies is in the middle of this photo.

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The Comfrey (Symphytum uplandicum x) plants are looking great today.

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As is Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea), in flower in some situations.

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365 Frankendael day 342

Perishingly cold in Amsterdam today but most of the local plants don’t flinch at this strange weather! Here’s a small sample of what you could be harvesting or eating from Amsterdam streets and green spaces today:

Today perennial Russian Comfrey (Symphytum uplandicum x) plants are standing proud again. I’m very pleased about this as I’d like to try placing a Comfrey leaf beneath my potato plants this year. My spuds are almost ready to be planted out, just in time for the Comfrey fertiliser!

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Hollyhock plants (biennials) are looking strong and almost ready for some leaf harvesting. I’ve got lots of plans for this plant this year. An interesting herb to help soothe bronchial congestion and infection.

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This lovely plant (in Sarphatipark, next to the railings along Centuurbaan) is Miner’s Lettuce, Winter Purslane (Claytonia perfoliata) and delicious it is too! This is the basal rosette of young leaves. Just wait until the little white flowers come in abundance – they grow out of the centre of the mature leaves. Quite amazing!

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A Butterbur species (Petasites sp), in alien-like flower. Edible in small quantities, contains a liver toxin. It will have massive kidney shaped leaves soon, less interesting to the forager and then more likely to be dangerously confused with other very irritating plants. Now is the time to be interested in this plant.
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Beautiful (not edible) Bluebells, just coming up beside a Lime tree trunk and an up coming Garlic Mustard perennial plant.

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This purple flowering perennial is Red Dead-nettle ( Lamium purpureum). Edible, nutritious and gently medicinal.

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Below is flowering Chickweed (Stellaria media)
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Here is Wild Garlic (Allium ursinum). Mouth wateringly delicious, if you like the taste of garlic, and with the benefits of garlic, though probably less effect on vampires as it’s milder in strength. Now’s the time to try it if you haven’t already.

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Next, a Mallard duck checking out Park Frankendael’s Japanese spring delicacy – Fuki (Petasites japonica), before checking out my telephone and trying to eat it – or me, not quite sure which. The beautiful yellow flowers look like primroses from a distance. Primroses are also in flower in the park right now but shouldn’t be touched as they don’t multiply very well here.

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And last but not least the plant which I found recently and thought was Black Horehound (Ballota nigra). It could also be Common/White Horehound (Marrubium vulgare) I’m measuring this patch each day, waiting patiently for it to be big enough to harvest for a tincture. For the first option, its Latin name, Ballota, comes from its unattractive scent. Its not so bad and helps to identify the plant. It can be used to lift the spirits, act as a mild sedative, ease morning sickness, nausea, gout, bronchial congestion, nervousness, menopausal ailments and many more conditions. I’ve been munching it in the park each day I see it and find it really quite palatable, the smell doesn’t seem so strong or distasteful. Those who named it Ballota must have smelt not so many foul odours! Or perhaps I’ve smelled lots in the chemistry lab so am not so bothered anymore… Or perhaps it is Common Horehound instead? Either way, the two options are edible and I’m really looking forward to trying the tincture and feel that it may become a staple for me during times when I’d usually reach for Motherwort but also feel the effects of cold dampness and chestiness. An infused honey will be the second thing I make from this plant.

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365 Frankendael day 187

Beautiful Roses, still in bloom and edible if unsprayed and growing in clean locations, here in Amsterdam.

Next is Russian Comfrey (NL: Smeerwortel, Symphytum uplandicum x) which I picked a leaf from today. Am currently brewing a tea from it ready to feed to my houseplants.

And lastly, the Park Warden blowing leaves from beneath the Lime tree avenue (NL:Linden, Tilia sp.)  in Park Frankendael.  Today seems to be Amsterdam leaf drop day, they are thick along the pavements and streets. Time to make the most of the beautiful autumn colours.

365 Frankendael day 173

Today I noticed lots of Wild carrot seed heads (Daucus carota). Be careful to identify them directly as there are so many similar (but poisonous) plants in the family.

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Also this lovely plant with white paint like markings. As other more familiar plants begin to die back it’s time to look this one up. It has yellow flowers earlier in the year. Must look up the name…

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Also beautiful clumps of Russian Comfrey (Symphytum uplandicum x), still thriving, still sending energy reserves into it’s roots to help it through the winter.

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365 Frankendael day 109

Today was the Comfrey workshop. We harvested from a lovely patch of Russian Comfrey (Symphytum x uplandicum) in a quiet corner of  Park Frankendael. After torrential rain before the workshop, the sun shone and the plants looked even more verdant than usual. After meeting the plants, off home to drink some 8 hour Comfrey infusion that I set up last night, make some Comfrey ointment (from infused oil), Comfrey Witchhazel gel and to prepare for making a Comfrey leaf tincture. The Tincture and gel instructions are on the workshop handout and will also be in my forthcoming Urban Herbology Essentials book.

So much more can be done with this wonderful herb. Another time! In cities I always harvest leaves alone, so no digging up Comfrey roots today, but plenty of healing unctuous goodness in the leaves. Also a reminder that Russian Comfrey doesn’t contain the much feared liver toxin in it’s leaves.

Thanks everyone for coming along, I really enjoyed it and hope you have further fun and healing using your preparations at home and in setting up your tincture jars. Any problems, just let me know. The next workshop is fully booked. I’m thinking of running a winter warmer lotions and potions 3 hour workshop later this year. If that sounds interesting then let me know.

365 day 102 Sarphatipark

Thanks to the watertolerant group who joined me to herb walk in Sarphatipark today. We found lots of useful herbs and also interesting park workers who told us how the park is maintained by a dynamic group of volunteers and is trying innovative edible approaches to eradicate Japanese knotweed. Above is a park warden, pictured by the enormous Jerusalem artichokes which are being used to keep knotweed at bay. When the invasive plant is removed, the ground can quickly turn into a home for other unwelcome invaders or can see the return of knotweed. Using Jerusalem artichoke, another rapidly growing and spreading plant, can provide tasty tubers and quash the knotweed. So far so good!

I was also reassured to learn that the Ginkgo trees I’m so fond of in parts of Our Zuid are indeed female and yield plentiful Ginkgo nuts. Amsterdam is fortunate to have such edible plant loving folk in its green spaces team.


The plants I remember finding today are listed as tags to this entry. The spreading soft leaved plant which looked quite like Agrimony but wasn’t, was indeed a cinqefoil, called Silverweed previously called (Potentilla anserina) but now reclassified as Argentina anserina . It is shown above and it is edible. If you were on the walk and can remember other plants which I have missed from the tag list then please let me know.

Thanks again to everyone who joined me. It was a real pleasure to walk around with you. If you signed up but were not brave enough for the wet weather, remember there are always trees to shelter under next time 🙂

365 Frankendael day 51

I harvested a little Russian Comfrey today, to make a healing foot ointment. The plant is still in flower but the leaves will stay contain many of the active constituents. Also plucked for the table were a small number of Daisy flowers, some Ground Elder, a little Garlic Mustard and a few pretty Pelargonium flowers. The Ground Elder itself is still on top form for foraging although it is starting to become quite dirty in some locations, due to bird droppings and general honey dew dripping from aphids and ants in the trees above. So I would say that by now it is just past it’s best and I need to focuss my forager’s attention elsewhere.

Here are today’s photos:

Here is a White Dead Nettle, setting seed alongside the Middenweg and the park. I think you can quite clearly see how the flower and now seed clusters encircle the square Labiate family stem, quite unlike the unrelated but often mistaken Stinging Nettle. Both plants are edible.


Above is German chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) growing close to the White Dead Nettle.


Above is Brassica rapa Wild Turnip. It smells of cabbage when picked and the flower heads remind me of broccoli. It was growing close to a patch of very young Fat Hen (Lambs quarters) but both were unfortunately in a bit of a dirty location so not for the plate tonight.ill certainly keep my eyes open for both tomorrow though as they are perfectly in season at present and make very good eating when cooked. All parts of Wild Turnip are edible and tasty.

I was also very pleased to spot some Calamints in flower for the first time this year. Photos of those tomorrow hopefully.

365 Frankendael day 30

In just a 1 meter square patch of land, on the outer edge of park Frankendael, I found all these useful herbs today…

Medicinal Comfrey (Symphytum uplandica):

Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) and Ground Elder (Aegopodium podograria) growing amongst each other:

Also, Burdock (Arctium lappa)

Poisonous member of the Carrot family, Hemlock (Conium maculatum):

Notice how similar it looks to Chervil. It has a smooth stem and leaves. It smells a little unpleasant and has notable purple staining on the stem. This is not a plant to be handled or foraged at all! This plant was used in ancient Geek executions, including that of Socrates. The Latin name means to whirl, pertaining to one of the symptoms of hemlock poisoning, vertigo. This plant is deadly poisonous and I show it here as so many foragers are keen to find plants such as wild carrot. It is very easy to confuse members of the family, especially those with finely divided leaves such a hemlock, carrot and sweet cicely
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Lastly another beauty which is not helpful to foragers. A Labrador delivering a little fertilizer to that interesting 1m square patch of park edge!