Tag Archives: Elder


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 РPhoto 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


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.


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 363

Garlic Mustard seems to be everywhere at the moment, and Stinging Nettle and Ground Ivy! I didn’t take very many photos today but here is a pavement crack full of minty, flowering Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacae):


I picked a small handful to make tea, from a lovely clean woodland edge.

And here is a very windy photo of Cleavers (Gallium aparine), which is also everywhere I look at present, on the ground at least. Soon it will start to scale up shrubs and wire fences, becoming very visible to everyone.

I didn’t take any Nettle photos today – was to busy picking them. Plenty of them are ready for making infusions, pasta and whatever else you fancy.


Here above is Burdock (Artica lappa, NL: Klit). An extremely useful herb. Well worth learning what you can do with it. I’m not one for harvesting roots in the city but all parts of the plant are useful to some degree. Here’s a useful Burdock link.


And lastly, Dock (Rumex sp). Where I come from, everyone knows that rubbing Dock on a Nettle sting, takes the firey pain away. But there are far more users for this edible plant. At this time of year, and if you don’t suffer from Gout, Rheumatism or other uric acid related ailments, you may fancy cooking a dock leaf or three as a sour tasting vegetable. It contains oxalic acid, as in sorrel and rhubarb. So it tastes sour and shouldn’t be consumed too often.

365 Frankendael day 358

We had a lovely walk to Jeugdland in Oost Amsterdam today and founds lots of wonderful herbs along the way and at the playground.


Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) NL: Bijvoet.
This is the first I have found this year and as it’s a regular part of my diet I am delighted that I’ll be able to eat it fresh (rather than dried our in vinegar) from now until the autumn. This plant is a little too small to harvest from but it won’t be long until the leaves are well established. This one was especially easy to identify because some of lasts years dried stems and give away foliage were still attached to the plant.


Elder (Sambucus nigra) NL: Vlier. Here it us growing out from beneath a bridge.


Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfare) in flower.


And Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) NL: Douzendblad. Thousands of succulent, medicinal and edible (for some, in moderation) leaves, along Valentijnkade. I suspect they are enjoying the warmth of the brick walk beside the old Jewish cemetery. These are the biggest and best looking I’ve seen since last year.

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.


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


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


365 Frankendael day 352


Today a small group of us planted out the Elder cuttings which we took from mature Elder shrubs on Hugo de Vrieslaan last year. The idea was to grow more of this useful native herb in a slightly cleaner part of the area.


We choose to plant our well rooted cuttings along the edge of the Frankendael woodland. They blended in instantly and we have our fingers crossed that they will take well to their new home.

We also took a fresh batch of Elder cuttings and will care for them at our homes until next year. Thanks everyone who came along today!

Also today, I spotted a good amount of Cleavers (Gallium aparine) for the first time this year. It is growing here beside some Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica).


And Common Figwort is starting to bolt forth.


365 Frankendael day 351


Elder (Sambucus nigra) NL:Vlier, today. I’m running a little workshop on this incredible shrub tomorrow morning (see events page). At the moment in Amsterdam, it is covered in medicinal foliage. All green parts of the plant contain a toxin which our bodies convert into cyanide. So ingesting Elder leaves is not wise but turning them into an infused oil or ointment can produce very useful external remedies. I like to make an ointment with Elder for healing of skin wounds, bruises and bumps. It’s very effective.

365 Frankendael day 332


Elder (Sambucus nigra) trees, all alongside the park are bursting into foliage at present. These (internally toxic) leaves can be made into the most wonderfully healing oils and ointments, to apply to the skin. It may smell “interesting” at times but this tree is probably the most useful herb of all to be found in this country.

You may like to join me on Sunday 7th April, for a short workshop on how to grow Elder and how to use it medicinally and spiritually.

365 Frankendael day 219


With today’s stormy weather I didn’t feel like taking my little girl to the park and I then forgot to take myself there at all! So rather than a street or park photo, here is one of an Elder (Sambucus niger) cutting which lives on my balcony. All of the Elder babies (made from cuttings in the early summer) continue to do well. I decided not to repot mine, just before the colder weather set in, in case it was too much for them to handle. So I continue to cross my fingers that they will fair well over the winter in fairly small pots. If you have Elder cuttings be aware that they don’t like soggy feet (let them drain freely to avoid roots rotting or freezing) and they should survive whatever the Dutch winter throws at them, if in a sheltered outdoor location.

There are plenty of Elder trees/shrubs in city woodland/hedge settings, still with enough green, leaves on to harvest a few for ointments of needed. Elder never ceases to astonish me!

365 Frankendael day 202


Today has not quite gone to plan so little time to forage. As I passed by Park Frankendael at lunchtime, this little Elder (Sambucus nigra) caught my eye. Her leaves are starting to fall and leaf buds for next spring are already in place. She is the pale one in the middle of the photo.

Elder haa quite a characteristic colour as their leaves shed, as if they have been blanched by the sun. There is still time to gather a few deep green Elder leaves for useful ointment recipes. My favorite remains a combination of Elder, Ground ivy, Plantain and Ground elder, gently infused in ghee or lard until the leaves begin to crisp and then strained.