Tag Archives: Elderflower

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!

365 Frankendael day 124

A few more photographs taken this week by Joop Eisenberger…

Red clover:

Nasturtium climbing out of the garden surrounding Restaurant de Kas – and they do taste good!

Meisjesogen, Coreopsis making a dramatic display at the moment in a wild flower meadow within Frankendael.

Here’s a fresh sprig of Elderflower, not much of this around at present because most Elder shrubs are busy ripening their berries. It is said to be bad luck to have fruit and flowers on a shrub or tree at the same time. To me it seems quite fortuitous as you can make Elderberry syrup and Elderflower delight in the same week!

365 Frankendael day 53

A busy day today, including a lunchtime reconnaissance mission to Amsterdamse Bos, in preparation for some private herb walks. So just a quick look at the herbs on the edge of the Frankendael this evening…

Here is a mixture of Fat Hen (Chenopodium album), Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) and Shepherd’s Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) growing together on neglected ground.

Here is Ground Elder (Aegopodium podograria)growing amongst some purple stained carrot family foliage. It may be Knotted Hedge Parsley but I need to check it carefully another time and in any case it’s not very interesting due to the similarity to very poisonous members of that family. There is one look a like of this plant, Sweet Cicely which I enjoy in the very early spring. It’s strong aniseed scent when the leaves are crushed is unique.

Urban Herb Love


Yesterday was our seventh anniversary, here is what we cooked: Scallops, marinated in the juice of half a lime, a sprig of fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped and a small nugget of fresh ginger, squeezed. After cooking in the marinade, the scallops and sauce were laid on wilted spinach and Elderflowers were sprinkled on top.

Next came grilled lamb cutlets served with a caprese salad and most importantly, Mugwort vegetables. The taste of a top of almost flowering Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) infused into mixed vegetables, as they cooked in one of my magical cast iron pots. It was served sprinkled with detached individual Red Clover flowers. Mugwort (Cronewort, Artemisia vulgaris, NL: Bijvoet)  is extremely tasty and aromatic when cooked in this gentle way. Just a splash of olive oil, finely chopped leeks softened then chopped aubergine and courgette added to the pan. Lid on and simmer gently for ten minutes or so.

Umm, now that’s Urban Herb Love!

365 Frankendael day 42

Today a post about one plant, my favourite, Elder (Sambucus nigra).

This wonderful ancient healing plant, which has been steeped in mysticism and folklore for millennia, is producing flowers that cheer up almost every hedgerow in town, right now.

Where you find one Elder shrub, you are likely to find others close by. It springs up in the most unexpected places and is a true survivor. It has bumpy, brittle, crooked branches, smelly leaves and phenomenal frothy flower heads, stacked all over the plant. They remind me of small terraces, tilting in almost the same direction, all over the shrub.

This photo shows one of many Elder shrubs, along the Hugo de Vrieslaan hedgerow which provides a boundary for Park Frankendael. Now the flowers are mature and plentiful.

I’ve talked about this plant quite a lot previously, Google Elderflower recipes and you may be amazed by how many people like to eat this flower. Remember to avoid eating the leaves amd twigs, they will likely make you ill. I was refreshing my knowledge of the plant this evening by reading Wild Man Steve Brill’s book, Edible and Medicinal Plants. He talks about an American cousin of our local Sambucus nigra, called Sambucus canadensis and I was surprised to learn that the stems and leaves can sometimes yield cyanide, when a bitter alkaloid and glycoside within them change. So definitely parts of Elder to avoid in your diet!

One piece of Elder history I want to mention today, is how ancient Christians were irritated or threatened by the Elder Mother cult in Europe. The Elder mother was/is said to live within the Elder bush. You should ask her permission to harvest from her tree, should never burn her, should never chop her down, without asking her to leave. Ancient Europeans revered the Elder, welcoming and encouraging it to grow near their homes. the Elder mother protected homes from fire and lightning, kept your cattle safe and of course provided simple medicine for your whole family. This folklore helped to make the shrub commonly available for all manner of uses. In an attempt to rid communities of their attachment to the Elder Mother, the plant became embedded in the most negative ways, within Christian stories. Judas was said to have hanged himself from an Elder and Christ was said to have been nailed to an Elder cross. But of course this couldn’t be true due to the brittle nature of the tree. The tree was also much associated with witchcraft and yet was also said to protect you from witches. It seems that everyone had something to say about this shrub which points to it having had many uses.

I’ll be harvesting some more Elderflowers tomorrow, probably to be broken up and sprinkled into a light batter, some to be added to general cooking (we had it on baked fish last week, very good and interesting), some to make a face wash and some to be dried for use as a fever remedy when needed. I also fancy making some Elder leaf infused oil this weekend, for external use in an ointment. It is often useful on bruises, sprains and chilblains.

Love Elder and she will love you back, but be gentle with her and ask (and listen) when you’d like to take some of her gifts. She has many, many gifts and is not to be overlooked or underestimated.

365 Frankendael day 20

Day 20 of the project and after going to the park expecting to see just one or two new things I was delighted to find my first Elder blossom of the season, Wild Aspraragus shoots and several other delights. Here are a few…


Above, Japanese knotweed is still fair game for Foragers looking for something a little exotic in Amsterdam. Here’s a link to my
sweet sour JKW yoghurt recipe

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Next is A Geranium species in flower. Very tasty cooked or raw.


Someone got to this Asparagus before me. It makes a stunning tall feathery plant when allowed to flower. I hope that whoever harvests this one leaves some other shoots to flower and fruit unhindered.


Above is Plantago major (NL: Wegbrood, Plantain) in full effect, prior to flowering. It’s not as useful a medicinal than its slender sister Ribwort (Plantago lanceolota) but its useful and quite good eating.

I feel like a bird spotter with this one… Above is my first sighted Elder blossom of 2012 and it gets me very excited. Elderflower fritters, Elderflower champagne, Elderflower tea and a host of other flower and Elderberry recipes are not far away! This huge Elder shrub is on the Middenweg, just up from the top entrance of Frankendael and opposite the Vomar supermarket. If only my arms were long enough! Remember to harvest with respect and leave LOTS for the birds and bees. Also be very aware of Elderflower look-a-likes. Here’s a photo of Ash or Rowan in flower, growing above an Elder shrub which is not in flower. It would be an easy mistake to harvest the flowers believing them to be Elderflower, when here is nothing to compare them with.

Flower Fritters

You may already know about Elderflower fritters, even if you have never tried one. Did you realise that many other herb flowers can be used to make even more delicious fritters?  Today I have been on the roof and in the park looking for suitable flowers and I was not disappointed.  I gathered Lady’s mantle, Yarrow and Chive flowers from the roof and plucked Rose petals from pollinated wild Dog Rose flowers in the park. I also gathered a few Honeysuckle blooms and of course a handful of frothy Elderflower heads.

I must say that I think it a waste to make some flowers into fritters, some taste so wonderful, untouched in salads or deserts that I don’t think they need be tampered with.  Others are a little bit messy and these are the ones I suggest you try in fritters.  Elderflower and for instance, is rather an unusual mouthful in it’s raw form and Yarrow flowers are just too strong for my palate.  Turned into fritters they become something quite different; Dandelion flowers resemble artichokes, Rose petals take on a slightly meaty texture, Yarrow becomes a savoury delight and Chives become mini onion baghees.

Here is my recipe for flower fritters, many others are available, often including beer, liquor, sugar and so on.  Mine simply uses my Yorkshire Gran’s batter recipe (it makes the best Yorkshire puddings in the world by the way). It does not contain any sweetening or seasoning so you can add a little whatever you wish to the basic recipe.  I do encourage you however to try a flower in the basic batter alone, at least once.  This will allow you to appreciate the true flavour of that flower.  Perhaps have some yoghurt and honey to hand for dipping.

Here are a few suggestions:
(Please follow the foraging rules and remember that some beautiful flowers are highly poisonous)

Dandelion Fritters – I suggest that you simply wash the flowers (with a little stalk still attached), dip them into a little flour (I prefer Chickpea flour), shake off the excess and then fry gently in a little Olive oil.
Elderflower – the sweet classic. Perhaps use a splash of rosewater and a teaspoon of sugar in the batter
Robinia pseudoacacia (Black Locust tree, False acacia) – I have not tried this, many American’s seem to like it.  Don’t confuse with poisonous Laburnum!
Rose petals or Rose flowers – slightly astringent and fragrant. Wild and cultivated Roses are edible.
Ladies mantle – Much of the bitterness is lost in cooking
Mint – Dip sprigs of young mint in the batter. Great with chocolate sauce.
Mallow – Petals or whole flowers with a little stalk attached
Onion flowers on short stalks
Chive flowers on short stalks
Lime tree blossom
Honeysuckle
Yarrow – Strongly savoury
Valerian
Meadowsweet
And many many more!

Basic batter recipe:
(Courtesy of Edith Shore)

  1. Break one egg into 3 tablespoons of plain flour.
  2. Mix the egg and flour thoroughly, using a fork.
  3. Add three tablespoons of milk (one tbsp at a time) whilst mixing with a metal spoon.
  4. Ensure everything is well combined.
  5. Beating well with the fork.
  6. Add a tiny drop of water.
  7. Whisk up well.  You should now see plenty of trapped air bubbles in a smooth mixture.
  8. Cover and set aside to rest in fridge, for at least half an hour and preferably overnight.
  9. Just before using, whisk up again with the whisk or fork.

The dipping and frying process is very easy:
Simply dip one flower at a time into the batter.
Place in a small frying pan which contains about 1/2 cm of medium-hot Olive oil and or butter.
Several flowers can be cooked at once.
Keep a good eye on the pan and budge the fritters around a little with a wooden spoon.
When they are golden brown they should be cooked through and ready to serve with a little of your preference – honey, sugar, cream, yoghurt, chocolate sauce…