Tag Archives: flowers

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 9

Today was the monthly Puur Markt in Frankendael. At this time of year, there’s a great stall which sells herb plants quite cheaply. I picked up a small Curry plant for €2.75 and a little Verveine for €2. The stall is always there through the main growing season and they also work at the weekly Saturday Noordermaarkt. They don’t have a website but are well worth a visit.

I thought I’d take a photo of the newest section of Frankendael’s Lime tree avenue today. Lime is an under appreciated herb, in my opinion. It has a multitude of historic uses and come midsummer, yields the most heavenly fragrant flowers, which drive the city bees wild. With these you can make a wonderful, lightly intoxicating tea. At this time of year, Lime leaves can be eaten as an unusual and medicinal sandwich filling. They have a mucilage within which makes them very useful as a soother of the respiratory system. If you take a moment to chew a leaf you will feel the mucilage release from the leaf tissues. It’s more pleasant than it may sound!

There are lots of Yellow Dead Nettles (Lamium galeobdolom) in flower at present.  I’ll write more about them another day. The link above is to an interesting blog post about the plant.  The photo shows a large swathe of the plants at the back of this woodland undergrowth.

Coltsfoot: A look-a-like not to be coughed at

I found this cheerful looking Coltsfoot (NL: Klein hoefblad) plant in Frankendael a couple of days ago and thought it was time to look at some look-a-like plants which herbal foragers should be aware of.

Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) and Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), which people often confuse it with, are both members of the same plant family (Asteraceae).  Both herbs are useful but Dandelion is generally the plant which herbal foragers are after. It is such a well known bitter herb and has earned an enduring place in the sophisticated kitchens of many cultures.  Coltsfoot flowers (if enough of them were to be gathered) can be used to make a traditional children’s cough remedy. However there are many who now avoid internal consumption of Coltsfoot, due to the discovery that it contains certain liver toxins called Pyrrolizidine alkaloids.

Many herbs contain small amounts of potentially harmful chemicals but when they are ingested as plant rather than separated chemical they tend to have a quite different effect on the body.  One tip for herbal foragers, who are concerned by toxicity, is that generally flowers contain less volatile and active ingredients than other parts of a plant.  Thus a flower remedy, made from Coltsfoot, should contain less alkaloids than one made from the leaves and roots.

Link to Susun Weed’s video, showing how to identify, harvest and make Coltsfoot honey cough remedy.

How to differentiate Coltsfoot from Dandelion:
1. The solid & scaley Coltsfoot stem is quite different to the smooth & hollow stem of Dandelion.
2. Both being members of the Asteraceae family, their flowers are similar but Coltsfoot flowers bloom on stems before the leaves have grown.  With Dandelion, the obvious, downward toothed leaves develop well before the flowers appear.

Lime leaves & flowers – sandwiches, scented water and drying (NL:Linden, Tilia)

Yesterday I walked to a local public garden and harvested a carrier bag full of leaf and blossom sprigs from Lime/Linden (Tilia) trees.  These trees smell great at the moment. Whole neighbourhoods are perfumed by Lime flowers, loaded with nectar to attract hoards of bees.

If you pluck clean a clean lime flower from a tree in a safe location, you may like to eat it directly. They taste sweet and aromatic with a hint of bitter tannin. The aroma which will fill your mouth, nose and mind is uniquely delicious and has been highly prized, by many cultures, for centuries.  Lime flowers will quickly release a little glutinous, sweet mucilage as you chew.  More details about properties of this amazing tree in the main post on Lime.

So with limited space and time…
How to dry tree leaves and flowers.

  1. Once home, lay out the harvest on a light surface and discard any rough, diseased or otherwise unhealthy looking leaves, flowers or sprigs.
  2. Allow time for bugs to escape and find them a new home if they seem lost.
  3. My harvest was partly covered in a dried black film – originating from greenfly droppings in the canopy – so I then used scissors to separate the flowers from the leaves.  99% of the flowers were unaffected.
  4. Gently but thoroughly wash any dirt or film from the leaves, using cold water.  If you wash the flowers you will loose the valuable nectar and pollen.
    (It was very difficult to remove the black film from some parts so I discarded these and added them to my balcony pots as a mulch)
  5. Dry the leaves with a clean tea towel or muslin.
  6. Lay out the leaves and flowers separately to dry, on clean paper, cloths or trays.
    (I spread my harvest out on my dining room table, with a clean, absorbent, cotton table cloth beneath.  The room used needs to be well ventilated and fairly warm to facilitate good drying)
    This could be done in a very cool oven, I prefer to save electricity and let time do the drying.
  7. Turn the harvest from time to time to allow all surfaces to dry.
  8. If necessary, when the herbs feel dry to touch, move them to a more convenient drying area.
  9. Keep checking and shifting the herbs around to facilitate drying, for as long as it takes them to become completely brittle.
    (The flowers will dry much more quickly than the leaves, which could take 3 weeks)
  10. Inspect again for mould, unhealthy looking herbs.
  11. Store in glass airtight containers.Uses:
    Lots of information is given in the main Lime post but here are couple of others…

    • I couldn’t wait to use some of my harvest so I made Lime leaf, blossom and Amsterdam honey sandwiches for lunch.
    • I also added a few flowers to my cold water bottle this morning.  The water tasted and smelt very fragrant after about an hour.  It tasted far better than any shop bought, flavoured water and had the added benefit of a few cooling, gooey flowers to chew on during my 30 degree Dutch class.  The flowers would also look very pretty in a decanter of dinner table water.
    • Lime is magical – if you have the chance, give it a try!