It’s week 9 of the Urban Herbology Winter Foraging Challenge! This week we’ve had proper frost and I have been laying a woodchip path at my volkstuin garden and am getting really excited as I continue to plan the new layout and detail of that garden. Here’s a little walk around the new path:
This week’s herb is actually too young to harvest ethically at present. In the photos, you can see it’s only just above the fallen leaves, right now. If you harvest them now, you’ll deprive the plants from the chance to self-seed, you’ll deceive wildlife of food and you’ll deprive yourself from more of these delicious plants next year.
Here in Amsterdam, this plant is only a few centimetres tall right now and is found as seedlings. Now, the annual plant in question will eventually grow quite tall and the best time to forage it is during spring and summer. At that time the pretty whorl-leaved seedlings seem to grow a mile-a-minute. They make a fabulous spring cleanser and they smell and taste like lush, fresh cut grass.
However, several of my students have been noticing these little beauties recently so I felt it useful to post about them so that we can identify where they grow now, and return during the coming months, to harvest.
Cleavers (Gallium aparine), is this week’s foraging plant. I use it in general cooking, steamed as an interesting side vegetable, to stuff whole fish and I make remedies from it. This herb can provide gentle and effective nourishment for the lymphatic system.
Let me know if you find any of these beautiful seedlings. They grow in many varied locations but did best when growing amongst task stinging nettles, in neglected undergrowth and nearby chain fences, all of which can offer them support as they grow. And here’s a frosty Stinging nettle photo for you..
Today, many Burdock plants (Arctium lappa) are easily identified because their flower heads, or burs (which give the plant it’s common English name) are developing at the top of the plants. I’ve not really noticed them at this stage, before this year. They look very stately at the moment because the stems are growing fast so the large leaves are clearly separated. Burdock is a biennial plant, flowing during its second year. The roots are the part of interest to herbalists and those are only useful when harvested from first year Burdock plants. So although harvesting of Burdock roots should occur in the autumn, now is a great time to identify Burdock which is not flowering, is in its first year and may be of interest. Here’s a link to a Susun Weed article about Dandelion and Burdock.
Here is a little Elder (Sambucus nigra) shrub, growing at the base of a tall park side tree, on the Middenweg. Not a great location for harvesting the flowers. At this height you may also better understand why Ground Elder (shown yesterday in flower) is so named. Fortunately, although both are edible (at least in part), the flowers look quite different, one is a shrub and the other is clearly not.
Next, a lovely White Dead Nettle (Lamium album). This member of the mint family, which looks very like Stinging Nettle but is totoally unrelated, is still in flower and yielding a tiny sip of sweet nectar, if you pluck a flower and suck its base. This can also be done with Honeysuckle. However the Honeysuckle species is seen as poisonous and White Dead Nettle is edible. The whole plant may be enjoyed and benefitted from. This plant is good cooked like spinach.Here’s a nice recipe from a lovely blog about wild food called Eat Weeds.
Lastly today, Cleavers (Galium aparine) with flower buds clearly developing. It may still be used a tonic herb when freshly juiced or made into a tincture.