Tag Archives: Hawthorn

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!

Autumn Street Treats and Tricks

The past few weeks have seen a bounty of free street food falling from trees in Amsterdam. I’ve been enjoying Hazelnuts, Hawthorn berries & Sloes (plucked rather than fallen) and Sweet chestnuts – all absolutely delicious when prepared! The nuts and fruit are still there for the taking in many places but if you have trouble identifying these, keep your eyes open for fallen orange Gingko fruit, falling to the ground from mature female trees. See here how to harvest, prep and eat them and feel free to join me for a quick lunchtime forage in Oud Zuid, over the next couple of weeks.

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Here above is Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) (NL: Eenstijlige meidoorn) in berry. This one is in a hedgerow of Frankendael park. I have mostly been cooking them like this:

hawthorn infused casserole

I infuse them into casseroles, using a stainless steel tea infuser. It gives a mild boost to the food and avoids me having to deal with the inedible pips. Ripe Haws taste a rather similar to bruised apples. Taste aside, they are reported to have many health benefits.

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These are plump plum-like edible fruit which look similar to Sloes (which come from the well known Blackthorn tree (Prunus spinosa) (NL:Sleedoorn)). This shrub is growing in the hedgerow of a local playground and it looks more like a Bullace than a Blackthorn. The fruit are larger and the leaves larger and slightly more smooth. Whatever their exact identity, they are of the Prunus species and they tasted good when ripe.

Turkish Hazelnut Spiral
Turkish Hazelnuts (Corylus colurna) (NL: Boomhazelaar). Larger nuts than the usual multistemmed Hazel (and I haven’t had a blank yet, unlike with the others). I’ve been harvesting lots this year from Pythagorasstraat in Amsterdam Oost Watergraafsmeer. This tree species is used commonly as a street tree in cities, it is very tolerant of harsh growing conditions and doesn’t grow those multiple stems so can be kept easily under control in treepits.
Turkish Hazelnut Case

What a wonderful gift from the Amsterdam town planners!

drying washed Turkish hazelnuts

cracked Turkish Hazelnut

If you are lucky and find some on the ground either within or popped out from these extravagant nut cases, take them home and give them a good wash before drying the surface of the nuts and then get cracking! You can use them straight away as a snack, roast them (when the shell is off) or blend them to make a nut milk, pesto etc. How about mixing them with some cocoa or carob powder and honey to create some choc/carob nut spread? Yum!

And now for the deadly tricks…

bittersweet

These pretty tiny tomato like berries are the fruits of poisonous Bittersweet (Solanum dulcamara) (NL: Bitterzoet). Please note that in the US there is another plant called Bittersweet which is quite unrelated. The one in my photograph here above is a member of the Nightshade family and I wasn’t able to get a decent shot of the leaves but they resemble a potato leaf rather than the long blade seen next to the berries (see the link for a clearer idea and better still, look in a good field guide!)

Yew berries
A female Yew tree (Taxus baccata) NL: Venijnboom, laden with beautiful red fruit. The soft slimey flesh is actually edible BUT the seed within each red fruit is deadly poisonous.

Fly agaric Frankendael Park Amsterdam

Another red and poisonous autumn beauty, Fly agaric toadstool (Amanita muscaria) (NL: Vleigenzwam). It is also psychoactive. These two were growing in Park Frankendael last week. There seem to been quite a flush of them across northern Europe recently.

Let’s Make Hawthorn Tincture!

What a perfect day!

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I finally found time this morning to have a leisurely wander through the woods of Frankendael, seeking out the most pleasantly scented Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) trees.

I was not disappointed! The flowers and leaves of this heart toning tree always taste good to me. Munched on a late spring walk, not much else lifts my spirits and makes me stand tall as does Hawthorn “bread and cheese”. But the flowers (the cheese) do vary in their tastiness, so if you want to capture their essence, it’s worth taking time to seek out the ones which really appeal to you.

Some of the flowers smell rather unpleasant, like cat pee, others are unscented because their insect-attracting job is done. Just a couple smelled sweetly, really sweetly, like vanilla rice pudding. Those smelled and tasted jaw-droppingly good! So guess which ones ended up in my tincture jar?

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Equipt with a small bottle of vodka and a little glass jar, I made my tincture at the tree. To do it yourself, simply fill a jar well with carefully picked Hawthorn flower clusters and a few Hawthorn leaves (the bread). Then fill the jar again with vodka, brandy or whatever strong spirit you choose. Check that you fill all the way to the brim. Flowers exposed to any air will quickly spoil, they need to be completely submerged in the spirit. Check for bubbles of air and top up if needed.

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I’ll leave my tincture like this, labelled, in a cupboard until the autumn, when I’ll strain the flowers and pour the liquid over a fresh jar of Hawthorn berries. Then after a further six weeks of infusing, my double Hawthorn tincture will be ready for use. It will be infused with the properties of Hawthorn leaves, flowers and berries.

If a regular few drops of that doesn’t warm, tone and open my heart through the depths of winter, then not much will!

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I could use the simple flower tincture after six weeks infusion time but I have enough Hawthorn elixir in stock, to see me through summer and autumn so I shall wait. And we all know that the best things come to those who wait 🙂

Hawthorn is an age old preventaive and remedy for many types of heart disease. It is a heart tonic, offering as it were, food specific to the heart. It is used by many, alongside allopathic (conventional drug based) medicine such as betablockers but of course you should always consult a qualified medical herbalist if considering using it as a remedy for heart disease.

If you’d like to join me for a walk in the park, to learn about tasty and useful plants of Amsterdam, and to set up you’re poem tincture, why not sign up for tomorrow’s lunchtime forage?

365 Frankendael day 164

Today a few useful plants growing around the bike racks just inside of park Frankendael…

Seedheads of Garlic Mustard (Allitaria ). Too late to harvest many now but a good indication of where their successors will grow.

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Beautiful Hawthorn (Craetagus monogyna) berries (Haws).

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Ground elder (Aegopodium podograria), in it’s last edible throws before dying back for the winter.

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Ivy (Hedera helix), always useful as an external skin stimulant, not for eating.

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A Garlic mustard plant in it’s first (non flowering) season. A space to watch next spring.

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365 Frankendael day 157

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I harvested three tiny prices of that fungus which I found a couple of days ago. I have checked it’s identity in the woods, at home in books, online with reliable sites and as there is nothing nasty I could confuse it with, I felt happy to cook a little. The photograph above is a little washed out but below you’ll see I’ve placed my test harvest against the photo in one of my mushroom books. What a beautiful colour!

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It is Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus) and boy does it taste good, simply fried in a little ghee! It does taste quite similar to chicken, it is meaty in texture too. If it sits well in my stomach, I’ll be harvesting some more tomorrow. This isn’t going to turn into a fungus foraging blog, I don’t have enough experience of them and it’s so easy to go disastrously wrong, but if I find more interesting autumn fungi I’ll certainly post them here.

Rosehips (Rosa spp.) continue to ripen.
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As do Haws on the Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) shrubs and trees.

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I got all excited to see thousands of fallen Sweet chestnuts, at the front if Huis Frankendael but they are to small to do anything much with. Hopefully they have been shed to help the tree focus on building up carb’s in the rest.

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It’s still possible to harvest as much as you like of invasive alien Himalayan Balsam. The flowers have a nice taste, quite mild and like lettuce. I heard of someone using the stems as drinking straws recently. That could be interesting too.

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I think these are the sought after roots of Cat‘s Tails, dredged up in the current canal clearance operation. They don’t look very appetising in that must soup though.

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And lastly, Feverfew having a brilliant second flower flush. So bitter and do linked in traditional medicine to the treatment of migraine.

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Danish Hawthorn recipes and simple Haw Honey Syrup

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Some time ago Amalie and Daniel joined me for a herb walk alongside Park Frankendael. One of the plants which was in bloom at the time was Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna). Amalie knew the berries from Denmark and kindly sent me some recipes to try and share. Hawthorn is in fruit right now, it is a common hedgerow plant and the berries (well “pomes” actually but they look like berries) are edible raw or cooked. Most of each fruit is seed, these need to be strained out of any recipe unless you’d like blunt teeth.

Here are the two recipes from Amalie, plus one I have been experimenting with, which doesn’t need sugar. I also posted a Hawthorn Elixir recipe a short while ago which may be interesting.

Hawthorn puree and juice
1 liter of hawthorn berries
300 grams of sugar
Water

Mash the berries into a puree.
Add the sugar and heat to about 70°C (hot, steamy but not boiling). Strain out the seeds.

The puree can be used for various things including the making of Hawthorn juice, by diluting in water (1 part puree to 10 parts water).

Hawthorn with apples and prunes
½ liter hawthorn berry juice (see above)
750 grams of apples, peeled, cored and quartered
100 grams of prunes, roughly chopped
Sugar (as much as you like to taste)

Cook apples and prunes in the hawthorn juice until the apples turn to pulp and the prunes are swollen, soft and succulent. Then add the sugar to taste. If you like, you can add a bit of melatin with pectin, to thicken it all up.
This can be stored in sterile canning jars or eaten straight away.

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Haw & Honey Syrup
1. Spread your Hawthorn berry (Haws) out in your kitchen for a while to give any bug residents time to relocate. (dry Haws can also be used but they’ll need to simmer for much longer in step 4, to soften them up)
2. Clean your Haws in fresh water.
3. Place them in a small saucepan and almost cover them with just boiled water.
4. Bring to the boil and simmer for just a couple of minutes, to soften everything up a little.
5. Remove from the heat and slow to cool enough to handle.
6. Strain and push out the juice/mush through a standard kitchen sieve. Get out as much as possible. Squidge it with your fingers and a widen spoon. Combine the mush with the water that was used to simmer.
7. When the juice had cooled to being warm but not hot, stir in a nice big dollop of good quality runny honey.
8. Give it all a good stir and chance to combine before storing in a pressure safe glass bottle or jar (like an old flip bung Grolsch bottle).

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Use as a tasty winter tonic, straight or mixed. Hawthorn is best known as a gentle heart tonic, for the emotions and the circulatory system.

365 Frankendael day 112

These plants are growing alongside Frankendael by the windy dirt path that follows the Middenweg. At first glacé everything simply looks green there but if you take a closer look there are several great edibles and a few plants that if eaten, would upset your body quite substantially.

Here is nutritious Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica), regrowing after a recent mowing.

Next is White Deadnettle (Lamium alba). Not a stinger but very useful and also nutritious.

Here’s a poisonous berry, I know it as Snowberry (Symphoricarpus alba).

Here are some of those half eaten unripe Elderberry heads, that I mentioned last week. We can only eat them safely when they are fully ripe, for birds it’s obviously another story.

Lastly today some ripening Hawthorn berries (Crataegus monogyna). If you are not sure then how’s a good time to get to know how to identify them, in readiness for the autumn harvest.

365 Frankendael day 29

Hop (Humulus lupulus – what a latin name!) is entwined about a meter up last year’s dead stems today and looks far healthier and more vigorous than any cultivated Hop plant I have seen. I am really looking forward to seeing whether or not its flowers are as impressive.

Mugwort is growing beautifully on wasteland near a Frankendael bus stop. It is helpfully showing the silver underside of a few leaves in the breeze.

This member of the Hawthorn species reminds us clearly that Hawthorns are members of the Rose family.

Valerian officinale is almost ready to flower in wetter areas of the park.


And Agrimony plants are making themselves more obvious is some drier sunny areas.

Also today, towering Pink Purslane (Montia sibirica) is in flower. It looks similar in structure to Winter purslane (Montia perfoliata, which is low growing and currently growing like crazy along the Centuurbaan fence of Sarphatipark. Often called Miner’s Lettuce it tastes great!) However, Pink Purslane is said to have a nasty acrid aftertaste and should be avoided by foragers. It’s such a beautiful flower at this time of year that it’s good to know it tastes bad!

365 Frankendael day 19

I’ve been walking in Frankendael with Elodie today, we found heaps of herbs, several new to us. If you’d like to join me for a herb walk there are a few spaces left for the Sunday May 27th Amstel to Frankendael walk. Here are some striking examples from today…
Solomon’s Seal looks rather like an enormous version of Lily of the Valley so I always steer clear of it. I have always thought of Lily of the valley as a poisonous plant so lethal that I shouldn’t even go near it. Upon reading about it last night I learned that it is called the herbalist’s Digitalis. It has a potent specific effect on heart muscles, causing them to open and fill more intensely and to raise blood pressure. It is thus lethal in even small doses and is not a herb of interest to me. However this arching beauty of the woods is very interesting. Solomon’s seal is used to make traditional remedies for many ailments, ranging from speeding muscle and bone healing, to menopausal symptoms, diabetes, acne and other skin afflictions. The native Americans reportedly ate it frequently.

I was thrilled to turn a corner in the wood today and be greeted by this scene:

It is difficult for a photograph to do it justice – especially one of mine! Here is Hawthorn arching over a swathe of Solomon’s seal and Wild garlic, all three in flower at the same time.

Other herbs of note today…
Below, endangered Hoary Plantain (Plantago media). I first saw this herb last year and remember not really knowing what it was, although it was obviously some kind of plantain, but wanting to hide it and protect it from trampling feet! Of course I couldn’t and this plant is well adapted to living in well trodden locations. However, should you find it, especially in a week or two when it’s flower stalk will look like some sort of moth-plant hybrid, then please don’t touch it. I hope that this one has a chance to set seed.

Chicory foliage:

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Endangered Greater burnet (Sanguisorba officinalis)

365 Frankendael day 11

Here’s a Mayday Hawthorn bough, happily still attached to it’s tree! I’m sure that last Mayday the Hawthorns of Frankendael had opened their flowers by now. They certainly haven’t today and the weather is still not exactly encouraging the plants to grow as they could. None the less Hawthorn looks beautiful at the moment is most trees I see are loaded with green buds, ready to explode into a froth of white/pink blossom. Hawthorn is a spiky, irregularly shaped shrub or small tree which is easy to spot in hedgerows around town. It has unique, small, deeply lobed leaves, a froth of flowers around this time of year and bright red berries come autumn. It is long associated with heart medicine and Mayday country frolics.

Hawthorn is a renowned tonic for the circulatory system. The leaves, berries and flowers can be used to treat angina and several other heart conditions – obviously under the guidance of an experienced medical practitioner as heart disease is always a serious and often life threatening, condition. Hawthorn can be used as a preventative tonic, to guard against future heart problems. It can lower blood pressure, help dissolve cholesterol and calcium deposits.