Today is the Summer Solstice, Midsummer’s Day and I am having a lovely time! Myself, Livvy, Isobel, Esther, Isobel and the two babies, harvested leaves and flowers from some of the Lime trees (Tilia sp.) Which form the main avenue in Frankendael Park. It was so pleasant to share the Midsummer harvest with other like minded people. We cleaned the honeydew from the leaves, in a bowl of fresh water, made tea in flasks of boiled water and sandwiches from the harvest and some Lime honey.
I’ll be doing this again on Sunday in a different location, but I think there is nothing quite like the burgeoning green energy of Midsummer’s Day. The plants seem to be about to pop with the amount of goodness within them and some of them have certainly sprung suddenly into flower today.
I found lots of Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) just in flower, today and harvested some for a tincture. Likewise, Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) is in perfect form for tincturing. These and Lime are the three summer herbs which I love the most so I spent time with them today.
I was also pleased to see that some of the Mullein plants in the park have quietly started to flower and patches of Feverfew close to Frankendael park are also standing out. The Plantain (Plantago major) leaves are currently enormous and I will be tincturing some of them and their flowers in the days to come along with Lime tree leaves and flowers.
If you tend to see Midsummer as the end of the lightness and you morn its passing, perhaps try and see it in a different way. More as a time to thank the Sun and light for all the transformation it has provided and welcome in the gradually approaching darkness. The darkness can teach us much about ourselves, it gives a chance to reflect inwardly on what has happened in the preceding time and encourages us to appreciate the light, when it returns.
I visited the park very early this morning and was pleased to find a surprise clump of my favourite herb for grounded-ness and muscle pains – Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca). It is shown in this photo growing in a location quite far away from the ones I already know. So, I have high hopes that there is quite a good population of this useful plant in the park and also the city. I’d really like to know if any followers f this project know of Motherwort growing near them in other locations. I know that Jennie Akse knows of plenty in Beatrix Park, I’m not sure in which part they are but they certainly like it there too. Note that the pink flowers, next to the Motherwort leaves, are from another plant (see below). Motherwort is sometimes mistaken for a member of the Geranium family due to it’s leaves, however it is easy to spot the square labiate family stems. Failing that, if you mistakenly taste even a fraction of a Motherwort leaf, the extreme bitterness will soon teach you it’s not an aromatic Geranium! Motherwort is generally used as a tincture.
Here is a beautiful plant, from a very common and varied city tolerant herb family – called the Cranesbills or Scented Geraniums or Pelargoniums. I think that this one is most likely Geranium pyrenaicum, Hedge Crane’s-bill and as I’ve mention plenty times before, all member of the Geraniums are edible, tasty and useful. I read the other day of an old Rose Geranium infused alcoholic punch recipe, from Arabia. It is in Patricia Telesco’s Kitchen Witch’s Cookbook – a nice resource book containing many traditional and interesting herbal recipes. This plant is not Rose Geranium but itis related and extremely fragrant. I am quite tempted to have a go at it, maybe when the summer really arrives.
Another herb which is in season for harvest at present, is Lavender. I don’t see much of it in this park but it grows prolifically in the city and can be used very easily for many applications. Christian Huygensplein, near my home is planted out with it. Thank you Amsterdam Oost! Unfortunately, each day I have had time to visit any Lavender with my scissors, the weather has been damp so harvesting those pretty flower stems has been out of the question. No point in harvesting when the flowers are likely to mould, before they can dry out thoroughly. If you are lucky enough to find a huge patch of Lavender, the flower stems can be carefully but quickly thinned out, just above the foliage, perhaps taking every 20 stems, without much visible impact on the plant. I’m sure that my neighbours would not appreciate anyone chopping clumps of the flowers from the shopping area but I’m sure a few carefully flower stems wouldn’t be missed.
Lastly and shown above, is a striking herb which I have no experience of using at all but know it has historic uses. It is called Yellow Loosestrife (Lysimachia vulgaris) and I know it only as a garden plant from Somerset. Here’s a link to a page from a wonderful recent-historic book, offering a glimpse into historic uses of herbs.
A lovely walk today, began by spotting this particular Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) plant along the Lime tree avenue. There are many many Garlic Mustards still around But this one has a few really big leaves. The one on focus here was 14cm long! It’s handy to have your field guide with you for recording such herb spotter type things!
I saw this plant from a distance yesterday and mistook it for a Calamint. I have a very stinky sample of it in my field guide, beside me as I type and it is definitely not a pleasant Calamint. It is Field Woundwort (Stachys arvensis) with beetroot coloured flowers atop hairy, strongly “scented” leaves. It is a Labiate of great herbal repute. This particular Stachys has been long used for a huge range of ailments. Have a look at the Wiki link for an overview of them if it interests. I have used it now and then as a tea. I find the taste quite strong but not unpleasant. I think the most interesting uses are to treat pink eye (conjunctivitis) and styes. For these problems, a weak, cooled and very well strained tea is sometimes used as an eye wash.
I think that the above photo is of Hedge Mustard (Sisymbrium officinale). I will need to keep checking as it comes into flower. I did manage to forage our Brassica fix of the day though, plenty of Wild Turnip in full flower alongside the Middenweg today.
Here’s an eye catching member of the Plantain, Plantago genus. It looks like Ribwort but the flowers are super shaggy and I’m not used to seeing that in Ribwort. I have a feeling it is a hybrid between two types of Plantago. Claud Biemans told me about them when she walked with me here in Frankendael. Whatever it is I love those flowers, they remind me of a well worn Afghan coat.
Here is Digitalis in flower. Foxgloves have strikingly beautiful flowers but all parts of the plant are highly poisonous. It provides a well known herbal medicine which acts specifically on heart muscles. Not something to be picked or used.
Here’s another poisonous plant, White Bryony (Bryonia dioica) entwined around Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca). I was looking at Motherwort today because it’s flowers are just beginning to become obvious and soon the leaves of the plant will become more familiar to those who know its flower heads. Can you see the flowers developing in whirls close to the leaf bases and the square Labiate stems? This is a good time to harvest and tincture the plant but you should watch it for a full cycle to ensure its the real thing.
Lastly today, Hound’s Tongue (Cynoglossum officinale).
Today a dusk walk through the woods. The Hawthorns of Frankendael are finally opening their flowers, Lily of the Valley flower stems (poisonous look alike of Ransoms) arch elegantly above their neighbours, Moorhen chicks shelter beneath Meadowsweet and beloved Motherwort is growing bigger and bolder by the minute.
Motherwort is an extremely useful perennial herb which grows in compact clumps, rather like Mugwort but is a little more modest. Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca, NL: ). Since learning about it through Susun Weed, I always have a bottle of tinctured Motherwort close to hand. This plant is a member of the Labiate family (mints) but tastes completely different to the mint most of us are used to. It has a very strong scent when you brush your hands up through the plant, has square stems, as with all Labiates. It is extremely bitter and distasteful when taken as a tea. All parts of the plant are medicinal. It has an age old reputation for its heart strengthening abilities and for its value in calming nerves, restlessness and irritability. It is an emmenagogue so shouldn’t be taken whilst pregnant, thought it has much value to women postpartum, to mothers in general and to women with period pain. The tincture is the easiest and most palatable way to take it.
Motherwort instills a feeling of groundedness. Ten drops of tincture, in a glass of water, can bring me back down to Earth in a few minutes when I feel the world is spinning out of control. Historically, Motherwort was used as a common treatment for heart problems such as palpitations and for fevers where the body & mind needed to be kept calm. It is now almost forgotten for such purposes but, thanks to our ancestors, many garden escapes have naturalised throughout Europe. This plant in Frankendael is possibly a garden escape from the old Landhuis. I am very pleased it is there.