Today in park Frankendael, I found my new herbal friend. I thought this was Black Horehound (Ballota nigra) but now am sure that it is Common or White Horehound (Marrubium vulgare), a very hairy and equally useful plant!
It is growing next to an old faithful friend, Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)
Its the first time I have seen Motherwort in Amsterdam this year. I had a little taste and wow, it’s so strong, bitter and useful! Looking forward to tincturing this plant later in the year. The two plants above, can look very similar at first glance. Both have obvious leaf veins and a similar texture but their properties are very different and the deep invaginations of Motherwort’s leaves will become more obvious by the day.
Above, Witch Hazel flowers are going over at the moment. It will be difficult to tell this shrub from others once the extraordinary flowers are gone.
And these flower buds are truly a taste of heavenly things to come! This is Magnolia. The plant is said to have been brought to Europe by Chinese medics or Europeans who realised its place in traditional Chinese medicine and fancied it for themselves. But these days it’s simply grown as an ornamental. In park Frankendael there is a small stand of different Magnolia sisters, which bloom sequentially, offering a long period of beautiful blooms. It is an extremely useful but underused herb. I enjoy making Magnolia petal infused honey and now have my eyes peeled for the first Magnolia blooms of the year…
Beautiful weather today and a lovely stroll through the park.
Day Lilies (Hemerocallis fulva), beautiful, edible flowers, not to be confused with standard Lilies which are highly toxic. Please scroll through the photos on day 75 to see what they look like.
Garlic mustard (Aliaria petiolata) growing out of some dirt on a woodland bridge.
Garlic mustard seedlings, coming up for a second edible crop of the year. This is a biennial plant so although there is not enough time for these seedlings to mature and set seed before the frosts, they should survive and flower next year. Probably best to forage only from the second year plants (which are now almost over, foraging wise).
Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) is setting seed and what spiky seed heads they are proving to be! If you need to harvest some, it’s probably best to have gloves on and shake the seeds straight into a paper bag. I gave up trying today and threw the few I collected into nearby soil.
It’s still going strong in some areas: Ground Elder (Aegopodium podograria).
First year Burdock (Artica lappa). This is what is needed if harvesting the medicinal and nutritious Burdock roots, is your mission.
This morning I went for a sunny wander and chat in the woods with Femke, one of the organisers of Otopia Fesitival at OT301, Overtoom.
The festival promises to be very interesting indeed. I’m very pleased to be offering 3, hour long Urban Herb Street walks on Saturday 15th September, as part of the event. They will be in the afternoon. More details to follow but I’m mentioning it now as places will be limited for the walks.
I was to busy chatting to take many photos but this Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) was just too beautiful to miss.
Meadowsweet, buds still developing. I’ve been waiting for them to open into almond scented flowers for several weeks now. Still good for harvesting. Delicious as a tea and beneficial for stomach disorders and pain relief.
Here is my favourite tonic herb in flower: Leonurus cardiaca, Motherwort. My park harvested tincture is developing nicely on my kitchen shelf at present. So easy to make and so little of the herb had to be harvested. I used part of this plant for my tincture and there’s no evidence left to see, just a healthy and beautiful plant for everyone to enjoy.
Next is another pain reliever, but far too potent for me: Poppy, Papaveraceae sp. On a recent meetup group Lime harvest, a member told me how her French Grandmother used to swear by a cough syrup which she brewed down from poppy flowers and sugar. Isobel has made this her self and says it’s beautiful, works a treat but has an unfortunate blood pressure altering effect so she had to stop using it. Not so surprising as the poppy family is the source of morphine. I heard of another contemporary Poppy remedy this week on the Green Peace Walks I led. Boiling up the flowers in water, a decoction, as a heroine substitute! This was witnessed by a walker and not made by any of the Greenpeace walkers, I hasten to add. Not really my cup of tea, but certainly a useful last ditch pain reliever if ever there was an urgent need. The dosage of herbal remedies is often quite a fine art. The amount required for a medicine like effect, depending upon time of harvest, freshness of herb etc. That’s why I stick to mainly tonic herbs, they can be taken for a reasonably long period without negative effects building up and they work more by supporting health rather than suppressing illness. I think that Poopy remedies must be particularly subject to this variation and are thus seen as unsafe by almost everyone. A lot of people enjoy the seeds as a bread ingredient. By harvesting seeds from small patches of Poppy such as this one, the chance of Poppy plants next year is greatly reduced.
Next today is Veronica, also called Speedwell. I have never used the plant but it’s a useful and very beautiful one. I’m not exactly sure of the genus of Veronica but its similar to Veronica spicata.
There was more mowing going on in and around the park today and also I noticed that a sprawling poisonous White Bryony had been carefully removed, from the Juniper bush I watch it climb. Perhaps also by the maintenance team? This poisonous plant remains and does look rather lovely: Birthwort.
Here is Teasel, now with fully formed and about to bear a pretty ring of tiny flowers around those distinctive flower heads. This plant shows much promise in the treatment of Lyme’s Disease. I like to drink from the water collecting leaf joints, on dewy mornings.
There were so many other plants around today but not enough time to write about them. I also met Joop, looking for the Spoonbill and a freindly local woman, also taking photos of plants, who has a children’s clothing range inspired by the nature in park Frankendael. What a lovely idea! Sorry, I forgot to ask her name, if she reads this perhaps she’d like to email me or place a comment below.
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.
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.
I recently bought a wonderful second hand copy of Herbal Remedies: A practical beginner’s guide to making effective remedies in the kitchen. It contains instructions on several traditional herbal remedies that many modern herbals omit. One, which I read with interest, is Vinegar & Brown Paper, as featured in the nursery rhyme Jack and Jill. Apparently it is quite an effective remedy for sprains, bruises and sore joints. It made me think more about the virtues of vinegar. So here are few preparations which you may like to try.
If you like investigating this sort of thing, you may be interested in the Urban Herbology Apprenticeship Course. The course covers foraging, crafting herbs, fermentation and nature celebrations, among other topics!
Vinegar and Brown Paper This traditional remedy (taken from Hedley & Shaw’s book) is said to relieve swollen aching joints and limbs. I have not yet tried it and am very interested to hear from anyone who does! Why not let me know in the comments or contact boxes below.
1. Cut 5 or 6 pieces of brown (packaging) paper, just big enough to fit over the affected area.
2. Place in a saucepan and cover with Sage vinegar (read on for how to make this).
3. Simmer very gently for about 5 minutes, until the brown paper becomes soft and has absorbed some vinegar, yet is not broken down.
4. When cool enough to safely handle, place the brown paper on the affected area and hold it in place with cling film (not too tight).
5. Cover with a roller bandage and leave in place for 4 hours. Hedley & Shaw recommend reapplying fresh vinegar and brown paper twice daily.
These are prepared in a similar way to tinctures but vinegar is used as a carrier for the herb properties, rather than alcoholic spirits. Many herbs can be easily preserved in vinegars, a few favourites are Rosemary, Sage, Tarragon, Chamomile and Parsley but why not try wild herbs such as Chickweed, Catnip, Lemonbalm, Motherwort, Ramsons or Hyssop? Dried or fresh herbs can be used but vinegars are a great way to preserve a glut of fresh herbs so that they can be used throughout the darker months.
Vinegar, particularly apple cider vinegar, is beneficial in its own right. It helps to build bones and has the ability to extract more minerals (such as calcium) from herbs than water. So preserving herbs in vinegar can provide a mineral rich preparation which is also very tasty and can be used in a variety of ways. They can be used in salad dressings, taken a tablespoon daily in a glass of water as a tonic, added to green vegetables and beans whilst they cook, used a flavouring in food or used in specific remedies. Adding a splash of vinegar to the cooking water of green vegetables dramatically increases available calcium.
To prepare, completely fill a glass container of any size with chopped fresh herb and then fill it completely again with vinegar. Seal (not with a metal lid), label and allow to sit (macerate) out of direct sunlight for between 2 and 6 weeks. After this time strain and bottle the herb vinegar in sterile dry containers. Use plastic lids or waxed paper held in place with strong rubber bands. For advice on sterilising see the post on Cough Syrup.
If you prefer to measure your herbs and vinegar there is a traditional recipe which recommends adding approximately 25g dried chopped herb or 50g chopped fresh herb to every 600ml of vinegar. Pure malt vinegar, apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar can be used.
Herb Vinegar Hair Rinse When my sister and I were children, my mother would add a little lemon juice to our final hair rinse. It makes hair shine beautifully and is a natural conditioner (shampoos are slightly alkaline, conditioners slightly acidic). Vinegar hair rinses work in the same way and can be very beneficial to the scalp. I like to use apple cider vinegar when my scalp feels overloaded with hair products; it feels cleansing, cooling and calming. Surprisingly it doesn’t make hair smell of vinegar.
To prepare simply add 1 tablespoon herbal vinegar, apple cider vinegar or fresh lemon juice to about 250ml water. Pour the rinse over washed hair and massage into the scalp. Leave on for about 5 minutes and then rinse with plain water.
Sage vinegar is thought to darken hair,
Chamomile vinegar to lighten hair,
Parsley vinegar to relieve dandruff,
Rosemary vinegar to condition dry or falling hair
There are dozens of other uses for vinegar, I’d love to know of any which you or members of your family have used. Get in touch through the comments or contact boxes!