Today I found some beautiful and extraordinary fruit, belonging to a female Yew shrub (Taxus baccata). I never fail to be fascinated by these poisonous wonders. The glutinous (and delicious) fruit flesh is wrapped around a deadly exposed seed. Quite amazing to see!
Yew trees are either male or female. Both are full of deadly toxins – throughout all parts of the tree. Yew has been revered by the British for millennia. Druids apparently built their temples next to them, Christians built churches next to them. It’s very unusual to enter a traditional British church yard and not walk beside an ancient (or young) Yew. I like that.
I was taught the secret of how tasty the flesh of the fruit is, some years ago by a friend who worked with trees. Since then I try to enjoy one or two of those sweet, fragrant, glutinous morsels each year. But it’s not a practice to undertake lightly or ever in the presence of children! The seed must not be broken or swallowed, it is highly poisonous!
In recent decades Taxus baccata has yielded Taxol, a cancer fighting drug, often used to treat some ovarian cancers. Here’s a link that may be interesting about the Yew tree and conservation efforts, in light of this modern use.
Today has been busy, with a brief Lime Blossom meetup and a poorly cat being taken to the emergency clinic, so just a very brief post today…
Above is a photo of Hedge Woundwort (Stachys sylvatica). A member if the compare family, with very strongly smelling foliage which I have mentioned previously. It makes quite a good tea and can act as a digestive, I use it now and again to help digest rich meals but am not a big fan of the pungent angel. It was historically a wound herb, as the English name suggests. It can be made into a poultice, historically with vinegar and used to help reduce inflammation and speed wound healing. This plant grows plentifully on the waters edge in various parts of Park Frankendael. However, due to today’s cat adventure, the photo was taken at the shaded edge of a children’s playground, two blocks from the park.
Secondly a photo of an magnificent Carrot family plant called Hogweed, taken through the Animal Clinic window on Isolaterweg. I’ve seen this amazing plant in many city locations recently and want to mention it briefly today. Obviously I was more interested in my cat when I spotted this one so didn’t measure it or get my field guide out but it is most likely either the toxic, irritating Giant Hogweed/Wild Rhubarb or the closely related Common Hogweed which some foragers, not myself, are rather fond of eating. River Cottage country living guru, Hugh Fernley Wittingstall, apparently loves eating the young tender shoots. Look on the River Cottage website and forum for lots of ideas, if this plant interests you.
In just a 1 meter square patch of land, on the outer edge of park Frankendael, I found all these useful herbs today…
Medicinal Comfrey (Symphytum uplandica):
Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) and Ground Elder (Aegopodium podograria) growing amongst each other:
Also, Burdock (Arctium lappa)
Poisonous member of the Carrot family, Hemlock (Conium maculatum):
Notice how similar it looks to Chervil. It has a smooth stem and leaves. It smells a little unpleasant and has notable purple staining on the stem. This is not a plant to be handled or foraged at all! This plant was used in ancient Geek executions, including that of Socrates. The Latin name means to whirl, pertaining to one of the symptoms of hemlock poisoning, vertigo. This plant is deadly poisonous and I show it here as so many foragers are keen to find plants such as wild carrot. It is very easy to confuse members of the family, especially those with finely divided leaves such a hemlock, carrot and sweet cicely
Lastly another beauty which is not helpful to foragers. A Labrador delivering a little fertilizer to that interesting 1m square patch of park edge!