Today simply Rosehips and Ivy (Hedera helix), with lots of Hydrangea in the middle. I’ve never considered Hydrangea to be a useful herb before but apparently it also has quite a few medicinal uses – well historically at least.
Today, Lavender looking as spritely as ever, regardless of sub zero weather. This is a great urban herb! The leaves, flowers and seeds can be used for various culinary and medicinal purposes. I keep a bottle of Lavender essential oil in my kitchen in case of burns. I don’t like essential oils very much as they are so concentrated and far from the natural herb state but I find this one very useful. It’s about the only essential oil I keep in the house and it has helped heal minor burns swiftly, with less or no pain than without its use and no scars.
And just because they look so gorgeous in the snow – Rosehips! Another of my favourite urban herbs.
Rose hips are plentiful at the moment. They are nutritious and medicinal. All clean, unsprayed and legally obtained rose hips can be used to make immune boosting preparations. But this is often easier said than done. They are full of itchy, hair covered seeds. These need to be removed before the Rose hips can be ingested.
One way to do this is to make your syrup, or whatever else you choose, and then strain out the seeds and hairs before the final storage.
Another way, is to remove them at the start. It is fiddly but it works and is worth the effort, especially if you’d like to make a cold uncooked preparation, such as Rose hip honey. I also think it makes the harvester/forager quietly aware of each hip and that is a good thing, on many levels.
Here’s how I do it.
1. Cut a hip in half. Out is best to harvest them before they become soft and pulpy, but when they are fully coloured.
2. Scoop out all of the seeds and most of the hairs, using a strong thumb nail or a blunt ended knife. Quirk through all your hip harvest in this way. Place seeds in a container to return to the harvesting location and the deseeded hips in another.
3. When all of the hips are deseeded, place them in a bowl and fill it with water. Swill them around a little, to release the hairs and other unwanted particles.
4. Strain in a colander, whilst swilling around in more water.
5. Lay the washed hips out on a clean dry tea towel (or a dehydrator) and allow them to surface dry. I like to use another teatowel to dry of the tops and then I tumble them around now and again, on dry sections off the teatowel, to speed up the process.
6. Wash your hands, arms and wherever else three hairs contacted you, with cold water. They come off easily but may tickle for a long time if you miss an area.
7.Use as described in your chosen recipe. I simply pack mine into a jar and pour in honey, at this point.
Today, a quick list of 16 edible or medicinal plants, currently in season in Amsterdam. Here they are, photographed in Park Frankendael this morning:
Silverweed – edible, all parts.
Jerusalem artichoke – invasive, very tasty. Heaps of it at the back of the closest flower meadow to Frankendael huis (behind the house). Cook the roots with winter savoury – it helps eliminate the intestinal gas which these vegetables are infamous for producing.
Dandelion, Stinging nettle and Chickweed. All three are edible, nourishing tonic herbs. Can be eaten safely in fairly copious amounts but just a leaf our two, or a handful of Chickweed, will really boost a meal.
Rosehips, in abundance. They could be made into syrup now but if the birds leave them alone, I’d wait another few weeks. Medicinal due to high vitamin c levels in particular and other immune boosting constituents. Interesting added to stews etc also.
False, but edible, look-a-like strawberries of a Potentilla.
Sweetcorn and Sunflowers, growing alongside the Middenweg. I’ve seen quite a few wild Sweetcorn plants lately. Maybe sometimes been sewing the seed as they walk the streets? Not likely that either of these plants will be left, strimmer free, long enough to flower or seed, but what fun that would be if it happened.
Japanese knotweed, rhubarb like, super sour edible and terribly invasive plant. Search this site and others for how to cook it.
Marshmallow (yes, it’s the original sweet namesake). I simply collected a thousand seeds or so from this plant today. It’s so easy to grow in town and so useful as a soothing medicinal and as a food – think gooey egg substitute.
Not so easy to see – though what a pretty woodland view – Ground elder and Wild geranium.
Garlic mustard, edible – very! – but only pick one leaf per plant at this time of year. They need to build up energy reserves to survive the winter. You’ll hopefully be rewarded with tall healthy leaf and flower rich plants next year.
Wild rocket. Rucola in Dutch. A heap this size would be sold for a small fortune in Albert Heijn. It will taste extra strong and be a bit woody at the moment due to flowering but still useful and very peppery. Maybe collect a seed pod or two and sprinkle them in a price of underused safe land near your home.
Greater celandine. NOT edible! Poisonous orange sap, but that sap is very useful as a topical treatment for warts and some other skin spots.
Lastly the mystery Nut Tree that several people sent me photos of whilst I was on holiday. I still don’t know the name or whether it if edible our not. But I now know it’s sticky and I think it is setting fruit rather than nuts at the moment. Will keep am eye on it as they develop.
In Amsterdam, Roses are currently in full bloom. They seem to thrive in the sandy soil and climate. In my neighbourhood it seems that every other house has a rose or two, scrambling up the front wall, with roots often anchored in the tiniest of spaces. I am happy to have a Rambling Rector, growing in a roof terrace pot. It looks lovely against the chimney stack and produces a mass of tiny, white, fragrant blooms through May and June.
Even in windy weather it’s easy to catch the powerful scent of some of these city roses whilst walking along Amsterdam streets. It never fails to lift my spirits and is renowned as a tonic for the heart. As I see rose petals blowing around pavements on windy days I wish that more people knew how delicious and useful they are.
The simplest way to use them is raw, in salads or sandwiches. Any scented (clean and pesticide free) rose petals will add velvety beauty to both. They have a pleasant, fragrant and astringent taste and can be used in a variety of foods. At present my favourites are Rose Petal Cup Cakes and Rose Petal Butter. More on the butter another time, for now here is the recipe for Rose Petal Cup Cakes – heavily inspired by a lovely baking blog called The Pink Whisk.
Rose Petal Cup Cakes (makes 12)
For the cakes
150g butter (that’s half a standard block)
140g caster sugar (that’s a lot – I’m working on a sugar free version)
100g self raising flour
50g plain (all purpose) flour
2 tablespoons Rose water
6 large pieces of Turkish delight (or dried apricots / crystallised ginger etc)
For the topping
Rosehip (NL: Rozenbottel) conserve
(such as the delicious, organic, sugar-free Fiordifrutta from Rigoni di Asiago)
Rose petals and stamens (scented, clean, pesticide free)
Preheat oven to 180 C and put paper cases into a 12 cupcake baking tray.
Cut the dried fruit or Turkish delight into twelve pieces.
Into each paper case add one piece of fruit or Turkish delight.
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar.
Add eggs, flour and rosewater, mixing well until a smooth consistency is achieved (I use a handheld mixer for this but a spoon and elbow grease will do equally well).
Half fill the paper cases with cake mixture.
Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until a clean knife, inserted into a cake, comes out clean.
Remove cupcakes from the baking tray and allow to cool completely on a rack.
When you are ready to serve the cakes, smear the top of each with a little Rosehip conserve and sprinkle with whole or torn Rose petals and a few stamens.