We’re back home and the weather in Amsterdam is mild (10 °C) but dull. This photo of my geveltuin, sort of reflects that. It needs a new year spruce up.
I’ve been preparing for the next Urban Herbology walk today so here are several photos and not much chat…
The Middenweg Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum) continues to grow despite being reported to the council. Apparently it’s not a risk to the public because it is growing in the green strip… It is now wider than my bike, well over 2m tall and (although less than before I pruned it) still overhangs the pavement. I shall snip off the flower heads before the seeds set. A deadly beauty.
Today a very speedy look around the park, in the late afternoon sunshine…
Roses are opening up all over the city. Perfect weather for them to bloom. This is one of my favorites in the park, Rosa arvensis, the Field Rose. Very pretty now and produces excellent hips in autumn.
Birthwort, NL: Pijpbloem (Aristotolochia clematis) highly poisonous, with some historic uses (and recent infamy from causing kidney failure when accidentally incorporated into ground wheat flour). I am looking forward to finding out what the Latin name is all about.
Lime leaves (Tilia) are mostly covered in something sweet & sticky at the moment. Either excrement from the masses of insects seeking out nectar from the new flowers, or the nectar itself dripping down onto lower leaves. I’m not too sure which it is but at the moment this sticky stuff is clear, but visible and certainly delicious. Wash it off or not, the leaves taste great and many blossoms are already present so let the harvest begin! In a short while the sticky covering will thicken and blacken. Then it needs a good scrub and or soak in clean water to get it all off. The leaves do stand up well to such treatment and can then be dried thoroughly for storage or used directly.
Sage, (Salvia officinalis). Beautiful and so tasty! Beware the power of Sage if taken in higher than culinary doses and stay away for it during the few few months of pregnancy. Not a tonic herb but a very useful one for the body and mind.
Many herbs impact upon breast health, milk production and the health of babies. Women who are pregnant or nursing should become aware of how herbs can impact upon themselves and their child. Some herbs can reduce or stop milk flow (such as Sage); useful at the end of nursing or to reduce engorgement, less useful if you want a good milk flow! Other herbs can increase milk flow (galactogogues). Others can remedy problems such as blocked ducts, mastitis (such as Echinacea applied as a compress) and colic.
The best information I have found on the subject comes from Susun Weed. Her book about herbs and the childbearing year contains lots of excellent information related to pregnancy, birth, postnatal recovery and nursing. I highly recommend it if you want to be empowered with knowledge about how to be safe with herbs and babies. There is a link to that book and others on these linked articles:
There is also an interesting free e-book available from the Earth Mama Angel Baby website. It is a compilation of information about herbs and breastfeeding. The information covers topics such as herbs which can boost milk supply, herbs which may help babies in certain ways and herbs which should be avoided. The e-book is free to download and may be interesting to some of you so here’s a link photo:
Pies remind me of home. Here is a recipe for very tasty muffin sized pies which uses purple sage to enhance the flavours of butternut squash, sweetcorn and chicken. They taste great hot or cold and make a handy packed lunch food.
I use homemade yoghurt pastry dough for my pies and quiches, I will post the recipe for that later. Alternatively you could use an all butter short crust pastry or puff pastry for the crust. The recipe includes a very small amount of fresh chicken, I just added some leftovers to my pie filling, but this can easily be omitted for vegetarians. You may also like to add a little chopped fennel to the filling. Pies are a good way to use up fresh left overs as from a little filling you can create a lot of tasty little pies!
Butternut Squash & Sage Pies – makes 12 (muffin size)
Pastry (see above) – enough for a quiche base
Knob of butter, ghee or olive oil
5cm slice Butter nut squash, peeled, deseeded and finely cubed
1/2 small can of sweetcorn or a handful of frozen kernels
1 medium-large onion, finely chopped
1 chicken or vegetable stock cube, or 1 dessert spoon of bouillon powder or 1/2 cup fresh stock
1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
6 large fresh purple sage leaves, finely chopped (or 1/2 tsp chopped dried sage)
1 dessert spoon creme fraiche
1 dessert spoon finely chopped lean fresh chicken
Handful grated goats’ cheese or cheddar type cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
12 hole non stick muffin tray, greased with butter or ghee
- Preheat oven to 190° C (375° F) and prepare muffin tray.
- In a pan with well fitting lid, heat the ghee/butter or oil and gently cook onion, with lid on pan, until sweet and clear.
- Add the garlic and sage to the onions and cook for a further minute, stirring all the while to prevent the garlic from burning.
- Add the cubed butternut squash, chicken and sweetcorn and quickly mix into the oily onion/herb mixture.
- Add about 1/2 cup of water and the stock cube or fresh stock and bring to the boil.
- Cover with a tightly fitting lid and simmer for about 7 minutes, until the pumpkin is tender. Check now and then that the water has not evaporated or been soaked up completely. You should end up with a well cooked mixture which is moist but not sloppy. If the mixture is too wet, cook a little longer with the lid off.
- Remove from heat, add the cheese and creme fraiche.
- Stir into the mixture, adjust seasoning to taste and set aside to cool whilst you line the muffin holes with pastry
- Roll out pastry quite thinly (probably about 1/5cm thickness).
- Use a round pastry cutter or similar to cut out 12 circles, large enough to just line each muffin hole. Push the pastry into the holes carefully so that the filling will not break through it when added.
- Add a desert spoonful of filling to each hole. It should come close to the top of the pastry lining but not above it.
- Cut 12 smaller circles of pastry, just large enough to top each pie.
- Gently press the edge of each pastry top into the pastry which lines each hole. You don’t need to be too exact with this but if you are too rough your pie contents may bubble out.
- Cook at 190° C (375° F) for about 25 – 30 minutes. Keep an eye on your pies to ensure they don’t burn.
- Remove muffin tray from oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes, until the pies can be easily extracted. You may need to loosen them carefully with a knife. Check they can spin in the muffin hole before removing.
- Eet smakelijk!These pies can be frozen BEFORE they are cooked in the oven. I much prefer to cook the whole batch, eat half hot on the day I make them, store the rest in the refridgerator and eat those cold the next day.
In the winter I often enjoy burning herbs and recently the spicy scents of Frankincense and Myrrh have been wafting around our apartment. All of the senses are emotive and can conjure up long forgotten memories but for me the sense of smell is most potent. The scent of a particular time of year, the plants in bloom, humidity levels and so on, can combine and take me straight back to a unique event or emotion. Frankincense and Myrrh resin, burned over a candle on a dark winter day, do just that and they make useful room fumigants. I also enjoy the smell of good quality incense and of several dried herbs as they are directly warmed or gently burned. I am not a smoker but enjoy the smoking blend mentioned below by adding a little to the top of an aromatherapy oil vapouriser. In this case and when burning resins, I first cover the top of the vapouriser/burner with a little aluminium foil, it prevents cracking of the ceramic and makes cleaning much easier.
Inhaling herbal vapours allows them to enter the bloodstream and reach the brain quickly. Care should be taken to select herbs for this purpose wisely and it is best to begin with a very small amount, to see how you react. Some herbal vapours can quickly lift your spirits, such as Fennel seed. Others can be relaxing or overstimulating. If you are feeling exhausted or stressed out, you are more likely to react strongly to inhaled herbs. Be cautious and respectful of them.
There is a lot of folklore associated with burning herbs. Smudge sticks to cleanse spaces, moon lodges & sweat lodges where herbs are heated over hot stones, herbal fumigation in Chinese traditional medicine and herbal smokes to induce visions in spiritual aspirants are but a few uses for burning herbs. Sage commonly features in recipes; it burns well and in many cultures is believed to ward off evil. It is often used to “smudge” or cleanse spaces. Some communities burn it in the presence of new born babies, to prevent evil spirits from entering the child’s body via the cut umbilical cord. Other commonly used herbs are Frankincense, Myrrh, Artemisia spp., Fennel seed, Aniseed and Thuja (Cedar). I find that gently inhaling the vapours of herbs, feels more healing and natural than using concentrated essential oils. I am interested to know of your experiences.
If you are interested in making your own incense there is a lovely book by Scott Cunningham which details dozens of recipes. You can see an extract here: Scott Cunningham’s Incense Book
Several years ago I bought a few kilos of hand made incense sticks from Mysore market. They were apparently rolled from a blend containing honey and sandalwood. They smell absolutely divine, very clean burning with no hint of chemicals (which many commercial versions seen to contain). I only have a few sticks left so will try to find a recipe in the Cunningham book to match it.
Honey cured herbal smoking blend
This is a simple recipe which works well. Just preparing the herbs makes me feel good, warming or burning them feels soothing and a sprinkling of the mix goes well with a few grains of Frankincense and Myrrh.
- Powder some fennel seeds (this is tricky without a spice grinder). I do this with a food processor but always end up with two grades of fennel – fine powder and bruised seeds (which is good for tea or bread).
- Add 2 teaspoons of fennel powder to 12g of chopped dried sage. Mix together.
- Separately, mix one teaspoon of honey with 4 teaspoons of water.
- Gradually add the honey water solution to the herbs. You will need to rub the solution into the herbs so that they really soak it up evenly.
- Stop adding the solution when you feel all of the herbs are damp.
- Spread out the damp herb mix in a bowl.
- Leave the bowl uncovered (or perhaps covered with a muslin or clean tea towel) for about 48 hours. Turn the herbs now and then.
- When you feel the herbs are almost dry transfer to an airtight container and label.
- If you find the mix is too dry for your needs you could add a little more water and shake up in the container OR add a potato peeling or two a few hours before use. The herbs will absorb the water from the peelings.
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!
This is a delicious recipe which uses sage and saffron to bring out the flavours of pumpkin and shellfish. It has been sent to me by Elodie, from Amsterdam who I hope will be regularly contributing recipes.
Pasta with Pumpkin, Sage, Saffron, St. Jacques Scallops and Crayfish.
400 – 500g dried pasta shapes
1/4 small green or orange pumpkin (approximately 250g), seeded, peeled and diced
1 fish stock cube
1 medium onion
4 St. Jacques scallops (Coquilles), finely sliced or diced
10 – 12 Crayfish (Rivierkreeften)
Handful of frozen or fresh peas
1 garlic clove, peeled and sliced, chopped or mashed (depending upon strength preference)
5 sage leaves
2 saffron strands
1/2 cup almond flakes
Tablespoon cream / creme fraiche
Dash of Thai fish sauce (optional)
- Cook diced pumpkin in a little water until soft (approx. 5 minutes), set aside.
- Make a cup of fish stock using the stock cube and boiling water, keep it ready.
- Cook your pasta of choice whilst preparing the sauce as follows.
- Dice onion and fry in a little olive oil until golden.
- Add saffron and garlic to the pan and cook gently.
- Add sage and peas.
- Add the crayfish and a little of the fish stock ( keep the rest so you can add more if required).
- Add a tiny dash of Thai fish sauce, if you happen to have it.
- In a separate pan fry the Coquilles St. Jacques in a little oil, until thoroughly cooked. Try a little piece to make sure the scallops are not under-cooked.
- In the same pan gently fry the almond flakes until light brown. Reserve the almonds separately.
- The minute your pasta is cooked and drained, stir the pumpkin, St. Jacques and cream into your sauce.
- Pour the sauce over the pasta and sprinkle with the almond flakes.
- Add salt and pepper to your own liking.
This is an excellent dish using the seasonal Pumpkin and Sage in a slightly different way!
Bon Appetite !
This cough syrup recipe was kindly sent to me by Louise from Thornbury, South Glocestershire, UK. She has been making it since attending a herbal remedies course in Bristol a few years ago. The recipe is taken from Hedley & Shaw’s book, Herbal Remedies: A practical beginner’s guide to making effective remedies in the kitchen
Louise says that… “It’s really good stuff and clears a heavy cold in a matter of days. I always keep a bottle handy in the fridge and it keeps for ages. I have even given some to colleagues in work.”
The combination of herbs is said to be soothing, antiseptic, antibiotic and expectorant. The aim of the syrup is to thin out mucus and help open up the bronchi. It is recommended by Hedley & Shaw to help relieve deep restless chesty coughs, tightness from colds and sore throats.
I made a batch this week, it tastes wonderful. There are several ingredients but all are easy to obtain and the method is really quite simple. Some of the ingredients contain strong volatile oils so this syrup should be taken in small quantities for a short period of time and should not be used by pregnant women.
Sterilising storage bottles
Remember that your storage bottles need to be sterile, to prevent contamination and prolong the life of your potion. This is best done just before you set to work with the herbs as if left until the last minute there may no time to do it properly.
- Clean the bottles/jars thoroughly with hot soapy water and a bottle brush,
- Let them drip dry
- Sterilise them (with lids/caps off and the openings facing upwards) in a warm oven (about 110 oC) for about 10 minutes. Beware that plastic caps or lid liners will melt and burn if left in too long.
- Turn off the oven and leave them in there whilst you make the potion and get ready to pour. If you need to leave them waiting in the oven for a long while, loosely fit the caps/lids when cool enough to handle, to prevent contaminants getting in.Some people find that cleaning them on a hot dishwasher cycle also does the trick.
(Makes approximately 350ml)
Not suitable in pregnancy or for babies
15g dried thyme (NL: Tijm)
8g dried sage (salie)
8g dried chamomile (kamille)
2 teaspoons fennel seeds (venkelzaad)
1 teaspoon aniseed (anijs)
20 cloves (nagelkruiden)
2 garlic cloves (knoflook teentjes)
Pinch cayenne pepper (cayenne) or ground ginger (gember)
450g locally sourced honey
- Put water and chopped herbs into a pan and bring to the boil. Cover with a tightly fitting lid.
- Turn down the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
- Cool a little, strain through a fine mesh seive, pressing with a clean wooden spoon to extract the goodness.
- Discard the herb and keep the liquid.
- Return to the heat and simmer slowly, uncovered until reduced to 200ml (making a decoction).
- Add 450g honey, dissolve and simmer for a few minutes, stirring all the time, until of a syrupy consistency.
DO NOT OVERHEAT as the syrup will burn.
- Cool a little before pouring into sterilised bottles.
- Label (date made and contents) and keep refrigerated to avoid fermentation.
Best kept in a corked dark glass bottle, as a screw topped bottle may explode if fermentation takes place.
Legal Disclaimer: The content of this website is not intended to replace conventional western medical treatment. Any suggestions made and all herbs listed are not intended to diagnose, treat,cure or prevent any disease, condition or symptom. Personal directions and use should be provided by a medical herbalist or other qualified health care practitioner with a specific formula for you. All material on this website is provided for general information purposes only and should not be considered medical advice or consultation. Always check with your personal physician when you have a question pertaining to your health and health care.