It’s very cold, damp and windy here today, well relatively speaking, so not the most pleasant day for a walk in the park with a toddler. Of course, I did see some beautiful plants but most photos were rather windswept. I think that this one clearly represents the last days of April. Ramsons in flower, Ground elder swallowing up other plants, Cowslip standing tall, yellow and delicate and at the back, a wild Ribes bush (could be black current, white current, raspberry etc. but its too early to tell). I
One of my favourite city herbs is really coming into flower at the moment. Wild geraniums (Wood geranium, Cranesbill) are often used in urban planting schemes because they bulk up nicely as the spring and summer develop. You can find geraniums in city tree pits where they receive lots of nutrition from passing dogs. If you can locate relatively clean plants, perhaps try them in the summer when they have had a chance to grow and will withstand a little harvesting.
All geraniums and all parts of them are said to be edible, but some varieties are hairier than others! This variety is prevalent in the park, the pretty purple flowers are fragrant and taste good in a salad, the leaves add an interesting dimension to raw food and cooked they blend well with other spring greens. I prefer to thoroughly wash any that I harvest and then to cook them, like spinach. I reserve geraniums growing at home, for salads.
Now is a good time to learn the differences between the many members of the Carrot family, which grow wild in Amsterdam. The most prevalent and obvious at this time of year is Sweet cicely. It is a good faraging food, makes pleasant aniseed flavoured drinks and is sometimes used as a tonic herb. But beware! There are some extremely toxic members of the Carrot family and all look quite similar until you know how to differentiate them. At present Sweet cicely is in flower.
Whilst walking around town today I noticed that Sweet Cicely (Sweet Chervil, Myrrhis odorata, NL: Roomse Kervel) is currently looking really strong and fresh. It is a member of the Apiaceae family and is quite easy to identify at this time of year because it is one of the few plants which survives above ground throughout the winter. It is useful as green leafy vegetable in its own right, the roots are also very tasty however if you are foraging, roots are not an option. Pulling Apiaceae roots destroys the whole plant. Sweet Cicely has a distinctly Anise flavour and smells rather like Lovage. It is packed with nutrients at a time when not many other leafy wild herbs are around and is found to be aromatic, stomachic, carminative and expectorant by herbalists.
Many members of the Apiaceae family (formerly called Umbelliferae family) are highly poisonous (e.g. Hemlock), others are edible and several have been cultivated such as parsley, coriander and carrot. Few members of the family are above ground right now but when foraging for Sweet Cicely, as ever, you should consult a good feild guide before deciding to pick. If in any doubt don’t pick or taste. Sweet Cicely makes a lovely, easy to grow pot plant and seeds are available through gardening suppliers.
If your reliable source of Sweet Cicely is unpolluted you may like to eat it raw, chopped into a salad. A simple tea can be made from the fresh leaves and stems, which is said to help releive indigestion and possibly help calm coughs. I prefer the following recipe from Denmark. I found it on a Danish Schnapps Recipe website which also contains some useful information about the herb and how to make the Schnapps from other parts of the plant, if you are using your own rather than foraged material.
Danish Sweet Cicely Schnapps
- Put about 200ml chopped fresh Sweet Cicely leaves or stems into a clean glass jar.
- Add 350ml vodka and seal with a well fitting lid.
- Let the mixture steep/infuse at room temperature for 1 to 3 days.
- Shake lightly and taste your infusion from time to time.
- Strain and enjoy.
An alcoholic infusion can also be made using brandy. The vodka version apparently tastes rather like Greek Ouzo, I’m not sure if connoisseurs would agree.