It’s week 8 of the Urban Herbology Winter Foraging Challenge! This week I have been foraging Jelly ear fungi from local Elder trees and making orange-jelly-choc’s from them. Delicious! My daughter will show us how to make them on this Friday evening’s zoom, for my course students. Details of the courses are here. Start and stop whenever you like!
This week’s features winter foraging herb is the humble yet beautiful Daisy (Bellis perennis). You can easily tell from the classic ray and disk flowerhead arrangement, that this is a member of the huge Asteraceae family.
Now, that plant family is one of the most common sources of plant allergen in humans, so go careful with it. It tends to cause contact dermatitis in those who are sensitive and the most notable allergens in the Asteraceae family are a group of chemicals called sesquiterpene lactones. Those secondary plant metabolites are present in the leaf, stem, flower and possibly also in the pollen. Individuals who know they are sensitive to those chemicals, or the Asteraceae family, should steer clear of handling and eating Daisy. People diagnosed with the issue some years ago, may know the Asteraceae family as the Compositae family.
Bellis perennis is often known as common daisy, lawn daisy or English daisy. The Dutch name is Madeliefje. It is a small perennial herb that is native to almost the whole of Europe. It has a long history of use in folk medicine in the treatment of various diseases, such as rheumatism and as an expectorant. There is evidence that during the ancient Roman times, army field surgeons used to gather up daisies, from along the roadsides, extract the plant juice, and use it to soak bandages which could be used to dress battle wounds. There are many other references to Daisy in old herbal texts.
In homeopathy, Bellis perennis remedy is used for deep wound healing, including post surgical healing. If you would like to make a flower essence, you will certainly catch people’s attention as the flowers of Daisy look so pretty, floating atop a bowl of spring water.
All of the daisies in my muddy, wintery photos today, lack any tinge of pink on the under sides of the petals but that is a common feature for foragers to look out for, when identifying the plant. One old story explains how that pink tinge came about:
“Rose, the queen of the flowers, had a party and all the flowers were invited. One little flower was left out, however – it was shy of its modest appearance and was happy to whisper its congratulations from afar. But the wind carried the flower’s words to the queen, who assured her that there was no need to be ashamed: Its dress was spotlessly white and it had a heart of gold. This made the little flower blush, and ever since then the tips of its ray-florets have been pink.”
Extract from Aegean Edibles website – it’s an interesting website to investigate.
Daisy grows only to a small height of 2 – 3 centimetres, when in bloom and is very tolerant of trampling footsteps, so we often find it growing in lawns, paths and well trodden edges. At this time of year, it stands out to me because it is surviving in quite bare ground and also in ground where only Plantain and Ribwort (Plantago spp.) are usually to flourish. Interestingly, those plants also share some of the therapeutic properties of Daisy. At this time of year though, if we get a cold winter, the plantains dive undergound.
Crush a smooth fleshy leaf of daisy, or its flowers or even the underground roots and a pleasant green aroma is released as the sap inside is freed up. Bellis perennis has been found to contain many active constituents, including at least ten different saponins. The active constituents in this plant grace it with many healing properties. Daisy is known to be anti-inflammatory, astringent, digestive, antispasmodic, healing, laxative, purgative, antitussive, demulcent, and expectorant. I consider it a humble, ever giving, herbal medicine chest. There is increasing anti-cancer evidence, for Daisy but this plant shouldn’t be used as an anti-cancer treatment. Chewing leaves for mouth ulcers or making a salve from the flowers and leaves, is more the level of self-treatment that I think about, with daisy.
To eat daisy – eat only a little. This is a potent medicinal herb. You will need to forage in a clean patch of land. And you need to be non-allergic to it (see above note about the Asteraceae family). All this mention of allergies, makes it seem that many foragers will be allergic to Asteraceae plants. The reality is less dramatic than it may sound but we should be aware that it could happen.
There is not much chance of foraging for daisy above dog-pee height, as it grows on the ground but it can be grown in pots and it will grow as easily in clean soil as in trampled doggy spots. It does best in areas where the surrounding plants are not so tall and heavy that they completely shade the daisy out. So low cut grass – lawns – are perfect territory for this humble, edible and medicinal weed.
The flowers can be added to soups. The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked. Make sure they are clean, whatever you do with them. I find that the leaves taste pretty good as a salad ingredient, surprisingly good actually. Try the flowers or leaves as a tea. Dry them for later use.
If you don’t fancy your chances with eating daisy, you may like to try making a poultice of Daisy leaves, to use as an astringent, anti-inflammatory wound healer. Daisy is also renowned as an effective agent to calm bruises and to prevent them from forming. You could make an oil infusion and then thicken up the oil with some form of natural wax (beeswax, soya wax etc). Or infuse straight into a butter (literally butter or something more fancy such as shea butter).
Do let me know how you get on with your winter foraging. It is great to feel others are doing similar things!