Tag Archives: winter foraging challenge

#8 Daisy

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!

Photo credit: Weed fun

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.

Daisy plant – Perennial, humble, powerful and robust

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.

Pushing up daisies – January cemetery walk, Amsterdam

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 manages very well under frequent pressure. These are along a graveyard path.

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.

Someone got there first..

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.

Perky Daisy foliage – January 2021

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!

#7 Yellow deadnettle

So we’re now between Christmas and New Year and on week 7 of the Urban Herbology Winter Foraging Challenge! Are you managing to find a little something for the plate each week? I hope so. This week’s urban edible is a really easy to identify member of the Lamiaceae family – Yellow deadnettle or Yellow archangel (Lamium galeobdolon). I would love to know if you find it and make something with it.

Yellow deadnettle

This plant is native to the Netherlands, UK and a great many countries. In Amsterdam, it is found all over town, spreading ground cover in council plantings, parks, woodland, gardens and in random in between places. Yellow deadnettle is easy to identify. It can grow in very shady environments, but also thrives in full sun. Notice the silver white pattern on the upper leaf surface. That pattern does vary between species varieties but the common characterisic is the silver/white.

The stem and leaf arrangement is characteristic of the Lamiaceae family – square stems and leaves in opposite, alternating pairs. Crush a leaf and a pleasant green aroma is released. It has fine (but not stinging) hairs on the leaves and stems so feels a little bit rough, to touch. Later in spring / summer, knee high flower spies develop, displaying whorls of yellow classic mint family shaped flowers. But we are now focusing on plants for winter foraging, so you the plant will need to be identified without it’s blooms.

To eat, Yellow deadnettle is easy. The best parts are the tender young shoots and leaves but winter foragers can’t be quite so fussy and can do really well with sautéed leaves, from the freshest looking specimens. Harvest sparingly from plentiful patches of the plant, in the cleanest places. Wash well, chop and cook. I find they are also an easy addition to stir fries, risotto and pot type dishes as well as smoothies. The leaves dry well and make a pleasant herb tea. All in all, I think that Yellow deadnettle is a real Urban foraging winner and I hope you like it too!

#6 Chickweed

It’s now mid winter in the northern hemisphere and here in east Amsterdam I have been busy with 6 of the Urban Herbology Winter Foraging Challenge. Several people have been reaching out and asking for more suggestions, of what to forage at this time so I am making a video and will post it later this week. Let’s see if anyone can find this little beauty, this week.. Chickweed (Stellaria media):

This is one of my favourite winter foraging plants. It has tiny, fresh green heart-shaped leaves, tiny white star-shaped flowers, a line of single fine hairs down the stem midrib of the plant. Those can be seen only by sharp eyes or through a hand lens so Chickweed identification provides urban foragers a great chance to get their hand lens out and look scientific. Chickweed grows close to the ground, often in convenient clumps from which we can tear off a small handful, without making a visible impact. One key feature of Chickweed midwinter, is that it looks so fresh and verdant. Not much else here looks so bright and pumped full of chlorophyll at the moment. It looks (and often is) far fresher and more full of nutrients than lettuce in the shops and this is my winter salad of preference.

When you tear open the leaves, it smells fresh and does not ooze a white latex sap. If you should find a little plant, looking quite like Chickweed and yet it does ooze white sap, then you have probably stumbled upon Petty spurge (Euphorbia peplus). Please don’t eat it at all and be sure to wash the sap from your skin as it is a classic garners skin irritant.

The photos this week are of a lovely clump of Chickweed which grows in one of my balcony plant pots – so nicely away from dogs, walkers and road spray. I didn’t plant it, it simply found the place and grows really well there. We get a few city birds which settle on the balcony railing to eat found seeds and bugs so perhaps one of them dropped the seed a while back. In any case, I welcome Chickweed and add a spring or two to my food, a few days a week. And in case you are wondering, yes Chickweed is a favourite of birds. They are sometimes found having a nibble. Always wash your foraged finds well, harvest ethically and very lightly and enjoy the bounties that urban nature provides!

#4 Crane’s-bill geranium

It’s getting chilly and dark here in Amsterdam and already we are on week 4 of my Winter Foraging Challenge. Thanks to Louise for the comment and photos about Rosemary last week 🙂 Let’s see if anyone can find this little beauty, this week.. Crane’s-bill geranium:

There’s a lot of variety within this lovely, fragrant group of plants and many are planted deliberately in towns and cities. Examples being Geranium lucidim, Geranium rotundifolium and Geranium pyrenaicum. The pretty flowers are seldom seen at this time of the year but they keep their foliage through winter (although it is less appealing than in spring / summer) and a leaf or two make a great addition to winter meals.

Look out for large clumps of palmately-lobed leaves, atop long almost woody leaf stalks. The leaves are fragrant when rubbed or bruised.

It is the roots which are traditionally used in herbal medicine but I tend to only harvest the leaves. Some of the constituents found in Crane’s-bill roots are: tannins, gallic acid, starch, pectin, and resin. If you are interested to learn more, here is a useful link.

I look forward to finding out who can locate this little winter wonder herb and if anyone is brave enough to have a nibble…

#3 Rosemary

This week’s winter warming herb is a strongly scented evergreen shrub which many people grow in urban gardens. There are a few Rosemary shrubs growing along my street and I am not alone in enjoying a small amount every week or so, in my meals.

My Rosemary needed a drastic haircut this spring due to a Rosemary beetle infestation

If you are able to find some Rosemary, growing near you, I’d love to see a photo and learn what you like to do with it.

Rosemary is in the aromatic Lamiaceae family. It is known for its ability to stimulate the mind and digestive system.