Here’s my latest rooftop planting creation: A simple tower of three plastic plant pots, packed with plenty of molehill soil and organic compost.
The plants used are babies from those we grow already on the roof, except the tiny Wormwood, which I found growing in between street pavers. I planted a mixture of Strawberries, Wormwood, Lady’s Mantle, Strawberry scented Mint, Sedum reflexum and Yarrow. All of these plants are edible and most have medicinal properties as you will see from the links.
This is a simple way to plant vertically, creating herb habitats offering areas of relative shade and wind shelter, little space for weed seeds to settle and it is easy to tend – all very handy on a small plot.
I’ll see how these plants fair and will no doubt add or substitute others as time goes on. It’s my equivalent of a premaculture herb spiral, something I covet but just don’t have space for at home.
Here’s the beautiful (and enormous) Strawberry tower at Jeugdland in Amsterdam Oost. I wrote about it last year. Now that would make a fabulous herb tower!
About 8 weeks ago I strained my foot, lugging a heavy suitcase upstairs, in worn out shoes. Clearly not a good idea as I’ve been annoyed by a sore foot since then. I gave in and headed for the doctor on Friday, suspecting something worse than a strain. Thankfully nothing else seems to be wrong, apparently just more time is needed and some pain killing anti-inflammatories to settle things down. Fed up with limping and not being able to do yoga, I slicked two of the pills. After a 12 hour psychedelic sleep and then a day feeling like a space cadet, it seems I’m allergic to the tablets. So back to the herbs and surprise surprise, they are working a treat and my brain feels clear again.
Here’s what I made to speed the healing and ease the inflammation (if you dislike the idea of lard, use ghee or a quality vegetable oil – which you can later thicken with beeswax). This healing lard based ointment feels silky smooth, cooling, calming and takes the pain away.
1 block of lard (250g)
9 medium Comfrey leaves (Symphytum uplandicum x)
9 Elder leaves (Sambucus nigra)
Handful Ground Ivy stems (leaves, flowers and all) (Glechoma hederacea)
3 Wormwood leaves (Artemisia absinthum)
3 Ribwort leaves (Plantago lanceolata)
1. Chop all the fresh herbs and place in a heavy based saucepan along with the lard.
2. Heat over the lowest possible flame to melt the lard and then to simmer it for approximately 40 minutes (stay with it and stir every minute or so, obviously the lard is highly flammable if left unattended).
3. After 40 minutes the herbs should be just turning slightly crispy, as all the moisture leaves them. This is a good time to stop, turn off the heat, move the pan from the stove and allow the mixture to cool for a few minutes.
4. Strain the herbs from the infused lard by carefully pouring through a muslin/super clean tea towel and sieve.
5. Add the spent herbs to the compost bin and pour the infused lard into a sterile container or two.
6. I keep this ointment in a fridge and use it freely on sprains, strains and skin irritations that benefit from cooling.
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.
Here’s one of the beautiful Ginkgo street trees that I’ve been harvesting fruit from again today. There are still hundreds beneath the female trees in parts of the city.
Also a windswept Calendula officinalis flower with a little Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) foliage behind – both in a tree pit.
A beautiful double rainbow, formed over Amsterdam this evening. Not that you can eat it but the sight certainly can feed the soul.
As for todays herbs; an update really, on how the pavement garden Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) is getting along. Here it is today, exploding with tiny flowers onto the pavement – it needs a trim.
And here is one of it’s offspring, planted in the nearby treepit. I hope that the main plant manages to set seed, all down the street again next year.
Wormwood is useful for many things. I included it in a cooling and healing skin ointment this week.
Today a photo of some young plants which are destined to grow in Park Frankendael but which currently reside in a gutter along my street, a block away from the park. I recently wrote about how my geveltuin Wormwood shrub has spread by seed to neighboring tree pits and pavement cracks. I transported a few to a pot in my kitchen and left others that had sprung up in safer spots. A couple of people are going to take on a plant or two at their homes.
Today I noticed that there are are at least a dozen more Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) plantlets, doing rather nicely in the street gutter. I am about to gently move them to another pot. I’m all for leaving pop-up herbs where they choose but these are definitely destined to meet a swift end, via a council strimmer. Wormwood is a species listed as currently struggling to hang on to life in the Netherlands.
So, Would anyone else like one of these easy to grow and useful plants?
And, would anyone else like to help me replant them, in to sandy parts of the park?
When the council next comes to strim weeds in my street, these lovely Wormwood babies would be lost, so this afternoon I whipped lots of them out of the ground, to save them in plant pots.
I grow a vigorous and useful Wormwood plant in our super-dry geveltuin. I wrote about it recently, when I had to harvest lots of its growth to prevent damage by builders.
Since then I’ve been noticing its seedlings all down the street! The recent weather seems to have helped them to thrive in the road gutter, treepits and pavement cracks.
Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) is a herb which gives Absinthe its flavour, works internally and externally as a natural pesticide (think intestinal parasites, plant pests, malaria etc) and can help with several digestive disorders including indigestion, gut spasms and lost appetite. Wormwood contains a mind altering, dangerous chemical which shouldn’t be consumed in quantity. It increases the likelyhood of a person having brain seizures, gives Absinthe it’s flavour, increases creativity and is the reason for Absinthe’s prohibition in some non-European countries. Wormwood is a rare plant in The Netherlands. It can be eaten very sparingly, in salads or cooked food. It is easily vinegared, tinctured, dried, infused in oil and more. Wormwood is the most potent member of the Artemisia family and needs to be treated with great respect. If you’d rather not consume the herb, be aware that it is associated with magical properties related to love and protection and I think it smells very pleasant when dried or fresh. I also find it very beautiful and love seeing it’s shimmering silver-grey foliage outside of my home.
If you would like one of these easy to grow Wormwood babies, please contact me. Bring me a clean small plant container with a little soil and you are welcome to have one or, for a Euro, you can buy one from me that is already potted-up.
I find that the plant grows best in well drained, sandy soil and a good sunny location. I grew it on a north facing balcony for a few years and it did fine but it revealed itself as a real goddess, when I planted it in the south facing pavement garden. I have uprooted only the seedlings that would have been strimmed, about ten more continue to grace the plant pots and tree pits of my neighbours.
Today’s photos are from the geveltuin and tree pit, I tend beneath our apartment. I wanted to share this beautiful Hollyhock and to mention some of the forgotten uses of the plant. It is a biennial, flowering in its second year after germinating and this plant arrived by luck two years ago. We have an extremely dry, south facing geveltuin (pavement garden) beneath a bay window. Very few weeds are able to set down their roots and survive amongst the Mediterranean herbs, I have planted there. But this lovely Hollyhock did find its feet and what beautiful flowers we have been treated to this summer! Hollyhock is a member of the Mallow family and can be made into an inflammation calming tea, to soothe sore thoats and bronchitis for instance, a poultice to soothe inset stings and is sometimes used in cosmetics to soften the skin. This Hollyhock serves its purpose by looking very pretty at my front door. Maybe in the next year or two I’ll try some Hollyhock remedies, if it throws down any seeds this summer.
Whilst outside taking the Hollyhock photo, I noticed that a little Tomato plant has sprung up next to yet another welcome guest – Wormwood. I planted the small Lady’s Mantle plant myself, it had self seeded into a roof pot some months ago and I transplanted it downstairs. How nice that Wormwood, a rare plant in the Netherlands, has made it self at home next to it. I don’t think the tomato play will be able to bear fruit this year but it’s very welcome none the less.
We have painters arriving at any moment, to decorate the front of our apartment. My little Mediterranean herb geveltuin (pavement garden) sits right in the line of fire so I decided to harvest a good quantity of stems and flowers from a few of the plants.
I’ll use the Lavender to make an infused olive oil (for cooking and use on skin).
The Rosemary will also make a great infused oil, an aromatic vinegar and I’ll dry some for winter meals.
The Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) will make a good insect repellant to spray on plants & people and a crumbly delicious culinary herb when dried. I’ll infuse some oil with the rest, to add to room sprays and for use in cooking and more. I’ll also reserve some for a small quantity of wormwood/absinthe schnapps.
I love this herb and will add it to the meetup group propagation programme next year as it is listed as a threatened species in the Netherlands. It really thrives in the dry sandy soil beneath our apartment and I’m sure more people would appreciate having it around. If you’d like some to propagate when the times come, please contact me.
This year there is not so much Rue and the Sage is too low growing to harvest without making it look messy.
Today was the first Urban Herbology Herb-by-Herb workshop, introducing Mugwort to a small group and helping them to experiment with making tinctures, infused oils and other herbal preparations. So my photo for today is simply of the remains of our Mugwort (and Wormwood) harvest!
Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) which is dark green on the top leaf sides and silver grey beneath, is very closely related to Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) (silver-grey all over). Mugwort is a very common scrubland herb and Wormwood is currently quite rare, here in the Netherlands at least. The Wormwood we harvested today comes from my front pavement garden and the Mugwort comes from behind my local bus stop, alongside Frankendael Park.
Both are edible but both who should not be consumed in quantity. At this time of year, the active chemicals within the plant are at their most potent so only small amounts are advisable for consumption but both do give a wonderful and unique savory flavour to cooking. Mugwort is considered a powerful dream herb but as the workshop discussed today, this is most likely due to the fact that it is a slight irritant. It is thought to simply keep the Mugwort “consumer” in a slightly lighter sleep state than normal and so they are more likely to remember their more vivid dreams. Whatever the reason, I really like both of these herbs and use them for various applications throughout the year. I’ll post the Mugwort Tea bread recipe, as requested, seperately in a moment.
Thank you again to the lovely people who joined me for the Mugwort workshop today!