Posts Tagged ‘wild plants/foraging’

From ‘Xochimilco’ Pallet to Wasteground Patch of Plants

‘Floating’ pallet garden 2019

Last year, I put a wooden pallet on a patch of grass in the garden and covered it with pots of plants of mostly Mexican origin: chiles, anise hyssop, marigolds (Tagetes) and others. I called it ‘Xochimilco’ after the floating gardens in Mexico City, although they were ‘floating’ on a wooden pallet rather than water.

In winter I cleared the pots but left the pallet, and when I removed it in the spring there was a bare patch of earth 4ft x 2ft, which I sprinkled some grass seed on and left.

Waste ground patch 7th August 2020

By summer, the grass hadn’t done so well, but all sorts of waifs and strays began to appear in the patch that were nothing to do with my planting intentions. And I left them to do their thing.

As of 7th August, as well as the various sparse grasses, I can count at least 23 types of plant in this tiny patch, and whilst it doesn’t seem quite so romantic or exotic as a Mexican floating garden, I’m very fond of it (it looks lovely close to, the photo doesn’t do justice to it at all). The plants are mostly native or naturalised.

Here are the denizens of this tiny waste patch, among them quite a few edibles: various grasses, white clover, ribwort plantain, horsetail, rocket, lemon balm, dandelion, Good King Henry, small-flowered willowherb, marigold (Calendula), fat hen, nipplewort, fennel, yarrow, vervain (Verbena officinalis), nettles, chard, wild carrot, evening primrose, sorrel, bramble, ground elder, bristly ox-tongue and wild lettuce.

I’ve been cropping the fat hen to include in a summer version of these delicious fritters, and it grows back in no time.

Not such a waste ground, after all!

P1070704

Wasteground patch 10th August 2020

A Quick Run Round The Dandelion Field

A dandelion post from 2014. There are so many reasons to be a good dandelion friend…

P4110006 - detail“Can I have some of your weeds?” I said to Malcolm as we picked up our weekly veg box from his smallholding.
“How much is it worth?” he laughed. “Yes, of course you can.”
“Do you reckon I can pick 100 dandelion heads in five minutes?” I said.
“No chance,” he replied.

But that is in fact what I did. Or it may have been six minutes. Whilst Charlotte picked up the box and chatted with Malcolm, I moved swiftly round the field picking fresh flowers for the ‘dandelion beer’ recipe I’d found in Hedgerow Medicine.

Got home, shook out the small black beetles, boiled a few litres of water with 100g of sugar, let cool to blood temperature, poured into a large bowl along with a whole finely sliced lemon, covered with a clean dishcloth and that’s it. I’ll give it an occasional stir over the next few days, then on Monday or Tuesday I’ll pour the lot through a sieve into a couple of bottles and it should be ready to drink by Thursday or Friday.

P4110013 - detail

Hedgerow Medicine is a great book by Julie Bruton Seal and Matthew Seal, full of simple recipes like this, all clearly written, which can be followed by anyone, herbal old timers and novices alike. I’ve written here (and elsewhere!) about the book, which continues to be one of my favourites.

And dandelions are one of my favourite spring tonic plants. A herbal treasure chest, rich in potassium and other nutrients, and a strong but gentle cleanser for the urinary system, the leaves and flowers are also great in salads. Plus goldfinches love the seeds. And they are just plain joyous spring sunshine plants!

And if they can get me moving so quickly around a field, there must be no end to their extraordinary qualities!

P4160009 Dandelion beer detail 1Postscript 29th April
Made two delicious, refreshing litres from this first batch. It’s really good value too, the cost of one organic lemon, 100g sugar and the heat to boil the water. Batch no. 2 is now on the go.

PPS Remember to leave plenty of blooms to mature into their clocks for the birds too.

PPPS Become a dandelion ambassador!

Recalling the flowers and fruits of the summer as it races by…

The summer races by, and with different plants flowering (and fruiting) at different times, it’s easy to forget that the woad was blooming for weeks early on, and the Jacob’s ladder, the garden sage and the knapweeds, all these flowers now over and replaced by marigolds, cosmos, marshmallows, wild carrot. Blackcurrants followed raspberries followed strawberries. I’ve kept a (somewhat desultory) photo record this year, and here are some (though by no means all) of the plants which have been flowering and fruiting – in the garden, in the woods, and down by the sea. Beginning from today and going backwards!

9.CqNa0-tUEAApX3r

Squash, as yet unidentified, climbing up through the hawthorn tree, at 7 feet already and showing no sign of stopping – spot the growing green gourd through the leaves (Photo: today, 19th August 2016).

8.CpamDbKWgAEFljh

An Alberto’s Locoto chilli (Capsicum pubescens) in its second year. No flowers or fruits last year, but both plants overwintered in the conservatory, and have burgeoned this summer. There are over 20 juicy fruits on this one to date, and more flowers appearing as I write. Seeds originally from The Real Seed Catalogue.

7.CpMP0AHWYAAYjGL

4 o’ clock plant fully out by 5.30pm (6th August) with lovely yellow flowers and marvellous scent. Native to the Americas and in the Nyctaginaceae family (Mirabilis jalapa). Still blooming away two weeks later.

8.CpFtlyiWIAEilKS

As of 6th August, a small number of butterflies had appeared on the buddleia and elsewhere in the garden. Over the past few hot and sunny days, the numbers have increased slightly, mostly peacocks and scarlet admirals, along with one or two painted ladies and meadow browns.

7.CneywfPWIAANZLX

Into the woods to discover slender St. John’s wort, enchanters nightshade and scullcap.

6.Cnelg7LXEAAW_X9

Marshmallow in the first week of July. This plant, which has been with us since 2012, has really come into its own this year.

12.CnJ4WxbXEAAOGon

Out of the garden and into the wild dunes. Ancestor sea peas were in abundance throughout June and July, as was fellow legume restharrow.

3.Cm2ugBEWAAAHjHz

Back in the garden, a meadow brown butterfly visits the knapweed. And (below) I rescue several valerians whose leaves have been decimated by an unknown decimator!

4.valerian-in-flower-july-2016.jp4.g

5.20160715_192259-2-lowres

 

1. mead-4-july-banner-low-res

Red roses, strawberries, wild honey and a bunch of fresh and fragrant herbs for the first wild yeast mead of the summer. We drank it fresh and delicious at only a couple of weeks old.

13.ClACQW9XEAAKGVO

Sage (Salvia officinalis), moon daisies and Jacob’s Ladder doing their glorious things in June.

Rehabilitating Valerian

Valerian rehabilitatedThe poor old valerians in our garden have been ravaged by goodness knows what this year (and last). I’ve not yet seen the culprit responsible, but the news is not all bad.

Valerian (I mean the native, wild, medicinal Valeriana officinalis here, and not the commonly grown and escaped Red Valerian (Centranthus ruber), which can be seen in red and white versions in gardens and on walls in the summer) easily restores itself from the strongly aromatic roots.

20160715_192259-2 lowresSo I just dug them up and put them in pots (using homegrown peatfree compost topped with a layer of bought peatfree to suppress the weeds) and they’ll be sprouting new leaves within a week or so.

Valerian is one of my (many) favourite plants, and has been used through the ages as a herbal sedative, and for insomnia. I sometimes drink the tea to help me relax, and find it does the trick.

Mostly though I love the plant for itself… and I’m determined to discover who else does next year and see if I can stop the great stripping!

Pics: Valerian repotted; Valerian reviving a week later (15th July 2016); Valerian flowers (all by Mark In Flowers)

Valerian in flower July 2016

A Mead of Fruits, Flowers and Herbs

Mead 4 JULY banner low res

This morning I got my first mead of the summer on the go – red roses, strawberries, wild honey, spring water and a bunch of fresh herbs, most from the garden, and everything apart from the honey from no further than two miles away.

The fresh herbs include anise hyssop, apple mint, lemon balm, spearmint, yerba buena (what would we do without the mint family?), along with some sunflower fellows: alecost leaves and mugwort flowerbuds.

Over the next ten to fourteen days there will be vigorous stirrings and smellings and bubblings and fizzings, followed by very merry drinkings!

See this post for how to give it a go yourself: How to Make a Herbal Mead Elixir

Walking With Weeds

Walking with Weeds

WWW1.jpgIt was the perfect sunny day for the first Sustainable Bungay Plants for Life walk of the year after a successful winter season of medicinal talks and workshops.

Perfect that is until five minutes before we set out when it started raining. Thank goodness for bumping into Paul whilst I was doing a last minute reccy of all the dandelions, cleavers, mallows, nettles, celandines and yarrows we would be stopping at in the town’s rich and varied spaces.

Clouds were appearing. He would bring me an umbrella.

Meanwhile Charlotte put Sustainable Bungay’s brilliant new A board that Roger had made by hand (including the amazing handpainted lettering which so closely resembles the font on all SB’s literature) outside the library. And wrote out the event in chalk in her own elegant hand.

The weather didn’t seem to bother anyone and at 2.30 over twenty of us put up brollies and pulled over hoods and set off around Bungay to see the wild plants pushing through everywhere from cracks in the pavement to churchyards to car park edges and hidden alleyways behind the town centre. And it wasn’t just the adults who wanted to come along. The children were fascinated by the plants and often knew them by name.

IMG_8307-detail1-296x300.jpg

The intent behind the walk was to consider these uncultivated plants beyond their usual description as ‘weeds’ and look at their medicinal qualities and uses. In line with the spring season we focused on the energy-moving, tonic, galvanising properties of the plants as well as how they clear and cleanse the system after the sluggishness of winter.

And there they all were in abundant supply: nourishing energisers and diuretics, dandelions and nettles. Lymphatic booster, cleanser and energiser, cleavers. Even mega Chinese herbal tonic and superfood Gojiberry, (known more commonly here in England as  Duke of Argyll’s tea tree or Wolfberry), was growing in abundance on Castle Meadow.

Goji Jack banner

After the walk we returned to the library where Charlotte prepared everyone a Wild Green and great tasting spring tonic tea made from the leaves we’d collected. It included dandelion, nettles and cleavers with a sprig of peppermint and thyme from the library garden. Bungay Community Bees’ honey was an optional extra.

Meanwhile Nick had brought gobo roots. That’s Japanese burdock and whilst Nick’s was cultivated at his allotment, we do have a wild version here. Indeed one has found its way into the plant medicine bed this year with no help from me. And it’s a mega-medicine plant – a detoxing blood purifier, skin healer and alterative, which means it gradually helps restore health and proper functioning to the body.

Oh, and thanks too for the dandelion roots, Nick. They are drying in the cupboard as I write. Maybe we’ll brew up a dandelion and burdock drink! Know where we can get some local sarsaparilla?!?

IMG_8307-detail1-296x300.jpg

 

Next month we welcome Norfolk-based medical herbalist Julie Bruton-Seal and her husband Matthew Seal, co-authors of the best DIY handbook on making home remedies from wild plants I know, Hedgerow Medecine. Come along to Bungay Library at 3pm on Sunday 13th May, where Julie and Matthew will talk both about the book and the practice of Hedgerow Medicine. Don’t forget to visit the Garden Street Market beforehand and make it a day with plants.

APR 2012 - Walking With Weeds - Pouring and Drinking

This is a write-up of the fourth Plants for Life event with Sustainable Bungay, a series of twelve monthly talks, walks and workshops I organised in 2012 in conjunction with a showcase bed focusing on plants as medicine at Bungay Library Community Garden. The latter is also a Sustainable Bungay project.

Photos: pre-walk reccy checking out the dandelions and daisies (Charlotte Du Cann); Sustainable Bungay’s great new A board made by Roger proudly presents Walking with Weeds (Mark Watson); Walking up the road (me) and along the wall (Tristram); Grasping the nettle in Trinity churchyard; Wolfberry aka Goji (l) and Jack-by-the-Hedge aka Garlic Mustard (MW & Elinor McDowell); Preparing a Very Green and Delicious Tea (MW); Pouring and Drinking and Getting Galvanised for the spring season (EM)

Sometimes Known as Lughnasa

The alarm went off at 4.30 this morning and I stumbled out of bed.
“It’s cloudy over the sea”, said Charlotte as we looked east from the window to the horizon.
“Is it worth going?” I said.
“We could go up the lane to the oak instead.”

But we always go down to the sea to greet the sun at the beginning of August for the station of the year sometimes known as lughnasa.

So we found ourselves getting dressed and going to the shed for the bikes. The sun would rise at around 5.15 and it’s a good 20 minutes’ cycle to get to the sea.

My sturdy old town bike doesn’t go very fast even along straight roads, and this morning I was struggling through the empty streets against the breeze. Charlotte zoomed ahead.

Forgot the bike locks so we propped them against the railings and headed over the dunes. There was a tent on the beach but no sign of anyone apart from ourselves. I collapsed amongst the marram grass and almost immediately the sun appeared – straight out of the sea, red and glowing in a less dramatic, gentler sunrise than last year’s. The whole morning was warmer too. Before I knew it Charlotte had stripped naked (a rare event in Southwold) and raced into the water. Meanwhile I went to visit some nearby wild fennel.

We have some grand fennels in the garden, but for aromatic intensity they are no match for these wild ones. You know how when you rub peppermint and smell it you can feel it in your mouth even without eating it (if you haven’t done that before give it a try). Well, that’s what these fennels are like; just the lightest brush against them with your hand permeates your taste buds somehow. And it feels like it’s cleansing your whole mouth. I never realised I was so permeable before I encountered mint and fennel! So if you ever come across me brushing lightly against these plants in the wild rest assured I am perfectly sane – come and join me!

Cycling back home we saw a flock of white doves on the common and stopped to collect some fallen wild cherry plums in the lane. The light in the garden was limpid and another sunflower had just emerged. I have a feeling that ALL of the sunflowers I planted this year are going to be the new form I wrote about the week before last. Not that I’m complaining…

Pics: wild fennel sunrise; sea sunrise; me, (new) sunflower, rose – all Aug 2011

Post originally published on This Low Carbon Life 2 Aug 2011

White Deadnettle, Bumblebees and Making Plant Support Sticks

We have several stands of White Deadnettle (Lamium album) in the garden, and the bumblebees just can’t get enough of them. I’m paying attention to these common wildflowers these days as I become more bee-aware, and they really are handsome.

In the weeks up until Bungay Community Bees’ Bee Day in July, when I’ll be leading a couple of groups on a bee and flower walk as part of the Plants for Bees project, I’ll be posting (probably sporadically) here on the flowers and bees I come across, as well as other subjects…

Such as whittling my own plant support sticks down from the vast number of branches which came from pruning our Buddleia last month. I’m trying to reduce the pile you see here in the picture – but talk about task of Sisyphus. I seem to spend hours on it and the pile still looks the same size. I’ve got quite a few good sticks though…

ARCHIVE: Wild Flowers for Bees

by CHARLOTTE DU CANN (September 2010)

This is a wild flower list primarily for honeybees. Honeybees “work” flowers in a different way from bumble and other wild bees. They like to visit a stand of one species of flower at a time, rather than hop from one kind of flower to another. They also have a shorter proboscis which means they can access a smaller range of flowers than bumble bees. Flowers which require deeper probing, for example buddleia and honeysuckle, are inaccessible to honeybees, unless their bases have been pierced previously by other insects.

Certain species of flowers provide food for honeybees – for themselves and the brood, as well as winter stores. In addition to seeking nectar (sugars and essential minerals) and pollen (protein and fat) from flowers, bees are also on the lookout for propolis made from the gummy substances of plants, such as poplar and horse chestnut buds, pine resin and sunflowers. Bees also collect honeydew, the sweet substance exuded from sap-eating insects (e.g aphids) on trees, principally lime and pines. This provides the dark, strong tasting tree honeys, much loved in Europe.

This list has been compiled to bring attention to those wild flowers that have fed honeybees for millions of years. Like all creatures the vegetarian bees flourish best on a varied diet of wild plants. Though they visit the crops growing on agricultural land, from apple orchards and oil rape fields, it is the native or naturalised wild plants growing in uncontaminated soil that keep them in optimum health (and yield the best honey!). So you can really help the bee by protecting wild flowers and trees everywhere and allowing or planting some of the following species in your gardens and backyards:-

Winter quiet

Though the main emphasis is on keeping the hive at a warm and even temperature and preparing the brood, emerging snowdrops and winter aconites will be sought out by worker bees foraging on mild and sunny days. Pollen is collected from the early flowering hazel and alder catkins.

Spring Activity (March-May)

In March the hive really starts to buzz as the Queen starts to lay and focus ison supplying the expanding brood with nectar and pollen. The hedgerows are the first to burst into flower, beginning with cherry plum (sometimes as early as Feb) and ending with hawthorn in mid-May. All blossoms are widely visited by bees including blackthorn, cherry, plum, damson, bullace and crab apple. Other trees that are widely visited are the horse chestnut for its nectar and sycamore for its pollen. Key Spring tree for the pollen is pussy willow. If you stand underneath a willow tree in March you can hear the whole world buzzing.

Meanwhile closer to ground on the verges, before the first cut at the beginning of May, the bees are out seeking wild strawberries, forget-me-not and garlicky jack-in-the-hedge, and in the woods bugle, and the neglected but fine old world medicine plant, figwort. Out on the heath and scrublands the whole hive is making a bee-line to the shocking yellow pea-flowers of gorse, followed in May by the broom. March and April are the best months for their favourite composite flower that grows just about everywhere, the dandelion.

Note on weeds! In Spring weeds are going for it and reaching for the sky, as every keen gardener laments. However bees love weeds, especially those troublesome and untidy thistles and dandelions, so do leave some of those sunny flower-heads in your path for them. And cultivate a taste for a “French lawn” sprinkled with daisies, white clover and self-heal.

comfrey on the verge

June Gap

This is the month where the hive is at its most active but there are few blossoms on the trees (Holly is the exception here) and few large stands of flowers. “Arable weeds” such as field poppies, viper’s bugloss and cornflowers were traditionally in their height this month before pesticides came to the fields and white clover, perhaps the bees’ top-ranking nectar flower, has been equally reduced in the meadows. However these flowers still grow in the margins where they can (and in bee lovers’ gardens). Opium poppies spring up in the wastelands everywhere this month and are avidly worked by bees for their (blue) pollen.

Other key wild flowers out now are the wild dog rose and common mallow in the hedgerows, bell heather in the heathlands, thyme in the hilly places and tree mallow by the sea. The sky-blue meadow cranesbill is also much sought out by bees, as are fruit “bushes” such as the moorland bilberry and woodland wild raspberry.

Harvest Months (July – September)

These are the months the bees start building their store cupboard. The Queen is still busy laying, but the honeycombs are being stocked for the future months, as well as for the brood. Big nectar trees are the three species of lime that flower early in July and blackberry. The ditches and waste places are rich places for foraging bees in high summer, as meadow sweet, St John’s wort, evening primrose, teasel, great mullein, chicory, and the highly attractive rosebay willowherb and the melilots (white and yellow) all start to flower. All species of thistles are highly valued, especially the fragrant creeping thistle.

Down by the river the showy purple loosestrife is now at its peak, alongside great willowherb, Himalayan balsam and water mint. At the seaside the prickly scented flowers of sea-holly are visited by all bees and small butterflies, such as common blue and coppers, as is sea lavender in the salt marsh.

IMG_2790 ling on the heath low res

ling on the heath

Later in the season the purple-headed knapweeds come into play on the verges, with stands of yellow common toadflax and goldenrod. By late August heather (ling) is blazing on heaths and hilltops everywhere (its nectar yielding the much prized heather honey).

Fall to Winter The brood is diminishing and the focus is on preparing the hive for winter. By October the Queen is only laying in good weather and the drones are evicted. Outside the hive, the sturdy knapweeds are still flowering in the hedgerows and meadows, as are the sea asters in the marshlands. The main destination for bees (and all insects) however is the ivy. This green plant that climbs along walls and up trees everywhere is in full flower until the frosts. Though some wild plants flower further into the winter (chickweed, yarrow) the ivy marks the end of the bee flower year . . . until the hazel flowers at the beginning of January.

hazel catkins low res 800x600photos: pasque flower, bluebells and forget-me-nots; Dunwich snowdrops; blackthorn and Danish scurvy grass; gorse, dandelion field, poet’s narcissus; comfrey and bumblebee on the verge; white clover and making frames for the Flixton hives; toadflax on the beach; rosebay willowherb; ling on the heath; hazel catkins

 

Note by MarkInFlowers: This post by Charlotte Du Cann was written and published on Sustainable Bungay’s website in September 2010 as part of the Bungay Community Bees project. The archive of Bungay Community Bees is no longer live on SB’s website (June 2018). Bungay Community Bees’ Facebook page is still available).