in the parks
Kate Dixon's guided tour for Heritage Open Days 18 Sep 21
Rules of foraging
If you don’t definitely know what it is, don’t eat it !! Never pick next to busy roads or lanes, or low down where dogs are regularly walked.
101 uses of !! Nettles can be used for soup, tea, beer, cordial, pesto, as a spinach substitute generally. Pick young, fresh leaves from the tops only. Use as a blood cleanser, for kidney problems and gout. Nettles can increase milk flow in nursing mothers, increase egg production in chickens and is a useful additive to animal feed generally. It’s fibres can be woven into string and cloth. It was used to make German uniforms in WW2 when other fibres were in short supply. It can even be made into paper. Chopped nettles are a good compost activator.
This only takes 1 week from picking to drinking and makes a light, refreshing ginger-beer type drink.
• 100 nettle stalks (with leaves)
• 12 litres (2.5 gallons) water
• 1.5kg (3lb) sugar
• 50g (2oz) cream of tartar
• 15g (half oz) yeast
Boil the nettles in the water for 15 minutes. Strain and add the sugar and the cream of tartar. Heat and stir until dissolved. When tepid, add the yeast and stir well. Cover with muslin and leave to ferment for 4 days before removing the scum and decanting into bottles without disturbing the sediment. Makes a light, refreshing drink, ideal for serving on warm summer evenings with a sprig of mint and ice.
• 450g/1lb potatoes
• Bunch of young nettle tops
• 50g/2oz butter
• 900ml/ 1.5 pints stock
• Salt & pepper
• 4 tablespoons sour cream
Peel the potatoes and cut into thick slices. Wash the nettles and chop coarsely. Cook the potatoes in salted water for 10 minutes. Drain. Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the nettles and stew for 10 minutes (you could add onion and/or leeks at this point too). Heat the stock. Add the parboiled potatoes and the stock and simmer for a further 15 minutes. Leave to cool, then blend and season. Serve with sour cream.
In Middle Ages this plant was associated with the Virgin Mary, the lobes of the leaves said to resemble the scalloped edges of a mantle. The plant has a high tannin content (astringent) which makes it a useful wound treatment. The large leaves collect the morning dew and there is a widespread tradition of using this pure water as a morning face wash.
Also known as “Bishop’s Weed” or “Gout Weed”. Its diuretic properties make it a suggested remedy for gout. Ground elder was introduced into Britain as a culinary plant and can be used in the sa,e way as spinach. It is best gathered in the spring when the shoots are about 6 inches high. Use young leaves and stems. Wash well and cook in a tablespoon of butter and a little water. Add salt and pepper and cook gently for 10 minutes, stirring continuously. When tender, drain well and toss in butter before serving.
Use as oregano.
Recommended as a remedy for migraine. Leaves can be added to salads or sandwiches but are rather bitter.
Excellent in crumbles, jams, jellies, wine and vodka.
Bramble vodka – fill a Kilner jar with brambles. Add 2 tablespoons of sugar and top up with vodka. Shake daily. After 4 weeks strain off the vodka for bottling and use the brambles as a tipsy cheesecake topping or similar !
Can be eaten but very bitter – not recommended.
Also known as “Boneset” or “Knitbone”. Comfrey ointment is highly recommended for the medicine cabinet for bumps and bruises.
Comfrey is no longer recommended as an edible plant as the alkaloids it contains have been linked to liver damage.
Comfrey makes an excellent compost activator and plant food if the leaves are packed in a bucket with water and the liquor drained off.
Lords and Ladies
Also known as arum lily, cuckoo pint. The berries are poisonous. Do not eat. The leaves are similar to and emerge at the same time as wild garlic but do not smell of garlic when crushed. Be careful.
Not edible but very useful for weaving/building. Latin name = Salix. Willow is a natural source of salicylic acid better known as aspirin.
This makes a very refreshing herbal tea, good for tiredness and headaches. Since it’s flavour is so delicate, lemon balm can be used generously. Try lemon balm in stuffings for lamb or pork, or cover a chicken with leaves before roasting. Add to fruit drinks, wine cups, ice creams and fruit salads. Add to stewed fruit of all kinds.
Birch bark was once used to make cups, buckets, brooms and the name itself probably comes from the Sanskrit bhurga meaning a tree whose bark is used for writing upon. Birch sap makes excellent wine but can only be collected in the first half of March.
Very tasty aromatic seeds, fresh or dry. Good breath freshener, good as an aid to digestion. Foliage can be used like dill.
Mrs Grieve describes self-heal as “astringent, styptic and tonic”. She writes “an infusion of the herb made from 1oz. of fresh herb to a pint of boiling water, and taken in doses of a wineglassful is a general strengthener. Sweetened with honey it is good for a sore throat or an ulcerated mouth, for both of which purposes it also makes a good gargle.”
Pellitory of the Wall
Medicinal diuretic, recommended for kidney/bladder problems and gout.
Burdock was used in early times as a cure for leprosy and has always been considered one of the finest blood purifiers. Roots, stem and leaves can all be used. It is grown in Japan as a vegetable. Dig the roots in autumn.
• 3 good sized burdock roots
• 450g (1lb sugar)
• 2 heaped tbsp molasses or dark treacle
• 1 lemon
• 4.5 litres (1 gallon) water.
Collect the roots just as the plants begin to make their leaves. Scrub the roots clean and chop into small pieces. Boil for 20 minutes in half the water. Put the yeast to start in warm water with a tsp of sugar. Add the sugar and molasses to the hot water to dissolve, add the juice of the lemon, strain out the solids and make the liquid up to the full amount. When cool, add the yeast. Leave to ferment for four days then decan off the sediment into screw-topped bottles. Test daily to see it doesn’t get too fizzy! It can be drunk after one week.
Dandelion and Burdock Beer
Make as above but substitute dandelion roots for part of the root weight. Dandelion roots give a rather bitter taste so about half is ideal.
Renowned as a diuretic and kidney/liver cleanser hence the French name pissenlit or the local name “pee the beds”!
The flowers can be made into wine, the roots into “coffee” and the young leaves can be used in salads. Pick the youngest leaves from the heart of the plant.
Traditionally used as a cough remedy – one of the ingredients in “Fishermans Friends”.
The very young leaves, picked in April can be added to salads. They are especially good in a beetroot or potato salad. The ripe berries can be used to make wine or jelly.
• 2kg (4lb) berries
• 1 lemon
• 2 oranges
• Ikg (2.2lb) sugar
• 4.5 litres (1 gallon) boiling water
Put the berries in a large bowl and pour over boiling water. Let it stand, covered, for a week and stir daily. Strain onto the thinly peeled rinds and juice of the fruit, add the sugar melted in a little water and stir. When the mixture has cooled, add the yeast, cover and leave for 24 hours. Transfer into a demi-john and ferment to finish. Clear with pectin. Makes a very delicate, pink wine.
Rosehips contain 20 times as much vitamin C as oranges.
• 1kg (2lb) rosehips
• 3 litres (4.5 pints) water
• 450g (1lb) sugar
Remove stalks and mince or chop the rosehips as soon as possible after picking to retain the vitamin C. Add the rosehips to 3 pints of the boiling water. Bring back to the boil, remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 15 minutes. Strain through a jelly bag. Return the pulp to the pan and add the remaining 1.5 pints water. Re-boil, infuse again for 10 minutes and strain as before. Pour the juice into a clean pan and simmer until it measures about 1.5 pints. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve then boil for 5 minutes. Por the syrup, while still hot, into warm clean bottles.
Both flowers and berries are used for cordials, wines and syrups. Elderberry syrup has long been used for coughs and colds and has recently been scientifically proven to be effective. Elderberries contain viburnic acid which induces perspiration and is especially useful in cases of bronchitis and chesty coughs.
• Ripe elderberries
Pick the fruit on a dry day. Wash well and drain thoroughly. Strip the fruit from the stems and put into a pan, adding just enough water to cover. Simmer for 30 minutes until the berries are very soft. Strain through a jelly bag or muslin and measure the juice. Allow 450g (1lb) sugar and 10 cloves to each pint of juice. Heat the juice gently, stirring in the sugar until dissolved. Boil for 10 minutes. Cover and leave to cool. The syrup can be frozen in small quantities or packed into small, sterilized screw top bottles.
Elderberry syrups have been used since Tudor times as a stand-by against winter colds. The syrup is a cold aperient, relieves chest troubles, will stop a old and bring on a sweat. It is normally diluted, 2 tablespoons of syrup to a cup of hot water and a squeeze of lemon juice. A little whisky or brandy might also help! A few drops added to a glass of wine makes an excellent aperitif.
Also known as Soldiers Buttons. Can be eaten but not recommended as the taste is very strong and not very pleasant.
The sour juice can be used as a substitute for lemon juice (verjuice as used in French cooking), crab apples also make excellent jelly and wine.
Use in salads.
Good with roast potatoes and meat.
Rosemary Face Rinse
Boil a handful of rosemary flowers and leaves in half a pint of water for 5 minutes. Leave to cool, bottle and use as a skin freshener. Allow the skin to dry completely before applying moisturiser.
Some reference to use for lung complaints but not verified. May be derived from Herbal “law of simples” i.e. if it looks like a lung it should be good medicine for lungs !
Medicinal – used to relieve fevers. Chopped yarrow is an excellent compost activator.
Edible – makes a lovely refreshing tea. Bergamot oil gives Earl Grey tea its distinctive flavour.
Use the petals to brighten up a salad. Good for all skin complaints.
Marigold, peach and yoghurt face pack
Peel 1 peach, remove the stone and mash to a pulp. Mix with 2 tablespoons of plain yoghurt and 1 tablespoon of strong marigold infusion made by pouring a cupful of boiling water onto 2 tablespoons of crushed marigold petals. Smooth over the skin and leave to dry for 10 to 15 minutes. Wash it off with warm water, pat dry and apply moisturiser.
Reputed to contain phytoestrogens, useful in alleviating menopausal symptoms. Black cohosh should not be taken continually as it may adversely affect the liver if taken long term.
Revered as a medicinal plant by Native North Americans. Which hazel acts on the muscular fibres of veins and can be used to treat internal and external haemorrhages, burns, piles, varicose veins, bruises and stings ; a must have for the medicine cabinet !
These and more recipes were taken from various sources:
Wild Food, Roger Phillips
The Herb Book, Arabella Boxer and Philippa Back
A Modern Herbal, Mrs. M.Grieve
The Scots Herbal, Tess Darwin
Hedgerow Medicine, Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal.
And of course there’s always the Internet !!