Hello and a warm welcome to all my new subscribers. Thanks for taking time out to subscribe to the Forager’s Folly family. This week I want to introduce you to “15 Reasons To Love Nettles”. I’ve also included an easy Nettle Beer recipe. Why don’t you give it a go? I promise you, it really Continue Reading
May blossoms have arrived! So let’s get started with this easy elderflower cordial recipe. Want to find out more about this tree and try out a rather cheeky elderflower champagne recipe? Then look no further than this, Elderflower Champagne – In 5 Easy Steps. Or perhaps this, How to Use and Identify Elderflowers.
Still not a member of the Forager’s Folly Family yet? Fear not my friend, you can subscribe here!
- 2½ kg white sugar either granulated or caster
- 2 unwaxed lemons
- 20 fresh elderflower heads stalks trimmed
- 85 g citric acid
- Put the sugar and 1.5 litres/2¾ pints water into the largest saucepan you have. Gently heat, without boiling, until the sugar has dissolved. Give it a stir every now and again. Pare the zest from the lemons using a potato peeler, then slice the lemons into rounds.
- Once the sugar has dissolved, bring the pan of syrup to the boil, then turn off the heat. Fill a washing up bowl with cold water. Give the flowers a gentle swish around to loosen any dirt or bugs. Lift flowers out, gently shake and transfer to the syrup along with the lemons, zest and citric acid, then stir well. Cover the pan and leave to infuse for 24 hrs.
- Line a colander with a clean tea towel, then sit it over a large bowl or pan. Ladle in the syrup – let it drip slowly through. Discard the bits left in the towel. Use a funnel and a ladle to fill sterilised bottles (run glass bottles through the dishwasher, or wash well with soapy water. Rinse, then leave to dry in a low oven). The cordial is ready to drink straight away and will keep in the fridge for up to 6 weeks. Or freeze it in plastic containers or ice cube trays and defrost as needed.
Well, hello there! It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I’ve been neglecting you, and I’m feeling a tad guilty about that. But, unfortunately, life got in the way for a few months, what with our house refurbishment, Christmas, illnesses, etc. Caber and I have only just got out and about again on our foraging adventures, and this week we’ve been foraging for Miner’s Lettuce and Wood Sorrel. If you haven’t joined the Foragers Folly family yet, then what are you waiting for? You can subscribe here. New to foraging? Look at My Top 3 Foraging Tips.
However, before I get started, how are you? I hope you’re taking care of yourself and doing everything you can to avoid the coronavirus. If you’ve lost any loved ones, my heartfelt condolences go out to you and your family. And a massive virtual hug to all frontline workers out there, working their socks off to keep us healthy, safe and well.
What have you been up to since COVID19 forced us into isolation? Come on, let me know how things are going at your side of this blog. It’s straightforward. All you have to do is scroll to the bottom of this post. You’ll see that I’ve now added my Facebook comments section, and you can share your feedback on the page. Go on, I’d love to hear from you. I promise I’ll keep today’s blog sharp and to the point as I know you have better things to do with your time at the moment. That said, if you can get out for your hour of exercise each day, then you may want to look out for winter purslane.
Winter Purslane (Claytonia perfoliata). Not unlike the rest of the plant world, you’re more likely to know this crafty little wild plant under another name. Such as Winter Purslane, Miner’s Green, Poor Man’s Lettuce, Indian Lettuce, Spring Beauty, and Miner’s Lettuce. If you’d like to find out how to identify the plant, then click here to find out more.
Miner’s Lettuce is a perennial plant. And when you’re out and about, you’ll find it hiding in partially shaded areas, waste grounds, woodland or near beaches. I forage for it in a patch near the beach when I take Caber for his walks.
All parts of the plant are edible. However, I recommend you only eat it raw. When cooked it takes on a mucus texture which isn’t that pleasant, that’s why it’s perfect in salads. As expected from a vegetable, winter purslane is rich in vitamin C, but watch out as the leaves have a gentle laxative effect. So don’t be eating too much at once! The upside, though, is that it’s also bursting with these lovely minerals: iron, magnesium and calcium.
Did You Know?
- Claytonia perfoliata journeyed to the UK via Cuba, the home of its origins.
- Following its prolific spread throughout America, Indigenous Americans used it not just for food, but also for their health.
- They used a poultice of ground leaves for their rheumatic pain and eye infections.
- It’s high in omega-3 fatty acids (or ALA), which act as an anti-inflammatory.
- The nomenclature “Miner’s Lettuce” originates from the gold rush miners of America. Native Americans introduced the miners to the plant as a means of food when times were tough.
So there we have it, I said I wouldn’t make this a long post, and I’ve kept to my word! You’ll find two easy to make recipes below. Share your pics on my Facebook page if you give them a go. And if you don’t want to miss a post, you know what you have to do, subscribe here! In the meantime, happy foraging, stay safe and take care.
Miner’s Lettuce with Aubergine & Chickpea Balls Served with Rosemary & Garlic Oil
- Small Pan, Oven Tray, Small Bowl, Large Bowl, Serving Plate
Aubergine & Chickpea Balls
- 2 aubergines
- 175 g washed winter purslane leaves
- 1 tin cooked chickpeas (225g)
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tbsp paprika
- 1 pinch chilli powder
- 1 tsp mixed herbs
- 1 pinch pepper
Rosemary & Garlic Oil
- 4 sprigs finely chopped rosemary leaves (remove from stem)
- 2 gloves finely chopped garlic
- 5 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp fruit vinegar (cider, blackberry, blueberry or any fruit vinegar)
- 1 pinch salt
Rosemary & Garlic Oil
- In a small pan, sauté the rosemary and garlic on a gentle heat in 1 tbsp of the olive oil for about 5 minutes or until well done but not brown. Leave to cool.
- Put the vinegar and remaining olive oil in a small serving bowl. Add the rosemary and garlic. Season with salt to taste.
Aubergine & Chickpea Balls
- Preheat the oven to 200 °C.
- Prick the aubergines with a fork and bake for 1 hour or until the skin is shriveled.
- Put the chickpeas in a large bowl.
- Peel the skin off the aubergine and add the flesh to the chickpeas and mix well with a fork.
- Season with the coriander, paprika, chilli powder, salt, and pepper to taste.
- Spread the miner’s lettuce evenly on a board or clean flat surface.
- Roll chickpea mixture into small balls (about the size of a ping pong ball) and roll in the miner’s lettuce leaves.
- Arrange the balls on a serving plate and serve with the rosemary-garlic oil.
Lemon Posset & Pine Needle Shortbread
- 300 ml double cream
- 75 g caster sugar
- 1 large lemons zest and juice only
Pine Needle Shortbread
- preheat oven to 175°C
- 75 g fresh pine needles and/or tips –Douglas Fir or Scots Pine
- 150 g unsalted butter softened
- 75 g granulated sugar
- Zest of 1 lemon
- Pinch of salt
- 300 g plain flour
- Place the double cream and the sugar into a large pan over a low heat and bring to the boil slowly. Boil for three minutes, then remove from the heat and allow to cool.
- Add the lemon juice and zest and whisk well.
- Pour the lemon cream mixture into 6 small glasses and refrigerate for three hours.
- Finely chop the pine needles in a food processor or coffee grinder. Remove any large pieces.
- In a large bowl, combine the pine needles, butter, sugar, lemon zest, and salt. Mix with a wooden spoon until creamy.
- Gradually add the flour, mixing thoroughly after each addition to form a buttery ball of dough.
- Divide the dough between 2 large sheets of wax or grease proof paper. Using the paper as an aid, roll each piece of dough into a 1.5-inch diameter sausage shape. Wrap in cling film and freeze for 15 minutes.
- Unwrap the dough and cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds.
- To bake, place the cookies 1 inch apart on baking paper-lined baking sheets. Bake until the edges are golden brown, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
Hello and welcome to my post on the bodacious blackberry (Rubus fruticosus), also known as a bramble, and a member of the rose family. I have to admit that this delicious berry has an abundance of remarkable properties that surprised me. However, now that I know that bit more, it would be selfish of me not to share! So, let’s start by looking at the folklore behind the berry, which is always my favourite part of my research.
According to folklore, St Michael cast the devil out of heaven. Unfortunately, much to his chagrin, and somewhat painfully, the devil had the misfortune to land on a bramble bush! Following his rather abrupt introduction to earth, on St Michael’s Day (29th September), he cursed the bramble bush forever. Consequently, it’s now believed, from this date, that year’s crop of brambles are no longer palatable and shouldn’t be picked. That said, however, depending on where you live in the world, you’ll find varying versions of this piece of folklore.
Historically, the blackberry bush has been used to concoct many herbal remedies. And it was once believed that passing your sick baby through an arch, formed by a trailing bramble branch, could cure them of whooping cough! You had to pass them through the arch seven times hoping this would work! Also, adults with conditions such as rickets or rheumatism could expect the same results by adopting this process. Let’s hope this is one folklore that they didn’t practise in reality!
Blackberries and Herbal Medicine
Moving on, it’ll come as no surprise to you that the blackberry possesses properties which can treat various ailments. But, did you know there are a plethora of conditions in which this baby can work its magic? Here are some that might grab your attention:
- First of all, young blackberry leaves are a powerful source of antioxidants, as are the berries.
- They have powerful anti-inflammatory and wound healing properties.
- Blackberry leaves and roots are a well-recognised remedy for anaemia, along with the juice.
- Much like raspberry leaves, the leaves of the blackberry bush also regulate heavy menstruation.
- Apply an infusion externally to help with skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis.
- Blackberry extract has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory abilities which can kill the bacteria that cause oral disease.
- Infuse the leaves and use as a gargle to treat oral thrush.
- The root can treat dysentery when taken as a decoction.
- Use a decoction of the root to treat diarrhoea.
- And, if you’re stuck with a painful toothache, then chew on the leaves of the blackberry bush.
- Their juice is an ideal remedy for colitis.
- Whereas a tea made from the roots helps with labour pains, likewise, raspberry leaves also provide the same relief.
Did You Know?
In a strict botanical sense, the blackberry is not a berry but an aggregate fruit made up of tiny ‘drupelets’. By the way, an aggregate fruit is a fruit formed from several ovaries derived from the same flower.
Nutritional Values of the Bramble
- Brambles are fortified with calcium, helping build strong bones and teeth. Calcium also regulates muscle contractions and ensures your blood clots normally.
- The bramble is packed with vitamin C, essential for protecting your cells and keeping them healthy. Vitamin C also maintains healthy skin, blood vessels, bones and cartilage. And, not forgetting its ability to help wounds heal.
- They have a high copper content. Along with iron, this is essential for maintaining healthy blood cells and helps prevent cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis.
- They’re high in fibre which helps maintain bowel health, lowers cholesterol levels, and controls blood sugar levels.
- They’re also a great source of vitamin K, which we need for blood clotting and healing of wounds.
- Finally, blackberries are high in manganese, which is vital to healthy bone development and a healthy immune system.
- Large Jar
- Sterilised Bottles
- 300 g blackberries
- 100 g sugar
- 500 ml gin
- Wash the berries and place in a sterilised jar.
- Add the sugar and gin, close the jar and give it a good shake.
- Store in a cool dark place for a week, giving the jar a shake every other day to make sure the sugar has dissolved.
- Strain the gin through a muslin cloth and bottle. I know it’s going to be hard. However, this delicious drink is best consumed within one month!
- Large Jar
- Sterilised Bottles
- 1 kg blackberries
- 250 g granulated sugar
- 1 bottle (70cl) good quality vodka
- Wash the blackberries and place them in a sterilised 1.5 litre preserving jar.
- Add the sugar and lightly crush the berries with the sugar.
- Pour over the vodka, seal the jar and shake. Leave to infuse in a cool place for 2-4 weeks.
- Strain the vodka into a bottle. Serve your delicious blackberry vodka chilled, preferably from the freezer.
- Large Jar
- Sterilised jars with a secure lids
- Cider vinegar or white wine vinegar
- Fill a jar about 3/4 full of blackberries.
- Pour vinegar over the berries, almost to the top of the jar.
- Cover the jar with a plastic lid, or place a layer of clingfilm between a metal lid and the vinegar to avoid corrosion.
- Place in a dark cupboard for 7 – 10 days.
- Strain through a coffee filter or cheesecloth.
- Add the liquid to a saucepan with 450g of sugar per 700ml of liquid. Bring to the boil, then boil for 8-10 minutes.
- Transfer to steralised bottles.
- Store in your fridge and use within 6 months.
- 1 Steralised Bottle
- 5 tbsp blackberry vinegar
- 120 ml grapeseed or rapeseed oil
- 1 tsp French mustard
- 1 tsp honey
- pepper to taste
- Mix all the ingredients thoroughly in a blender until emulsified. Pour into a steralised bottle and chill in the fridge, however, use within two weeks
- Mixing bowl
- Wooden spoon
- Ovenproof baking dish
- 300 g fresh blackberries or more to taste
- 400 g caster sugar divided in half
- 120 g butter
- 180 ml milk
- 100 g plain flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Preheat oven to 160 C / Gas 3.
- Mix blackberries and half of the caster sugar in a bowl; let stand until the mixture becomes juicy, 5 to 10 minutes.
- Place butter in a baking dish and place dish in the preheating oven until butter has melted. Remove dish from oven.
- Combine the remaining caster sugar, milk, flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl until mixture is smooth; pour over melted butter. Do not stir. Spoon blackberry mixture on top.
- Bake in the preheated oven until bubbling and cooked through, about 1 hour.
And finally, I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s post on blackberries. Don’t forget to leave your comments below. And if you don’t want to miss a post, you know what you have to do, subscribe here! In the meantime, happy foraging, stay safe and take care.
Lets not beat about the bush, the menopause sucks, there’s no arguing that fact! And the peri menopause is just as bad, if not worse! But did you know that there are herbal remedies that can make your life easier during this turbulent time? In this post I’m going to introduce you to 10 wild Continue Reading
Horse Chestnut Tree – (Aesculus hippocastanum)
Hands up if you remember playing “conkers” when you were younger! I know you can’t see it, but I’m frantically waving mine in the air at the moment! Do today’s kids even bother with this great game anymore? I certainly hope so! I have fab memories of playing conkers which, by the way, I was rubbish at (picture bruised knuckles here). But it didn’t stop me getting all excited when I saw the horse chestnuts coming through on the trees, ripe for foraging!
If my memory serves me well, I remember the local kids used to find big sticks and knock the conkers off way before they were ready for picking. Such was the anticipation for that year’s conker competitions they couldn’t wait to get started. I also have vague memories of my brothers, Paul and Mark, polishing theirs with boot polish. Of course, this strengthened said conkers, giving them a winning edge!
Crazy Conker Competitions!
Speaking of conker competitions, are you aware that there’s a World Conker Championship event? Not only that, but it also takes place each year in the UK, in Northamptonshire on the 2nd Sunday of October! So, if you’re getting cosy, nostalgic feelings from this post, then you’ve still got plenty of time to book yourself a weekend trip to the Schuckburgh Arms, where it takes place in the beautiful village of Southwick! It may not be your idea of a romantic weekend. However, I’m betting that you’ll go home with a smile on your face after this walk down memory lane.
Now that I think about it, a conker competition is a great event for local pubs to host each year, and certainly a unique way for them to get more customers through the door for sure! I for one would pop along to my local for the event, and I’m quite sure I wouldn’t have to drag Mr B there kicking and screaming! Oops, as usual, I’m going on a bit, so time to concentrate on the task at hand and let you know more about the rather exciting Horse Chestnut. But before I do that, take a look at the ‘Rules of the Game’ according to the World Conker Championship:
Conkers – The Official Game Rules
- Each player must use a new conker at the start of each game (ideally, a new lace as well). Players cannot re-use conkers from earlier games.
- The game begins with the toss of a coin. The winner of the toss chooses to strike or receive.
- A distance of no less than eight inches or 20cm of lace must be between a player’s knuckle and their conker.
- Each player takes three strikes at the opponent’s conker before play switched to their opponent. The opponent then takes three strikes and turns alternate in this way until the end of the game.
- Each strike must be clearly aimed at the nut. There can be no deliberate mis-hits.
- The game is decided once one of the conkers is smashed.
- If a conker is not completely smashed but so little of it remains that it cannot possibly mount a serious attack against its opponent, that conker is out.
- If both nuts smash at the same time, the match must be replayed.
- Any nut that is knocked from the lace but not smashed may be re-threaded and the game may be continued.
- Any player causing a knotting of the laces (a snag) will be noted. Three snags will lead to disqualification.
- If a game lasts for more than five minutes then play is halted. Each player is allowed nine further strikes at their opponent’s nut, again alternating after every three strikes. If neither conker has been smashed at the end of the nine strikes, then the player who strikes the nut the most times during this period is judged the winner.
15 Horse Chestnut Facts
- Mature horse chestnut trees grow to heights of up to 40 meters.
- They prefer moist, shady areas.
- They live for up to 300 years.
- Their bark starts life smooth and grey/brown, however as it ages the bark darkens and becomes scaly. Much like we do as we get older!
- When the buds raise their heads in early spring, they have an oval, conical appearance and are red, shiny and sticky.
- Their beautiful flowers begin to appear around May, with individual flowers displaying 4-5 petals, which are white/pink in colour.
- These flowers are used in some medicinal preparations, as are the fresh shoot tips.
- Flowers display from May through to June.
- It’s hard to confuse their leaves with any other tree. I think they look like an outstretched palm. They have 5-7 serrated leaflets, which spread from the central stem and reach up to 20 cm in length.
- Our lovely insects pollinate the above flowers, and before long they start to transform into spiky green husks.
- The husks house one or two seeds (conkers).
- The above husks begin to burst open and fall in the autumn.
- There was a campaign during the first world war for families to collect horse-chestnuts and donate them to the government.
- These conkers were then used as a source of starch in a fermentation process to produce acetone. Later, this was made into a solvent for the production of cordite in military armaments. (REF)
- The leaf stalks leave a scar on the twig when they fall, which resembles a horseshoe.
Way back in the aeons of time, before the ice age, the Horse Chestnut was indigenous to Central Europe. However, following this “cold spell”, it ended up elsewhere throughout the world. Not returning to Central Europe until after the Dutch naturalist, physician and botanist Carolus Clusius (1526-1609) received a young horse chestnut plant in 1581.
The tree was a gift from the Constantinople ambassador, who received it as a farewell present from the Sultan. Carolus subsequently planted the young sapling in Hapsburg Gardens in Vienna. However, by the mid-nineteenth century, the Horse Chestnut tree became fully re-established in Central Europe following a widespread introduction of the tree to Britain.
Incidentally, Carolus Clusius, recognising the 16th century Botanical Renaissance as a scholastic opportunity, decided to move to France to study it. Which he did in the context of medicine, at the now famous University of Montpellier (1551–1554). Following his period of study, Carolus completed a set of botanical illustrations. These drawings and watercolours contributed, alongside others, to an exciting chapter in sixteenth-century natural history. And that was the publication of The Complete Botanical Watercolours of the 16th-century, Libri picturati. Which, by the way, is an excellent publication and a good investment. It’s also worth noting that the Botanical Renaissance introduced significant changes to the European knowledge of living nature well before the age of Darwin.
Folklore is a bit thin on the ground for the old horse chestnut tree. However, it’s there if you look hard enough, and I’m sure you’ll probably be familiar with one or two of the old customs. Such as, in the 18th/19th century it was common to carry conkers in your jacket or trouser pockets. Apparently, it offered some relief against arthritis. I’m not sure quite how that would work, however that said, the placebo effect can be quite powerful!
I’m sure it will come as no surprise that the best-known piece of folklore about conkers, and one that persists to this very day, is that placing conkers around your house will repel spiders. Now, I know plenty of people that have tried this and swear by the results. However, I’ve tried this myself, and I can’t say I found it particularly useful!
Despite the strategically placed conkers in my bedroom, I ended up being bitten by a small wolf spider that was hiding in my trouser leg! Not only that, but my leg became infected, and I needed to go on antibiotics! The bite itself just felt like a wee scratch. Imagine my surprise when said spider casually sauntered out the leg of my jeans, drunk on my blood! So no, this is one folklore believe that I would not recommend. However, if it works for you, then let me know in the comments section. I’d love to hear you’re spider stories.
The Horse Chestnut – A Money Making Tree??
Are you ready for this next piece of folklore? You’re not going to believe it… but I’ve read that if you carry three shiny conkers in your pocket, you’ll always have money!! I’m not sure how that one works, to be honest. Add it to the piece of folklore on arthritis, and you’ll not only have some cash, but you’ll also be walking with a spring in your step. And it’s no wonder, with all that spare cash to spend. That said, I’m always willing to give these folklores a bit of a go, and for you, I’ll certainly try this one. But when you don’t hear from me again, it’s because I’m a millionaire and living the high life on a desert island somewhere, consuming cocktails and taking it easy! 🙂
Famous Horse Chestnut Trees
Moving on, let’s take a look at famous horse chestnut trees. The most famous by far is the Anne Frank Tree. Until 2011, this large Horse Chestnut tree stood in the centre of Amsterdam, but unfortunately, it was blown down in heavy winds. Which is quite a blow to history, as this is the tree that Anne Frank wrote about in “The Diary of a Young Girl”.
Horse chestnut leaf can treat the following conditions:
- Menstrual pain
- Swollen soft tissue
- Joint pain
Use branch bark for:
The seed and leaf address the following complaints:
- Varicose Veins
- Phlebitis (swollen veins)
Use seeds (conkers) in the treatment of:
- Enlarged prostate
- Water retention
Special Precautions & Warnings:
Do not eat ANY of the raw parts of this tree. Also, avoid it if you have any of the following conditions:
- Blood disorders
- Digestion problems
- Liver disease
- Kidney disease
- Or if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding
Horse Chestnut Recipes
Horse chestnuts may not be edible, however, the good news is that their extract is a common ingredient in a variety of skincare products. Possessing anti-ageing properties which minimise the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Not only that, but their extract also aids the treatment of eczema, rosacea and skin infections.
If that isn’t enough for you, how does the fact that horse chestnut is great for boosting the blood circulation in the scalp, and therefore the production of new cells grab you? The extract contains fatty acids, proteins and short-chain sugars which repair your hair if it’s been damaged. And, because the seed contains a high level of saponins, which act as a natural foamer, there will be no build up left behind on your scalp.
As far as I am concerned this is great news because it’s super easy to make a natural shampoo or body/face wash that can treat all of the above. Not to mention, along with being a natural product, it’s also very inexpensive. In fact, why don’t you make yourself a batch of the tincture recipe below and add a few drops to your skincare lotions or creams?
Horse Chestnut Shampoo
- 5 whole horse chestnuts
- 700 ml of water
- 5 drops essential oil of choice optional
- Cut horse chestnut into small pieces and place in a medium-sized saucepan.
- Add 450 ml of the water and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
- Add rest of the water and simmer for 10 more minutes.
- Remove from heat and leave to cool.
- Strain the mixture through a muslin cloth into a glass jar, squeezing the muslin until it suds. Rinse muslin, and its contents with cold water, and squeeze into the jar again.
- Store glass jar in the fridge until use.
- To use: Massage a small amount into wet hair and let sit for 5 minutes. Rinse well. Can also be used as a soothing wash for skin, especially in those with eczema and psoriasis.
Horse Chestnut Gel
Horse Chestnut Varicose Vein Gel
- Sterilised jar with a secure lid
- 250 ml sterilised bottle
Step One Ingredients
- 10 fresh conkers
- 250 ml vodka
Step Two Ingredients
- 3 sachets vegetable glycerin
- 150 ml water
- 150 ml horse chestnut tincture
- 250 ml sterilised bottle
- Blend the conkers and vodka in a liquidiser until smooth.
- Place in a sterilised bottle and keep in a cool dark place for 10 days to 1 month, shaking every day or so. Strain before next step.
- Keeps for up to one year
- Add the vegetable gelatine to 150 ml cold water in a pan and whisk until dissolved. Heat for about 2 minutes, whisking constantly. As the mix starts to thicken, slowly pour in the Horse Chestnut Tincture a little at a time. Add the rose oil.
- Pour into a 250 ml sterilised bottle. Keeps for up to 3 months in the fridge. Rub on the affected area daily, preferably in the evening.
Phew…this weeks post has plenty to say, doesn’t it? So, before you get bored, and in true Looney Tunes style “that’s all folks”! Don’t forget to keep your eye on those horse chestnut trees over the next couple of weeks. And, in the meantime, take care, stay safe and happy foraging! If you don’t want to miss any of my posts, then don’t forget to subscribe!
Beech Tree (Fagus sylvatica)
While on my recent woodland walks with Caber I couldn’t help but notice the large beech tree canopies. Mostly because their heavy, fruit-laden branches dangled their tantalising husks in my face! They might not be ready to open and fall quite yet but it doesn’t stop them flirting with me as I walk by! I’m desperate to gather the beech mast (the official name for the nuts), but I know that I need to be patient and wait for the right moment. Which, incidentally, won’t happen until around mid-August, through September. Which, by the way, is also a great time to look out for horse chestnuts.
Nuts On Display!
Around this time look out for the open husks on the beech tree, proudly displaying their nuts to the world, along with a light carpet of fallen fruits beneath the tree. When this happens they’re ripe for the picking and your foraging fun can begin. Of course, we can thank last summer’s brilliant weather for this year’s abundant crop, and I haven’t seen one this good for many years! So, obviously, I plan on doing quite a bit of gathering, and already have a few recipes up my sleeve, ready to go. However, there’s so much more you can do with this tree than just forage the nuts. So, without further ado, let me officially introduce this rather delightful tree to you.
Did You Know?
- There are 13 varieties of the Beech (Fagus) tree. Today we’re looking at the Fagus sylvatica, which is prevalent in the UK and Fagus sylvatica purpurea (Copper beech).
- These magnificent trees can live for hundreds of years, with some reaching the ripe old age of 1000! The average age, however, is around 300-400.
- Their bark is smooth and grey in appearance.
- And they can grow to heights of up to 40 meters.
- It starts to produce nuts at the 40th year from when it was planted.
- Leaves and bark contain pigments which are used for dyeing of fabrics.
- In early spring they display cute little red buds on the tips of their branches.
- And in late spring their new leaves display a bright lime green, slightly translucent hue.
- These young translucent leaves are edible.
- They have a slightly sticky feel and a fresh citrusy flavour.
- Beeches are monoecious, which means they bear both male and female flowers on the same tree.
- The above flowers begin to appear in spring, around April/May, shortly after the new leaves begin to show.
- The male flowers are the wind-pollinating catkins, which look a bit like fluffy, yellow/creamy pendants hanging from the tree.
- And the female flowers grow in pairs and are surrounded by a delicate cup which is a green/yellow colour with hints of red.
- It’s this cup that matures into the green spiky husks which eventually bear the beechnuts.
- Each husk houses 2 nuts.
- The French roast the nuts to make a type of coffee.
- These nuts (masts) are brown in colour and triangular, with a slightly bitter taste due to their tannin content.
- Beechwood makes excellent firewood and will burn for quite a few hours.
- The wood is used to produce a variety of products. To be frank, what you make is limited only to your imagination!
- Their bark, leaves, nuts, branches, and flowers all have medicinal qualities.
- In 19th Century England, beech oil was used for cooking and as fuel for lamps.
- These rather wonderful trees are steeped in folklore.
- Such as…the druids believed the trees were the custodians of ancient knowledge.
- And last, but not least, beech trees are traditionally known as the Mother of the Woods. Folklore says that no harm will befall a lost traveller seeking shelter under her canopy.
3 Famous Beech Trees
- Did you know, that in Ballymoney, County Antrim, an avenue of ancient beech trees on The Dark Hedges Estate, have featured in various films and tv programmes? Most notable of which is the Game of Thrones.
- On the short walk up North Berwick Law, in East Lothian, sits a handful of gnarled, wind-blasted trees. These are all that remains of a woodland planted by the local laird, Sir Hew Dalrymple, to signify the union of the Scottish and English parliaments in 1707. (Source: Forestryandland.gov.scot)
- And finally, Nellie’s Tree
Beech Tree Recipes
I couldn’t write a post about beech trees without adding a Beech Leaf Noyau recipe! After all, it’s the most common recipe that any beech loving forager will rush to make as soon as those baby leaves begin to pop their heads up!
That said, the young leaves also make a lovely addition to a salad. Also, if you fry them, then you have yourself some pretty tasty beech leaf crisps! On a personal note, I like to gather the nuts, roast them, and finally grind them to a powder. I then use the ground beechnuts for the biscuit base of a rather delicious lemon cheesecake. The flavours marry well together.
Beech Leaf Noyau
- 1 ltr Bottle, Bowl/Jug, Muslin Cloth, Saucepan
- 750 ml gin
- Young fresh beech tree leaves
- 150 g sugar
- 200 ml hot water
- 125 ml brandy (you can add up to 200ml)
- Gather young beech tree leaves
- Loosley 3/4 fill a 1-litre bottle with the leaves (a recycled plastic juice bottle is perfect)
- Cover leaves with the gin, ensuring they're all submerged
- Seal bottle and store in a dark cupboard for 4 weeks
- After 4 weeks, strain the liquid through a muslin cloth into a bowl or jug and throw away the leaves
- Sterilise then refill your bottle with the strained gin
- Dissolve your sugar in hot water, leave to cool and pour into the gin.
- Add the brandy and give the bottle a good shake.
- Seal, and store in a dark cupboard for a further 4 weeks to mature.
- Chill, pour, drink, enjoy!
3 Beech Tree Health Benefits
Relief from Headaches, Aches & Pains
All you need to do is boil down some beech tree leaves to create a poultice with analgesic properties and place on the area causing you pain.
Using beech tree leaves, make yourself a decoction to significantly boost your kidney function and stimulate urination. As a diuretic, beech is able to help clear out the toxins from the body, including excess fats, salts, waste, and water, improving the overall efficiency of your metabolism.
Use the oil from the nuts to strengthen your hair and improve its appearance, remember to add a carrier oil (such as almond oil)
A Word of Warning: Speak to a herbalist, or your doctor, before adding any beech tree treatments to your regimen. Excessive consumption is discouraged as there is some evidence to suggest that they are toxic in large quantities.
So, there you have it then! A multitude of beech tree nonsense, that you may, or may not find useful! In any event, if there are any plants you’d like me to cover in a future post, then let me know in the comments section below. In the meantime, take care, stay safe and don’t forget to subscribe if you don’t want to miss any of my posts!
The sweet scent of the delicate meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) flower draws you to it as quickly as it does the bees. Subsequently it grabs you by the nose and demands you stop to take a moment to admire its beautiful fluffy flower head.
It’s no accident that this delightful plant also answers to the name of Queen of the Meadows. For example, think of elderflowers for a moment, and add a punch of exotic perfume, which only a queen deserves. Consequently, you’ll now have some idea of the profusion of scent, which hits you as you walk through any damp woods, meadows or river banks lucky enough to be carpeted with this delightful plant.
Not only is meadowsweet edible, but it also has some pretty fantastic medicinal properties. Hence the reason why many herbalists favour it as a reliable remedy for arthritic and rheumatic aches and pains. But don’t worry, it’s easy to make your own decoction or tonic by following the instructions in a previous post I wrote, ‘Homemade Herbal Recipes’.
Also, with the above in mind, do yourself a big favour, and get a tincture on the go now, in plenty of time for your winter body woes! And, if you suffer from digestive problems, then adding some lemon balm or (and) marshmallow to the meadowsweet will go a long way to relieving those nasty symptoms.
Indeed, meadowsweet was once a sacred herb, held in high regard by the druids, the Celts version of doctors. With herbalists still using it today to treat the following ten conditions:
- Arthritis & rheumatism
- Chronic Ulcers
- Peptic Ulceration
- Minor stomach upsets
- Anti Inflammatory
- Inhibits the growth of the Helicobacter pylori bacteria
- Useful in treating diarrhoea, particularly in young children
Special Precautions & Warnings:
As with all medicines, meadowsweet, when taken appropriately, is safe for most people. However, it should be used with caution for the following people:
- Children under 16
- People with asthma
- People with an existing allergy to aspirin
- Taking excessive amounts of meadowsweet can cause blood in the stool, vomiting, tinnitus and kidney problems
Pregnancy and breast-feeding: It’s UNSAFE to use meadowsweet if you are pregnant. Not enough is known about the safety of using meadowsweet during breast-feeding. Consequently, it’s best to stay on the safe side and avoid use.
Historically, it’s said that this delicate herb was used to attract love, peace and happiness and was a key ingredient in ancient love spells and potions. Also, this flower was added to a brides bouquet to bring joy and blessings to the bride!
A poem by Edith Nesbit
“OUR boat has drifted with the stream
That stirs the river’s full sweet bosom
And now she stays where gold flags gleam
By meadowsweet’s pale foam of blossom.
Sedge-warblers sing the sun the song.
The nightingale sings to the shadows;
Forget-me-nots grow all along
The fringes of the happy meadows.
See the wet lilies’ golden beads!
The river-nymphs for necklace string them,
And in the sighing of the reeds
You hear the song their lovers sing them.
Gold sun, blue air, green shimmering leaves,
The weir’s old song, the wood’s old story.
Such spells the enchanting Summer weaves.
She holds me in a web of glory.
And you, with head against my arm.
And subtle wiles that seek to hold me.
Not even you can add a charm.
To the sweet sorceries that enfold me.
Yet lean there still! The hour is ours;
If we should move the charm might shiver
And joyless sun and scentless flowers
Might mock a disenchanted river.“
Once upon a time, households scattered ‘strewing herbs’ over their floors. This ensured that not only did their home smell sweet, but they also served as an insecticide and disinfectant. Therefore, meadowsweet’s flowery, astringent properties made it an excellent choice as a strewing herb.
Did You Know?
In 1838 an Italian professor, Rafaele Piria, produced salicylic acid from the flower buds of the meadowsweet plant. In case you don’t know, salicylic acid is a key ingredient in aspirin, and in 1897 Felix Hoffmann, working for the German drug company Bayer, synthesised salicin and that is when this new drug took on the name we’re all now familiar with, ‘aspirin’. Although today, aspirin also includes willow bark in its makeup. However, the aspirin derived from meadowsweet is far more gentle and is not nearly as abrasive with the stomach lining. As a result, it’s great for digestive complaints as well as being gentle on the stomach.
- 12 full meadowsweet flower heads
- 1½ lb sugar
- 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
- 1 gallon of cold water
- 1 lemon
- To begin with, pick flower heads in full bloom and place into a demijohn, or plastic bucket, followed by the lemon juice and cut up rind. Try not to add any pith, owing to the bitterness it’ll add to the liquid.
- Follow this by adding sugar, vinegar, cold water. Gently stir and leave for 24 hours.
- Next, strain and put into sturdy screw-top bottles and leave in a dark cupboard for 10 days to 2 weeks. Only fill the bottles ¾ full in case there’s pressure build-up and unscrew the cap every few days to “burp” the bottle.
- Conversely, I prefer to reuse old, sterilised plastic bottles as these take the worry of exploding glass bottles out of the equation!
- Last, but not least chill and enjoy!
3. Meadowsweet Tea
To make meadowsweet tea: 2-6g dried herb infused into 1 pint of boiling water. Steep covered for 5 -10 minutes, the longer you steep it the more bitter the decocotion will be. Take 3 cups per day. It’s strongly aromatic, sweet and slightly astringent.
Time To Sum Up
To sum up this weeks post, what are you waiting for? To put it differently, meadowsweet is available in abundance right now. So, get those foraging boots on, enjoy the fresh air, and bag yourself a bundle of these fine herbs! Furthermore, go on, take a look out the window, the great outdoors is calling you!
And finally, happy foraging, take care, stay safe and don’t forget to subscribe!
Caber, Mr B and I arrived home recently after our fantastic adventures in the Outer Hebrides, where we spent ten relaxing days island hopping. Of course, I managed to sneak a little bit of forging in, I had to didn’t I? After all, I couldn’t go to the islands, with their unique flora and fauna, Continue Reading
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