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This post is part of the UK Herbarium blog party on “Herbal treasures in March“, kindly hosted by Brigitte.

photo by swan-scot

A friend just emailed me this question: what can I do with hawthorn berries? (she’s surrounded by fruiting hawthorns), so here’s a list:

1. make a herbal vinegar, same process as this. Hawthorn berry vinegar is one of the tasty vinegars – tart and fruity. Try a tablespoon in a glass of water.

2. make a liqueur – plain or fancy (down the bottom of the page. There’s also an interesting savoury sauce recipe). A plain schnapps of hawthorn is basically a tincture, but you can use a lower strength alcohol (which makes it cheaper).

3. make a tincture. Hawthorn berry tincture is a world renowned heart and circulatory system tonic (even the scientists are catching on). Taken over months, it is considered a safe remedy that helps a range of heart problems. I also find the tincture helpful for the emotional heart when grieving – it seems to lighten things and allow the process to move with more ease.

4. make an aperitif (the Chinese have historically used hawthorn as a digestive aid, and it is considered especially good for meat meals).

5. you can also make an infusion.

6. make hawthorn jelly. I haven’t done this (not being a jam maker) but I have a friend who makes some every year and it tastes pretty yummy. There seem to be two different kinds of recipes – those that include apples or crabapples, and those that are hawthorn berry only. I’d be interested to hear any experiences with that. I ate my friend’s jelly as a sweet on oatcakes, but it would also go with meat and help with digestion.

7. eat the berries straight from the tree. Sometimes they are too dry inside, but other trees or other times yield a pleasant walking snack. I suspect that trees with adequate water have better tasting berries. Hawthorn berries are full of goodies:

8. make fruit leather. This Eating British guy in the UK had a go, but with variable results. Hawthorn berries dry pretty easily, so maybe the mould problem he gets is because he adds water. I might have a go with the leftover berries from making vinegar (ooh, sweet and sour fruit leather). Cooking the berries in the smallest amount of water might be the way to go too.

9. unfortunately google has no hawthorn berry ice cream recipes, so I will just have to make one…

10. make anything you usually do with fruit. I’ve seen recipes for hawthorn berry chutney and hawthorn berry wine.

11. make a poultice. Juliette de Bairacli Levy says the pulped raw fruits are “of high repute as a drawing remedy for deeply embedded splinters and thorns and for whitlows” (from Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable, but that will work on humans too).

12. make magic. Hawthorn in Europe/the UK has a long tradition of magical uses that seem to centre around protection. If you’re not into the hippy/pagany aspects, you can use hawthorn to help you focus on what’s good or what needs healing etc.

hawthorn berry vinegar

If you are having spring not autumn right now, you’ll be pleased to know that hawthorn flowers and leaves are also very useful and much of what is true about the berries works for the spring plant too (with a few adjustments).

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The fennel in my garden is aphid ridden so I was very happy to find some very large, lush fennel in seed in a friend’s garden today (and even happier that he let me pick it). Fennel seed vinegar is a favourite of mine and I got to make more than enough today for the year and for giving away. Here’s what I did:

1. The seed needs to be ripe. This means treat it like a fruit, not like a seed you want for sowing. So you don’t want it dry or brown or shrivelling. Fennel seeds are plump when ripe and still green.

2. Chop the seed heads into a measuring bowl. This will tell you roughly how big a jar you need. I got just under 2 litres, which when compressed a bit fit into a 1.5 litre jar.

3. Once the jar is filled with seed, fill it again with apple cider vinegar. Put the lid on (plastic, as vinegar will corrode metal) and shake a bit to loosen any air trapped in the seeds. There will be more air to surface, so check daily for the first week, and then weekly after that, and top up as needed. It’s important that the plant material stays submerged under the vinegar, especially if you are using unpasteurised vinegar.

4. Label the jar with plant and part of plant, date, menstruum (in this case raw apple cider vinegar), and place of harvest.

5. Let sit for 6 weeks, and then strain into a dark glass bottle.

6. Take as 1 tablespoon in a glass of water, or sprinkle on salads, grains, etc. Fennel seed vinegar tastes divine (if you like fennel), so prioritise it for dishes where the taste comes through.

Fennel seed is a lovely aromatic digestive aid. It has volatile oils in it, which make it warming and stimulating to the digestion. If you find bitters too cooling, the aromatic herbs can be a good choice for digestive woes. Fennel seed is mild, nutritive and easy to use regularly. New Mexico herbalist Kiva has an in depth article on the medicinal aspects of aromatic herbs especially in relation to digestion.

Fennel is a member of the Umbelliferae family, which includes many plants we are familiar with eg carrot, aniseed, caraway, dill, coriander, parsley, celery, parsnip, angelica, lovage. The flower and seed heads form umbels (like an umbrella shape) hence the family name.

There are some poisonous plants in this family, in NZ notably the hemlock, so it’s good to be certain you know what plant you are picking. Fortunately fennel in seed is distinctive by its fennel smell, which is pleasant, and hemlock has an unpleasant smell and other distinctive features. And generally they’re easy to tell apart once you see them:

fennel leaf

hemlock leaf

We have some native Umbelliferae plants in NZ, including a celery, several aniseeds, and the wild spaniard.

This is what I found on my walk today. Well, the puffball anyway. The other mushroom and the dandelion greens I found in the lawn when I got home, and the chickweed was growing in a pot plant.

The puffball was a real treat and in almost perfect condition. It was sitting on the side of the path – someone had probably kicked it out of the way. I see this so often, puffballs in particular. There’s something attractive about kicking them I suppose, and I might too if I didn’t understand what a great food they are. With this one at least, it wasn’t broken, and I spotted a much larger and older puffball a few feet away that was too far gone to eat.

I’ve only been eating wild mushrooms for a year or so (other than field mushrooms of course). I’m comfortable about eating puffballs but am still learning about the species. Because of its proximity to the spent one I think the one I found today is the Giant Puffball, Calvatia gigantea even though it’s not very big.

(looking at further references, there are a number of Latin names in NZ being used for the Giant Puffball. Three according to Landcare.)

I’ve eaten them young like this before but didn’t realise they were the giant variety. You can see the big ones when old half-way down this post, and when perfect for eating in this post.

If you’re going to eat a puffball, it needs to look like this inside. Nice and firm, and white.

Puffball scrambled eggs

* slice the puffball and cut small enough to do well in the eggs

* fry in butter until golden on both sides

* add other frying ingredients – in this case garlic, but tomato would be nice too

* beat a couple of eggs with a pinch of salt

* pour over the ‘shrooms, add diced dandelion leaves, and scramble

* serve with chopped chickweed dressed in olive oil, herb vinegar and salt

That used up half the puffball so I sliced the other half in varying thicknesses and fried both sides. When it had cooled I ate it with avocado. Puffballs have a subtle flavour although certainly mushroomy. The ones I ate with the avo had a honey taste, not sweet. Maybe the frying in butter brings that out. The texture is tender.

(the other mushroom in the picture at the top of the post is as yet unidentified…)

I’ve been watching an old series of Jamie Oliver’s (Oliver’s Twist). In one the episodes his mentor Gennaro takes Oliver out into the streets of London to harvest wild food plants. They find plenty of overgrown wild places on roadsides and between buildings. Their harvest includes fennel (stalks, leaves and flowers), a plant they call borage but I think was alkanet, sheep sorrel, horseradish, rosemary and wild rocket.

Geek alert: One of my pleasures is looking at the ‘background’ of other British TV shows, dramas and such, and trying to ID wild plants. It made sense that there would be lots of weeds on the streets of London. British natural history writer and wild foodie, Richard Mabey, has a book called Street Flowers about weeds that grow in cities and how they manage to do that.

Sadly, here in the Land of the Long White Spray Cloud, city wild food is a bit harder to find. But not impossible. I’ve not seen wild rocket, but dandelion, chickweed, puha and the like are pretty common, as well as tree shrubs like elder and hawthorn. Old cemeteries, margins of back sections down alleyways and the harder to get to edges of Parks usually yield something. Railway lines are also a good weedy place. One of my earliest wildcrafting excitements as a teen was finding abundant yarrow in flower along a city railway track. Wellington wild food forager Joanna Knox has a wonderful blog on what’s around the Capital (probably applicable to most NZ cities).

Oliver and Gennaro took their harvest home and made a fish dish with the fennel. The stalks were used as a trivet to keep the fish off the bottom of a baking dish (laid in a flat bundle). The flowers and leaves where chopped and mixed with lemon juice, olive oil and salt and then rubbed into cuts that had been made across the surface of the fish. Gennaro admonishes Jamie to crush the flower stalks – “that’s where the flavour is!!”. Looking at the prepared fish he also says that it is having a “glorious death” (being beautifully prepared not just fried up in a pan). What a cool man.

Oliver put sliced lemon between the stalks and fish, and squeezed the juice into the corners of the oven dish, not over the fish (as lemon juice ‘cooks’ it). The juice and oils formed a tasty sauce while cooking, to be spooned over the cooked fish, now lying on a bed of wild rocket and sheep sorrel.

For a while I’ve been thinking this moon would be Four Berry Moon, a very local to me name, where hawthorn, elderberry, blackberry, and rosehip are all in fruit and available for harvest. I’d love to know what wild plants are in berry near you?

This could also be called Bioflavonoid Moon, but really, land-based peoples have had nourishing relationships with these plants for millennia before science learned how to take things apart ;-) However, as bioflavonoids are one of the Important Nutrients currently, instead of buying those expensive supplements or imported blueberries in the winter, try an infusion, tincture/liqueur, herbal honey or vinegar of any of those berries. Now is the time to dry or put up some herbal goodies for the colder months. Bioflavonoids have a range of actions in the body, notably as anti-oxidants. Eating the berries is the best way to get maximum amounts but only the blackberries are easy to do so. Bioflavanoids are soluble in water, and as far as I know vinegar and alcohol, so infusions, vinegar are another good way. Wine or jelly/jam too.

This month could also be called Crumble Moon (everyone seems intent on making fruit crumbles), but Changing Moon is what I’ve settled on, as the shift from summer to autumn is most apparent – willow and poplar leaves are starting to golden, the weather is alternately cool and hot, the light has changed as the sun heads towards the autumn equinox on the 21st. People seem susceptible to colds, as our bodies adapt to the shift in temperatures, and the rivers and lakes are not so warm with the longer, cooler nights.

The full moon was last Monday (a week ago), and again was rising big and yellow, being perigee (close to the earth) the day before. I missed most of the moon rises this month, there being too much cloud on the horizon – another autumn sign?

rosehips and hawthorns waiting to be brewed