Native Plants and Trees

This page is a month-by-month guide to our native plants and trees, their edible and medicinal uses, and includes seasonal recipes for foods and drinks made from what you can gather in the garden or from the hedgerows. It is also a gardening guide to growing the native plants and trees, based on my own experience and experiments. This has led to my interest in native plant guerilla gardening, also included here. We can all play our part in re-wilding the countryside and our own gardens too by planting native plants and trees. We can then gather them for medicines and food and they will help restore the diverse eco-systems so needed by the bees and other wildlife.


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Guerrila Gardening - Digging up and Planting out

There are so many wild native plants coming up randomly all over my garden - a celebration of the Spring's great fertile abundance. The conditions are perfect for a spot of guerrilla gardening in my local environment - the earth is damp from all the rain and the weather is warm..... and I have been thinking of where I can plant out Lady's Smock ~ Cardamine pratensis - A native perennial found in damp meadows and stream edges, also known as Cuckoo flower or Bittercress. It is just beginning to come into bud - the perfect time to dig it up and plant it out. It likes damp conditions and I know a nice damp part of our local community woodland where it will thrive.



I dig them up and put them in paper bags, which makes transportation easier.



I couldn't resist adding a few more natives that will grow well in my chosen spot. I also take a container of rain water to give them a water in.



Off to Stoney Wood. This is our community woodland, an old quarry site, gifted back to the town by Tarmac and planted up with young native trees in 2000. There was virtually no soil and the trees were planted into rubble and stone. They have shown remarkable resilience and after a very slow start and a lot of helps from the ants, the soil layer is thickening and many native plants have arrived on the wind or carried by the birds. It is a wonderful example of nature's ability to regenerate.



My friend Rosemary and I built this labyrinth many years ago from stones found lying around the area. Since then many people have added more stones to it and the grass has reclaimed the stones. From the trampled grass it is obvious that many people walk the labyrinth, which can be used for walking meditation, for focused mindfulness and as an aid to solving problems. This would be a great area for the Lady's Smock, as it is always a bit damp here.



Simply part the soil......



...... and pop it in.....



Planting things around small trees gives them some protection.



Marking the plant with a stone does the same.

This is a Mullein ~ Verbascum thapsus. One of my favourite plants, a spectacular exotic looking plant with many herbal uses. (See below) A native biennial, found growing on sunny banks, disturbed ground and waysides, also known as Aaron's Rod, Hags Taper and Torch-plant. It has beautiful fragrant flowers, which begin at midsummer and gradually work their way up the flowering stalk. In the past the finished spikes were dried, dipped in fat or oil and used as a slow-burning taper or torch.



Lady's Smock happily re-housed!


Lady's Smock ~ Cardamine pratensis

In the Garden: A low growing plant with beautiful delicate lilac flowers. Eat the leaves, flowers and flower buds in early spring. Prevent from flowering to increase the leaf yield. Grow from seed in spring, or transplant and split the plants.

Part Used: Leaves and flowers.

Herbal Uses: A spring tonic high in vitamin C, minerals and iron that aids digestion and restores lost appetite. It also can be used as an expectorant and is good for coughs. It will stimulate the circulation and is beneficial to the heart.

Metaphysical Use: Once known as the fairies' flower, it helps us become more finely tuned to the ethereal spirit of nature.

In the Kitchen: Add the leaves and flowers to salads, soups and green mixtures. It tastes rather like watercress.

Mullein ~ Verbascum thapsus

In the Garden: Mullein is a tall and striking plant that likes dry ground. Grow from seed and allow it to self-seed along the wild edges.

Part Used: Leaves, flowers.

Herbal Uses: The leaves and flowers are good for the lungs, the throat and the lymphatic system. Make into tea or tincture for all mucus congestion, respiratory infections, bronchial infections, coughs, asthma, and glandular imbalance. It calms and strengthens the digestive system and the nerves. Make a herbal oil from the flowers and use for ear ache to reduce the pain and fight infection. Use the fresh leaves or infusion to draw out splinters. Previously the leaves were dried used in country tobacco.

Metaphysical Uses: Use to clear stuck energy, find clarity and affirm your higher purpose.

In the Kitchen: Make oil from the flower buds and flowers. Dry the leaves or make into tincture or elixir.




Again, as with March, more late snow here in the peak District has slowed spring down to a sleepy crawl..... once the snow melted again, all the native plants seemed as fresh and green as before and they showed no sign of being troubled by the foot of snow that had been covering them...... but they had hardly grown so I am still making the finely chopped spring green mix with honey and balsamic vinegar.... (method to be found in March's entry)

Here is a list of some of the edible native plants you would expect to find
Cleavers, Chickweed, Corn Salad, Dandelion leaves, Dandelion flowers, Garlic Mustard, Hawthorn leaves, Hairy Bittercress, Hop shoots, Ladies Smock, Primrose flowers, Sorrel, Salad Burnet, Violets, Wild Strawberry leaves, Wintercress, Wood Sorrel, Wild Garlic.

The wild gardener is streaks ahead of her/his conventional cousins at this time of year. These so-called ‘weeds' are looked upon with glee, picked and eaten, and relished for their fresh spring energy. They are all at their best when eaten young so it is worth making the most of them while they last. Many of them are the spring tonic herbs that help to clean out our systems after the winter and provide us with vital minerals we need to stay healthy. Try tasting them singularly first to learn their tastes.

Weed them out of your garden as you make way for more conventional vegetables but always let one or two go to flower so they will reseed again.

Spinach-type mixtures
As I begin to weed out the native plants to make way for my conventional vegetables, I save the edible leaves to make a spinach-type mixture at the end of a day's gardening, adding conventional spinach leaves in too. If I go for a walk I forage for edible greens and add these in too. Wash the leaves well and gently steam for a few minutes in a lidded pan. I add these cooked greens to stir fries, risottos pies and quiches.

Green Dip
4oz of curd cheese, or any soft cheese, or sour cream
4 tablespoons of fresh chopped native leaves
2 tablespoons of chopped chives

Beat the cheese and chopped herbs in a bowl and add salt and black pepper to taste.




Wild Garlic (above top) or Garlic Mustard (above bottom) are particularly good in this green mayonnaise.

Green Mayonnaise
1 egg yolk
Half a teaspoon dijon mustard
2 tablespoons fresh chopped native greens
4 fluid ounces/125ml of olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

1. Chop the greens finely.

2. Whisk the egg yolk, mustard and greens together.

3. Gradually add the oil and vinegar in small amounts.

4. Add more vinegar, salt and pepper to taste.

5. Garnish with primrose and violet flowers

This stunning bright green mayonnaise not only tastes delicious but is a real talking point!




Cleavers ~ Galium aparine

A native annual found in hedges, woods, scrubland and waste ground. Commonly known as sticky willy or goosegrass. Flowers May to August.

In the Garden: The early tops are so delicious and it is such a good tonic and cleanser that it is worth having available in the garden. Collect the seeds and grow in a large container outside your door, where you can crop it frequently. Once it begins to grow long and flower, wrap it around itself so that the seeds fall in the container.

Part Used: Leaves, especially the shooting tops

Herbal Uses: A prime spring tonic and nutrient-packed herb. It strengthens and stimulates the lymphatic system, improves the immune system and fluid balance and dissolves undigested fats in the body. It is a blood purifier, cleanser and diuretic. Use when lymph nodes are enlarged, for skins eruptions, ulcers and tumors that are the result of poor lymph drainage. Take after viral infections, antibiotics, chemotherapy, steroids and anti depressants. Soothes all mucus membranes: the mouth, gut, vagina, and bladder (cystitis). Apply the juice from crushed plants directly on skin problems and insect bites, or make into an oil.

Metaphysical Use: It is soothing on emotions, bringing renewed strength and energy. Take before a change in direction.

In the Kitchen: Eat the leaf tops in salads every day whenever you can or add them to spinach mixes. They can also be juiced and added to green smoothies. Cut leaf tops in the spring and dry for teas, make into tincture and make an oil.

Cleavers Tincture Last year Cleavers became my new favourite herb. I made several bottles of the tincture, but it wasn't enough for myself and family, so this year i will make more.

For making Leaf Tinctures - see May For making Infused herbal oils - see June




Getting out for early morning walks brings magical moments...


Edible Flowers

As the flower season begin, try using the flowers from edible plants in wild and inventive ways. They bring colour and beauty and an element of surprise! They deteriorate quickly so always add at the last moment. Sprinkling them over salads, and use them to decorate puddings, cakes and drinks.

At this time of year, use Chives, Primroses, Cowslips, Hawthorn flowers, Hearts ease, Fruit tree petals, Lady's Smock, Violets.


Heartsease - Viola tricolor

A native annual of grasslands, wastelands, fields and gardens, also known as Wild Pansy. Flowers April - September.


Lady's Smock - Cardamine pratensis

A native perennial found in damp meadows and stream edges. Flowers April to May. Known as Cuckoo Flower or Bittercress. Flowers late Spring, early Summer.


Dandelion - Taraxacum officinale

A common native perennial, found in grasslands and hedgerows. Flowers March to September.

Every gardener moans about dandelions but by using the leaves and flowers and saving the roots to dig up in the autumn for medicine, they take on a different significance in our gardens.

Dandelion is a master healer, supporting over-all health by flushing out toxins and improving the function of the liver, gall bladder, the kidneys, the urinary system and the digestive system. A prime lymph tonic, removing poisons from the system and cleansing the blood. It helps reduce high blood pressure, high cholesterol, joint pains, viral infections fluid retention, arthritis and hormonal imbalance. The leaves are best for the kidneys and the roots for the liver.

Add the small young leaves to salad mixtures or add to any cooked dish. The flower petals can be sprinkled on salads and any other food as a garnish. Make the roots into tincture or dry. They can also be chopped and fried and are sweetest in the autumn. Wear gloves when collecting large amounts of dandelion flowers and leaves as the white latex will stain the hands brown.


Beech - Fagus sylvatica

A native tree found throughout the UK. Flowers April to May.

The fine delicate leaves can be eaten for about a month in the Spring and are at their best in April and early May. Gather and eat the sweet papery young leaves fresh from the tree - a short season so make the most of them. Use as the main ingredient for salads and as sandwich fillings. They can also be cooked and eaten as a vegetable.

Beech Leaf noyau

You will need a bottle of gin, a wide necked jar, sugar and fresh Beech leaves. Place the leaves in the jar and cover with gin, poking them down well so they are well covered. Shake every few days and leave to soak for 2 weeks. Then strain off the leaves through a sieve, to reveal the brilliant bright green gin. For every pint add half a pound of sugar, dissolved in half a pint of boiling water,

mix the gin and sugar water and a good splash of brandy together and bottle up when cold. Ready to drink immediately, or will last for years if you can leave it that long!


Tree Leaf Wines

Traditionally made from Oak, Birch, Beech and Lime. All must be picked when they are young.


1 gallon of fresh young tree leaves
1 gallon of water
2lb sugar
2 or 3 oranges


1) Pour boiling water over the leaves, stir well and leave over night.

2) Strain off the leaves and bring the liquid to the boil. Add the squeezed orange juice and finely grated rind.

3) Allow the liquid to cool to luke warm, add the yeast and pour into a demi john. Fit a fermentation lock and add water to the top of the lock to prevent the vinegar fly getting in.

4) When it stops fermenting, siphon the liquid from the sediment and either bottle the wine if it tastes good or return to a clean demi john. Wine findings, pectinol or egg shells can be added to clear it if necessary.



January | February | March | April | May | June | July | August | September | October | November | December