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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Mandala by Vicki Smith Green Gathering 2014
August is the beginning of the fruit harvest and begins that wonderful time of roaming the hedgerows looking for fruit to gather and make produce from. The fruit seems to be ripening early this year and there seems to be an abundance of it. My partner Brian gathered 9 lbs of blackberries in a couple of hours and 3 gallons of blackberry wine are now underway! For a basic fruit wine recipe that makes a fine blackberry wine see August 2012.
Drying Berries and Fruit
Fruit can also be dried or made into tinctures to use for medicine or added to winter cooking. (See May 2012 for Tincture Making method.) As always collect on a dry day, and take a moment before you pick to admire the beauty of the plant or tree and to say thank you for its gifts. Bring the fruit home and sort through, discarding any that are blemished or soft. Transfer into clean brown paper bags and put on top of the radiators, near the cooker or wood-burner, and shake every day or two. Alternatively lay them out between two paper sheets somewhere warm and dry, and out of direct sunlight.
When they are completely dry, store them in dark glass jars or brown paper bags. When you need them, make a decoction by soaking the berries overnight in cold water.
Elder berries - The berries are a wonderful restorative and will boost the immune system and ward off a cold, sore throat or swollen glands.
Haws - Haws from the Hawthorn are a safe and primary remedy for the heart. Use for any nervous conditions including stress and insomnia.
Rosehips - Rosehips are an immune system support, rich in vitamin C. Cut them open and clean out the fine hairs inside before drying them.
Rowan - The berries are a good source of vitamin C. Traditionally they were made into wine, jelly, distilled into a spirit, and the Welsh brewed them into an ale.
Fruit Honeys and Fruit Syrups
Fruit can also be made into syrups and fruit honeys. See September 2012 for recipes.
Elderberry Brandy, Haw Brandy, Rose hip Brandy, Rowan Berry Brandy
Edible native fruits can be preserved in brandy, with sugar. Their flavour and herbal properties are released into the spirit and creates a delicious liqueur.
1. Find a dark jar or wide-necked bottle (Allow for the fact that the fruit will swell slightly) and nearly fill with the best and cleanest fruit.
2. Cover with sugar and fill the jar up with brandy.
3. Shake gently every few days for 6 weeks or so.
4. Strain off the fruit and re-bottle in time for Christmas, although it improves with age.
As I gather from the hedgerows I am aware that this fruit is also food for the birds and other wild life, so I never over-pick and only pick from where there is a great abundance. I want to add to the hedgerows I am harvesting from to create opportunities for future generations to continue this delightful engagement with our native plants and trees. There are many seeds to collect right now, but this year I am focused on growing the native fruit-bearing trees I have been harvesting from for all these years. I will see what I can grow and look for places I can plant them out next year.
Collecting Native Tree Seeds
There is something so profound about a tiny tree seed and its potential to grow into a beautiful large tree. A tree will produce hundreds of seeds, but often there is little room for them to spread naturally. And yet, we need more trees in our environment. We can all help by taking some of their bountiful seed harvest each year to grow and nurture a few tree seeds until they grow into large enough trees to plant out.
Look for seeds from the healthiest and strongest trees. It is always best to collect seeds from the native trees growing in your own area. They have adapted to the local climate and soil as well as the insects that live there. Pick the seeds directly from the tree or when they are newly fallen. Don’t collect the first seeds that fall as the later ones will be better quality. Only take what you know you will use as these nuts and fruits are food for the birds and wildlife. Gather the seeds into labeled paper bags.
When you get home, sort through them and pick out the best ones for growing. Return the rest to a hedge bottom with your thanks. They may grow! Trees seeds are best planted straight away without letting them dry out. Sprinkle them into labeled pots of compost or compost and sharp sand or in labeled holding beds and water well. If there is danger of rodents digging them up, cover with fine mesh. They should sprout in the spring, although some take two years.
Alternatively look for small first-year trees that you know will not survive where they are growing. You can identify them now while they have their leaves on. It is too early to dig them up now (November to February is best), but mark them with a piece of bright coloured wool so that you can find them later and repot them for planting out when they are big enough.
Seed heads are starting to form, fruit is beginning to swell, mornings can start misty, thick with dew, and there can be a nip of cold at night. But for all this it is still summer and this is a time of holidays, festivals, living outside, camping out and summer nights spent with friends around outdoor fires. The feel-good factor abounds especially when the sun shines, as we enter this last phase of summer with an awareness that it won't last forever and autumn is on its way.
This is the time of Lammas, a time of plenty, when in the ancient past the tribes would have travelled to great clan gatherings to meet up with friends and family. In our more recent past, communities would have celebrated the great gathering in of the grain harvest. We too feel the pull to get out and about while we still can, travel, walk the land, visit friends, gather at festivals and community events.
It is a prime time for us to share ideas, our enthusiasm and passion for Earth awareness and living lightly on the Earth. We can each be a power-house of positive change in the world, inspiring ourselves and others to make the shift into a holistic life-view and work together for the common good and for the good of Earth.
Excerpt from Letting In the Wild Edges. On the Edge of Autumn.
Cowslips, Cleavers, Corn Salad, Primroses, Salad Burnet, Violets, Winter Cress
The first seeds of the early spring plants are beginning to ripen now. Bend them gently over to encourage self-seeding where you want them to fall, or keep an eye on them and gather them when they are ready. Choose dry sunny days to gather any seeds that fall readily when shaken into dishes or brown paper bags.Spread them out on paper and sort through what you have picked, taking out the best ones and putting them in clean labeled brown paper bags to dry out some where warm and dry. Return the rest to the wild edges for birds and other creatures to find or maybe to grow.
Shake the seed bags frequently until you are satisfied they are properly dried and then transfer the seeds to old envelopes. Label them and add any growing tips you have learnt about the plants and store them in your seed box in a cool dry place.
Leave some seeds on the plants to self-seed in there own wild way.
Growing Cowslips, Primroses and Violets
1. Collect the seeds August to September when they ripen and sow immediately so that winter dormancy doesn't set in.
2. Use a good quality seed compost in deep pots to avoid the compost drying out. Thoroughly soak and then sprinkle the seeds on the surface - the seeds need light to germinate.
3. Spray with water to soak the seeds and put the whole thing in a plastic bag and tie up. Germination happens about 4 - 6 weeks later.
4. When the first true seedlings appear, plant them out in multi purpose compost again, put the pots in partial shade and keep them well watered if necessary. Plant the young plants out in the spring.
A shift in the air, a mist in the mornings, the days begin to shorten...
Meadowsweet ~ Filipendula ulmaria
A native perennial found in meadows, riversides and damp places. Flowers June to August.
A number one remedy for acid indigestion and lowering acid levels in the stomach
Pour boiling water over the flowers and drink for headaches. Pour the same infusion in the bathwater to relax muscles and to relieve aches and pains.
Pain relieving as it contains Salicylates.
Do not use if sensitive to asprin or if pregnant.
Use the flowers to sprinkle over salads, to flavour summer drinks and to sweeten cooked fruit.
Meadowsweet Oil - for muscle aches and joint pains - See June 2012 for making herbal oils
Meadow sweet Tincture - for indigestion - See May 2012 for making tinctures
Ales and Beers From Native Plants
Many of our native plants were once used to make Ales and beer.
Hop flowers should be dried as soon as they come into flower. Hang them where it is warm and dry until they become papery
Hop or Meadowsweet Beer
4.6 litres I gallon boiling water
15g (half an ounce) dry or fresh Hop or Meadowsweet flowers
450g (1lb) malt extract
450g 1lb light brown sugar
1 tablespoon dried yeast
extra 4 tablespoons brown sugar for bottling
1) Boil the Hops or Meadowsweet flowers in the water for about an hour
2) Strain off the flowers through muslin into a clean bucket, and top back up to 4.6 litres/1 gallon again with cooled boiled water.
3) When luke warm, sprinkle yeast over the top, cover with a lid or clean tea towel, wrapped round with string.
4) Leave for 3 days or so until fermentation has finished.
5) Rack off the beer and bottle, adding half a teaspoon of sugar to each bottle and seal tightly.
6) Open in about a week when the sediment has settled.
As the first fruits begin to ripen now is the time to turn your thoughts to making wine...
Wine making is a great alchemy, a way of using and preserving fruit and the herbal qualities stored within them. Fruit wines are usually the most successful wines, especially if there has been a good amount of sun to ripen and sweeten the fruits. Try mixing fruits with flowers, and garden fruits with hedgerow fruits. Be inventive and creative and when you open them in two years time there will hopefully be surprises and delights in store.
There are many many recipes for fruit wines but a basic recipe can be adapted, different fruit substituted, varying amounts of sugar or extras added. Keep good records of your creations so that you can repeat them another year if you make a good one. Fruit wines vary from year to year depending on the sweetness and ripeness of the fruit, the amount of autumn sunshine or rainfall, so it is never an exact science.
I like to try and keep a wine for at least two years after bottling it up before drinking it with due ceremony, a toast to the fruit and to the Earth and to the person who made it. If you can keep back one bottle from each batch to drink many years later it improves hugely and there is something poignant and rather special about looking back and remembering a year long gone.
Crab Apples, Blackberries, Haws, Rosehips, Rowan, Elderberries
This is a basic fruit wine recipe for 3lb of fruit.
Crab Apple and Blackberry Wine
1kg (2lb) ripe crab apples
450g (1lb) blackberries
1.2 kg (3lbs) sugar
3 litres boiling water
1. Rough chop the apples into a plastic bucket and add black berries. Add orange peel and juice.
2. Pour on the boiling water and cover with a tea towel tied round the top of the bucket. Let steep for 3 days, stirring daily.
3. Strain off the fruit, and heat up the liquid and stir in the sugar until dissolved.
4. When luke warm stir in the yeast and pour into a demi john. Fit a fermentation lock and leave in a warm place
5. When it stops fermenting and is clear, siphon off into wine bottles, being careful not to disturb the sediment at the bottom, and cork.
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