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Saturday 29 June – Urban Naturalist – Herbal Medicine Walk

June 14, 2013

Urban Naturalist on June 29 at 2-4pm is a Herbal Medicine Walk led by Jesper Launder, in association with Cracking Good Food.
June is a wonderfully rich time of year for anyone interested in exploring their natural surroundings and finding wild foods for free. There are many edible leaves and shoots to be found, with more than a splash of colour from the delectably edible flowers bursting through. Experience a real sense of the transition between spring and summer; observing, touching and tasting the flourishing delights on offer. June is a great time for discovering the final stages of spring fungi and the onset of summertime varieties, so with bit of luck (and a little rain) we may find some edible wild mushrooms too.

To book a place e-mail museum or ring 0161 275 2648

May’s Urban Naturalist was also led by Jesper on the theme of a wild food forage – images and snippets of information about the plants found are below. Thanks to Claire for compiling this list.


St George’s mushrooms

As its names suggests, it typically appears around St George’s day (23 April), often but not always in meadows and it makes fairy rings which can help in tracking it down. It has a cucumbery smell and is best eaten cooked.

In the Museum Allotment:

Ground Elder

The stems of this member of the carrot family can be eaten raw but beware of imitations. Best picked before it flowers.

Cow Parsley

An edible plant with feathery leaves, the leaves are edible and can be used as a seasoning. It can be confused with the poisonous hemlock which has distinctive red-purple spots on the stem.

In cultivated beds near the buildings:


(Or ‘slug food’ as it is known in our garden). The leaves of all hosta varieties are edible, using the younger, more tender parts for preference.


The flowers of this plant appear before the leaves, so it is sometimes called son before father. Traditionally used as a cough suppressant. The leaves can be steamed and used like spinach.

Hairy Bittercress

This edible plant is a member of the mustard family. The flowers and seedpods can be eaten.


This is similar to the poisonous scarlet pimpernel but chickweed has white star-shaped flowers while the scarlet pimpernel has red flowers. Chickweed can be used as a salad plant and has a grassy flavour.


The mahonia is also known as the Oregon grape for its hanging fruit which darken to a deep blue. The ripe berries are edible though with a very sharp flavour and can be used to make jam or wine. The leaves should not be confused with the holly which has poisonous red berries. Some uses of the root are to treat digestive ailments and IBS.


Also called Goosegrass or, most amusingly, Sticky Willy because it has small hooked hairs which grow out of the stems and leaves helping it stick to everythin g. It is edible although the hairs make it less pleasant to eat raw. It contains a lot of moisture which can easily be extracted to give a juice which smells of pea pods. The juice is also a refrigerant and good for making a soothing pack for the skin, or for nettle stings.

Grassy areas around the campus:


Growing against a beech tree. Also known as dyers’ bugloss, alkanet is a plant in the borage family with bright blue flowers. It is used in the Middle East. The leaves can be wilted and used in the same way as spinach in recipes. The flowers can also be eaten raw. The root produces a red/purple dye.


A ‘beech gin’ called beechleaf noyau can be made by picking the young leaves around this time of year, packing them down, covering with gin and leaving for about 3 weeks (making sure all the leaves are covered to prevent them decaying). A light green/yellow liqueur is created. A richer colour results if copper beech is used. The young leaves can also be used in salads.


The Stone Pine, a native of the Mediterranean, is cultivated for edible pine nuts They are harvested from the woody pine cones, the female part of the plant, in the autumn and dried. The less conspicuous male cones produce the pollen which has a high nutritional value and is high in testosterone. (It is possible that the pollen influences the sexuality of fish in the rivers used for transporting pine logs, causing them to change from female to male).

Some people with prostate problems and those wishing to improve their libido use pine pollen. A tincture can be made by adding alcohol to the pollen – Jespe recommended vodka.

Lime Tree or Linden

In all trees, as the leaves age the level of tannin increases. This deters animals from eating them. However, lime leaves are generally low in tannin and it makes a good salad leaf. A tea can

be made from the flowers and bracts and this is done commercially. It is good for calming the nervous system.

In areas where the grass had not been mown around the daffodils:


The leaves can be used in salads. The young buds can be pickled and used like capers. The flowers are also edible and can be used to make wine. A ‘coffee’ can be made from the dried, roasted and ground root.

Yarrow or milfoil

The leaves can be infused to make a tea. Oil of yarrow is a dark blue essential oil extracted by steam distillation of the flowers. One of its uses is for skincare.

Lady’s Smock or Cuckoo flower

A meadow plant. The flowers are edible.

Edible plant specimens from the Herbarium at the Museum:


Nettle makes wonderful soup using the young tips, rinsed well to remove the wildlife. It is also used to make beer, wine and tea and is used to treat prostate enlargement and enhance kidney function. Jesper also suggested that arthritis sufferers would find it beneficial to sting the affected area, which increases the blood supply.

Wild Garlic

The buds and the flowers can be eaten. The bulbs are small and with a milder flavour than garlic. However it is the leaves that are eaten raw or cooked more than the bulbs.


The fruit and flowers

are used to make wine.

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