Friday, 16 June 2017

Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)

Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) is a long-lived deciduous shrub or small tree from the rose (Rosaceae) family. It is also known as the faerie tree, May tree, May blossom, May tree, May thorn, thorn apple, white thorn, quick thorn, haw, hawberry, one seed hawthorn, motherdie or bread and cheese tree.

Hawthorn (C. monogyna) Wildfowl and Wetland Trust: London Wetland Centre.

It is a common native tree in Europe and a pioneer species capable of colonising land that has been disturbed or damaged in some way. It is often found on scrubland, in woods and hedgerows. It is very easy to identify with its deeply lobed leaves, beautiful white blossom and deep red fruit.

Growing hawthorn

Hawthorn flowers in May with scented blossom that attracts a myriad of insects. The deep red fruit that follows are called haws and are pomes rather than berries. Haws ripen in the Autumn but might hang on the tree until the following Spring.

Gather the ripe haws and peel off the fleshy outer fruit to reveal the single large seed. Check the seed is viable by placing in water. Those that float are good to go. Those that sink are not! Place viable seed in a pot with regular potting compost and leave the pot outside over winter. Seeds need a period of cold before they germinate. They should germinate in the Spring but can take up to 18 months. Once the seedlings are big enough, pot them on and then out into their final growing spot.

Hawthorn can also be grown from cuttings by taking semi-ripe cuttings in the Autumn. Ensure to take more than required since there is a good chance they may not all root. If you don't want to grow your own or time is of the essence, hawthorn 'whips' may be purchased from nurseries in bulk at around 55p each.

Hawthorn is relatively fast growing and grows up to elevations of 500m. It thrives on a wide range of soils as long as they are not waterlogged. It grows to between 5-14 metres in height and does best in full sun.

Hawthorn is generally tough and disease resistent. However, it may be vulnerable to gall mite, aphid attack, fire blight and Erwinia amylovora, a bacterial disease. C. monogyna will hybridise with Britain's other native hawthorn, Midland hawthorn (C. laevigata) and it can be hard to tell them apart.

Other uses

Hawthorn is an important species for wildlife providing food for more than 150 insect species. The fruit is a popular food sources for birds and small mammals. The shrub is densely branched with many thorns and is popular as hedging deterring people and animals. If left untrimmed, it will grow into a stocky tree. It produces a fine grained hard wood used in wood turning, engraving, to make veneers, cabinets, tools and boat parts. It also makes good charcoal and firewood. Hawthorn is used in herbal medicine, primarily for conditions relating to the heart and circulation.

Raw edible parts

Hawthorn has raw edible flowers, flower buds, leaves, young shoots and fruit. The leaves and flowers can be made into a tea. The leaves have a nutty flavour and a good mouth feel. The red fruit are called haws and have large seeds and little flesh but are perfectly edible although not very sweet. The fruit are typically made into jellies, jams, ketchup and syrups. They can be used to make wine or flavour brandy. The leaves can be used as a China tea substitute and the roasted (sorry not raw!) seed for 'coffee'.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Making black tea and coffee from plants

Black tea

Black tea is obtained from the dried fermented leaves of the tea shrub (Camellia sinensis). This is also known as English tea, Assam tea or chai. The tea shrub can be grown in the British Isles but is half-hardy and will need bringing indoors or covering well to protect from frosts and the cold winter months. It is possible to make tea out of C. Japonica and although it doesn’t have the rich flavour of C. sinensis, it is an acceptable alternative. C. Japonica is more easy to grow in the British Isles. If neither are available then use blackberry, raspberry or strawberry leaves (or a mix of all three). The tannins in the plants give the tea a
rich full bodied flavour.

Black tea made from fermented and dried blackberry, raspberry and strawberry leaves. Place a spoonful of tea in individual empty bags for ease of use.

Pick the top three leaves of the young tips of the Camellias or use the leaves from blackberry, raspberry or strawberry plants. Crush the fresh leaves well and break up into small pieces. Remove any large woody stems. Place leaves in a covered bowl and leave in a warm dark place for around a week to ferment.

Turn the leaves at least once a day to allow air to circulate and fermentation to occur evenly. Alternatively, place leaves in a polythene bag in a warm place and shake the bag once a day. Most of the leaves should turn black.

Place in a low oven until completely dry and crispy. Crush the crispy leaves up into even smaller pieces. Store in an airtight containing until required. Use like loose black tea and make in a teapot or place tea leaves in loose tea bags. They can be heat sealed or, easier still, closed with a pull string. These little bags are particularly useful when travelling. Tea can be drunk black or with milk, sugar or lemon added.

We use a mix of blackberry, raspberry and strawberry leaves for black tea. Plants are easy to identify and can be found almost anywhere. The result has the aroma, flavour and colour of black tea. Little individual sachets can be stuffed with the dried leaves and used as tea bags. They are useful when travelling.

As a point of interest a green tea can be made from the steamed and dried leaves of the tea plant.

‘Coffee’ powder

Carrot (root) or
Chicory (root) or
Dandelion (root) or
Jerusalem artichoke (root) or
Parsnip (root) or
Rye (grains)

The familiar coffee beans purchased in shops in the UK come from a tree grown in the 'coffee belt' which is a climate vastly different to that of the British Isles. Coffee requires a humid climate and high altitude, amongst other requisites. These conditions can be duplicated to a certain extent in a greenhouse and there are reports of some successes such as in the Rainforest Biome at the Eden Project.

Rather than trying to overcome the difficulties of growing coffee in the UK, we are going to concentrate on producing a reasonably good coffee substitute from other, rather more easily grown plants.

To make coffee powder with the roots (see above for a list of the best), take the fresh root, slice thinly and place on a baking sheet in the oven or over an open fire and cook until dark brown and crispy. Rye grains can be simply placed on a baking sheet as they are and cooked in the same way. Cooking doesn’t take long so check back frequently.

Leave to cool and then grind up in a coffee grinder or by hand with a wooden spoon. Store in an airtight container until required. The powder can be used like instant coffee or put through a cafetierre which results in less residue in the bottom of the cup.

Use 1-2 teaspoons per person or mug. Milk and sugar can be added as with any other coffee. Dandelion is probably one of the most popular substitutes and has a good flavour. Different powders can be mixed to get a better or slightly different flavour. Dandelion and chicory go well together.

Many other plant parts can be used to make a coffee substitute e.g. scorzonera root, skirret root or sweet chestnut. They are usually always dry roasted to get the familiar coffee flavour.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Carrots (Daucus carota ssp. sativus)

The cultivated carrot is a biennial umbellifer from the Apiaceae family and was domesticated from the wild carrot (Daucus carota). Wild carrots are found in temperate regions of the world and are quite common in the British Isles. However, carrots are thought to have originated in Persia which is the region now known as Iran and Afghanistan. Nowadays cultivars come in many different colours including black, purple, red, white and yellow.

Carrots (Daucus carota ssp. sativus)

According to Eurostat the EU-28 produced an estimated 5.1 million tonnes of carrots in 2015. Poland and the UK accounted for over a quarter of EU-28 output. Overall, China are by far the largest carrot producers in the world.

How to grow carrots

Carrots grow best in a sunny position with a light fertile soil. Try to avoid heavy clay soils or soils with a lot of stones which can 'fork' the roots. Grow the blocky short carrots in heavy or stony soils and the long slender varieties in deep loose soil. Carrots can also be grown in containers, greenhouses or polytunnels.

Seeds are generally sown from March until July although early and late varieties are available. Sow seeds thinly 1cm (1/2") deep and 30cm (12") apart. Water the bed after sowing and keep the bed from drying out during the growing season. Thin out seedlings as they grow to allow enough space for the roots to develop. Harvest when ready. Baby (or young) carrots can be harvested early or the roots left to mature. Lift late carrots by October and store over the winter.

One of the main problems with growing carrots is carrot root fly, the larvae of which burrows deep into the carrot ruining it. Carrot root fly is a tricky customer to avoid. Sow seeds thinly so you don't have to thin them out thereby alerting the fly with the scent of newly thinned foliage. Thin in the evenings when the fly is less active and water afterwards. Grow under cover. Surround beds with a fleece or mesh around 60cm high.

Raw edible parts

The roots and carrot tops (ferny green top foliage) are edible raw. The tops are probably best eaten young in salads as they have a strong flavour and can get a little bitter. Older leaves can be juiced or blended with other vegetables. Carrot roots can be grated in salads or juiced for a beneficial drink. The grated root can be used to make an excellent raw carrot cake. An edible oil can be obtained from the seed and leaves. The aromatic seed can be used as a spice.

Other uses

The whole plant has long been used in herbal medicine for various ailments including kidney and bladder conditions. The root can be made into a wine. The roasted ground root can be made into a coffee substitute. An orange dye can be obtained from the root.


The foliage, in particular the sap, is very nutritious but can sometimes cause an allergic skin reaction in sensitive people.


Raw sauerkraut recipe using carrots

400g white cabbage
1 medium sized carrot
2 tsp sea salt
0.5 litre Kilner or Le Parfait jar with rubber seal and clip-on lid

Finely chop the cabbage and carrot. Layer the cabbage, carrot and sea salt in the jar. Press down firmly and seal the jar. Leave for 3-7 days to ferment. Check it regularly and when it tastes tangy it will be ready to eat. Bloom may appear on the surface, simply skim it off and discard. Store in a cool dark place, adding water to ensure the vegetables are fully covered if needs be, and it should last for months. Juice from the original batch can be poured over a new batch to help the fermentation process.

This is a really useful way of preserving vegetables with a minimal amount of work. Sauerkraut can also be made in a crock pot or other container. However, do ensure it is covered with a plate or clean cloth. Other vegetables that work well in sauerkraut include red cabbage, cucumbers, garlic, guerkin, onions and turnip. However, most vegetables can be used but they must be raw and uncooked. Sauerkraut is full of probiotics and very beneficial to health.

Friday, 31 March 2017


Kindle Countdown Deals are running on the following three books at the beginning of April. Get your copy now!

Raw Edible Wild Plants for the British Isles (and other places too)
Countdown Deal: 1 - 8 April 2017 only.

Kindle Countdown Deal for Raw Edible Wild Plants

Edible Plants for Preppers
Countdown Deal: 1 - 8 April 2017 only

Kindle Countdown Deal for Edible Plants for Preppers

Raw Edible Flowers and Leaves
Countdown Deal: 1 - 7 April 2017 only

Kindle Countdown deal for Raw Edible Flowers and Leaves

Sunday, 19 March 2017

INEDIBLE plant list - WARNING! Do not eat!

As a point of interest, here are a list of some of the more common plants that are mildly or extremely toxic. It would probably be unwise to eat them raw or at all. Other species in the same family as these plants may also have similar toxic properties

Some of these plants can be ingested after processing. For example, Creeping Buttercup (Ranunculus repens) has toxins that can be eliminated by heating or drying. Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) can be eaten once the bitter saponins are removed although even then it is probably wise to consume in moderation or better still use them to make soap. Possibly the young leaves and flower buds of the Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris) can be eaten raw but the whole plant contains toxic glycosides. Higher quantities are contained in older plants and toxins can be destroyed with heat.

It isn't, therefore, always black and white when considering the edibility of plants. Indeed, there are uses for all plants, even the ones we consider extremely poisonous. For the average bod, simply interested in the edibility of a plant and basic home remedies, it might be best to stick to more safer plants.

A selection of common plants which are TOXIC to varying degrees (this is not an exhaustive list):


A - Anemone (Anemone species), Azalia (Rhododendron species)

B - Creeping Buttercup (Ranunculus repens), Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta), Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii)

C - Celadine (Chelidonoin majus), Christmas Rose (Helleborus species), Clematis (Clematis species), Crocus (Colchicum species), Cyclamen (Cyclamen hederifolium)

D - Daffodil (Narcissus species), Deadly Nightshade (Atropa belladonna)

F - Foxglove (Digitalis species)

G - Globeflower (Trollius europaeus)

H - Hemlock (Conium maculatum), Henbane (Hyoscyamus niger), Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum)

L - Laburnham (Laburnum anagyroides), Larkspur (Delphinium nuttallianum), Lily of the Valley (Convallaria keiskei, Convallaria majalis), Lupin (Lupinus species)

M - Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris), Monkshood (Aconitum uncinatum)

P - Pasque Flower (Pulsatilla vulgaris), Periwinkle (Vinca major, Vinca minor), Pheasants Eye (Adonis vernalis), Potato leaves (Solanum tuberosum)

R - Rhubarb leaves (Rheum rhaponticum), Rhododendron (Rhododendron species)

T - Thorn Apple (Datura stramonium), Tobacco Plant (Nicotiana tabacum), Tomato leaves (Solanum lycopersicum), Tree Mallow (Lavatera arborea) 

W - Wild Spurge (Euphorbia corollata) and Yew (Taxus baccata).

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Edible Plants for Preppers: Lichen (Chpt 15)

 Plants for Preppers by Amanda Rofe. £2.50 Amazon Kindle.

In light of the uncertainty facing the world these days, we have decided to publish a series of chapters from Edible Plants for Preppers. Available from Amazon Kindle for £2.50, it provides a lot of useful information for UK preppers on a vegan or plant-based diet. Please note, while it encourages food to be eaten uncooked, and in its natural state, it is not a raw food book.

Links to other chapters


There are around 20,000 species of lichen and they grow everywhere on the planet. Lichen are unusual and plant-like but are actually composed of an alga and a fungus living in a symbiotic relationship. Lichen are often the very first life form to grow in a barren place. They don't really need soil and can grow in very harsh sterile rocky areas. They grow spectacularly well in Arctic regions. As lichens grow on rocks they release organic acids and slowly etch away at the rock. Very slowly lichen will initiate soil formation setting the stage for something called primary succession. In time, when soil has been formed, other plants can move in.

Lichens are also an important food source for some animals. Caribou and reindeer use it as a food in harsh climates. Reindeer moss (Cladonia rangiferina), also known as caribou moss or reindeer lichen, is almost their sole source of nutrition during long winter months. Cladonia species is one of the most common lichen with the least amount of acid and prized by human and animals for a long time. It is clumpy and spongy like cummulus cloud and a greyish blue colour.

Humans have also used lichen for food and it has been eaten by many different cultures throughout the world. It has been used as a delicacy, as a staple food and as a survival food when food was scarce. In fact it was used in recent history during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1992-1995). The most used lichens were oak lichen (Evernia prunastri) and old man's beard (Usnea species) which were made into a porridge and a flour.

In Norway during the early 19th century, dried Iceland moss (Cetraria islandica) was made into a flour by soaking it in lye for 24 hours and then drying it. It was then blended with grain before being ground down into a flour. Unfermented flat breads or porridge were usually made from the flour.

The ancient Egyptians also used a lichen called oak moss (Evernia prunastri) in bread. This lichen is found widely in mountainous regions of the Northern Hemisphere growing primarily on trees.

In the British Isles one type of lichen which is edible is Icelandic moss (Cetraria islandica). The leaves are the edible parts and must be soaked and, possibly also boiled, to remove the bitterness. Historically, Icelandic moss has been used for herbal medicinal purposes and is strongly antibiotic. It has also been used as a cough and cancer remedy.

Most lichen will need some processing before it can be eaten due to the bitter flavour. The bitterness is due to large amounts of vulpinic and usnic acids. Some with a very high acid content such as wolf lichen (Letharia vulpina) can be toxic and shouldn't be eaten at all. This lichen is one of only two that are known to be inedible. The other one is powder sunshine lichen (Vulpicida pinastri). These two species are fairly easily identified because of their yellow colouring. Although they are toxic for internal use, they can be used externally and are particularly good for sores or wounds.

Lichen is very difficult to identify but most are pretty safe to eat. However, best to avoid the yellow ones and ensure they are prepared correctly. It is also important to remember that lichen can live for centuries so foraging must take place from pristine areas where no pollution has occurred at all. This probably doesn't apply to anywhere in the British Isles!

To prepare lichen it is generally necessary to soak it in numerous changes of water, usually with hardwood ash or bicarbonate of soda, to remove the acids. It is likely that the lichen will need to be boiled too, also with several changes of water. If lichen tastes like aspirin, then it hasn't been prepared correctly and shouldn't be eaten.

One method of preparing lichen (Cladonia and Alectoria species) that the aboriginal people in the Boreal region of North America used was to soften in hot water and then mix with other foods. Some lichen was actually eaten fresh straight from the trees and was said to be quite sweet. Other methods they used to prepare lichen included boiling, drying, fermenting and baking.

Lichens can also be difficult to digest because of the complex polysaccharides content. Local people who are well used to eating lichen are actually better at digesting it and there is evidence that the human body will adapt. However eating most lichen in its raw state will probably taste quite bad as well as inducing a bad stomach ache.