Saturday, 30 December 2017

Smooth Sow Thistle (Sonchus oleraceus)

Smooth Sow Thistle (Sonchus oleraceus) is a species from the Asteraceae or Compositae family. Also known by a variety of common names including common sow thistle, sow thistle, annual sow thistle, hare's thistle, hare's lettuce, hare's colwort, milk thistle (not Silybum marianum) and swinies. It is a native biennial commonly found in Europe including the British Isles.

Smooth sow thistle (S. oleraceus) growing in a crack in the pavement
Smooth sow thistle (S. oleraceus)

A pioneer species, it will colonise bare ground that has been disturbed and can be found all year round in most areas including wasteland, rubbish tips, roadside verges and gardens. It often disappears during very severe winters. The plant below withstood hard frosts, hard frozen ground and snowfall in Scotland in December.

Smooth sow thistle (S. oleraceus) growing on a patio
Smooth sow thistle during a snowfall

Growing methods

Seed can be sow in the spring on the surface of the soil, certainly no deeper than 20mm. They should germinate within the month at 5.3 – 6.8°C. Seedlings can be produced from April through to June but some will still be emerging in September. Smooth sow thistle can tolerate most soil conditions and prefers full sun. This plant does not do well in shady areas, dislikes trampling and grazing or mowing.

Fresh seed can be collected and sown the same day. Seed that has been saved and dried may be viable for 10 years. Smooth sow thistle produce thousands of seed although this can vary depending on growing conditions.

Plants grow to around one metre in height and have a flower very similar to a dandelion. The stem is upright and exudes a milky sap. The leaf form and flower colour may vary slightly depending on where they are grown. Check a wide variety of images online to get more of an idea on identification.

Smooth sow thistle will hybridize with prickly sow thistle (S. asper) to produce S. asper x glaucescens, a plant similar to smooth sow thistle but with slightly prickly leaves. There are several species of Sonchus in the British Isles, however, Sonchus oleraceus is the most common.

Other uses

Smooth sow thistle has strong medicinal properties and is high in nutrients including calcium, iron and vitamin C.

Raw edible parts

The plant can be used in a similar way to dandelion. The leaves, stalks, flowers and flowerbuds are edible raw. The green leaves are large and plentiful where they grow. They can be a little bitter, sometimes not at all. Blanching or boiling removes the bitterness. It has been used (cooked) as greens or spinach. The root can be eaten but is reportedly roasted first. The roasted root can also be used as a coffee substitute.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Marsh samphire (Salicornia europaea)

Marsh samphire (Salicornia europaea) is an annual plant from the Chenopodiaceae family. It is also known as sea asparagus, sea pickle, sampha, sampher, samfa, samfer, sampkin, a mermaid's kiss, common glasswort or glasswort.

Marsh samphire (Salicornia europaea) stems on a plate
Marsh samphire (S. europaea) stems

Marsh samphire plants look like small cacti but without the spines and the stems look like thin asparagus spears. Found natively in coastal areas of Western Europe, it grows on salt marshes, mud flats and is commonly found in estuaries. It is at its best from June until the end of August in the British Isles. It has a short growing season but is well worth foraging for.

Growing methods

It is not absolutely necessary to go foraging for this plant since seeds and plants can now be purchased for home growing. To grow from seed sow seeds under cover in trays in the spring. Germination takes between 5 to 20 days at 25°C and may be erratic. Once they are around 2-3cm in height, seedlings may be potted on to individual pots and grown on a windowsill. If a sunny sheltered spot is available outside, preferably with free draining soil, they can be grown outside. However, protect plants from harsh winter weather.

Plants benefit from watering with salt water (1 tsp per 2 litres of water). Use sea salt not table salt which contains all manner of additives. Keep soil moist at all times. Marsh samphire grows to about 30cm high. Leave one or two plants to flower and they will self seed. Seeds mature in September.

Other uses

Marsh samphire ash was once used in the glass and soap making industries. The plant is rich in vitamins, minerals and fucoidans. It has reportedly been used to aid digestion and kidney complaints.

Raw edible parts

Marsh samphire has raw edible fleshy jointed stems. They are better when young (under 15cm in height) and become tough later on. Marsh samphire can be used as a 'cut-and-come-again' plant. The stems will regenerate after cutting.  Woody older stems can still be eaten, simply pull off the flesh with the teeth and leave the woody bit for the compost bin. As the stems age, or if they contain a lot of salt, they turn a red colour. The crunchy salty stems add flavour to salads and can be pickled. The small black seed, which is a bit small and fiddly to handle, is not edible but the oil pressed from the seed is.

To gather stems, snip with scissors and take care not to pull up the roots. This is particularly important if wild foraging. Refrigerated, stems will keep for a few days. Some say don't wash before storing and they last longer. Marsh samphire can often be found in organic box deliveries during its short season and sometimes supermarkets. However, beware the supermarket variety since they won't always use local samphire. We purchased some this year and only later realised it had been shipped in all the way from Israel!

Marsh samphire (S. europaea) is not the same as rock samphire (Crithmum maritimum), the one that Shakespeare purportedly wrote about in King Lear! The latter is much less common and is more difficult to find growing on high rocky areas. However, the stems can be used in the same way.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Butternut squash (Cucurbita moschata 'butternut')

Butternut squash (Cucurbita moschata 'butternut') is an herbaceous vine from the Cucurbitaceae family. It is also known as winter squash, crookneck pumpkin, cheese pumpkin, gamma and bell squash. Believed to have originated in Latin America, it is easy to grow and store. It is a popular winter vegetable in the UK and is available to buy in the shops now.

Butternut squash growing in a polytunnel
Butternut squash growing in a polytunnel

Growing methods

Sow seeds 2.5cm deep in April or May under cover. Seeds can also be sown in situ in May but only after the risk of frosts has passed. Place seeds on their edge to avoid rot. Since the seeds and the emerging plants are large, it is best to use one seed for each pot.

Once the seedlings are a decent size pot on into a larger pot or outside into their final position. Plants are large and easy to handle but can by easily bruised so should be handled gently. Ensure the soil has been well fed with a few spades of home made compost.

Plants are sprawling so need to be spaced at least a metre apart. Alternatively, they can be grown up a sturdy stake or trellis. We now grow ours up rather than along the ground to save space in the polytunnel.

Butternut squash growing up a cane
Butternut squash growing up a cane

When main shoots reach just over half a metre long pinch the tips out so that the plant concentrates on producing fruit rather than a lot of foliage. Allow insect pollinators to visit to encourage pollination of the flowers. Once the butternut squash fruit fill out ensure they are well supported if they are growing up a stake or trellis. If growing on the ground place them on straw or a clean piece of wood so that they don't get too wet or succumb to any pests or diseases. Keep plants well watered, but do not over water, and feed every two weeks with a high potash feed. We use a liquid feed made from home made compost.

Once fruits are the required size cut the stem leaving around 5cm of stem. Fruits for use immediately can be cut smaller. For winter storage, leave the fruit to grow on the plant until the foliage dies down but ensure fruit is cut before the first frosts. Avoid cutting or damaging the skin at all which will prevent them from being stored for any length of time. Store in a cool dry airy place and butternut squash will last for months.

Plants are susceptible to powdery mildew or grey mould. To deter disease ensure optimal growing conditions. Keep well watered, a good air circulation, especially if grown under cover, and feed well. Pick off any infected leaves or fruit to thwart infection early on.

Other uses

Butternut squash has some medicinal uses. The seed has been used as a remedy for tapeworm.

Raw edible parts

All parts of the plant are edible raw. The rich orange flesh of the butternut squash fruit is probably the best bit. It can be grated or sliced finely in salads or blended to make a raw soup. The inner flesh of the seed is also good although fiddly to remove from the hard outer shell. An oil can also be obtained from the seed.

New butternut squash leaf growing on plant
New butternut squash leaf

The leaves and stems are very hairy and might be a bit rough for eating raw unless very finely chopped. The new growing tips are more tender. The yellow flowers can be used in salads or for decoration.

As a point of interest, all parts of all squash plants are edible raw.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica)

The stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is an herbaceous perennial plant in the Urticaceae family. Also known as nettle, leaf nettle and common nettle. An incredibly useful plant, it is known by many different regional names throughout the world. It is found in temperate regions including the British Isles where it flourishes forming dense thickets, particularly in disturbed ground.

An image of the stinging nettle, an herbaceous perennial plant.
Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica)

Growing methods

Nettles can be propagated by seed which is abundant. Sow in the spring or autumn. Germination may take some time. Dried mature seed which has been saved usually have a viability of three months. Alternatively, eight years if hermetically stored at -18°C. Germination of dry stored seed can be helped by warm stratification and alternating temperatures of 15°C and 25°C in the presence of light. Grow on in a rich potting compost.

Nettles can also be propagated vegetatively. The easiest propagation method is to simply acquire a clump of root and plant it. It will grow! There is no reason to be too fussy.

Nettles grows to just over a metre in height with white to yellowish flowers and can be picked most of the year. If cut at the base, they will come up again fairly quickly. This can be done three or four times per year, more if the conditions are right. They have a very tough rootstock and will readily spread.

Raw edible parts

The toothed leaves, young stems and young shoots can be eaten raw. We don’t have any information regarding the flowers and roots. The roots are certainly used in herbal medicine. Young plants under 30cm in height are best or the leaves only of older plants. The stems of older plants tend to get tough and stringy. However, you can use older plants, stems and all, for teas. Add nettles to smoothies or raw breads and make into a tea. Use 2 tsp of fresh nettle leaves per mug and infuse in hot water for about 10 mins. Drink immediately. Nettle tea can be used as a hair rinse or hair tonic. Nettles can be eaten raw if they are rolled up and crushed well into a ball first. Lightly cooked, they make a very good spinach subsitute and can be used in soup.

Other uses

Nettles are a very beneficial medicinal plant but can be used to make fibre, dye, paper, biomass, compost, a compost activator, a liquid plant feed, rennet and oil. This plant attracts certain species of butterflies and moths.

Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) with the leaves removed and ready to be stripped for fibre
Nettle stems (leaves removed) ready to be stripped for fibre

Nettle fibre strips taken from the outer stems of the stinging nettle (Urtica dioica)
Nettle fibre stripped from the outer stems


Stinging nettles will sting the skin, hence the name. The plant is armed with hairs that break off when touched. Formic acid, one of the chemicals present in the hair, is the cause of the initial stinging sensation. Other chemicals, including acetylcholine and histamine, prolong the agony so a numb tingling sensation can be felt for hours.

The 'sting' can be removed from the plant by hand crushing (use gloves), blending in a blender, wilting, cooking in water, making into tea or refrigerating.

There are repeated references to avoiding older nettles over 20-30 cm in height because they might produce kidney stones. American wild food expert Green Deane refutes this, claiming they are perfectly safe to eat.

Nettles are reportedly 'invasive' although why such a useful plant is considered a nuisance is anyone's guess.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Rosebay willowherb (Chamaenerion angustifolium)

Image of the rosebay willowherb flowering stem
Rosebay willowherb flowers

Rosebay Willowherb (Chamaenerion angustifolium syn. Chamerion angustifolium and Epilobium angustifolium) is a perennial herbaceous plant from the Onagraceae family. Widespread in the Northern Hemisphere, it is a pioneer species and colonises disturbed ground such as newly cleared woodland or land that has been subjected to fire. It colonised bomb sites in Britain during the war and was nicknamed bombweed because of this.

Image of a stand of rosebay willowherb or fireweed
A stand of rosebay willowherb

Rosebay willowherb is known by many common names including fireweed, great willow herb, bombweed, flowering willow, French willow, Persian willow, London pride, London's ruin, singerweed, thunder flower, rose bay willow, blood vine, purple rocket, wickup, wicopy, tame withy and blooming sally. Sally is corruption of the term salix, the 'willow' genus. Rosebay willowherb has willow-like leaves.

Growing methods

The Royal Horticultural Society call it a native perennial weed which we think belies the fact that it is a native wild flower and a very useful one at that. However, do think carefully about introducing it because it has, what the experts call, a strong growth habit. It will almost certainly grow well in your garden but also in your neighbours' gardens, and their neighbours' gardens, too! It spreads by wind borne seed and vigorous shallow-rooted white branching rhizomes which can grow up to one metre a year.

Rosebay willowherb can be grown by propagating the rhizome or by sowing seed direct outside in the autumn. If sowing seed indoors, stratify before use. The plant will grow to a height of around 1.2 metres. It enjoys mildly acidic soil and tolerates a range of growing conditions including shade. It flowers from June until September with a tall spike of pale purple flowers which open gradually from the base of the racemes. Long thin seed capsules are produced which split lengthwise to expose up to 20,000 small seeds covered with white silky hairs. These fine hairs carry the seed far and wide on the wind.

Whilst it can become invasive it is not supposed to survive repeatedly being pulled up or cut down. However, we wouldn't rely on these methods to stop it spreading! Some patches we have are repeatedly scythed when the plant is around 20-30cms high and it has always grown back, usually within weeks during the summer months. These patches have also extended their growing range at the same time. In other words, the plant has continued to spread unabated. You would really have to wage quite a war on it to stop it growing simply by pulling it up and cutting it down!

Edible parts

The young shoots and young leaves can be used raw in a salad. The older leaves become tough and bitter. Cut the young plant down (at about 20-30cms) and it will sprout up again with plenty of side shoots, usually once or twice within the same season

Image of the edible leaves of young rosebay willowherb plants
Young rosebay willowherb plants

The flower stalks can be eaten raw but make sure the flowers are still in bud. The pith of the red stems can be scraped out and eaten raw. You can remove it with a finger nail on the younger plants. You'll need a sharp knife for the older stems which are very tough. It is similar to cucumber and astringent in nature but there is not much of it. The leaves can be used as a tea substitute. Green tea made from rosebay willowherb leaves taste very similar to nettle tea. The leaves can also be made into a black tea by fermenting and drying. The root can be eaten raw but we found it to be bitter. The root is fairly shallow rooted so easy to dig out of the soil but will also break easily.

The older leaves, flower stalks with buds and root can be cooked by steaming or boiling. Boiling the root may reduce or remove the bitterness.

Other uses

Downy seed hairs can be used as a fire lighter or stuffing. The fibre from the outer stem can be used to make cordage. Nettle fibres are longer and stronger. The pith when dried and powdered can be applied to hands and face for protection against cold. Rosebay willowherb is used in herbal medicine.


It can be mistaken for purple loosestrife at a distance. However, rosebay willowherb has a unique pattern on the backs of the leaves which makes identification easy. Loops of interconnected veins which don't touch the edges of the leaf, leaving a margin.

Identifying the rosebay willowherb plant by the reverse side of the leaf
The reverse of a rosebay willowherb leaf

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Musk mallow (Malva moschata)

Musk mallow (Malva moschata) is a short-lived perennial from the Malvaceae family. It is also known as St. Simeon's herb. It is a native to Europe and Asia, found in pastures, grassy banks, hedgerows and roadsides. It is often grown as an ornamental garden plant and the flowers have a musky fragrance.

Image of the flowering plant musk mallow (Malva moschata)
Musk mallow (M. moschata)

Growing methods

Musk mallow is easy to grow from seed and readily self-seeds. The seed itself can remain viable in the ground for years. Sow directly in the ground in their final position in the spring or the autumn by simply pressing the seed into the soil. Alternatively scatter the seeds and rake them in. Plants prefer a reasonably dry fertile soil and a sunny position.

To grow indoors; sow seeds in seed compost in pots or trays. If growing in trays leave 2cm between the seeds. Lightly cover with compost and water. Seeds should germinate from between 1-3 weeks. Plant out to their final position when large enough. Plants may look delicate but they are hardy.

Image of the immature flower heads of musk mallow (Malva moschata)
Musk mallow leaves and immature flower heads

Musk mallow grows to a height of 70cm and has a bushy habit flowering from June to August. Flowers are pink but may be white and the leaf shape may vary being either more or less deeply cut. It won't require pruning but may need staking particularly in a formal garden. Musk mallow looks good in a cottage garden habitat or wild flower border.

It doesn't generally suffer from pests or diseases except maybe the occasional rust or leaf spot.

Other uses

Musk mallow can be used to make a dye. The leaves, roots and flowers have herbal medicinal properties. The stems can be used to make fibre for paper making, textiles and cordage.

Raw edible parts

The leaves, flowers and seeds are all edible raw. The leaves and flowers are mild in flavour and are good in salads. A tea can be made from the leaves flowers or roots.

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.

Image of hawthorn (Crataegus monnogyna) edible red fruit and distinctive leaves
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 leaves and bags made with blackberry, raspberry and strawberry leaves
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.

An image of freshly dug carrots with their leafy green foliage
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


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The cover of Raw Edible Wild Plants by Amanda Rofe

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The front cover of Edible Plants for Preppers by Amanda rofe

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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.