Elder - for health and magic

BY AARON "HEDGEROW" EDGELEY

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Common Name:       Elder

Genus & Species:       Sambucus nigra (L.)

Family:                      Adoxaceae

Other Names:           Elderberry, Elderflower, Common Elder, European Elder, Black Elder

Range and Habitat:  A native species, found in woodland and hedgerows throughout the UK and Europe with a subspecies present in eastern North America.

General ID:                Growing as a small deciduous tree up to 20 feet in height, the centre of the twigs is generally hollow, filling with a corky pith as they become older. Leaves are pinnate in opposite pairs of 5-7 leaflets. Fragrant umbels of creamy flowers appear from late May and throughout June and are of approximately uniform size. This distinguishes it from the superficially similar flowers of the Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus) which does not have the same uses. Flowers are followed in the autumn by small glossy berries which are black when ripe.

For food…                 The flowers are made into a range of beverages and are a commercially popular cordial. This can then also be then made into jellies and sorbets, and are the perfect accompaniment to gooseberries. The flowers can also be dipped into batter and made into delicious fritters. Fruits are edible only when fully ripe but can then be added to jams, jellies chutneys, syrups and other desserts. Their sweet-tart flavour also accompanies game well, and in Germany a soup is made from them.

For healing…            The whole plant is used medicinally, with the flowers being used to relive hayfever, and both fruits and flowers have been used in traditional herbalism for respiratory and gastro-intestinal disorders, viral infections and influenza.

In culture…               Berries have been used as a dye and leaves as an insecticide. The name Elder is believed to come from the Anglo-saxon word ‘æld’ meaning ‘fire’, referring to its use to make bellows tubes. It also has a long association with witchcraft, reflected in modern times by the Elder Wand in Harry Potter. It is said that if you burn elder you will see the devil, but planting it by your house will protect you from the devil or malicious witches. It was also regarded as the tree upon which Judas hung himself in some mediaeval Christian traditions.

For wildlife…             Leaves are a food source for a variety of insects including the White Spotted Pug Moth (Eupithecia tripunctaria), Buff Ermine Moth (Spilarctia luteum – sometimes placed in Spilosoma) and others. Small mammals such as Hazel dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) and many birds such as the Blackbird (Turdus merula) eat the berries. It is also host to some distinctive fungi, including an edible Jelly Ear fungi (Auricularia auricular-judae).

At FFPG…                 We have elder trees in our forest garden area and along our hedgerow.

 

Disclaimer:

This is intended for information only. FFPG, its staff, trustees and volunteers do not make any claim as to the safety or efficacy of plants listed for medicinal purposes and do not encourage the consumption or use of any of the plants listed herein. Anybody wishing to use plants for medicinal effect is advised to consult their medical professional.

Hawthorn - the May blossom.

BY AARON "HEDGEROW" EDGELEY

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Common Name:       Hawthorn

Genus & Species:      Crataegus monogyna (Jacq.)

Family:                        Rosaceae

Other Names:           May, Quickthorn, Common Hawthorn, Single-seeded       Hawthorn, Haw

Range and Habitat:  Found across the UK as a native in hedgerows, scrub and  woodland.

General ID:               A shrub or small tree that can get to 15m (45 feet) in height, but is often a lot smaller because of its use in hedging in part because it is covered in thorns. The leaves are about 6cm long and are dissected, appearing before the flowers. Flowers are white, but sometimes pinkish and have a heady aroma. They form clusters on the tree in the month of May and are followed by reddish fruits in the autumn. It is closely related to, and often hybridises with another native – Midland Hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata) but can be distinguished in its slightly sweeter smelling flowers, single seeded fruit (2-5 in C. laevigata) and less deeply cut leaves

For food…                 The leaves of both species are eaten when they are newly emerged in spring and have a nutty flavour. Flowers can also be eaten and taste like marzipan. This should be done in moderation, as the almond-like flavour is due to the presence of prussic acid. Fruits are harvested in the autumn and are best made into chutneys, ketchups, preserves or fruit leathers. I have been known to mix them with mashed potato, and are just as good eaten straight from the tree. Care should always be taken to remove the seed however. They also have a reputation for making excellent brandy and are rich in antioxidants.

For healing…            Hawthorn is usually used medically for heart related conditions, having an effect described as steadying heartbeat and increasing blood flow to the heart whilst having an overall calming effect. It has uses in both conventional (allopathic) medicine and a range of alternative treatments. The flowering branches with leaves and the haws (fruits) are both used for this purpose.

In culture…               The tree is deeply embedded in British folklore. It is considered bad luck to cut it and bring it indoors, possibly because the aroma of the cut flowers produces trimethylamine which is the same chemical produced when an animal first dies. However, it is also associated with fertility and the promise of spring by virtue of its flowering season as alluded to in Chaucer:

Marke the faire blooming of the Hawthorne tree
Who finely cloathed in a robe of white,
Fills full the wanton eye with May’s delight.’

The tradition of ‘Going ‘a maying’ – a period of sexual license, coincided with its blooming. It is often used to represent Acacia (which does not naturally occur in Britain) in Christian arrangements. As well as being a wood used for veneers and carving, thorns have been used as fish-hooks by ancient peoples.

For wildlife…            There are at least 300 species of insect that hawthorn supports, including being a food plant for moths such as Small Eggar (Eriogaster lanestris), Light Emerald (Campaea margaritaria) and Rhomboid Tortrix (Acleris rhombana) to name but a few. Fruits are important food sources for many birds such as Fieldfares (Turdus pilaris) and Redwings (Turdus iliacus). It is also a good source of nectar for many species of bee, including the Honeybee (Apis mellifera). The dense thorny foliage makes it an ideal place for nesting birds and small mammals.

At FFPG…                 We have many hawthorns in the hedges at the border of our site and also stand alone trees more centrally located in the garden.

 

Disclaimer:

This is intended for information only. FFPG, its staff, trustees and volunteers do not make any claim as to the safety or efficacy of plants listed for medicinal purposes and do not encourage the consumption or use of any of the plants listed herein. Anybody wishing to use plants for medicinal effect is advised to consult their medical professional.

We've got a new stage thanks to Wolf's!

Those who visited our World Music Day in past years could have noticed that our stage used to be quite worn and rickety. Not anymore!

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We're hugely grateful to Wolf's & Selco Beckton branch for donating the materials and doing all the building work for free. Three fantastic builders - Eugenijus Jankauskas, Rolandas Liaudanskas and Mindaugas Asmontas - came over to our Garden and very efficiently put up a new stage.

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This will make a real difference to our celebration events and fundraising. We're looking forward to seeing it in action at World Music Day on 24 June.

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Daffodil - spring has arrived!

Our very own ethnobotanist and forager, Aaron "Hedgerow" Edgeley, presents the first Plant of the Month.

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Common Name:       Daffodil

Genus & Species:     Narcissus pseudonarcissus (L.)

Family:                      Amaryllidaceae

Other Names:           Narcisssus, Lent Lily, Jonquil

Range and Habitat:  Found in woodland and grassland in the UK and Western Europe. In Britain as either a native or an archeophyte, it is locally abundant but declining across its range. John Gerard, writing in the 16th century, stated that it grew “almost everywhere through England” but is much scarcer now.

General ID:                Daffodils are a perennial bulb with upright, strap-like, grey-green leaves with rounded tips. The leaves arise from the base of the stem, the top of which sports a single flower. The flower consists of a dark yellow 'trumpet' (corona) surrounded by a ring of 3 sepals and 3 petals (perianth), which are a lighter yellow. In our native wild species the 'trumpet' and ring of petals are roughly the same length. Flowers are usually produced from March to April. The daffodil is clump-forming in suitable habitat. Numerous hybrids and commercial forms are available however which vary these characteristics.

For food…                 The bulb and all green parts are poisonous and should not be eaten. The flowers are edible, however and do add some funky colour to a spring salad or in sandwiches. Larger trumpeted varieties can be stuffed with sticky rice to make ‘daffodil sushi’.

For healing…            As with many members of the Amaryllidaceae, Daffodils contain galantamine which is currently being used in research to combat Alzheimer’s disease and similar conditions.

In culture…               The flower is the national flower of Wales. The origin of the word ‘Daffodil’ is uncertain, but is believed to be a shortened form of ‘bastard asphodel’, asphodel being another similar plant. The name Narcissus is shared with a youth from Greek mythology who fell in love with his own reflection and is believed this is echoed in the plants’ nodding habit.

For wildlife…             Are a pollen source for pollen beetles (Meligethes species) and bulbs are a food source for the Narcissus Fly (Merodon equestris)

At FFPG…                 We grow Daffodils under many of our orchard trees at FFPG, providing a welcome splash of colour in springtime!

 

Disclaimer:

This is intended for information only. FFPG, its staff, trustees and volunteers do not make any claim as to the safety or efficacy of plants listed for medicinal purposes and do not encourage the consumption or use of any of the plants listed herein. Anybody wishing to use plants for medicinal effect is advised to consult their medical professional.