How to Identify Greater Celandine (Papaveraceae family)

Learn how to identify greater celandine, then discover its medicinal uses.

Some plants teach us that appearances as well as common plant names can deceive us. This herb may seem at first glance to be a member of the edible mustard family. But as you quickly learn to identify greater celandine, it will become apparant why it is a member of the poppy family.

This biennial / short lived perennial herb was probably introduced to Britain by the Romans, as part of their medicine cabinet.

What’s in a name?

The generic part of the scientific name Chelidonium is from an ancient Greek word ‘khelidõn’, the name given to the swallow bird.

For a long time people have studied the timing and appearance of flowers and wildlife. With celandine, we noticed thousands of years ago that the first swallow sightings in the spring coincide with the opening of its first flowers.

Greater celandine flowers open around the same time as the swallows arrive from Africa.
Greater celandine flowers open around the same time as swallows arrive from Africa.

From my vantage point in southern England, this has proven to be true in 2021. Its flowers started appearing in the week before I saw my first swallow of the season. Swallow wort is an old common name for the plant.

The specific part of the name, majus, is from an old Latin word meaning ‘bigger’ or ‘greater’.

Our common name is simply a mutated word straight from the old Greek name. The lesser celandine (Ficaria verna) is unrelated to greater celandine. I think that some prudish people didn’t like the other common name for lesser celandine – pilewort – so began also referring to the buttercup family plant as celandine, simply because of its yellow flowers.

Botanical description

Leaves: Large grey-green pinnate leaves, 15 to 35 cm long. Usually a blue-green colour below.

Greater celandine has a pinnate leaf, with hairs on the midrib
Greater celandine has pinnate, lobed leaves, with hairs on the midrib.

Typically, greater celandine has 4 to 5 pairs of oval-oblong leaflets. The larger terminal leaflet is usually 3- lobed. The leaflets generally curl upwards.

Greater celandine's petiole is white and hairy
Greater celandine’s midrib is white and hairy.

The leaflets are mostly hairless, but occasionally have white hairs. The white-ish midribs are noticeably hairy. Its leaf margins are crenated.

Celandine's crenated leaflet lobes, curling upwards.
Celandine’s frilly-looking crenated leaflets. The margins curl upwards.

 

Petioles: The brittle, hairy, and hollow petioles snap easily, to reveal abundant orange-yellow latex. This feature will help you enormously when learning how to identify greater celandine from possible lookalikes.

 

Roots: A conical taproot with numerous lateral branches.

 

Stems: The round stems can reach up to 90 cm and more. Hairy at the leaf nodes, and towards the base. The stems bleed lots of latex when snapped.

The orange-yellow latex is a key feature when learning to identify greater celandine,
Orange-yellow latex flows through greater celandine.

 

Flowers: Its flower buds are very hairy. The resultant umbel type inflorescence usually shows 6 – 9 flowers per umbel.

Pubescent flower buds soon expand into umbels of 6 -9 flowers.

Celandine flowers are around 12 – 25 mm diameter and a lovely bright butter yellow colour. They are pollinated by tiny flies who love the abundance of pollen

 

Greater celandine has four untidy looking butter-yellow petals and a mass of yellow stamens.
Shiny butter-yellow petals and a mass of yellow stamens.

Each flower has two sepals (falling as the flower opens), four petals, and approximately 15 – 30 stamens surrounding the pistil. The numerous stamens and fused carpels, tell us its not a brassica herb.

 

 

Flowering season: You will find celandine flowering at the end of April, continuing through the summer into late September.

The petals, like the leaflets, can often curl upwards.

The flowers are smaller than other members of the family, such as the Welsh poppy (Meconopsis cambrica), helping you to positively identify it.

The larger yellow flower heads of the Welsh popoy
The larger yellow flower heads of the Welsh poppy.

 

Fruits: The fruits are thin and almost cylindrical. They contain numerous small black seeds.

Celandine flowers soon produce thin, cylindrical seed pods
Celandine flowers soon produce thin, cylindrical seed pods.

Industrious ants then spread the seeds around. They love eating the fleshy little seed attachment.

Habitats: This plant loves wastegrounds, roadsides, neglected garden borders, hedges, and various crevices in old walls and paths in urban settings. As a former well-used medicinal herb, many populations are found near human habitations.

Parts used: Leaves and flowering tops.

Harvesting: Where possible, take the leaves and flowering stems from diferent specimens, to reduce your impact. My guide to harvesting wild plants gives you many tips and tricks for best results.

 

Edible uses: None.

 

Medicinal uses: The herb is used across the world. Its constituents display a range of actions, making it useful for a number of conditions, both internally and externally.

Greater celandine features in the proprietory blend of nine herbs called ‘Iberogast’, successfully used to treat irritable bowel syndrome and functional dyspepsia.

But because the herb has provoked adverse reactions (as do many drugs) in 2008 the E.U refused to grant it ‘traditional use’ status to use internally. Following Brexit, I wonder quite where it leaves Herbalists in the UK.

One of its major topical uses is in the treatment of warts, veruca’s and corns. The latex contains many alkaloids and irritant compounds that kill the virus in infected cells. Care is needed to avoid any other skin contact.

Its worth repeating here that a) dose is always critical, b) you should always seek professional healthcare advice before taking anything, and c) any new wild plant you are planning to introduce into your body as food or medicine, needs to be done slowy. Your tolerance always needs testing.

 

If you have any questions  about this article or any other of the 72 species now covered, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Coming soon, my latest monthly at-a-glance wild food guide. Foraging in May.

Happy foraging!

 

 

 

How to Identify Hemlock (Conium maculatum) Apiaceae family

Learn how to identify hemlock and ensure you stay safe in the hedgerow!

Learning how to identify hemlock is something all aspiring foragers need to do. This is a weedy plant that you find in all manner of settings up and down Britain. It also pops up in gardens, looking a little like parsley,

This deadly poisonous plant has a dark and mysterious reputation, in part due to its narcotic properties and because of its toxic nervine alkaloid coniine. This is the plant that the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates was put to death with.

The plants in the carrot family are some of the trickiest to identify, yet critical and delightful to have in our herb and spice rack. But to acquire the full pleasure of Britain’s wild culinary plants, you will have to learn to identify them and have your mind bended, just like everyone else!

The fact that the plants in this family can look similar at first and second glance is reason enough to engage your other senses when working with them. Each of them smells unique. But nothing changes the fact that they are not easy plants for beginner foragers to work with.

Hopefully by the time you have read this article, you will confidently know how to positively identify hemlock, and tell it apart from its numerous lookalikes.

What’s in a name?

The generic part of the name Conium, comes from the old Greek ‘Kőneion’.  It seems that the word is derived from the similar Greek word ‘konas’. This word means to spin or whirl, in reference to vertigo and the physical effects of ingesting hemlock.

The specific part of the name ‘maculatum’, as readers of my Lords and ladies article will already know, describes the spotted appearance that’s easily visible on hemlock leaf stalks and flowering stems.

Our name hemlock is beleived to be from the old Saxon English. The old Saxon word ‘Hem’ or ‘Hym’ means border or shore. The suffix ‘leac’ means plant or herb.

 

Botanical description

Newcomers to foraging may need the glossary, although I do try and keep the obscure tech speak to a minimum.

Leaves: The leaves and petioles give ample opportunity all year round to positively identify hemlock.

Hemlock grows over winter, giving you plenty of opportunities to learn to identify it.
Hemlock grows over winter, giving you plenty of opportunities identify it.

Hemlock has large, usually shiny dark green pinnate leaves; typically around 40 cm long in a triangular shape.

Hemlock is bigger than wild chervil, with its triangular leaves around 40 cm .

Each leaf has between 2 -5  pinnate divisions, with numerous leaflets, giving a feathery, fern-like appearance. The basal leaves are mostly 3-  4- pinnate.

Individual leaflets are lobed, with pointy tips. Leaflet tips produce a white hydathode. The leaflets are generally a 1 – 2 cm long.

Identifying hemlock is much easier if you use your nose.Crushing and sniffing the leaflets help you learn how to Identify hemlock.
Crushing and sniffing the leaflets help you quickly learn how to Identify hemlock.
Leaflet lobes are  1 - 2 cm long with a white tip.
Leaflet lobes are 1 – 2 cm long with a white tip.

 

In contrast, wild chervil has far more rounded leaflet lobes. Another lookalike, the upright hedge parsley, has smaller leaves, with few leaflet divisions and hardly any smell to it.

Sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata) should never be mistaken for hemlock because a) it smells of aniseed, and b) it has white spotting on dull green hairy leaves.

Other carrot family plants aren’t anywhere as big, apart from common hogweed and giant hogweed, and they have totally different foliage.

To my nose, hemlock stinks! Large stands of the hemlock produce a noticeably mousy, rank smell, especially on hot days. Crush and sniff a part of a leaf to reveal the aroma. Contrast this with wild chervil’s sweet, faint, parsley smell.

Petiole: The other key I/D feature here is the red-purple spotting. These can be specks or large streaks and blotches. Online chat rooms may mention specimens without spots, but in almost 25 years of studying plants I haven’t seen one yet.

Hemlock is instantly recognisable when up close, with its 'Socrates blood' spots on petioles and flowering stems.
Hemlock is instantly recognisable, with its ‘Socrates blood’ spots on petioles and stems.

You will notice the petiole is hairless, hollow and almost cylindrical. You will see fine lines running down it.

Take just the petiole and you will know how to identify hemlock.
With just the leaf stalk, you can learn enough to positively identify hemlock.

Theae few key charactsristics are markedly different to most other carrot family plants in Britain.

So as you are hopefully beginning to see, there are easy-to-spot differences between species, and its not that difficult to learn how to identify hemlock after all!

 

Roots:  Hemlock has a long white tap root.

An old botanical illustration of hemlock
An old botanical illustration of hemlock.  Doesn’t quite get the leaves right.          Free Public Domain Illustrations by rawpixel is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Stem:  The plant can easily reach 2 metres and more. The stems are hollow, hairless, and gracefully branched toward the top.

 

Flowers: Although not the most critical factor in how to identify hemlock, its definitely worth knowing the detail of inflorescence.

Hemlock has white, lacy-looking flowers in numerous small compound umbels.

hemlock will easily reach more than 2 metres in height
Hemlock in flower. by Giles Watson’s poetry and prose is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

There are typically between 10 – 14 individual umbels. Each compound umbel is approximately 20 – 60 mm across. The individual umbels contain around 16 flowers each, and have bracteoles that can wither with age.

Individual flowers are very small (3 mm) with five lobed petals. The two-part stigma is surrounded by five stamens.

 

Flowering season: Hemlock flowering used to be the third great white wave of the season, following cow parsley and hogweed.

The plant now regularly flowers earlier than it did only 30 years ago. Find it in flower from late May / early June, through August.

 

Fruits: Small round ridged schizocarps.

 

Habitats: This plant is a lowland species, and only really found below 300 metres altitude. Hemlock loves wastegrounds, all manner of disturbed soils, roadsides, riverbanks and hedgerows. It happily colonises rivers and ditches that have been recently dredged. Discover the full extent of its geographic distribution in Britain with this BSBI map.

 

Harvesting: Only homeopathic practitioners should really consider harvesting hemlock. The powerful properties of hemlock are simply too dangerous for most western herbalalists to want to use internally, if at all.

 

Parts used: Traditionally all parts of the plant were used

 

Edible uses: None!

 

Medicinal uses: Traditionally this herb was used for pain relief. The alkaloid is a strong relaxant and sedative that acts on the motor senses of our nervous system. While coniine poisoning eventually produces respiratory collapse, it leaves the intellect and rational part of the brain functioning. The well known Finnish herbalist, Henriette Kress, does use the herb, and you can read about it in her excellent online herbal.

Other notes: The seeds of hemlock are, weight for weight, the most powerful part of the above ground parts of the plant, alongside the root.

 

 

Foraging pineappleweed (Matricaria discoidea) Asteraceae family

UK guide to foraging  pineappleweed. Learn how to identify, then discover its food, medicine, and other uses.

Foraging pineappleweed is a post industrial phenomenon! It simply would not have been possible here 150 years ago.

This small aromatic herb was first recorded in the wild here in 1871. During the 20th century it then spread extrememly rapidly. Today it can be found in pretty much all lowland areas of Britain.

In flower, and in your hand, pineappleweed is a distinctive little thing. After reading this guide, all beginner foragers will have no trouble confidently foraging pineappleweed.

What’s in a name?

Why pineappleweed? Well, the reasons behind naming this herb will soon become apparant when crushing and smelling the plant. Its flowerhead somewhat resembes a tiny, squat pineapple.

Crushing and sniffing pineappleweed soon tells you the origins of its name.

The second part of the scientific name gives us clues to its appearance; translating as ‘rayless disc flowers’.

The generic part of its scientific name Matricaria, comes from the old Latin  root word – ‘matrix’, meaning womb. The old Latin word for mother is ‘matrice’.

The closely related species, German chamomile (Matricaria recutita), is a well-known medicinal herb. This annual plant is prized for its abilities to help regulate the menstrual cycle. It is also a superb central nervous system relaxant sedative herb. Pineappleweed is the best of the genus in the kitchen though!

Botanical description

If a few of the words are unfamiliar to you, don’t panic, because our forager’s A-Z glossary will explain all. I work on an assumption that readers are looking to learn as much as possible!

Leaves: Bright yellowish green, 2 – 3- pinnate. Up to 5 cm long, and looking much like the other notable species in the genus, German chamomile (Matricaria recutita).

Pineappleweed has fleshy, pinnate leaves, similar to its sister plant, the medicinal German chamomile.
Pineappleweed has pinnate leaves, with linear leaflet lobes, similar to the medicinal German chamomile.

The thread-like, fleshy leaflet lobes are almost cylindrical, and grow to around 1 mm x 10 mm.  The plant produces a crowded bushy habit.

When foraging pineappleweed you will notice the plant has a short, compact, bushy habit.
Pineappleweed typically shows a short, compact, bushy appearance.

Petioles:  This plant tends to be sessile, or with a very short petiole.

Roots:  Tap root and a fibrous root system.

Stems:  Hairless, almost round, and pretty small, reaching about 20 – 30 cm in flower.

When you are foraging pineappleweed you will come across this small herb erect or prostrate
When foraging pineappleweed, you will find it with erect or prostrate stems.

The stems can grow erect, or where under pressure from grazing or footfall, become more prostrate.

Flowers: Their flowers are distinctive for a daisy plant, because they have no ray florets; just hundreds of tiny yellow disc florets on a cone-shaped, composite head. Each flowerhead is approximately 10 – 15 mm.

Pineappleweed has rayless composite flowerheads
Pineappleweed’s composite, rayless, yellow-green flowerheads.

Flowering season: Find this plant in flower from late April through into September.

With a long flowering season, you have plenty of time to go foraging pineappleweed; from late April to September
You can go foraging for pineappleweed from late April to September.

Fruits: Tiny dry, brown-coloured achenes.

Habitats: Pineappleweed’s success in establishing here was due to its small seeds being wind and railway assisted. By utilising high velocity gusts of wind along the freshly built railway lines, plants had found a new helpful seed dispersal method.

Pineappleweed produces hundreds of tiny seeds that are moved long distances with the aid of wind and rail
Each Pineappleweed flowerhead produces hundreds of tiny seeds, easily dispersed by wind.

This novel competitive advantage enabled the plant to quickly spread across Britain. Today it finds a home in any suitable and sunny, free-draining, fertile soil.

Pineappleweed especially likes field entrances, rough trackways, wasteground and roadsides, as well as the numerous nooks and cracks in the urban environment. This annual plant is now found in all areas of Britain up to around 840 metres above sea level.

Parts used: Leaves and flowers.

Harvesting: Pinch the younger leaves off at the base, or snip off with scissors. Snip or pinch off flowers at the base of the receptacle, on a warm sunny morning. Its worth reminding everyone here that you can learn many more wild crafting tips and tricks with my harvesting guide.

Edible uses: Pineappleweed is a tasty and aromatic addition to our wild culinary larder. The flowers make a pleasant tea, and you can use the chopped leaves sparingly in salads. The flowers can be infused into vinaigrettes for a fruity dressing.

More adventurously, the flowers make a great ingredient in desserts and cocktails. Try infusing sugar syrups, custards, and creams with the flowers.

Medicinal uses: Although a close relative of chamomile, there is no scientific evidence to suggest pineappleweed can replace chamomile medicinally.

Other notes: During mild winters you can sometimes find it in flower through the darker months.

Foraging Juneberry (Amelanchier lamarckii) Rosaceae family.

UK guide to foraging Juneberry. Learn to identify, then discover its food, medicine, and other uses.

For those of you living in rural areas, foraging Juneberry might well be something you haven’t done before. This small tree / shrub is a plant that you will find much more in towns and cities, where it is valued as an amenity plant in parks and gardens.

This is definitely one of the lesser-known Rose family fruiting trees. Now is the time to find it in its full spring splendour, and to get to know this beautiful tree. Before you know it, there will be exquisite cherry / almond tasting berries to pick.

What’s in a name?

This plant is one of around 20 in the genus Amelanchier. As you can guess from its common name, the juneberry is a tree that usually bears fruit ready to pick in and around mid summer solstice.

The generic part of the scientific name Amelanchier is adapted from the French for ‘medlar’ – ‘Amelancier’. The fruit-bearing medlar tree (Mespilus germanica) is a close relative.

The specific part of the name lamarckii is in honour of the French naturalist, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744 – 1829).

Our English common name Juneberry points to the month when the juicy berries begin to be ripe enough for harvesting. In North America the plant is often called saskatoon, or shadbush.

Botanical description

A few of the following technical terms may be new to you. If so, then simply pop over to our foragers glossary for help.

Juneberry is a relatively small tree or shrub that will reach a maximum height of 6 – 10 metres.

Leaves:  The leaves are easily recognised. They are obovate to oblong-shaped, with a small pointy tip. Some leaves appear in small groups from buds that also contain the flowers. Foliage also appears from buds without flowers.

The changeable colours of jJuneberry leaves in late April
The changeable colours of Juneberry leaves in late April.

The leaves provide changeable interest during spring and autumn. Firstly by appearing a rich bronze colour in the spring, then turning grey-green in the summer before developing red – purple tones in the autumn during senescence.

Downy hairs cover the leaves, which are folded and creased when young.
Silky hairs cover the undersides of juneberry’s bronze new leaves.

Like many rose plants, the leaves are quite creased and folded when very young. The white silky hairs on the leaf undersides soon go. They are hairless above.

Juneberry in bloom during mid April makes for a stunning display, hence another common name - 'snowy mespilus'.
Juneberry in bloom during mid April makes for a stunning display.

The leaf margins are serrate with anywhere from 17-36 teeth each side.

Petiole: From 1 – 3.5 cm. They can often be around half the size of the leaf.

Roots: This plant has a shallow root system.

Twigs: These are a red-brown colour and sparsley dotted with lenticels. The twigs are quite thin, around 3 – 4 mm diameter. They are never thorny.

Buds: The buds are approximately 6 – 10 mm, alternately spaced, and chestnut brown to purple-ish coloured.

Bark: Smooth with slightly wavering shallow lines running down the branches and main trunk.

Juneberry branches and trunks are brown with wavy lines
Juneberry branches and trunks are brown with wavy lines.

Mature bark develops small flaky-looking fissures towards the base.

Juneberry trunks can throw up suckers from the base, and eventually develop narrow fissures.
Juneberry trunks can throw up suckers from the base, and eventually develop narrow fissures.

Flowers: Quite large, approximately 35 – 40 mm diameter. Each bloom has a hairy, five-pointed, purple-tinged green calyx. Their five, narrow, oblong white petals are often bent or curved, producing a somewhat untidy look about them.

The five-lobed stigma surrounded by a mass of stamens
The flowers have a five-lobed stigma surrounded by numerous stamens.

The centre of the flower has a single five-part stigma surrounded by a number of creamy white-tipped stamens.

Flowering season: The flowers open en massé during April, producing a stunning display.

Juneberry in full flower enjoying April's sunshine at St Peters church yard, Wolvercote.
Juneberry in full flower at St Peter’s church yard, Wolvercote.

Fruits: In small clusters towards the tips of the twigs. The dark purple pome fruits help tell us that this plant is in the apple ‘tribe’.

The ‘berries’ are generaĺly seen with the remains of the 5-pointed calyx visible on the fruit, like apples. The fruits each contain between 4 – 10 seeds.

Habitats: The plant was first brought here around the mid 18th century. It was recorded naturalised in the wild here a century later. It prefers sandy soils and open woodland, occurring within oak and birch woods.

This map from the BSBI shows the extent of its naturalisation here in the UK, and likely areas to look in when foraging Juneberry. This small tree is still mostly found as a planted specimen, although bird sown plants are increasingly found.

Parts used: Fruits

Edible uses: The fruits are perfect for snacking straight off the tree. They are ideal for baking, jamming, and infusing into booze, most perfectly into gin.

Medicinal uses: The juice of the fruits are a mild laxative and tonic. A decoction of the inner bark has historically been used in North America to treat sore eyes. Either from excessive exposure to the sun or from snow blindness.

The fruits are reportedly high in both vitamins and trace elements, as well as being rich in various health-boosting polyphenols and antioxidants. As we know, eating a rainbow coloured diet is a sure-fire way of getting the essential phyto nutrients our body needs to stay healthy and ward off illness.

Harvesting: The berries are ripe towards the end of June and beginning of July. When you are thinking of going out foraging Juneberry, its worth being aware that birds tend to get to the plant before us, just as the fruits begin to turn their darker shades. As ever, there are always other foragers to watch out for that want your harvest!

Other notes: This plant is now being grown commercially in the famous fruit growing area of Worcestershire

If you like this article and want to learn more about identifying our wild edible plants then simply head over to my how to identify plants in a day article.

This fast track article, in two parts, presents ten of the most important plant families for foragers in Britain to get to know.

If you have any questions about Britain’s wild plants, then do not hesitate to contact me. Happy foraging!

Foraging wild cherry (Prunus avium) Rosaceae family

UK guide to foraging wild cherry. Learn to identify, then discover its food and medicinal uses.

Most people who have ever tried foraging wild cherry can testify to it being be a bit of a lottery. This is because when you come across a new tree, you never know whether the fruit will be sweet or bitter until you try one! But if you persevere, thankfully it won’t take long to find decent tasting specimens.

Also commonly called ‘Gean’, our wild cherry can grow up to be a tall tree (up to 30 metres). It is an integral part of our woodlands, especially with Beech, and it’s widely planted as an amenity specimen.

Wild cherry is widely planted in our towns and cities, and easily found as an amenity specimen.
Wild cherry is widely planted and easily found as an amenity specimen.

Whats in a name?

The generic part of the scientific name Prunus, as all who have read my article on Blackthorn will know, comes from the Latin word, prune – for plum.

The specific part avium, has two distinct meanings. The Latin word avium means wilderness or wayside. Whereas the old Latin word avis, means bird. Interestingly, we have another cherry tree that we commonly call the ‘bird cherry’ – Prunus padus.

Our common name ‘cherry’ has its roots in the old French word for the fruit – cherise.

 

Botanical description

Occasional technical words are used here. Please refer to the foragers glossary for help.

Leaves: Wild cherry has obovate-elliptical leaves, which are anywhere from 6 – 16  x  5 – 8 cm, with a pointy tip. They are shiny-looking when very young.

Wild cherry leaves are shiny looking when first opened
Wild cherry leaves are shiny looking when first opened, and always have a pointy tip.

On emerging, the leaves often appear copper-coloured. They turn a darker green within a few days.

It is common to see the new leaves copper-coloured when first opening
It is common to see new wild cherry leaves copper-coloured when first opening.

Hairs are present on the leaf below. Leaf margins are twice-serrated, with appriximately 40 -55 teeth each side.

leaf margins are twice-serrated and the petioles are quite long.
Wild cherry leaf margins are twice-serrated and the petioles have small stipules.

Petioles: Quite long, 2.5 – 5 cm. Two – four red glands at the top. There are linear-shaped stipules at the base (6 – 12 mm). These will soon wither away.

Twigs and branches: New twigs are usually 6 – 8 mm diameter, and hairless. The young twigs have a waxy pruinose covering at first, before losing this layer in their third year.

Young wild cherry twigs are usually covered in a purpleish pruinose covering that soon goes, leaving a red-brown bark.
Young wild cherry twigs are usually covered in a white-ish pruinose coating.

By the second or third year, the bark develops a rich red- brown colour, eventually turning a grey-brown colour with age. The twigs and branches are dotted with lenticels.

Older wild cherry branches develop a red-brown colour with numerous lenticels.

Buds: Brown and hairless, they appear in dense clusters (up to 9 per cluster) at the end of twigs. Ovoid, with acute tips.

Wild cherry buds are oval shaped, brown and scaly and clustered
Buds are oval shaped, brown and scaly, and clustered.

Bark: Shiny, red-brown coloured, and peeling on mature trees.

The trunk of wild cherry is straight and without suckers at the base. Mature bark peels
The trunk of wild cherry is straight, has peeling bark, and no suckers at the base.

As the tree ages, the lenticels make a series of striped bands.

Trunk: Usually straight. Not suckering at the base like other Prunus species. When old, the bark at the base develops angled fissures.

Flowers: The flower buds are in clusters at the tips of branches, and found right back along the branch.

New buds bursting, revealing their five purple-tinged bracts.

The flowers have 5 purple-green bracts and 5 white petals, often notched. In the centre of the flower are a mass of yellow-tipped stamens.

Notched white petals and a mass of yellow tipped stamens
Wild cherry blossom with its notched white petals and a mass of yellow tipped stamens.

The flowers can be larger (up to 25 mm) than either blackthorn or cherry plum flowers, especially in shadier spots.

The wild cherry flowers open during April in most parts of the UK.

Flowering season: From early April into early May, dependent on where you live in Britain.

Typical wild cherry flower arrangement at the end of a twig
Typical wild cherry flower arrangement at the end of a twig.

Fruits: These are round and about 12 mm across. Their stone fruits can be red, purple or black coloured.

Small black cherry fruits in early July. These were very bitter!

Habitats: Woodlands, old hedgerows, parks and gardens.

Parts used: Young leaves, flowers and ripe fruits.

Harvesting: If you can, then spread some sort of sheet under the tree and gently shake the branches. The plant should rain down fruit. If you have to collect by hand, it will soon become obvious which ones are ripe, as they literally come away as you begin to grip them in your fingers. Learn more of these tips and tricks with my quick-to-read harvesting guide.

Wild cherry lenticels in winter looking like open lips.

Edible uses: I like the sun-warmed fruits plucked straight from the tree.  I adore them added to rich chocolate sponge cakes in a black forest style. They are suitable for all manner of jams, compote and pie fillings. I havent made glacé cherries with them yet but I bet they would be lovely. Infused into a decent brandy they make an excellent liqueur.

In China, people go foraging for wild cherry to harvest young leaves for preserving in salt.
In China, people go foraging for wild cherry leaves, for preserving in salt.

The young leaves can be eaten, either by salting and pickling, as are found in traditional Chinese cookery, or through soaking in a sugar syrup for a leafy confection.

Medicinal uses: This plant is not as well known in herbal medicine as its sister tree, the Japanese cherry (Prunus serrulata). It is conceivable that the fruit stalks may be used in a similar way, as a remedy for cystisis.

Other notes: Wild cherry wood has been used for centuries in furniture making and in making cask barrels. The wood is also valued for use as a veneer.

If you have found this article interesting and would like to know more about identifying wild plants, then take your time to read our guide to starting out foraging as well as our definitive guide on how to identify plants in a day.

Next up, another fantastic edible Rose family tree, the Juneberry.

Until then, happy foraging!

 

 

Foraging for brooklime (Veronica beccabunga) Plantaginaceae family

A UK guide to foraging for brooklime. Learn to identify, then discover its food, medicine and other uses.

There are certain plants I like to go foraging for, such as brooklime, that are never in the forefront of my mind when I leave home. Out of around 300 edible plants that I know, some of these will only ever come in to my mind a few times each year as and when I run into them.

When I do randomly catch up with this plant, it’s usually in the spring, and at different locations each time. It’s as pleasant a feeling as when bumping into an old friend.

Before we get down to the business of I/D, it’s worth pointing you to my two part article on how to identify plants in a day! Beginners would also do well to spend five minutes reading this guide to starting out foraging.

Other essential reading here is my guide to Britain’s poisonous plants. Learning them helps you to leave them alone!

What’s in a name?

The generic part Veronica is the name given to around 500 species! Veronica is the Latin word for an older Greek name ‘Berenice‘. This name was familiarised by the ancient Greek Ptolomy family (circa 400 B.C.)

The word was originally spelt Pherenike and joins two words: ‘phero’ meaning to bear, to bring, or to carry; and ‘nike’ meaning victory. So the Greeks thought the speedwells ‘bring victory’.

Beccabunga! The specific part of the name sounds like a cry from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This word is apparantly derived from the old Germanic phrase ‘bachbunge‘ which means  ‘brook-bunch’, or ‘a bunch of flowers from a brook’. Languages related to German, such as Danish, also reveal a similar phrase ‘bekkebunge’ meaning the same thing.

The common name brooklime was previously spelt brooklem. This name is from two older cojoined English words ‘brokelemke’.

The word Broke describes a marshy area, bog, or stream. The final part lemeke is a middle English word for speedwell. This itself comes from an older English word ‘hleomoce’ – speedwell.

Botanical description

If you come across difficult words here, simply refer to our foragers glossary.

Leaves: Small, glossy-looking, round to oval-shaped leaves. They are hairless, and in opposite pairs. When foraging for brooklime you could potentially mistake the plant for watermint.  Your nose knows! Brooklime has whiteish veins visible on the surface of its fleshy leaves.

All leaves are borne on stems. Just the top few leaves are generally visible over the winter months.

Petioles: Very small if at all. The leaves are mostly sessile and clasping the stems

Roots: The creeping rhizomes ensure that brooklime always appears with numerous stems.

Stem: Round, branched above.  Will grow up to around 60 cm high. The stem produces roots where underwater.

Flowers: Classic speedwell flowers. Four petals with one a different colour and shade to the others. Four anthers surround the two-part stigma.

Flowering season: Like many of its fast growing relatives, brooklime flowers quite early in the season. In the UK it comes into flower during late April and blooms through May and into June.

Fruits: Numerous tiny seeds are contained in a two-part seed capsule.

Habitats: This plant is adapted to grow in and around water. You can go foraging for brooklime in most of Britain. You can find it in and by shallow streams and brooks.  It prefers damp and marshy settings where the water is slow moving. It also grows happily in regularly waterlogged woodland paths.

Parts used: Leaves. Young stem shoots. Flowers.

Harvesting: Start to collect the new ones as they begin to appear in March. Pinch off, or use scissors. For the young stems, simply cut off the top 10 cm or so. Get more foraging tips and tricks with my harvesting guide.

Edible uses: The leaves are more than suitable for all manner of salads and sandwiches. Layer the leaves in dishes like Lasagne. The flowers make a pretty garnish. Steam the young stem shoots.  It is best used with other strong tasting herbs to compliment its bitter flavour.

Medicinal uses: In the past, Brooklime was used for a number of conditions, like many other Veronica species. Most of the former claims are not backed up by science.

The herb was chiefly employed as a remedy to prevent scurvy. Brooklime does have high concentrations of Vitamin C, as well as containing flavonoids and phenolic compounds, all useful to prevent chronic diseases.

Other notes: Possibly the easiest of the Veronica species to identify, and partly because of its habitat. This genus was recently reclassified as part of the plantain family.

More plant species coming soon. Happy foraging!