Tuesday, 22 December 2015


According to Caroline Fraser in her book 'Rewilding the World' biodiversity loss is now lining up to be the greatest man-made crisis the world has ever known. It is the Sixth Great Extinction or Holocene extinction event, named after the current geological time period. We now know that the loss of species can actually destroy ecosystems. Caroline says “ … we have learned that everything is interdependent. There are no spare parts … Lose the animals, lose the ecosystems. Lose the ecosystems, game over.”

An image of Carrifran - a 1600 acre rewilding project in the Moffat hills.
Carrifran - a 1600 acre rewilding project in the Moffat hills

Ecosystems provide all our basic needs enabling us to survive on this planet. These include the provision of food, water, fuel, fibre and medicine; the regulation of everything within the climate such as air quality, water, disease, pollination and disease; the support of nutrient and water cycling, soil formation and photosynthesis; and cultural benefits such as spiritual and recreational needs.

Rewilding as a conservation strategy is one of the most exciting and promising method of restoring the balance to our ecosystems. An emerging movement, it is based around a new way of looking at conservation. It can be applied to small or large scale projects for the land or the sea.

Trees for Life say that “Nowadays, the definition has come to encompass the whole process of returning ecosystems to a state of ecological health and dynamic balance, making them self-sustaining, without the need for ongoing human management.”

Rewilding ensures natural processes and wild species play a more prominent role. So, after initial support, nature is allowed to take more care of itself.

According to Rewilding Europe “Loss of biodiversity and climate change are among the biggest challenges for mankind. Humans have developed a quasi-geological force and are modifying the planet on a huge scale and at an unprecedented rate. The future of the planet lies in our hands. The time to act is now.”

As part of the solution they envision a European continent where the last wilderness areas are protected and where wildlife, natural processes and biodiversity are allowed to thrive. “Conservation in Europe has been different to the rest of the world. Because most of the wilderness was lost a long time ago, nature conservation focused on cultivated land, ancient farming systems and semi-natural, managed habitats, often depending on public subsidies and private engagement. This compensatory habitat approach has its value and certainly rescued many species from extinction, but an important part for conservation and biodiversity protection was left out; the preservation of wilderness and natural processes.”

Rewilding Britain is a charity who believe that rewilding provides hope for the future for people and nature. “Britain's land is almost all managed. Even in most conservation areas natural processes are arrested. We have lost more of our large mammals than almost any other European country. While the average forest cover in the rest of Europe is 37%, the UK has only 12% … Our national parks are dominated by sheep farms and grouse or deer estates, leaving almost all our hills bare. Over 99% of our seabed is scoured or ploughed by commercial fishing ... Through rewilding we can start to reverse centuries of ecological damage. We can re-establish natural processes, reconnect with nature and regain wonder for the natural world.”

Rewilding Britain want to see at least one million hectares of Britain's land, and 30 per cent of it's territorial waters, supporting natural ecological processes and key species. They say: “The island of Britain is geographically diverse and consists of three nations with differing political systems. Rewilding projects on the ground need to be locally owned and locally run. One thing binds us all – our ecosystems need help.”

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Blackberry (Rubus fruticosus)

The blackberry (Rubus fruticosus) is a hardy self-fertile deciduous shrub from the Rosaceae family. Also known as brambles. Botanically, it is an aggregate fruit composed of small drupelets. The roots are perennial and the stems are biennial. Once the fruit is produced the stems die down. There are over 375 species, many of which are closely related.

It is very common in the British Isles and once established can produce vast quantities of fruit. Gardeners often find they can't get rid of a shrub in a garden setting but it is best to make good use of a vigorous blackberry rather than try to eradicate it!

An image of wild blackberries (Rubus fruticosus) growing in Scotland
Wild blackberries (R. fruticosus) growing in Scotland

Growing methods

The blackberry is usually found in woodland, on waste ground, in hedgerows and meadows. It is in leaf from March onwards, flowers from May to September and fruits from August until November. It prefers moist soil and semi-shady conditions but the fruit ripens best when the shrub is in a sunny position. The blackberry will tolerate poor soil, drought and windy conditions.

Shrubs can be propagated by seed sowing, tip layering, cuttings and division. If growing by seed sow in the autumn under cover. Stratifying the seed will help germination. Prick out seedlings and pot on under cover. Plant outside during the following spring. If tip layering, do so in the summer and plant out in the autumn. Cuttings may be also taken in the summer. Use semi-ripe wood. If propagating by division do so either in early spring or just before leaves fall in the autumn.

Various cultivated varieties are available for purchase. These can be trained in a variety of different ways.

Birds enjoy the fruit so shrubs may need to be protected with fleece or netting.

Other uses

The blackberry is a pioneer shrub which can also protect trees during their early growth. The fruit can also be used as a dye. The stem can be used to make fibre. The root and leaves can be used medicinally. The blackberry is a very good shrub for attracting wildlife.

Raw edible parts

The young leaves, young ground shoots and fruit are all edible raw. The fruit is very popular and should be picked when ripe and used immediately. It is often made into jams, jellies, syrups and pies. Although most people cook the blackberries for these recipes, they can be made using raw fruit. They can also be frozen for use later on. The leaves can be fermented, dried and used for black tea. The fresh leaves can be made into a green tea. The newly emerged ground shoots should be peeled before eating.

 As a point of interest all Rubus species have edible fruits.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Kale (Brassica oleracea)

Kale (Brassica oleracea) is an annual/biennial plant from the Brassicaceae (previously known as Cruciferae) family. Kale is also known as borecole, boerenkool, colewort and collard. It is a cold weather plant and commonly used as winter greens, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere. The Brassica oleracea species has been cultivated for at least 2000 years and a variety of forms have developed over that time.

An image of Kale (Brassica oleracea) growing in a polytunnel
Kale (B. oleracea)

There are eight main groups of brassicas and kale is considered part of the Acephala group. Acephala means 'no head' and the kale plant just produces leaves rather than a solid head like a cabbage or cauliflower.

How to grow kale

Sow seeds from March until June. Sow around 10cm deep in a permanent position in the ground and leave around 45cm between plants. Alternatively sow the seeds individually in pots. When plants have five or six true leaves transplant out into larger pots, where they can be grown to maturity, or in the ground. The exception is rape kale which doesn't like being transplanted so should be grown from seed in its final position.

Kale will grow in most soils but prefers a free draining loamy soil with a pH of 5.5 to 6.8. Kale likes moist conditions so water well throughout the growing season and mulch around the base to prevent loss of moisture. Feed the topsoil around the plant with homemade compost every 6-8 weeks to keep the leaves coming. Alternatively use other proprietary plant feeds. If we run out of compost, we use a liquid seaweed feed once in a while to top up nutrients.

Once the plant is large enough, leaves can be picked. Don't cut the whole plant down but use it as a cut-and-come-again plant. It will continue growing and producing new leaves. During this way it is possible to produce leaves throughout the year. Very hot weather may turn the kale bitter and tough but it is still edible. Leaves picked after a frost or very young leaves will taste sweeter.

Very few pests or diseases affect kale. Keep an eye out for birds and slugs. Plants grown outside can be netted to keep birds off. Slugs can be picked off by hand and re-located to a safe place. Gardeners may not like slugs but they are still an important part of the ecosystem and should not be destroyed. Large plants may need staking to ensure they remain upright. Always try and remove any yellow leaves growing underneath the plant to avoid disease.

The different types to choose from include curly kale, plain leaved kale, rape kale, leaf and spear as well as Cavolo nero. Within these different leaf types there can be found different named varieties.

Other uses

Kale is also grown as an ornamental or flowering plant. Kale leaves can be used as a dye.

Raw edible parts

The unopened flowers, the sprouted seed and the leaves of the kale plant are all edible raw. Use the unopened flowers in a similar way to broccoli. Kale can be grown indoors for sprouts or micro greens all year round. The health benefits of kale and the many raw food recipes have been well documented. Kale crisps and kale green smoothies are particularly popular

The ornamental or flowering kale is edible in the same way but may not have a good flavour. Sea kale (Crambe maritime), a perennial plant also from the Brassicaceae family, can also be used in a similar way.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Mashua (Tropaeolum tuberosum)

Mashua (Tropaeolum tuberosum) is an herbaceous perennial climber from the Tropaeolaceae family. There are many common names for this plant including maswa, anu, isanu, ysano, cubio, puel or perennial nasturtium. The plant is very similar in appearance to the nasturtium (T. majus).

An image of mashua (Tropaeolum tuberosum) tuber
Mashua root

Mashua is a pre-Incan crop from the cool temperate Andes, the long mountain range to the west of South America, and was thought to be domesticated around 5500 BC.

Mashau leafy top growth

Growing mashua

Mashua is easy to grow and can flourish in poor soils without pesticides and fertilizers. It is usually grown from tubers which can be planted out in early spring 80-100cm apart. Tubers vary in colour including white, yellow, purple or red and can be mottled or striped.

If growing from seed sow in the spring under cover. Pot on seedlings and keep protected during the first winter until the plants become established. Plant out during the following summer.

Mashua will grow in full sun or partial shade in moist well drained neutral or acid soil (5.3-7.5 pH). Plants will reach up to 4 metres in height and around 1 metre wide. Earthing up or hilling plants just after the foliage emerges and then again when the plant flowers is thought to increase the yield. Weeding is only required in the early stages of growth. Later a dense canopy of leaves is produced which tends to suppress any weeds. Any dead foliage can be cut back during early spring.

Mashua is frost resistant but may require some protection during the winter months or the further north it is grown. The top growth may suffer in severe weather although well mulched roots will probably survive any extremes of temperature or frost. Mashua can tolerate temperatures down to -10°C. While normally grown at a high altitude, cool conditions rather than a high altitude seem to be what the plant requires. Mashua is able to produce tubers outdoors at sea level at 46°S in Christchurch, New Zealand (Martin et al.1996) and at 49°N in Vancouver, Canada (Johns & Towers 1981).

Most require a short day length (11-13.5 hours/day) to form tubers although low temperatures may be more important for tuber formation than the day length. Research in Finland shows that mashua is unable to produce tubers during a 14–20 hour day length (Kalliola et al. 1990). A popular named variety sold in the UK is T. tuberosum 'Ken Aslet' which produces larger tubers and is not sensitive to day length.

Mashua can be grown as a companion to potatoes, beans, grain, maize, oca and ulluco. Plants have a high resistance to bacterial, fungal, nematode and insect pests possibly because of the high levels of isothiocyanates and other volatile compounds. While a wide number of viruses affect the garden nasturtium, viruses have not been found to affect mashua cultivation significantly (G. Alfredo et al, 2003). Viruses will increase if the plant is grown in the same place year after year.

Propagate by dividing the tubers and replanting in early spring. Alternatively cuttings of basal stems may be taken during the spring.

Other uses

Mashua can be used as an ornamental in a similar fashion to garden nasturtiums. It has several medicinal uses including to reduce sexual appetite and to treat kidney complaints.

Raw edible parts

The leaves, flowers and tubers are all edible raw. Mashua has a pungent hot peppery flavour very similar to nasturtiums or radish. Some plants have a stronger flavour than others. The tubers are probably too pungent and strong to use raw in any great quantity. A little sliced or grated in salads will give the dish a lovely bite. Many consider them an acquired taste. It is common to expose tubers to direct sunlight for a few days to improve sweetness and flavour. Use the leaves, flowers and thinly sliced tubers in salads. The seeds can be used as a cumin substitute. The young seeds and flowers can be pickled and used like capers.

Traditionally the tuber wasn't eaten raw and was cooked before eating in a similar way to any other root vegetable. Cooking removes the pungent peppery flavour. However, a distinctive (some would say unpleasant) flavour remains. The flavour is improved on freezing after they have been cooked, by slightly drying before cooking and by subjecting the tubers to a light frost before cooking.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Lamb's Lettuce (Valerianella locusta)

Lamb's Lettuce (Valerianella locusta) is a hardy low growing annual plant from the Caprifoliaceae family. It is also known as corn salad, common corn salad, mâche, fetticus, field salad and rapunzel. It grows wild in many areas of the world including the British Isles and Europe.

An image of lamb's Lettuce (Valerianella locusta)
Lamb's Lettuce (Valerianella locusta)

Lamb's lettuce is a very useful winter crop providing green salad leaves throughout the cold winter months. Considered very beneficial to health, it contains a range of vitamins and minerals.

Growing methods

Lamb's lettuce can be easily grown from seed and will provide leaves all year round. Sow seed directly into the ground 1 cm deep in a prepared seed bed. Lightly cover with soil. Seeds can be broadcast or sown in rows. Sow seeds around 15 cm apart for larger individual plants. Alternatively, sow seeds thickly and later thin out the rows. The thinnings can be used in salads.

Seeds take about two weeks to germinate depending on the temperature and around 30 to 60 days from sowing to harvesting. Sow seeds every few weeks from early spring to late summer for a continual supply of plants throughout the year. Leave plants to flower and they will self-seed thus saving the time and effort of growing it. Use scissors to cut off the top growth and leave the roots in the ground to allow the plant to produce a second flush of leaves.

Lamb's lettuce are hardy plants and will survive very cold weather including frosts and snow.

Raw edible parts

It is widely reported that the leaves and flowers are edible raw. However, we have eaten the whole plant at various times with no ill effects. The melt-in-the-mouth leaves are excellent in salads and can be used as a straight substitute for lettuce or spinach. Leaves are mild and have a slight nutty flavour. They are generally best eaten before the plant flowers. Some say the plants become bitter when they flower but we don't find this the case and eat the flowers alongside the leaves. The root is tiny and best left in the ground so the plant can produce more leaves.

The leaves of European corn salad (Valerianella carinata) and Italian corn salad (V. eriocarpa) can be used in a similar way.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Small leaved lime tree (Tilia cordata)

The small leaved lime tree (Tilia cordata) is a deciduous tree from the Malvaceae or mallow family. Also known as the small leaved European lime, small-leaved linden, linden tree, littleleaf linden, basswood and winter linden. It is one of about thirty different Tilia species that grows throughout the northern temperate regions of the world including Asia, Europe and eastern North America. In the British Isles it is one of the longest lived native trees and is considered an indicator of ancient woodland.

An image of lime (Tilia cordata) leaves
Lime leaves (T. cordata)

Growing methods

Trees can be propagated by layering, grafting, cuttings, suckers or seed. Lime trees sprout very easily from cut and fallen branches. If they touch the ground, they may root and produce vertical shoots. This is known as 'strategy of persistence' and prolongs their life. It is a good tree for coppicing, pollarding or pleaching.

While trees can be propagated by seed, much of the seed produced by trees in the British Isles, particularly in the northern regions, will likely be sterile and those that are viable may take a very long time to germinate. Fresh seed may germinate easier since dried seeds develop a hard coating. It is best to stratify seeds and subject them to cold before sowing.

Bearing beautiful heart shaped leaves, the small-leaved lime grows to around 30 metres high with an 8 metre spread. Small fragrant creamy white flowers, together with a leafy bract or wing, appear in clusters from June to July and the seeds ripen in October. It prefers full sun or partial shade. It will grow in a wide range of soil types but will thrive more in a deep moist fertile soil with an alkaline or neutral pH. Place organic mulch around the base to feed the tree and keep in the moisture. Once established, it requires very little care and attention. It can be planted in urban landscapes and will tolerate difficult conditions including pollution but not salty conditions.

It generally remains a healthy tree and doesn't suffer unduly from pests or diseases. Although may be affected by aphids, caterpillars from various moth species and some fungal diseases.

An illustration of the various parts of the lime tree (Tilia cordata)
Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler's Medizinal-Pflanzen

Other uses

Lime flowers have long been used as a folk remedy for many illnesses including relief during the early stages of colds, flu and childhood fevers. Flowers have a calming effect and can be used to aid digestion, insomnia, headaches from high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries and muscular weakness of the eyes.

The wood can be used for charcoal, fibre (rope, cloth), firewood, paper, posts, poles, baskets and other crafts. It is one of the softest hardwoods and can be easily carved. The tree will attract beneficial insects and is particularly good for bees due to the abundance of nectar.

Raw edible parts

The young heart shaped leaves of all Tilia species are generally considered edible raw but the small leaved lime is probably the best. Leaves have a good texture and mild slightly sweet flavour. They are excellent in salads and can be used in much the same way as a lettuce or be used to make pesto. Leaves can also be dried and made into a flour. If the tree is coppiced or pollarded it will produce an abundance of branches and young leaves for the table.

The young lime flowers are edible raw and can be made into a fragrant calming tea, often sold as linden tea. A chocolate flavoured paste can be made from the immature fruit and flowers. The sap is also edible raw and has a sweet taste.

As a point of interest Green Dean of Eat The Weeds says of Tilia americana that the young leaves, young shoots, buds and cambium (during spring) are edible raw. He says the sap can be boiled down to a syrup but it is likely this is edible raw too.


Take care if using older flowers to make tea as they may be a narcotic. T. cordata bears no relation to the lime (Citrus aurantifolia) which is a citrus fruit.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Sweet or bell peppers (Capsicum annuum)

Sweet peppers (Capsium annuum) are evergreen perennial plants from the Solanaceae or nightshade family. This family also includes the potato, tomato and tobacco plants. Also known as bell peppers (referring to the shape) or capsicums, these are the sweet or mild tasting fruits of this genus. Other peppers can be very hot tasting and these are generally known as the chilli peppers.

An image of a yellow sweet pepper (Capsicum annuum) plant
Sweet pepper (C. annuum)

Peppers are native to Mexico, Central and northern South America and have been grown for thousands of years. There are around 22 wild species of Capsicums and five domesticated species including C. annuum, C. frutescens, C. baccatum, C. chinense and C. pubescens. There are a great many named varieties.

Growing methods

Peppers are usually grown as an annual in the British Isles. However, providing they are kept under cover and away from severe winter weather, they can be kept as a perennial. Sow seeds indoors in the spring. Once the seedlings are large enough (three leaves), pot them on into 9cm pots. Once the roots have filled the pots they can be potted on to 30cm pots or placed in the ground. Plants prefer a fertile well-drained slightly acid soil. In the British Isles they should be grown under cover in a well ventilated area or outside in a very warm sunny position. They may be able to be grown outside in the very milder areas.

To encourage the plant to bush out and provide more fruit pinch out the growing tips. Stake the plants if the branches need support when fruiting. Plants will grow to around 1m x 1m in size. Feed every two weeks during the fruit season. By continually picking fruit, it encourages the plant to produce more. Peppers are vunerable to aphids, whitefly and red spidermite. Ventilating growing areas will help. Plants like to be kept moist and it helps to mist foliage regularly.

Other uses

Sweet peppers are usually simply grown for food. However, some are grown as ornamentals. The hot chilli peppers can also be used medicinally.

Raw edible parts

The pepper (fruit) and flowers are edible raw. The colours of sweet peppers include red, yellow, orange, green, lavender, dark purple, chocolate/brown and white/vanilla. Some raw foodists recommend not eating the green coloured peppers raw because they are not ripe. The dried seed and seed oil is also edible. In some countries in Asia, the young leaves are used as a potherb. However, there is little evidence regarding the safety of eating these young leaves raw. The fruit can be dried for later use. Hang whole fruits in a well ventilated area and they will gradually shrivel and dry over several weeks. Alternatively, and for quickness, use a dehydrator. Dried peppers can be ground down to a powder and used as a flavouring or colouring. They are particularly good for raw soups.

An image of three sweet red peppers going through various stages of drying
Sweet red peppers going through various stages of drying. 

Red bell peppers are ripened green peppers and are the sweetest of all the peppers. However, there are some varieties that retain their green colour even when fully ripe. The taste of ripe peppers can also vary with growing conditions and post-harvest storage treatment; the sweetest fruit are allowed to ripen fully on the plant in full sunshine, while fruit harvested green and after-ripened in storage are less sweet.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Fuchsia (Fuchsia species)

The fuchsia is a deciduous shrub from the Onagraceae family. There are over 100 recognised species, the majority of which are native to Central and South America. There are now thousands of cultivars worldwide and they are popularly grown as an ornamental shrub in the British Isles. The Fuchsia genus was named after Leonhart Fuchs, a German physician and botanist born in 1501.

An image of the fuchsia megellanica shrub with purple and red flowers
F. megellanica

Fuchsia are easily recognised by their stunning pendulous flowers which come in a variety of colours and are usually very abundant. Fuchsias may be grown in the ground, in pots, as topiary and even as bonsai. There are hardy and half-hardy species.

Growing methods

Fuchsias should be grow in fertile well-drained moist soil. They prefer shelter from cold, drying winds and shade rather than direct hot sun. Half-hardy fuchsias should be kept free from frosts and need some protection during the winter months. It can help to mulch the crowns of even the hardy fuchsias to protect them from the worst of the winter weather. As a point of interest F. megallanica is the hardiest species. Cuttings of hardy fuchsias taken in early autumn can be used as an insurance against frost damage. Fuchsias flower more when placed in a sunny position and will happily grow in containers. Keep plants moist but don't let them become waterlogged.

Fuchsias can be propagated by taking softwood cuttings during spring and summer, semi-ripe cuttings during late summer and hardwood cuttings during the autumn.  Keep the soil moist and once they have rooted they can be potted on. Hardy fuchsias can be planted out in the spring or autumn. Half-hardy fuchsias can be planted out after all frosts have passed. To feed apply a dressing of general fertiliser in spring and again in summer.

Generally these shrubs do not suffer unduly from pests and diseases. However, some problems may arise from an infestation of aphids, mealybug, capsid bug, leaf hoppers, red spider mite, vine weevil, some caterpillars and more recently fuchsia gall mite. Fuchsias may also suffer from fuchsia rust which is caused by a fungus called Pucciniastrum epilobii.

There are many specialist fuchsia groups and societies who provide a lot of useful information on species and cultivation.

Raw edible parts

The flowers and fruit of all fuchsia species are edible raw but flavours may vary considerably. Regarding the flowers, removing the green and brown parts as well as the stamen pistils may improve the flavour of the petal. This isn't absolutely necessary and depends on individual species and even individual plants including where and how they have been grown. The flowers make a stunning display for salads, raw cakes, flans and desserts.

The branch sap of some species can be eaten by breaking off a branch and sucking out the sap. The sap may or may not be very forthcoming! We have yet to try this.

The fruit are a bit like an oblong jelly baby often with a peppery after taste. The darker the colour, the richer the flavour. It has been said that the fruit of some species may leave an unpleasant after taste in the mouth. F. splendens has been recommended as one of the best edible fruits. Ken Fern (Plants for a Future) says “A juicy berry[K]. This is the nicest fuchsia fruit we have eaten as yet, its flavour is somewhat lemon-like with no noticed aftertaste, our 12 month old child was ecstatic about them, eating them in quantity[K].”

Other species which are recorded as having a juicy fruit include F. boliviana, F. excorticata, F. paniculata, F. coccinea and F. fulgens. We also noticed, but haven't been able to track down any seeds or plants yet, is fuchsia 'Gummiberry' which was introduced by Suttons Seeds in 2014.

Further information


Monday, 30 March 2015

Wild garlic (Allium ursinum)

Wild garlic (Allium ursinum) is a low growing perennial herbaceous plant belonging to the Alliaceae family. It is also known by many other common names including ramsons, ramps, buckrams, hog's garlic, gypsy onion, wood garlic and broad leaved garlic, it is found in Europe, Asia, the Caucasus and Siberia. It is a woodland bulb often found in damp shady places, under hedges or on banks. Under the right conditions it will spread prolifically. Leaves are hairless and can grow up to 0.5 metres in length. Flowers are a delicate star shaped and white in colour.

An image of wild garlic (Allium ursinum) leaves just emerging from the ground.
Wild garlic (Allium ursinum) leaves are available now in the British Isles.

Growing methods

Propagation can be carried out using bulbs or seeds which can be purchased online. Seeds can be sown in early spring or early autumn. Fresh are best and they germinate readily. Sow in a shady area in situ such as under a deciduous shrub or tree using up to 200 seeds per square metre. Alternatively sow in pots under cover. Plants prefers moist slightly acid soils but will grow elsewhere. Keep soil moist and mulch during the summer months to help keep in moisture and prevent grass or other plants from intruding.

Once the plant is mature it can be propagated by division. Wait until late summer when the foliage has died down. Dig up clumps and gently prise them apart. Plant bulbs in their final position making sure the root end is facing down. Water well and keep soil moist but not waterlogged. Bulbs take 3 years to develop and are very small in size. Once wild garlic is established, it can spreadand become invasive. It is unlikely to require further propagation. It will grow well in pots or other containers.

In the wild this plant is mainly spread by seed.

An image of the delicate white star shaped flowers of the wild garlic plant.
The delicate white star shaped flowers of wild garlic.

Other uses

Wild garlic can be used in much the same way as garlic and has similar health benefits. It has a long history of traditional medicinal use. It is popular as a spring tonic. The juice of the plant has been used as a general household disinfectant and insect repellent. If grown alongside legumes, it inhibits the growth. However, it grows well with most other plants.

Raw edible parts

All parts of the plant can be eaten although the leaves and stems are probably one of the best parts and are available from February to June. Bulbs are available all year round. The bulbs are quite small but often produced in great quantity. Lift in early summer and they can be stored for several months. Use these from July through to January when the plant is dormant. The delicate white flowers and the seeds are also edible raw. The flowers are stronger in flavour than the leaves. Flower buds can be used to make substitute capers. Leaves can be added as greens to salads, used as a wrap or made into a pesto. The whole plant can be made into soups, sauces or fermented.


Wild garlic can be mistaken for Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis) or Lords and Ladies (Arum maculatum) which are poisonous. However, it does have a very distinctive garlic odour which aids identification.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana)

The monkey puzzle tree is native to south-central Chile and south western Argentina but is cultivated in other areas of the world including the British Isles. Other names include monkey tail tree, Chile pine, pino araucana, araucaria, pino Chileno and pinonero. It is known as a living fossil and is a prehistoric tree dating back 210 million years ago to the Triassic period. It probably became extinct in the northern hemisphere around 65 million years ago.

An image of a mature monkey puzzle tree by Prashanthns - Wikimedia Commons
Mature tree by Prashanthns - Wikimedia Commons

The monkey puzzle tree is a slow growing long lived evergreen conifer with very sharp blade-like leaves. It will grow to around 30 metres in height with a spread of around 15 metres. There are twenty known species found around the world. It is often grown in the British Isles as an ornamental. However, it is now becoming popular as a food crop since it produces large edible nuts.

An image of young monkey puzzle trees growing in a pot in a polytunnel
Young monkey puzzle trees

This important tree is listed as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List Category - “Within the Andes and the Coastal Cordillera of Chile the population is severely fragmented and there is a continuing decline in its AOO due to a range of debilitating factors including fire, logging and overgrazing.” It is also listed on Appendix I of CITES which strictly regulates the trade in its timber and seeds.

Growing methods

A male and female tree are required to produce seed. Plant at least one male tree to seven female trees. There are male and female cones. Female cones are large, round and dark brown ranging from 12 to 20 cm in diameter. They develop in two to three years.They fall off of their own accord at maturity. When dried their split into three and produce 200 seeds. These are quite large at around 3cm long by 1 cm wide.

Monkey puzzle seeds. Left: with the leathery outer skin.  Top right: with the papery inner skin.  Bottom right: with all skins removed.
Left: the leathery outer skin.
Top right: the papery inner skin.
Bottom right: all skins removed.

The seeds have no dormancy and should be planted when freshly harvested. Plant them in pots or in the ground with the pointed end down. They will germinate at around 20 degrees C within two to four weeks. However, they may take longer and, unless the seeds have rotted, they may still germinate. Seeds will take longer to germinate at a lower temperature and they can be kept in the fridge to delay germination. Check seeds regularly and once a strong white root has emerged pot them on. Seeds that haven't germinated may be re-inserted back into the seed compost. When potting the seedlings on be careful not to break the root. It is best to use a stick or pencil to make a hole before inserting the root into new compost. Roots snap off quite easily.

Protect the growing seedling from harsh winter weather and plant out into their final position during the following spring or summer. They can be kept in pots for several years. However, all trees usually grow better the sooner they are planted into their final position. The monkey puzzle tree prefers well-drained slightly acid soil but will tolerate any type of soil. Producing heavy crops during cool summers, it grows well in the cool temperate climate of the British Isles.

Monkey puzzle seed with strong root growth

A. araucana is predominantly dioecious and its seed is gravity-dispersed or by birds and animals. It is pollinated by the wind. Asexual reproduction by root suckering has been reported (Schilling and Donoso 1976). Cuttings of half-ripe wood from May to July may be taken to propagate the tree. (Ken Fern, PFAF). However, only epicormic side-shoots should be used. These are shoots that develops from a dormant bud on the main trunk of the tree.

Where this tree does produce seed, it is high yielding. However, these trees are very SLOW GROWING(!) and may not produce seed until they are around 30 to 40 years old, although there are reports of trees producing seed at a much earlier age than this e.g. from 15 years onwards. There is no way of telling the sex of the tree until it flowers. Once the sex of the tree is known, it may be possible to produce female trees from cuttings.

The monkey puzzle tree will tolerate salty winds in coastal areas but not pollution.

Other uses

The resin of the tree is used to treat wounds and ulcers. The timber from the monkey puzzle tree is straight and of a good quality. However, it is now illegal to fell any trees from the wild. Its rarity and vulnerable status means the wood is rarely used now. Unlike most conifers, this tree can be coppiced.

Raw edible parts

The seeds are edible raw or cooked. They are large in size with a vaguely triangular shape and similar in appearance to a brazil nut. Fresh nuts taste a little like a uncooked chestnut or maybe a fresh green hazelnut. Ensure they are ripe before eating raw. Dried monkey puzzle nuts are more like a dried chestnut and are quite hard and dry. Dried nuts can be ground down to make a flour.

The seed is an important source of carbohydrates for the native people living in the south of Chile where it is eaten raw, boiled or toasted. The pinon seeds are composed of starch (64%), dietary fibre (25%), total sugar (7%) and very low concentrations of phenolic compounds, lipids, proteins and crude fibre.

Sources of seed for home growing

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Raw edible plants books available on Amazon Kindle


An image of the front cover of Raw Edible Wild Plants for the British Isles by Amanda Rofe

Originally published in 2011, this updated 2014 edition contains information on more than 100 wild plants, 40 colour photographs and new chapters on sea vegetables and fungi. All plants listed can be found in the British Isles and other places too, including much of Europe and parts of North America. 

Raw Edible Wild Plants explains why we should be eating wild plants, which parts of these plants can be safely eaten raw and guidelines on foraging. Raw wild plants are unadulterated, unprocessed and unpackaged. They are locally grown and in season. Unlike today's modern hybrids, which are unable to grow without a great deal of help and persuasion, wild plants naturally thrive in their local environment.

Raw wild plants are high in nutrition. They provide us with beneficial nutrients that are lacking in today's fast growing, highly processed and over cooked food. These plants are organically grown and completely natural. They are also completely free so are ideal for those on a low income or tight budget. Wild plants are the ultimate sustainable survival food but suitable for every day use
  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • Price: £2.50
  • File Size: 4428 KB
  • Print Length: 83 pages
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
  • Publisher: Dandelion Flower Publishing (3 April 2014)


An image of the front cover of Raw Edible Flowers and Leaves by Amanda Rofe.

Raw Edible Flowers and Leaves contains details of over 250 edible plants that can be grown in the British Isles. Many can also be grown in Europe and North America. Included are familiar garden flowers as well as grains, herbs, superfoods, trees, vegetables and wild plants. Find out about aloe vera, comfrey, fuchsias, tulips, wheat, gingko biloba, hemp, maca, stevia and much more.

Originally written for those following a raw food diet, it is also a useful reference book for everybody interested in eating a wide variety of plant foods. Includes all parts of the plants that can be eaten raw, a short introduction to the raw food diet, information on stockfree organic gardening, plants to avoid, and a resource section containing useful websites and books.

  • Format: Amazon Kindle Edition
  • Price: £2.50
  • File Size: 1260 KB
  • Print Length: 93 pages
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
  • Publisher: Dandelion Flower Publishing; V.1 edition (30 Aug. 2012)