Learning how to pick wild herbs… in Amsterdam!

Simply amazing how much edible stuff grows in a city like Amsterdam

In the last weeks I tried my luck as a modern hunter&gatherer living in the tourist ridden sin city that is Amsterdam. Underneath you will see a lot of pictures of local edible goodies growing in the little side streets of my hometown. But how would anyone ever try to try collecting edible plants and herbs in buzzing metropolitan city?

I don’t know when it happened exactly, but I think about 2 years ago I read a blog post about foraging for food in the crowded city of Amsterdam. The post mentioned a guide book, but unfortunately I forgot the title and even though I tried to find it, I could not.

Somehow the idea of foraging for wild herbs and plants in the city still stuck with me. A few weeks back I finally looked up courses on how to actually do this. The idea to just buy a book and walk around picking stuff and shoving it in my face seems kinda unsafe and dangerous. Ultimately I book two different courses both scheduled back to back. This meant that I had a whole weekend dedicated to learning all about the local herbs, plants, nuts, fruits and berries growing in Amsterdam. Hopefully I never need to go grocery-shopping again!

Most of the names of the flowers, herbs and berries are noted in Dutch – mainly because I don’t know the English names yet.

Saturday, September 2nd – What the heck did I get myself into?

For my first try ever foraging for edible stuff I signed up for a workshop with Roos and Marika from wildplukwandelingen.nl. We were quite a big group of participants and were split up in groups. I walked with Roos in a patch of nature called De Bretten. The region is surprisingly closed to my apartment but feels really secluded and isolated even though the occasional biker rushed by. This made it even more surprising to see so how much free food is growing around all of us (if you know what to look for!). In the middle of the walk we reunited with the other group for a small little picnic trying some foods and tea prepared with local herbs and fruits. Really nice to see how you can incorporate those local ingredients quite easily into regular recipes.

Roos showing us what berries to eat and especially which ones not to eat…
We ended up in a field of wild mint. I decided to take some home and made Mojito’s for my neighbor Justin’s birthday
“Duindoorn bessen” – These berries are super sour! As little snack on our walk our hosts prepared maki sushi made from quinoa flavored with these berries
“Look zonder look” – Tastes a lot like onion or chives, even though it’s not part of the onion- or leek family. Hence the Dutch names which translates to “leek without leek”
“Wilde rucola” – Wild arugula that’s basically growing everywhere!
Can you believe that there are wild grapes growing basically 15 minutes away from my house?? They taste just as sweet as the ones from the supermarket but these ones are free!!
“Watermuur” – A nice smooth little alternative to salad leaves
“Rimpelroos rozenbottel” – These things are edible and can be easily cooked into jam or jelly, as long as you make sure to remove the seeds
Wild mustard – These flowers and leaves taste peppery and make an awesome addition to a salad
“Melganzevoet” – The leaves kinda taste like wild spinach and the seeds can be used as a kind of quinoa
“Harig knopkruid” – Small little flowers that look pretty on top of your salad and the leafs itself are super mild
“Gewone berenklauw” – The dried seeds taste intense like citrus and cardamon. But the plants do look like a lot of other quite poisonous ones, so you might want to stay away from these…
“Duizendblad” – With it’s slightly sweet and bitter taste it can be easily used as alternative for spinach. The flowers are edible too!

After the walk we went back to the place where we started – a small restaurant hip restaurant called Bret near train station Amsterdam Sloterdijk. The cooks prepared some dishes for us with the herbs Roos and Marika gathered the day before for all of us. Really cool end of this nice afternoon!

Sunday, September 3rd – Ooh, I recognize stuff! 

The day after I went for a bit of a shorter walk with Ellen Mookhoek from www.debredemoestuin.nl. We walked in Amsterdam Oost – Watergraafsmeer and ended up in Park Frankendael. Ellen also wrote a book on foraging in the city which I bought and got signed during the walk.

Ellen with her dog showing us around in Park Frankendael
Wild apples growing on a side street in Amsterdam East. These were really small and quite sour
More wild mint – this one was in full bloom! The flower peddles taste really smooth as well. Perfect as a topping for a salad
Wild hazelnuts – Now where’s a rock to crack this open?
Flower from the “aardpeer”, which is weirdly enough called ‘Jerusalem artichoke’ or ‘topinambour’ – The flower smelled like vanilla and chocolate! On the walk the day earlier we pulled one stem out of the ground and tasted the root, which can be prepared pretty much the same way as potatoes
“Taxus” – When I was younger my mom always warned me to stay away from these. There’s a reason for that: The seeds of the berries are highly poisonous! The flesh however is edible, juicy and sticky
“Klaverzuring” – Small little clover-like leafs that taste surprisingly sour! I can image this as a perfect addition for a salad so you can go easy on the dressing
Casualty along the way – At the end of the day, Ellen’s dog is a hunting dog- This little (already wounded) crow didn’t got away in time and got it’s neck snapped by the dog. Circle of life….
“Chicken of the woods” – Ellen told us that this mushroom species has a structure really similar to that of chicken. Unfortunately this mushroom was already too mature to eat
“Inktzwammen” – Though these mushrooms are edible there is something you should now… There is a compound in them that is used to treat alcoholics. If you had alcohol in the last 36 hours and you nibble on these you’ll get sick as a dog…
“Bijvoet” – A herb that tastes a bit similar to sage and can be used in meat casseroles and teas
How weird is it to find crab claws in a public park? No, these have not been dumped by a seafood take-away enthusiast. There are wild crayfish walking around in the park. With some luck you can catch them in the early morning hours… …in a public park…!?!

As you can see above I took pictures of most of the edible stuff and will use that as a guide for foraging in the near future. Then on top, I have the book from Ellen and I put Roos on speed-dial on my phone to send her a text and a pick of plants where I’m not 100% sure. If you are interested in trying to pick free food as well, just try to google for workshops in your city. I was surprised how easy it was to find workshops for this!

Have you picked wild edible flowers, herbs or fruit in your city before? Ever participated in a workshop like this? Share your experiences in the comments underneath! (And if one of the names and/or definitions under the pictures is wrong – please let me know as well!!)

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2 Comments

  1. Samantha
    November 27, 2018
    Reply

    Hi there,

    I have found you in internet looking for workshops to learn about herbs and plants and their wonderful powers.

    Are you organising anything for 2019?

    Thanks in advance.
    Cheers,
    Samantha

    • johnny
      November 27, 2018
      Reply

      Hi Samantha,
      I personally do not host workshops for wild flowers and herbs as I’m somewhat of a beginner at this myself. I went to two workshops in Amsterdam hosted by http://www.debredemoestuin.nl and http://www.wildplukwandelingen.nl
      If you live in Amsterdam, I can highly recommend these, if you live somewhere else I guess you need to search for a local herb gathering workshop. I found the ones mentioned above through google as well 🙂
      Hope this helps!
      Johnny

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