When you return to a particular place where you have not been for a few weeks, you notice the difference in the vegetation. One of our favourite spots, where in spring we find our weekly supply of nettles and dandelion leaves, is almost unrecognisable in June. Other plants, such as vines and a bamboo look-a-like, Arundo donax, have overtaken our spring plants. You have to hunt under their branches to find nettles. This walk takes you between the River Argens and an irrigation canal. Water is always available and the vegetation is quite different from the hills that surround this spot.
Although we knew we could make fertiliser from certain plants – Nettles (Urtica) – Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) – Horsetail (Equisetum arvense), it was Monty Don on the BBC Gardeners World programme who reminded us of this. Previously in our ‘Seasonal Foraging’ blog we’ve discussed the virtues of Nettles, Comfrey and Horsetail for either culinary or medicinal purposes. This entry is about how the extracts of these plants can benefit our gardens.
A fertiliser made with Nettles enriches the soil with nitrogen, iron, magnesium and sulfur; Comfrey supplies nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous and many trace elements; whereas Horsetail, with its high silicon content, makes the plant stronger and less susceptible to fungal diseases.
It is so easy to make these different fertilisers. All you need is 3 buckets, water (rain water if possible), some stones and a bit of patience.
Put the plant material into the buckets, one for nettles, one for comfrey and one for horsetail. Fill them 3/4 full (you need a bit of room in the bucket for the foam which is naturally produced when the plant material is decomposing). Fill the buckets with water and place some stones on top of the mixture to make sure it stays submerged. Stir the mixture from time to time. It takes about 3 weeks to disintegrate, depending a bit on weather conditions. It does smell (a lid to the bucket is useful) so do not keep it near the house. When ready, strain. Use the fertiliser in a 1 : 10 ratio with water.
Bibliography: BBC Gardeners World; www.gardenstew.com; about.com gardening; The role of silicon in plant susceptibility to disease – Chad Husby
Common St. John’s Wort – Millepertuis commun
The name Hypericum comes from the Greek word Hypericon, indicating that the smell of the flowers was so strong, strong enough to ward off evil spirits and at the same time cleanse the air. When you rub the flowers they give off a red pigment (Hypericin), which was associated with blood. St John was beheaded and in memory of him the plant was called ‘St. John’s’, the herb of St. John. In addition, it is in full bloom on St. John’s Day, 24 June.
The genus ‘Hypericum’ has about 370 species. It is found in the temperate zones of Europe and western Asia. Hypericum perforatum grows near forests or hedgerows and prefers calcareous soils. It is a perennial. The erect stem has two pronounced ridges, which are easy to feel when you slide your hands over the stem. If you look closely at the leaves, there are tiny holes in them, hence the name ‘perforatum’. The flowers are bright yellow in colour, with five petals and pronounced stamens. They are covered with small oil glands.
It has been used medicinally for a very long time. It was quite common to make your own St. John’s Wort oil. It is effective in healing burns and wounds, especially where nervous tissue has been damaged. When overdoing the work in the garden and you have a sore back, rub some St John’s Wort oil on the painful area, and you’ll find it really helps. The first time I ever used it was for sunburn. I applied it on the sunburned area before going to sleep and was quite surprised the next morning that the sunburn soreness was gone. You do need to wash the oil off before going into the sun: although it heals sunburn, going with the St John’s Wort oil rubbed into your skin into the sun, causes severe burning. This has to do with the light sensitive properties of the herb. Charolais or Frisian cows, with a lot of white patches, will suffer from sunburn after ingesting the herb from a meadow where a lot of St. John’s Wort is growing.
A few years ago I was visiting Fytosan, a company that makes herbal tinctures and essential oil in Die in the Drôme. It was interesting to see large vats filled with olive oil and Hypericum perforatum standing outside in the sun. The following is a recipe to make your own oil. I’ve already got one on the go. The only negative thing is that it is an oil, and it give off a red colour. After putting on the oil, you need to wear an old T shirt to protect your clothes.
Ingredients: olive or sunflower oil; a large bunch of Hypericum perforatum; a jam jar and a piece of cotton to cover the jar.
Take off the flowers and drop them into the oil. The oil needs to be saturated with the flowers. Cover the jam jar with a piece of cotton and place the jar directly in a sunny spot or on a window sill. Leave the flowers to soak for 3 weeks, you see the oil turning red. After 3 weeks, strain and press out the flowers. You should end up with a red oil, ready to be used. This keeps for one year.
In addition to the oil, the herb has been used to treat mild to moderate depression, anxiety and sleep disorders. In Germany, doctors prescribe Hypericum more often than the anti-depressant drug ‘Prosac’. It is not meant to be used for medium to severe depression. It does interact with other drugs and is not suitable for pregnant women or breast- feeding mothers.
At the University Hospital in Leuven, Belgium, they have been using the light-sensitive properties of ‘Hypericin’ to show up the presence of cancer cells. Bladder tumors that cannot be detected with an endoscopy can be detected with Hypericin. They call it PDT (Photo Dynamic Therapy, using ‘Hypericin’, a fluorescent photo sensitiser, extracted from St. John’s Wort). PDT works by injecting ‘Hypericin’ into the patient through an endoscope tube with a camera at the end. After injecting the ‘Hypericin’, the tumor lights up red in blue light as a result of the fluorescent effect of ‘Hypericin’. They think this method of injecting ‘Hypericin’ might eventually lead to a way to treat bladder cancer.
Bibliography: The Encyclopedia of Herbs and Herbalism – Malcolm Stuart; Handboek Heilzame Kruiden – Penelope Ody; Mediterranean Wild Flowers – Marjorie Blamey/Christopher Grey-Wilson; Blaaskanker beter opspoorbaar – Professor Marie-Ange D’Hallewin – Dienst Urologie; Hypericum perforatum – Ir. J. Lambrechts.
Small-Leaved Lime – Tilleul
The Small-Leaved Lime is a European native which grows in the wild in a mixed, deciduous woodland. It prefers a warm position, sandy or stony soil. Beside the Small-Leaved Lime, there is another native Lime tree, Tilia platyphyllos (Broad or Large-Leaved Lime and a hybrid between Tilia cordata and Tilia platyphylos, Tilia x europaea. Another word for Lime tree is Linden Tree. Like the Oak tree, the Lime was considered a sacred tree by the old Germanic tribes; it has a longevity of a 1000 years. Lots of legends and history are associated with the Lime tree. In the story of the ‘Nibelungen’, the hero Siegfried, in his efforts to become immortal, took a bath in Dragon’s blood. During the bathing, a leaf of the Lime Tree fell between his shoulder blades. Later, in a battle, he was mortally injured between his shoulder blades, there where the Lime leaf had fallen. A bit of a similar story to Achilles and his heel. An old tradition was that when a boy was born, you planted an Oak tree, when a girl was born it was a Lime tree. The placenta was buried under the trees.
It is an impressive tree and often used in Parks. Before WW2, in Berlin, there was a 1 km long street called ‘Unter den Linden’, planted with four rows of Lime Trees. Since then the Lime Trees have been replanted.
It is a deciduous tree, growing up to 40m, with a smooth, dark brown trunk when young. The leaves are stalked, heart-shaped with serrated edges, smooth above, paler below with a few tufts of hair. It was introduced in towns as an ornamental tree. Here in Provence, it flowers in June. The flowers are light-yellow in colour and very fragrant. The harvesting of the Lime flowers occurs in summer. The wood is very light in weight and easy to carve. It has been used to make marionettes, puppets, recorders and bodies of guitars. The inner bark was once used in the rope industry.
In France it is the most popular tisane (herbal drink). In folk medicine it was used for hypertension. It is a herb that is ideally suited to nervous people. A cup of Lime/Linden tea 1 hour before going to sleep has a calming, restful and relaxing effect. It helps with flu and fever, it increases the perspiration: drink a couple of cups a day. It aids the digestion as it stimulates the galbladder. Medicinally, it is used for colds, infections, high blood pressure, headaches (migraine), as a diuretic and it is anti-spasmodic. It contains flavonoids (anti-oxidants), essential oils (0.1%), mucilage (10%), saponins, polyphenols (1%), tannins (2%) and other unknown substances. It is very safe to use.
The young leaves can be eaten raw or cooked. There are a lot of offshoots on the tree during the growing season, waiting to be picked. These can be harvested on a regular basis. They can be put into sandwiches instead of lettuce. The dried flowers make a good tasting herbal tea. Honey made from lime blossom has a special flavour.
During warm summer days ice cold Lime tea (30g/l), add a little sugar, encourages perspiration and quenches thirst.
Bibliography: RHS Encyclopedia of herbs and their uses – Deni Bown; Food for Free – Richard Mabey; Tileul – Rustica; The Encyclopedia of Herbs and Herbalism – Malcolm Stuart; Tilia – Wikipedia
Horsetail – Prêle
Near the village of Rustrel in the Luberon is a site called ‘Le Colorado Provençal de Rustrel’. You wonder when you first see the sign why it is called ‘Colorado’. Well, it does remind you of Colorado, but is on a much smaller scale. Ochre was mined here. There are several walks through the Ochre hills, the longest being 5.5 km. The walk we chose, took us past towering blood red, yellow, and white ochre hills, past the impressive, ‘les Cheminées des Fées’ (the Fairy Chimneys) and further on, some dunes called ‘Sahara’, which did remind me of the desert of Dubai. All along the path we saw Cistus laurifolius, a very large Cistus, up to 1.5 m tall. The leaves were dark green, maybe the soil had something to do with that. We crossed several streams and at the bottom of the valleys it was quite wet.
We came across a Horsetail that is quite common in the park, Equisetum telmateia. This particular Equisetum looks magnificent. All the members of the Horsetail family are descendants from prehistoric times, closely related to tree like plants that grew in the ‘carboniferous period’, some 270 million years ago, when decomposed plants formed the coal beds. The ancient Greeks were familiar with the medicinal uses of Equisetum arvense (Common Horsetail). They used it to treat wounds and to stop bleeding. From the Middle Ages up to the 18th century the rough stems in particular of Equisetum hyemale (Dutch rush/rough horsetail) were used to scour pots and pans. Dutch rush was even imported into the U.K. for this purpose.
Horsetails are a rhizomatous perennial. In spring, fertile stems appear topped by a cone. These cones contain spores, once the spores have been shed, the fertile shoot dies down. This is followed by the appearance of sterile shoots, 20-80 cm long. These shoots are segmented, the branch like leaves are in whorls, fused into the nodal sheaths. Once in your garden it is very hard to eradicate. They like shady, damp conditions and prefer acid soil. Here in Provence it is not so common, you can only find them near riverbeds.
Just a few weeks earlier we discovered Equisetem arvense (Common Horsetail) in the ‘Vallon de Baumes’ in Correns. Although it is a curse to have in the garden, Equisetum arvense, has been a very useful herb through the centuries. It is high in minerals, silicon (highest in spring), potassium 2.1-2.9% of dried plant material, 5-8% silicic acid and manganese. Once it was used in the treatment of TB. Its uses for TB are now obsolete, superseded by more effective medicine, but it could still be used in a complementary way as it increases the resistance of connective tissue.
Silicon plays a role in strengthening bones, it is often recommended in the treatment of Osteoporosis and for nails and hair that break easily. It can slow down the age-related changes in the elastic tissue of the Aorta.
Equisetum arvense is used for fractures, tendinitis, rheumatism and gout. You will find it in cosmetic preparations for greasy skin and in shampoos for greasy hair. In folk medicine it was used for excessive menstruation, nosebleeds and piles.
It is safe to use Equisetum arvense. It should not be used during pregnancy or for nursing mothers. Prolonged usage is not advised, it may cause levels of Vit. B1 (Thiamin) to drop. It is advisable when taking Equisetum arvense to take a daily supplement of Vit B complex.
A decoction of Equisetum arvense stems: 15 g of dried herb (30 g fresh), 1 litre water. Boil the stems for 30 mins; drink 3 cups a day.
The young fertile stems can be eaten raw or cooked. They resemble asparagus.
Bibliography: Fytotherapeutisch compendium – J. Van Hellemont; Herbs and Herbalism – Malcolm Stuart; Wikipedia – Equisetum; Mediterranean Wild Flowers – Marjorie Blamey/Christopher Grey-Wilson; RHS Encyclopedia of Herbs and their uses – Deni Bown; University of Maryland Medical Center – Equisetum arvense
Olive blossom – Fleurs d’Olivier
After reading an article by Barbara Wilde, http://www.frenchgardening.com, describing a walk on the old olive terraces around Goult, we were inspired and although it is over two hours driving from where we live, we felt we had to see it.
Goult is a pretty village in the Luberon part of the Vaucluse. In the late 1990’s the local community decided to restore the restanques (local name for terraces) and the cabanos (small dwellings), where the farmers, who cultivated the terraces, lived. The restanques provided the local population with food and hence were very important.
On the terraces, olive and fruit trees were planted and underneath, the crops that could cope with drought, like lentils, chick peas and a type of spelt. The walls of the restanques were built with the stones that were readily available on the terraces. As they cleared the land to plant the olive trees and fruit trees, more stones became available. Most of the terrain in the hinterland of the Provence, has more stones than soil.
The restoration project is called ‘La conservatoire des terraces cultivées de Goult’. The walk starts at the windmill, quite unusual now to find a windmill in Provence. A path winds down to the entrance to the terraces. Despite the fact that the terraces and some of the dwellings have been restored and the olive trees pruned back to their former glory, we felt that we were discovering the lost terraces anew. They are what everyone imagines a terrace with olive trees should look like: shapely olive trees, curving stone walls and underneath, this glorious mix of wild flowers, all so peaceful and enriching.
The upkeep now of cultivating the terraces with crops, I guess, would be too much work. The produce of the olive trees was a very important factor in local rural life, the fruit and the oil pressed from the fruit. But the local people used the young leaves to treat high blood pressure, artherosclerosis, and urinary lithiasis (a type of kidney stones). They drank a tea made from the leaves. Olive leaves are completely safe to use. Many herbal medicine books mention ‘olive leaves’ for the same purposes as the locals used to use it for. They do mention that it is a long term treatment. The following is a recipe on how to use the leaves:
Olive Leaf Tea
Ingredients: 7 crushed leaves, 1 teacup of cold water (all during the growing season, olive trees grow shoots around their base, these are ideal to use for the tea).
Boil the leaves in the water for 5 minutes, infuse it for 10 minutes, then filter. Drink 3-4 cups a day, without sugar, and not with meals, for 3 weeks every 2 to 3 months.
Bibliography : Wikipedia – the free encyclopedia; Malcolm Stuart – Herbs & Herbalism; RHS Encyclopedia of Herbs and their uses – Deni Bown; Fytotherapeutisch compendium – J. Van Hellemont; Secrets and Remedies of the Herbs of Provence – Claude Godet.
Elderberry – Sureau noir – Sambucus nigra
When you are driving around in May and you see a small tree or large shrub, covered in blossom, it is most likely to be an Elderberry. It is native to Europe, North Africa and western Asia. It has been such a useful herb through the centuries, having a very long history from before the Egyptians and is very popular in Folk medicine to treat colds. The name ‘Sambucus’ comes from the Greek word ‘sambuke’, which means ‘a musical pipe’. The new shoots of the Elder were used for this.
It is a shrub or small tree up to 10m in height. The leaves are a dull green, subdivided into 5 elliptic, serrated leaflets, 3-9 cm long. The flowers are fragrant, white, 5 mm in diameter, grouped in flat topped cymes, followed after the flowering by numerous edible, purple fruits, 8 mm in diameter. It prefers moist conditions. The twigs and leaves when crushed give off an unpleasant odour.
Traditionally, all parts of the Elder were used but today it is mostly the flowers. They contain a plant acid, that is anti-inflammatory; flavonoids that encourage perspiration (good for fevers) and a fixed oil. The leaves contain toxic cyanogenic glucosides. Internally an infusion made from the dried or fresh flowers is useful in the treatment of colds, flu, nasal catarrh, sinisitis, mouth ulcers and any illness with fever. An old home remedy for flu is an infusion of elderberry flowers and peppermint to treat colds and as a gargle for sore throats. It can be used externally for minor burns, irritated or inflamed skin. It contain minerals: 8 – 9% Ca, Cu and K.
For culinary purposes: the flowers dipped in batter and fried make a delightful dessert; a lemonade made from the flowers is an old home favourite as are also, elderberry wine and elderberry syrup.
Ingredients: 14 elderflower heads; 4 l water; 2 lemons cut in slices; 2 soupspoons of white vinegar; 500 g of castor sugar.
Mix all the ingredients in a large container, leave it to rest for 24 hours (do not wash the flowers). Strain and bottle. It keeps for 2 weeks in the fridge or longer when frozen.
Ingredients: 12 elderflower heads; oil for deep frying; caster sugar for dredging. Batter: 100 g plain flour; pinch of sea salt; 2 tablespoons sunflower oil; 150 ml warm water; 1 egg white.
To make the batter, sift the flour into a bowl and add the salt. Stir in the oil and mix in enough lukewarm water to give the consistency of fairly thick cream. Leave to stand for 1 to 2 hours in a cool place. Just before using, beat the egg white in a bowl until stiff and fold it into the batter.
Rinse the elderflower heads and shake them dry in a cloth. Dip each one in the batter, shaking off any excess, and drop into a large pan of oil heated to 180C. Do not try to fry them all at once as they must not be crowded. When each batch is done, drain briefly on crumpled paper towels then lay them on a serving dish in a warm place until the others are done. Sprinkle with sugar and serve straight away.
Ingredients: 900 ml water; 150 g caster sugar; 16 elderflower heads; juice of 2 lemons; white of 1 large egg; red currant or sprigs of mint to decorate.
Put the water in a pan with the sugar. Bring to the boil and simmer until the sugar has dissolved. Wash the elderflowers and shake them dry. Put them in the pan, cover it and remove it from the heat. Leave for 30 minutes to infuse. Strain, and stir in the lemon juice. Turn into a rigid container and cool. Freeze for 1 hour, until semi-frozen. Beat the egg white in a bowl until it is firm though not stiff. Fold it into the sorbet and freeze it again until firm, about 1 hour. To serve, spoon into wine glasses. Each glass may be decorated with a few red currants, or a tiny sprig of mint. Serves 6
Bibliography : Wikipedia – the free encyclopedia; Malcolm Stuart – Herbs & Herbalism; RHS Encyclopedia of Herbs and their uses – Deni Bown
Woad – Pastel du Teinturiers
Woad was cultivated as the source of blue dye for more than 2000 years. Plinius, in the first century A.D., reported that the women of Britain dyed their naked bodies blue to attend ceremonial offerings. Julius Ceasar, noticed that the men used Woad as a war paint. They painted their bodies with a paste of the leaves. This may have had two purposes, firstly to scare off their opponents, secondly to staunch blood and heal wounds.
The process of obtaining the dye through fermentation gave off a terrible smell. Queen Elisabeth I of England banned the process of obtaining Woad dye in a 8 km radius of her palaces. It remained a popular dye for fabrics until Woad was superseded by Indigo (Indigofera tinctoria) in the 1630’s. The colour of Indigo is more appealing, although some Woad continued to be used as a colour fixative in making the Indigo dye as it is a more permanent blue than that of Indigo. In the beginning, when Indigo was first introduced in the 16th century, laws were passed to protect the local Woad industry. Henry IV of France, in an edict of 1609, forbade, under the pain of death, to use “the false and pernicious Indian drug”. When artificial dyes became popular in the early 20th century, the Woad and Indigo industry collapsed. The last commercial Woad harvest in recent times occurred in 1932 in Lincolnshire. Small amounts of Woad are now grown in the U.K. and France to supply craft dyers.
Woad is a biennial, 45 cm – 130 cm tall. In the first year, just a rosette of leaves are visible. In the second year the stem emerges. The stem leaves are arrow-shaped, clasping the stem. At the top of the stem there are much branched racemes of yellow flowers. Each flower is 4 mm across with 4 petals, followed after flowering by numerous hanging seeds.
The above ground parts , when crushed, give off the blue dye. The leaves are harvested in the first year, in summer. The blue dye is obtained by fermenting, drying and re-fermenting the crushed leaves, and adding lime-water to the final product.
Apart from Woad being used as a dye, it was traditionally used as a poultice to stop bleeding, heal wounds and ulcers. It is poisonous and should not be taken internally.
Bibliography: Kruiden – Lesley Bremness; Fleurs de Méditerranée – Larousse; RHS Encyclopedia of Herbs and their Uses – Deni Bown; Herbs and Herbalism – Malcolm Stuart; Isatis Tinctoria – Web.
Broom – Genêt
There is much confusion among people about what is Broom and what is Gorse and which one is edible. They are closely related, but where foraging is concerned it is quite important to make the distinction between the two as the buds and flowers of both Broom and Gorse have traditionally been used in salads. There are now concerns about the toxicity of Broom and whether the flowers and buds should be consumed. The toxicity of Gorse is much less, although it is not recommended to eat too many buds or flowers.
Broom is the general name given to evergreen, semi-evergreen and deciduous shrubs in the Pea family. They are divided into 3 genera – Chamaecystisus, Cytisus and Genista. These three are closely related and share similar characteristics – slender, dense stems with very small leaves to suit dry conditions. In addition, Broom is closely related to Gorse and Laburnum. They tolerate and often thrive on poor soils, they do not like wet soils.
Cytisus are shrubs without spines. Leaves with one or three leaflets, alternate. Most have yellow flowers but some have white/orange/red/pink or purple flowers.
Genista are spiny or non-spiny shrubs with simple leaves. Flowers are yellow, borne in heads or racemes. All the above are native to Europe, North Africa and southwest Asia, but the largest diversity is in the Mediterranean. Flowering at the moment is the largest shrub in the family ‘Spanish Broom’ (Spartium junceum or Genista junceum), even more toxic than the Cytisus genus.
The Plantagenet kings used common Broom ‘Planta genista‘ as an emblem and took their family name from it. It was initially the emblem of Geoffrey of Anjou, father of Henry II of England.
Genista tinctoria (Dyer’s Broom) was grown commercially for its yellow dye in parts of Britain into the early 19th century. Woolen cloth, mordanted with alum (colour fixative) was dyed yellow with Dyer’s Broom, then dipped into a vat of blue dye (Woad or later Indigo) to produce a once famous colour ‘Kendal Green’, later superseded by ‘Saxon Green’ in the 1770’s.
Broom contains alkaloids, notably ‘sparteine’ which affects the heart and nerves, similar to curare. It is a bitter, narcotic herb that depresses respiration, regulates the heart action and has diuretic and purgative effects; medicinally, used internally for heart complaints. Excess causes respiratory collapse. Not to be given to pregnant women and people with high blood pressure. Only to be used under qualified practitioner.
Gorse – Ajonc
Ulex europaeus or common Gorse/Furze looks similar to Broom but with spiny branches. It flowers in late winter and spring through to September. It prefers slightly acid, poor soils.
In former times, in winter, when there was no other green food available, gorse was used to feed cattle. The shrub would be crushed before given to cattle.
Gorse wood was used to make small objects. As the wood is non toxic, it has been used for cutlery as well as garden ornaments as it is resistant to weather and rot. Ash, from Gorse wood, is rich in potassium and makes a good fertiliser.
Soaked seeds are a good remedy against fleas.
In the Bach flower remedies, the flowers stand for hopelessness and despair.
Gorse flowers are edible. They can be used in salads and tea. They have a slight coconut aroma and almond taste. The buds can be pickled like capers and the shoot tips used for tea.
Gorse flower and Dandelion salad
Ingredients: 4 handfuls of dandelion leaves; 1/2 thinly sliced cucumber; 2 handful of Gorse flowers.
Mix the leaves, flowers and cucumber together. Add your favourite dressing. Ideal for early spring when the dandelion leaves and gorse flowers are available.
In Provence, you feel winter is over when the first Almond blossoms appear, on the coast around the end of January and with us, about 2-3 weeks later. This is followed in early spring by the blossom of the Blackthorn, Cherry, Quince, and, at the moment, False Acacia, Chestnut and Elderflower.
Almond tree – Amandier – Prunus dulcis
I always feel spring has come to Provence, first with the cheerful, yellow-flowering Mimosa, quickly followed by the delicate light pink blossom of the almond tree. All around us we see the flowering almond trees, not just in the gardens but growing wild on the hillsides and we feel it is part of the flora of the region.
The history of the almond tree is quite interesting. It is native to the Mediterranean region of the Middle East, spreading eastwards up to Pakistan. The Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans introduced the almond tree to the rest of the countries around the Med, as far as Spain and northern Africa. The almond tree was first introduced to France in the 8th century and to north-western Europe at the end of the Middle Ages. The first almond tree was planted in England in the 16th century. In Elizabethan cooking, large quantities of the nut were used and almond water was used as a substitute for milk in recipes. Nowadays the major producer of almonds is the USA with 41% of the world production, followed by Spain with 13% and various other countries making up the rest.
There are two types of almonds, Prunus dulcis var. dulcis (sweet almond) and the Prunus dulcis var. amara (bitter almond). Quite difficult on sight to differentiate between the two, but in general the bitter almond flowers are a deeper pink and the nuts are broader and shorter than those of the sweet almond. Both the sweet and the bitter almonds contain almond oil (50% of the nut) which is procured by pressing the almond.
The bitter almond is used to boost the flavour of products made with sweet almonds like, for instance, the liqueur ‘Amaretto’. The bitter almond contains prussic acid, which occurs in many of the leaves and seeds from our most common fruits, for instance apple pips. Prussic acid is poisonous and the bitter almonds have to be heat treated before they can be used.
Almond oil is a widely used oil in cosmetics, and is the most common oil used in aromatherapy. To the almond oil, drops of different essential oils are added and then used as a massage oil.
Sweet almonds are used a lot in Spanish cooking and are a boon for those people with gluten intolerance. In general it is a much used culinary delight.
Sloe/Blackthorn – Prunellier/L’Epine Noir
Although the blossom of the Blackthorn looks pretty, it is the berries that are used. The berries will be ready in late autumn after they’ve been subjected to frost.
Sweet Cherry – Cerisier – Prunus avium / Sour Cherry – Griotte – Prunus cerasus
The Vaucluse and Alps-de-Haute-Provence are the departments of Provence with Cherry orchards. but in spring you find cherry trees dotted across the Provençal landscape, sweet as well as sour cherries. The Sweet Cherry had been introduced into Europe by the Romans from northeastern Anatolia (Turkey) as far back as 72 BC. The Sour Cherry is a native to Europe and western Asia. The Sweet Cherry and the Sour Cherry do not cross-pollinate.
L’Occitane has a fragrance called ‘Fleurs de Cerisier’, in which the blossom is used to make the scent.
Ingredients: 500 g sour cherries; 50 ml Kirsch; 50 g butter; 4 eggs; 75 g castor sugar; 100 g flour; 1/2 teaspoon salt; 2oo ml milk; icing sugar.