Hedgerows, field borders and roadside verges continue to thrive in this part of the world as a result of the recent rainy weather. Nettles are in abundance at the moment, in particular the white deadnettle (Lamium album):
The white deadnettle is, as the name suggests, not a stinger, and it’s common all over the UK, Europe and Asia. It’s white or pink flowers need to be prised open in order to reach the nectar at the back of the flower so only bulky insects such as bumble bees can reach it. It flowers from March to December so it can provide a food source for these insects for most of the year.
According to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, the leaves and flowers can be eaten raw when they are young and tender and the fresh leaves can also be boiled and eaten as a vegetable. The flowers can also be boiled in water and used as a traditional herbal remedy for catarrh and dropsy, which is another name for oedema, or build up of fluid under the skin. The roots can be boiled in wine, which will extract compounds that are insoluble in water into the alcohol fraction of the wine, and the resulting concoction can be used as a remedy for kidney stones. White deadnettle is also used as a herbal treatment for benign prostate hyperplasia, which is enlargement of the prostate gland, and for gastrointestinal problems. So this humble hedgerow plant has the potential to provide a plethora of therapeutic compounds.
The white deadnettle is also known as bee nettle, blind nettle, day nettle, deaf nettle, dog nettle, snake flower and white archangel.
And the other nettle which is springing up everywhere is the much maligned stinging nettle, Urtica dioica:
The flowers of the stinger are tiny and green and grow in strings which are several centimetres long. The stinging mechanism is via hairs, or ‘trichomes‘, and each one has a bulbous end that breaks off when brushed by a passer by, leaving a sharp hollow tube. The tube acts like a tiny hypodermic needle that injects a cocktail of irritant chemicals including histamine and acetycholine which potentiate an inflammatory immune response which is the cause of the stinging sensation. The sting protects the nettle from grazers but also offers protection for other species which are resistant to the sting and the stinging nettle is therefore home to various species of insect and is an important refuge for caterpillars such as that of the peacock butterfly. Before slashing them down in your garden see if you can’t find an out-of-the-way corner to let them grow and provide a home for the butterflies.
Cooking the nettle leaves removes the sting and they are rich in vitamin C so they are used to make soup, herbal tea and, latterly, pesto and in the production of a cheese called ‘yarg‘ from Cornwall.
Charlock, Sinapis arvensis
The yellow flowers of the charlock plant, also known as carlock, corn mustard, field kale, kedlock, kerlock, kinkle, wild kale and wild mustard, have sprung up along the field-side drainage ditches and hogweed, Heracleum sphondylium, is well established too:
Hogweed grows all over Europe and flowers from June to August. The flowers burst out of large pods at the top of the stems and are initially pink but fade to white. The young shoots are reputed to be good to eat with a flavour similar to asparagus and the plant gets its name because it was gathered to provide feed for pigs in times past. Hogweed is also known as cow parsnip, cadweed, clogweed, eltrot, giant parsnip, madnep and meadow parsnip.
Lurking along the edge of the nearby rape fields, almost hidden in the undergrowth, are pansies. The name of the pansy originates from the French word ‘pensee‘ – thought. It is also know as heart’s ease, ladies’ delight and stepmother’s flower.
Hedgerow cranesbill, Geranium pyrenaicum
Hedgrow cranesbill, aka mountain cranesbill, is very common at the moment. It flowers from May to August and it gets it’s name from the shape of the seedpod in some species of geranium which is long and pointed and said to resemble the beak of the crane.
According to the RHS herb bennet also has a number of colourful names: blessed herb, city avens, clove root, colewort, Indian chocolate, minarta, St Benedict’s herb, star of the earth, water flower and wood avens. This plant grows in shaded spots and flowers from May to August. It has aromatic roots which have been used to flavour ale and give off a smell of cloves so it was hung by the door to ward off evil spirits. It was also used medicinally by the Romans as a substitute for quinine.
My day job is in the pharmaceutical industry so I have a professional interest in chemicals which could have medicinal applications either on their own or as cocktails of compounds which may be contained in the same plant. So when I’m researching a post like this I wonder how many species we’ve lost due to modern agricultutal practices and how much herbal knowledge and potential drug molecules have passed into history. Many have probably been lost but there are still thousands remaining to provide us with food, herbs and spices, medicines, and to add the wonderful shapes and colours to the countryside.
Excellent post as always, Finn! My son and I went through a patch of stinging nettles last year while walking through the woods. Needless to say, we go around that area now. I get itchy just thinking about it.
Hello Rick, I can fully understand your caution regarding the stingers. I spent a good proportion of my childhood in the woods acquiring nettle rash so I know how you feel. But the stinging process is fascinating, nature’s own plant-produced hypodermics and a cocktail of inflammatory chemicals to deter would be grazers! Evolution at its artful best!
Lovely and informative post, Finn, good photographs too, just my cup of (herbal) tea! I especially liked the little pansy, I haven’t seen that up here. For traditional ‘common’ names, Richard Mabey has authored some good books on aspects of British flora, including The Flowering of Britain & Flora Britannica and may be worth checking out in your local library?
Thanks Theresa, I’m glad you like the post, I’ve been out snapping alot of flowers lately because I’ve just bought a new camera with a macro lens so I’m getting to know how to use it. Thanks for the references, I’d love a good wild flower guide so I’ll definitely look them up. Also, if you know any local names of the flowers in my posts please let me know. Unless you want to save them for your own posts in which case I’ll understand 😉
I am incredibly inspired by the images and information you put together for your posts. What a fascinating plant the white deadnettle is. I really enjoyed learning about the other blooming flowers, as well. With your background, the natural world takes on a completely different dimension. I feel so fortunate that because of the care you put into your blog we can have a bit of a window into that dimension. Thank you!
It’s really good to hear that. Thankyou for taking the time to let me know, it makes me want to get out and photograph some more wild flowers! There are more to follow and at least one of them has a very interesting history. I hope you agree.
Quite a lesson, thanks 😉
I find myself wondering the same…. Maybe we have always had everything we need?
I think it may well be out there, lurking in the meadows and forests. The problem is that it can be difficult to find and even more difficult for someone to make alot of money from.
Where’s the oxeye daisy you promised me?!
Patience Ma, it’s imminent 🙂
There are thousands of them sprouting at the moment but I’m waiting for the gales to subside to get out and photograph them.
Dear Finn, you are my online reference for all things in nature! I could identify a few species of wildflowers based on this post to some we have here in the woods near my home but others I have not seen. I have since been reading up a bit on wildflowers in Finland but finding reference books in English on this topic has been a bit tricky. I have been watching ethnobotanist James Wong and natural remedies from plants. It would be most interesting if you could combine your profession as a pharmacist and knowledge of botany for some posts on natural remedies in the future? Thank you so much! As always, an excellent post! Sharon
Hello Sharon. Wow! I now feel an additional burden of responsibility to make sure every fact is double checked 😉
I like what James Wong does because I think he is raising awareness of what we stand to lose if our wild flowers die out. But alas, I’m not a pharmacist, I work in drug discovery and I would be wary of discussing natural remedies coming at it from a position of ignorance. They can be dangerous things if you get it get wrong! But I’ll keep posting the pictures and writing about the biochemistry.
Don’t mind flower photos any time, especially when as good as these. Don’t know all of them though, but that is also interesting.
Thanks Bente, I’m pleased you like the flower pictures and that you’re enjoying seeing our UK ones. I guess some of them grow in Norway too?
Beautiful photo’s….reminds me of my herbarium I made for school many many years ago :D!! Strolling around nature finding flowers and search their origin…wonderful!
A herbarium, now that’s a fine project. Not that many years ago though, surely 😉
I love diving into the hedgerows to find all the flowers lurking down there. And there are lots of them.
What a splendid post! I had no idea the white deadnettle had so many uses, or that yarg cheese contains stinging nettles. I didn’t know that herb bennet had so many other names, either, I feel I’ve learned a lot in the last few minutes! Lovely photos, as ever.
Hello Lorna, I was surprised by the amazing cocktail of pharmaceuticals in the white deadnettle too. It’s a pharmacy in its own right!
I’ve been looking up local names since I started writing the wild flower posts and it’s really interesting, and amusing too. Some of the names are hilarious and I wonder how they originated. I’m pondering how I can do some research on the origins of flower names… I’ll see what I can dig up.
Thank you, Finn…more beautiful photos and great information. I used to run and play in the fields and woods of Germany when I was a child and often encountered the stinging nettles along waterways and other tucked-away places…they were quite itchy. 🙂
You’re welcome Scott. The nettles certaqinly can smart, especially if you fall into a bed of them! I spent a significant portion of my childhood in the woods too, so I’m no stranger to the ‘stinger’ and I know what you’re saying.
Brushing-up against them is bad enough, but falling into a patch of them can be miserable…I did that once or twice, as well….ouch!