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Medicinal plants to forage in June

  • Mo Wilde
    Mo Wilde

    Monica ‘Mo’ Wilde is a Research Herbalist and a keen forager. She has lived only on wild food for a year and, intrigued by the health benefits, ran a study with 24 other foragers eating wild called The Wildbiome Project. Her book The Wilderness Cure (Simon & Schuster) won the John Avery 2023 award for original and adventurous writing. It explores many of the issues around food and our relationship with nature, encountered during her year on wild food. Mo also practices in the Claid Clinic at Napiers the Herbalists.

    Follow the foraging progress @monicawilde and @wildbiomeproject on Instagram.

  • 8:37 reading time (ish)
  • Foraging
Medicinal plants to forage in June

Foraging for flowers in June brings the delights of elder, agrimony, meadowsweet, limeflower, daisy and rose.

One of the greatest joys of June is that it is when so many of our native plants fully come into flower. While the blackthorn preceded spring and hawthorn heralded its arrival, trees like the elder are now bursting into bloom producing flat cymes of yellow-white florets that smell of honey.

One of my favourite foraging spots is a beautiful coastal wildflower meadow where a narrow deer path around the edge winds its way between a forest of elder trees. When in full bloom, the air is so heady that with each breath you inhale pure elderflower. Protected from the deer by a skirt of spiky gorse, this fragrant corridor is sheer delight and a sensory heaven! I always make a mental note to also return in the autumn to harvest their juicy purple-black berries.

Elder (Sambucus nigra)

Elderberries (Sambucus nigra)
Elderberries (Sambucus nigra)

Elder (Sambucus nigra) is a member of the Moschatel family (Adoxaceae) along with the guelder rose (Viburnum opulus). It’s an ancient sacred tree, named after Hylde Moer — the elder or earth mother. Lady Elder, Hyldor, Hulda, Lady Ellhorn — there are many names for the old crone in the green-dress whose permission must be sought before cutting elder wood lest misfortune befall you.

The sweet-tasting flowers are mainly used for a wide variety of culinary treats and medicinal cures. Most commonly known is elderflower cordial, however, this is the tip of a gourmet iceberg. Think elderflower sorbet, ice cream, cheesecake, white chocolate tart, Turkish delight, vinegar, mead or sparkling wine as well as drying it gently for teas. 

Medicinally elder has a particular affinity with the respiratory tract to which all its parts refer: the leaves and berries (which must both be cooked), the flowers, the leaf and stem, and the strange gelatinous mushroom shaped like an ear that loves to grow on it — the wood ear (Auricularia auricula). The flowers with their volatile notes address and decongest the upper respiratory tract — the eyes, sinuses and nose. Hay fever sufferers in particular find elderflowers relieve inflamed eyes and running noses when taken regularly, often in combination with the diminutive eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis), which also first appears in June. Elderflowers are also antiviral against cold sores, so infused in oil with dyer’s alkanet (Alkanna tinctoria) then hardened with beeswax to make a protective rosy-red lip balm. 

Later in the year, elderberry supports the throat, tonsils and protects against influenza, stimulating the immune system. The cooked leaves have been shown to be antiviral against COVID-19 in studies, while the wood ear moistens and protects lung tissue.

Mo Wilde

Monica ‘Mo’ Wilde is a Research Herbalist and a keen forager. She has lived only on wild food for a year and, intrigued by the health benefits, ran a study with 24 other foragers eating wild... Read more

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