02 May 2021 • Stay local
From cuckoo and hawthorn flowers to rhododendron used for herbal medicine.
Join our Executive Chef Philippe Farineau as he takes a foraging tour across the Ashford Estate this May and spots wonderul flowers in bloom...
From now until June, these pretty little flowers' leaves and young shoots can be eaten raw or cooked, for your salad or simply with spinach. Rich in vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin C, but with a bitter and pungent flavour. They are a little peppery, a family member of the Brassicaceae (cabbage, broccoli, mustard).
You’re likely to see the flowers in uncut meadows and grassy roadside verges, and it also likes the damp margins of ponds and rivers. Folklore and superstition surround the flowers; it was believed that picking the flowers would generate a thunderstorm. Others believed that picking them would attract adders, and the culprit would be bitten by one before the year was out.
In Ireland, its believed fairy trees are the sacred grounds for the Sídhe, the people of the mounds. The Sídhe are known as the little people and are most often portrayed as fairies. The hawthorn is a magical enchantment and is strongly associated with Beltane, the ancient festival celebrating spring. In Celtic mythology, it is one of the most sacred trees and symbolises love and protection.
The fairy tree is usually a Hawthorn tree or an Ash tree. They stand alone in fields and are commonly found with large stones circling their base, most likely to protect them. All Hawthorns have edible berries, however, like apple seeds, the seeds contain cyanide, and should not be eaten. Berries, leaves and flowers can be used to make tea.
Use a mix of dried leaves, berries and flowers and infused for few minutes in warm water.
For centuries, hawthorn berry has been used as a herbal remedy for digestive problems, heart failure, and high blood pressure. In fact, it’s a key part of traditional Chinese medicine.
Hawthorn berry has been used as a digestive aid for centuries. It can decrease the transit time of food in your digestive system. What’s more, its fibre content is a prebiotic and may help relieve constipation.
It is readily available to buy in the pharmacy.
The rhododendron has been used in medicines, insecticides and intoxicants for centuries. In both myth and reality, they have been used as weapons of war, while many Chinese folk tales associate them with doomed love and other tragedies. Near the border of the Himalayas, many villages live and eat as the juices of the rhododendron flowers.
Rhododendron flower juice contains a wide range of phytochemicals that have strong anti-inflammatory properties. The chemical in the flower, quercetin, is said to help with inflammation. For many decades, the leaves and flowers have also been used to cure various types of pain and treat wounds. According to many studies, juice has also the capacity to relieve you from stomach aches and headaches.
The juice is found in a variety of Rhododendron in Nepal and India, unfortunately not in Ireland.
If you spot them on the Ashford Castle Estate, they can be foraged to make a cold tea on a hot day, but use with moderation, using only the leaves. In Germany, woodruff is also used to make cordial and mixed with lemonade, ice cream and even panna cotta. Also, it can be added to flavour gin or jam.
May wine is simply made by infusing the woodruff leaves in a Riesling, leaving it for anywhere from an hour to a week, then mixing the infused Riesling half and half with German sparkling wine called Sekt, Champagne or Prosecco. You can add a strawberry into the glass and garnish it with woodruff flowers. You drink in the fragrance of fresh-cut hay, trimmed with the scent of vanilla.
Some people use woodruff on the skin to lower swelling and promote wound healing. The leaves and flowers have been traditionally used to treat a variety of conditions, including circulatory problems, liver, stomach and gallbladder disorders, and more. But the use of woodruff for health benefits has started to taper off in recent years, due to reports of the herb’s potentially toxic side effects.
The coumarin found in the woodruff is toxic if you consume a lot. For example, coumarin is also found in strawberries and cinnamon.
Sweet woodruff is occasionally called fragrant bedstraw, for in Catholic mythology it becomes sacred to the Virgin Mary. It was hung in medieval churches on holidays not only because of sacred associations, but to disguise the odour of the unwashed congregation.