Our Guide to Foraging

Wood Avens

Geum Urbanum
AKA: Herb Bennet, Cloveroot, Colewort

Wood avens are one of our favourite spices to add to our wild larder during the winter months. In this post we will be focusing foraging wood avens for the roots (prime root picking time is winter). The leaves, although edible, don’t have much to offer in terms of flavour.

How To Identify

Leaves 

 

Leaves are downy and have a slightly toothed edge.


Rosettes of rounded trifoliate (having three lobed leaves) with smaller pairs of leaves running further down the stem.

Young rosettes of leaves can look a little like wild strawberry but the wood aven has that extra pair of leaflets running down the stem.

 

Seeds & Roots

 

After it’s flowered and gone to seed, the seed heads form a spiky burr with little red ‘hooks’ which stick to clothes and passing animal fur when out for a woodland walk.

 

Small tangle of sturdy, fine roots which have a distinct smell of clove, once washed of all the mud (soil is surprisingly aromatic!).


Flowers

 

May – August with yellow five pointed flowers

 

Foraging for Wood Avens (400 x 650 px)

When & Where

The roots are generally relatively shallow and tend to grow in looser soil, making them easier to excavate! As with most roots, it’s best to harvest them during the winter months before the plant puts all of its energy into creating fresh growth. The roots will be fuller in flavour and aroma making all that hard work worth the effort!

 

When foraging for wood avens, keep in mind that the size of the roots themselves are fairly hit and miss with no real correlation of size of root to the amount of plant growing above ground. I do however find that on particularly stoney ground the roots do manage to get a bit larger and find there way a little deeper.

Season:  All year round, but the roots are best harvested in the depths of winter November – February, this is when the roots are richest in volatile oils and packed with flavour.

Possible Confusions

Wood aven foliage can be confused with water avens or wild strawberries, however both of these have a root with little scent or flavour. 

 

The clove-y scent is the most important element to look out for.  Both of the above are edible, and also have very different flowers – therefore are much easier to differentiate once the plant has flowered/gone to seed.

Wild Strawberry
Water Avens - Wood Aven Lookalike
Water Aven

Flavour and How To Use

Both the leaves and the roots are edible. In this post we are focusing on the roots (prime root picking time is Winter).

 

The leaves, although edible, don’t have much to offer in terms of flavour – they are mildly bitter and can be added to salads or stir fries when young.

 

The flavour of the roots is reminiscent of clove and can be used to make spiced syrups, cakes, cookies, custards and ice creams. Wood Aven roots are just at home in savoury dishes, where it could be used in place of nutmeg in a white sauce for example or mixed through a dry cure for a wild spiced bacon!

 

One of our most popular and favourites amongst guests is our restorative wild spiced chai tea. We serve our chai mostly on retreat days to round off a yoga session beneath the trees. We also feature wood avens in our Wildly Spiced Gin Toddy, a brilliant winter warmer.

Important Things to Note

Wood avens are pretty easy to identify and even easier to pick, the only real tricky part of harvesting wood avens is cleaning them as all of their fine roots are covered in mud. A quick soak in some tepid water and fine going over with a clean nail brush helps but it’s still quite the task, especially if you are processing lots of roots.

 

One of the most important parts of collecting wood aven roots, other than making sure you have identified them correctly, is that you have the landowners permission to dig up roots as it is illegal without that permission.

Medicinal Properties

The Good Stuff

The common name, ‘Herb Bennet’ came from the medieval latin ‘herbal benedicta’ meaning the blessed herb, as the plant was so widely used in herbal medicine. 

 

The roots contain eugenol (the same chemical found in cloves), which traditionally is used to sooth a toothache as it mildly numbers the mouth. 

 

Used to treat fever, diarrhoea, reducing bleeding and inflammation as well as a gargle for sore teeth or gums (it’s high tannin content makes it an astringent herb). It is said to also provide a soothing warmth to the stomach and intestines. 

Foraging Folklore

Wood avens were a popular herb during medieval times, both for medicinal purposes and the protection against evil spirits, said to have strong protective powers to ward off evil demons and devils. 

Our Foraging Tips

Ask permission. 

Essential if you’re picking on private land. As with everything, respect is key and goes a long way.

 

If in doubt, leave it out. 

Why rush? Nature isn’t going anywhere! Take time to ensure you safely identify your finds.

 

One step at a time.

No one becomes an expert overnight. Build up your identification skills and your confidence will grow. 

 

Enjoy the process.

Foraging is not only about what you pick but the experience – Immerse yourself in nature and appreciate the little things. The fresh air, birds chirping, a light breeze or the feel of soil beneath your feet

.

Celebrate locality.

With an abundance of forage at your doorstep, why not start local?

 

The 10% rule.

Only take what you need (or 10% of what is available). This not only means that you leave plenty for other foragers, but also local wildlife. We want to enjoy our ecosystem not damage it. 

 

Wash before consumption.

Always give your foraging finds a good wash before consuming, especially when picking on busy routes/path.

What better way to put your knowledge to use than try some of our home made recipes cultivated through passion and experience.