Wood aven leaves are downy and have a slightly toothed edge, the plant grows as a rosette with rounded trifoliate (having three lobes) leaves, with smaller pairs of leaves running further down the stem.
Seeds & Roots
The roots are a small tangle of sturdy, fine roots around 5-20cm long, which have a distinct smell of clove (once washed of all the mud – soil is surprisingly aromatic!)
Once wood avens have flowered and gone to seed, the seed heads form a spiky burr with little red ‘hooks’, which stick to clothes and passing animal fur.
May – August | Small yellow five pointed flowers, around 1.5cm in width.
Wood avens are abundant, found in hedgerows and on the corners of woodlands / woodland paths, in damp rich soil and dappled shade. Whilst they’re available all year round, the roots are best harvested in the depths of winter (November – February), as this is when the roots are richest in volatile oils and packed with flavour.
As with most roots, it’s also best to harvest them during the winter months as it’s just before the plant puts all of its energy into creating fresh growth in the Spring. The roots will be fuller in flavour and aroma – making all that hard work worth the effort! The roots are generally relatively shallow and tend to grow in looser soil, making them easier to dig up!
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. We do however find that on particularly stoney ground the roots do manage to get a bit larger and find there way a little deeper into the ground (as well as being easier to pull out).
Both the leaves and the roots are edible. In terms of worthwhile foraging, we very much focus on the roots. The leaves 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, if you wish to give them a go.
Once you’ve dug up the roots, they’ll need to be throughly washed and then dried. This can take some time, but it’s definitely worth the effort.
The flavour of the roots is reminiscent of clove and can be used to make spiced syrups, cakes, cookies, custards and ice creams. If you make a syrup, once you’ve made it we’d highly recommend popping the syrup-soaked roots in a jar and pour over a bottle of vodka / gin. Leave to infuse for a few months, then add to your cocktails.
Once dried, we either pop them in a jar whole, or grind them down to a fine powder. And – wood aven roots are just as good 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 wildly spiced cured bacon!
Its 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.
Wood aven roots are anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, aromatic, astringent, diaphoretic, and tonic. The roots contain eugenol (the same chemical found in cloves), which traditionally is used to sooth a toothache as it mildly numbers the mouth.
The roots are also used to treat fever, diarrhoea, reduce bleeding and inflammation, its high tannin content making it an astringent herb. It is said to also provide a soothing warmth to an upset stomach.
Wood avens leaves are medicinal as well, but not nearly as strong as the root.
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 demons and devils.
Wood avens are pretty easy to identify and even easier to pick, the only real tricky part of harvesting them is cleaning them as all of their fine roots are covered in mud. A quick soak in some tepid water and a 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.
When differentiating wood avens and wild strawberry plants, the noticeable difference is that wood avens have a smaller extra pair of leaflets running down the stem.
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.
Many of our Cookery Courses include a short foraging walk as part of the day, introducing you to a handful of commonly found wild ingredients.
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.
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.
Leave room for regrowth.
Never uproot a plant so that it is always able to regrow after you have foraged from it.
Wash before consumption.
Always give your foraging finds a good wash before consuming, especially when picking on busy routes/path.