Archive for ‘wild flowers’

August 23, 2013

Burnets- Greater Burnet in the the wild and great burnets for the garden

by Ciaran Burke
Sanguisorba officinalis growing amongst trees at Lough conn, Co. mayo, Ireland

Sanguisorba officinalis growing amongst trees at Lough Conn, Co. mayo, Ireland

Recently while I was researching a plant profile article on the genus of Sanguisorba for The Irish Garden magazine, I consulted my old and slightly battered copy of Webb’s Irish Flora. This versatile and showy genus of plants has two Irish natives amongst its members. The salad burnet, S. minor, which is small and not very attractive, although useful as a salad ingredients, and the taller more showy greater burnet, S. officinalis. According to the old book, S. officinalis is not widely encountered, populations are confined to the north east of the island and also the shores of Liugh Cullin and Lough Conn, in my county of residence, County Mayo. Lough Conn attracts visitors for fishing and I would guess not so many plant hunters, on a cloudy August afternoon we set off to see if we could encounter, the greater burnet, S. officinalis, growing and flowering in its native habitat.

Shore line at Lough Conn, Co. mayo. In amongst the trees, Sanguisorba officinalis grows and flowers in stone covered soil.

Shore line at Lough Conn, Co. mayo. In amongst the trees, Sanguisorba officinalis grows and flowers in stone covered soil.

Lough Conn, Co. Mayo, Ireland

Lough Conn, Co. Mayo, Ireland

Our searches at a few places on Lough Cullin gave us no reward. We continued our search at Lough Conn, both lakes are separated by only a narrow strip of land. At our first Lough Conn stop we drove down a bumpy gravel road with a healthy sward of grass along the centre.

Shore of Lough Conn, Co. mayo with view of Nephin Mountain

Shore of Lough Conn, Co. Mayo with view of Nephin Mountain

We hopped out and strolled across the pebbled covered beach, past purple loosestrife and knapweeds flowering along the shore. We ventured into some sparse woodland, here native species of willow, ash and alder grew between stones. The water lapped the peacefully and a breeze made a lively yet soothing rustle with the leaves. The world was t peace around me, then the silence was broken, a triumphant shout from my Hanna, my wife, the greater burnet had been found.

Sanguisorba officinalis flowering at Lough Conn, Co. mayo

Sanguisorba officinalis flowering at Lough Conn, Co. Mayo

It is not often that you encounter a fashionable herbaceous perennial that is a native to these shores. Sanguisorba officinalis bears its tight clustered flowers in dense dark purple spikes on top of wiry swaying stems. Its appeal is simple and seductive, possessing an elegant reserved charm. The increasing popularity of the genus amongst gardeners reflects tastes of our time. The burnets are perfect for placing in naturalistic planting schemes, prairie planting and floral meadows where structure and texture matter more the flamboyance and brash colours.

Sanguisorba hakuasanensis var. japonica flower close-up flowering in our garden

Sanguisorba hakuasanensis var. japonica flower close-up flowering in our garden

In our own garden we grow quite a few species and hybrids. Earlier in the summer, S. ‘Pink Elephant’ and S. tenuifolia ‘Alba’ entertained us with their swaying displays of flowery haze. Now the pink fluffy heads of S. obtusa swing lightly in the breeze, while the even fluffier S. hakuasanensis var. japonica, which we brought from a nursery in Finland a couple of years ago, shimmers its stamens along an erect infloresence. In the garden there is the cool S. ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’, and in a raised bed the carpeting green mound of S. ‘Tanna’ has been flowering for a couple of months, its flowers like a cloud of purple bumble bees. Burnets, the greater burnet and many others are just, great!

Sanguisorba 'Tanna' flowers flowring in our garden in a raised bed

Sanguisorba ‘Tanna’ flowers flowring in our garden in a raised bed

Sanguisorba obtusa flowering in our garden, it grows in a poor stoney soil

Sanguisorba obtusa flowering in our garden, it grows in a poor stoney soil

Sanguisorba 'Rock 'n' Roll'  flowering in our front garden.

Sanguisorba ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ flowering in our front garden.

Achillea ptarmica flowering at Lough Cullin, Co. Mayo, Ireland

Achillea ptarmica flowering at Lough Cullin, Co. Mayo, Ireland

View wild Irish native plants and some scenery photos of Lough Cullin, Co. Mayo on my Photoshelter site

The August issue of The irish Garden features my plant profile article on Erigeron, and the forthcoming September isuue will be in the shops very soon. THE IRISH GARDEN MAGAZINE

November 1, 2012

Hawthorn Tapanade Recipe

by Ciaran Burke

Hawthorn, whitethorn, May bush; Crataegus monogyna. You see it all around the Irish countryside, sometimes old rings of the gnarled and spiny trees are left untouched in rings in the middle of fields. For generations they have been treated with respect and superstition, this is where the fairies live.

Hawthorn tree with berries after the leaves have fallen

In our garden we have wild hawthorns growing, a couple of them are old and twisted. Their branches twine around themselves, imbued with a mystical quality it is easy to see how the superstitions arose.

In May, their branches are festooned with white flowers, in times past children went knocking on their neighbours doors with a flowering branch, “a penny for the May bush?” their request. When I lived in Sallynoggin, in Dublin, a number of years ago, some children called to my door with a flowering branch. They asked for a penny. Although the branch they held was a blackthorn, Prunus spinosa, and we had already converted to euro currency, I donated a small sum to their appeal, after coaxing from them a song for their reward.

Hawthorn flowers – Crataegus monogyna

Now in autumn, the flower have turned to dark red fruits, abundant but usually redundant. Few people will harvest these berries, often called haws. I read in one book that the berries were only ever used in times of famine. The berries are quite tasteless when eaten raw, and only a thin covering of flesh surrounds the stone. However, with so many berries in the hedgerows, there must be a use for them, I was determined to find some.

In a second hand book sale a couple of years ago I purchased a publication on wild food, in it a recipe for hawthorn chutney. While I was cooking hawthorn chutney, Hanna experimented with some of the berries and created a delicious hawthorn tapenade. This resulted in another foray along the lanes and narrow roads in the Mayo countryside picking ripe haws from the trees. Hanna reckons they are like Irish olives.

Further developments have led to a range of flavours: lemon and coriander, sweet chilli and garlic. I cannot pick a favourite, all are great. The chilli hawthorn tapenade was superb with organic pork sausages from Irish Organic Meats, which we buy with all our meat, vegetables and fruit from the market in Boyle each Saturday.

Cleaning the berries

Here is Hanna’s Lemon and Coriander Hawthorn  Tapenade recipe:


  • 1/2 litre Hawthorn berries
  • Organic Cider Vinegar
  • Irish Rapeseed Oil
  • Whole Coriander Seeds
  • Organic Lemon
  • Salt

Press the cooked hawthorn through a sieve


  1. Clean and rinse ripe haws.
  2. Place in a saucepan and cover with the cider vinegar. Simmer berries for twenty minutes or  until the berries break up.
  3. Sieve away the vinegar.
  4. Push the berries through a sieve to remove stones
  5. Mix berries with lemon rind, coriander and a goo quality rapeseed oil or olive oil
  6.  Then put pulp in a sterilized jar to store.

Filling the tapenade into sterilized jars using jam funnel

Enjoy with cheeses, meats and salads.

For garlic variation replace lemon and coriander with freshly pressed garlic. For chili use dried chillis instead of lemon and coriander and stir in honey after sieving. When we first made these tapenades a two years ago we found that they kept perfectly for well over a year.

Foliage of Crataegus monogyna – hawthorn leaves

October 2, 2012

Wild Carrot Seed Spice Cake – Recipe

by Ciaran Burke

Wild Carrot Seed Spice Cake

We have collected quite a bunch of wild carrot seeds from along the bog road that leads to our house. It is a quiet road which does not have much traffic travelling along it. The concave seed heads make them easy to identify and they are quick to pick. Harvest them when dry and remove from the infloresence. Store them in a box in a cool dry place.

Hanna baked a delicious cake using the seeds.


Wild Carrot Seed Spice Cake – Recipe


  • 125g Butter
  • 1 Cup of dark muscavado sugar
  • 1 Egg
  • ½ tsp of baking soda
  • ½ tsp of baking powder
  • 150ml of kefir (or buttermilk)
  • 200ml of wholemeal spelt flour
  • 1/2tsp ground cloves
  • ½ tsp of cried ginger
  • 3tsp of ground wild carrot sed
  • pinch of salt


  1. Melt Butter and sugar
  2. When cooled ad spices and kefir
  3. In a separate bowl mix the flour with soda and baking powder with pinch of salt then whisk in the egg.
  4. Add the flour mix to butter mixture.
  5. Fold in the flour.
  6. Put into cake tin, sprinkle some whole wild carrot seeds over the top and bake at 175 degrees Celcius for about 50 minutes.

Wild Carrot Seed Spice Cake

Kefir is a fermented milk  originating in the North Caucasus region where it was commonly used by shepherds. Traditional kefir was made in animal skin bags that were hung near a doorway where by it would be knocked against by anyone entering, this would ensure that the milk would be mixed well with the kefir grains. The kefir grains are produced during the fermentation process, a small amount of kefir acts as a starter for the next batch. Luckily you don’t have to be a shepherd or have an animal skin bag to have kefir. It is sold in Polish and Eastern European food shops. In the recipe above kefir can be replaced with Buttermilk.

Daucus carota- Wild carrot seed heads on our road

October 1, 2012

Wild Carrot Seeds- Spice up your life!

by Ciaran Burke

Daucus carota- Wild carrot seed heads on our road

Adventure, variety and spice. Black tomatoes, orange tomatoes, red brussels sprouts, red onions, blue french beans, just some of the variety of vegetable that we grew in the garden this year. We let two fruit develop on our white fruiting red strawberry, admired the pink flowers on another variety, it is always nice to try something a little bit different.Gardeners are adventurous, always looking to try new varieties of vegetables, different shapes, odd colours and new crops. How about a white carrot?

Daucus carota – wild carrot

Carrots are in the same family as parsnips and celery, Apiacacea, named Daucus carota by the botanists. They grow wild by the sides of the road leading to our house, they have attractive white flower heads and soft ferny foliage. We gathered some seeds a few years ago and sowed some in the garden, they flowered in their second year and then died. Now we have a new batch, self sown and green leaves. Next year they will die. Carrots are biennials, they food that they make in their first growing season is stored in their tap root. The food stored in their roots is high in sugars, that is why we find them tasty. The reserves of food is then used in the following growing season when the plant flowers and makes it fruit which contains the seed, reproduction is hard work.  Such is the biennial cycle, short glorious lives and an abundance of seed is produced which scatters on the wind, ensuring that a new generation of Daucus carota will continue the survival of the species.

The roots of the wild carrots are white, they are smaller than cultivated varieties but taste very similar. Carrots of medieval times were off white like our wild ones and it was during the 16th and 17th centuries that they were bred bigger, fatter, longer and orange. The breeding of bigger orange carrots was apparently carried out in Holland. WIld carrots are quite inferior to the modern varieties  when it comes to harvesting their tap roots, the seed of the wild carrot is however quite a nice spice, like spiced orange.

Flowers of wild carrot

A couple of weeks ago we collected a number of seed heads along our road. Before doing this we took care to ensure the identity of the plants. As always when foraging wild plants it is always essential that you know your plants and with members of this family it is vital that you are 100% sure. The flower heads, or infloresence, are in umbels, often composite umbels and many of the species look quite similar, many of the species are also very poisonous. Fools parsley and hemlock are deadly even in small quantities. So it was armed with a book, Irish Flora by Dr Webb, that we used the botanical key, looking for presence, or absence of brats, hairs on the stems and counting the numbers of flowers that we ensured that we were definitely harvesting wild carrot seeds.

Wild carrot has solid stems and are glabrous, meaning hairless.The flowers are borne in umbels with long numerous bracts which are pinnately divided. When the seeds have formed the flat flower heads the umbels contract into a concave structure.

Harvested wild carrot seed heads

We gathered some handfuls of the wild carrot seeds. Their flavour is unique fruity and spicy, not hot. Hanna used some seeds to bake a cake, it was delcious. Today we decided to use them to flavour our dinner; vegetables in tomato sauce with rice. A trip to the tunnel yielded green and yellow courgette and a handful of tomatoes of various sizes and colours.  Walking through the vegetable garden, some broad beans were picked and an onion pulled. Flavoured with garlic, dried chillis and wild carrots seeds, it was quite delicious.

Vegetables in Tomato and Wild Carrot Seed Sauce.


5 medium tomatoes – chopped

2 cups of courgettes, sliced thinly

  • 1 cup of onion- diced
  • 1/4 cup of broad beans
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • pinch of dried chilli
  • 2 tsp of whole wild carrot seed
  • 1 tsp of ground wild carrot seed (grind with pestle and mortar)
  • Salt
  • 1 Tbsp Rapeseed oil

Courgettes cut into slices


  1. Remove the broad beans from pods and steam for about 5 minutes, until the skins start to crack. Cool the beans by running in some cold water and remove the skins.
  2. Put the oil in a sauce pan and add the whole wild carrot seeds, cook them on a medium heat for a few minutes.

    Removing the seeds

  3. Add the onion and sauté until softened
  4. Crush the garlic and cook for a minute then add the courgette slices, cook for five to seven minutes, until a bit tender
  5. Add the chopped tomato, add the chilli, tea spoon of crushed wild carrot seeds and a pinch of salt. Add some water, about 1/3 of a cup.
  6. cook for about 15 minutes until the tomatoes have reduced and made a nice sauce.
  7. Serve with some boiled brown basmati rice.

Courgettes in tomato sauce with wild carrot seed

We toasted some pumpkin seeds on a frying pan to sprinkle over the top when serving.

September 23, 2012

Dock Seed Wafers – Finally a reason to have dock leaves in the garden

by Ciaran Burke

Dock seed wafers and nasturtium flowers

Rub them on a nettle sting. Apart from that what are dock leaves good for? Well, for a long time I have struggled to find a reason to allow a dock leaf to exist in the garden. Rumex obtusifolius the broadleaf dock is a deep rooted perennial, a thick tap root that is almost impossible to dig from the ground without it breaking. Any portion that remains in the soil will regrow, causing annoyance for most gardeners. Their large oval leaves with wavy edges are not pretty, coarse and rugged, the flowers greenish brown on a ribbed stem that reaches 60-90cm (24 – 36in) high. The flowers each form a pod which turns a dark reddish brown. The wind shakes them free and into the soil they fall, a new dock leaf will grow.

Dock seeds on plant

It is the seeds that have given the dock leaves in our garden a reprieve. Easily rubbed from the stems they can be ground up to make a fine flour. Mixed with spelt or heat flour they can produce a tasty mix, a crispy cracker to enjoy with cheese or pickled cucumber.

Dock seeds in hand

Harvest the dock seeds when they are dark brown. Make sure they are dry, best to collect them when the weather is dry.

We first placed the seeds in a coffee grinder and then ground them finer using a pestle and mortar.

Dock seeds ground to a flour

Dock Seed Crackers- Recipe


  • 100ml dock seed flour
  • 100ml whole meal spelt flour
  • 1 – 2 teaspoon of mixed hedgerow spice:
  • 1/3 hogweed seeds
  • 1/3 wild carrot seeds
  • 1/3 lovage seeds
  • Water


Mix ingredients to a dough that is not sticky.

  1. Sprinkle some flour on a wooden or glass surface, and then roll the pastty very thin.
  2. Place on a baking tray, which has been rubbed with some oil
  3. Cut into squares.
  4. Bake in an pre-heated oven at 170 degrees Celcius for 12 minutes or until crisp.

Cutting the pastry into squares

Dock wafers ready for the oven

A stack of dock seed wafers

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