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Drinker's Guide to Wood Avens

20th May 2015
by Mark Williams in Mindful Foraging, Thinking Wild, Know Your Plants, Recipes, Our Foraging.

Wood avens (geum urbanum)  is also commonly referred to as herb bennet - which always makes me imagine a 1950's trumpet player. At the risk of giving it too many names, it might be more usefully remembered as cloveroot - after its noticeably clove-flavoured string-like roots. it is just one of many wild spices we neglect in favour of imports. Wood avens contains the same flavour compound - eugenol - that gives cloves their distinctive flavour.  It can be used in many of the same ways -  as a warm “mulling” spice  – only it is free and lacks the carbon footprint.

Historically, wood avens would have been used to flavour medieval ales pre-hops, as in this interesting recipe from a letter of 1430:
Pur faire holsom drynk of ale, Recipe sauge [sage], auence [wood avens], rose maryn, tyme, chopped right smal, and put this and a newe leyd hennes ey [egg] in a bage and hange it in the barell... the ey [egg] of the henne shal kepe the ale fro sour.” - The Paston Letters.

Hmmm...think i'll keep my newe leyd hennes eys for breakfast....

Identification: Rosettes of trifoliate rounded, lobed leaves (quite similar to strawberry leaves) with smaller paired leaves further down the stem. Leaves on flowering stems (up to 70cm) are more pointed & angular. Yellow flowers have 5 petals & 5 sepals and look small in relation to the plant.

Edibile Parts: Leaves/flowers are edible but unremarkable. The interest lies in the small, fine aromatic roots and the the larger solid tuber on established specimens. Don't use the long root-like runner that usually comes mixed up with the roots - it is tasteless.

UK Distribution: Very common

Season: All year, flavour is best November - March

Habitat: Hedgerows and woods, especially along edges and especially path edges

Drinks Uses: Roots infused in sugar syrup or neutral spirit - or both combined to make a remarkable liqueur; as a warm, balancing bass-note in bitters, cordials vermouth etc

Tasting Notes:

The fine roots have an earthy, warming mild clove flavour from the presence of eugenol, and tannins.
Works as a mulling spice in wine, cider, rum or whisky; sweet note in bittersweet preparations; great with apples & plums. Makes a great liqueur - see here for the recipe.

Important Note on Uprooting Wild Plants:

Usually uprooting wild plants is technically illegal without the landowners permission. Nobody is likely to object to you harvesting domestic quantities of hyperabundant “weeds” like wood avens, but don’t clear out whole areas. The roots are shallow and fine, so its possible to uproot, remove about 1/3rd of the roots, then replant, causing minimal harm to the plant. This takes very little time and you can feel good in the knowledge that that you aren’t messing too much with the woodland ecosystem. This may seem like a fiddly job, but where wood avens is well established harvesting is quick and easy. Most of the work is in washing the fine roots when you get home!

Wood avens, Roots, Liqueur, Syrup, Spices



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