We have been using herbs; particularly the wild kind, now called hedgerow herbs, for our health and well-being from when herbs and mankind were first on the face of this Earth together. ‘How to Grow Hedgerow Herbs’ provides an A-Z guide to this knowlege.
Known as ‘Herb-craft’ this is an ancient knowledge that we have only recently forgotten. It is about knowing how to identify the right plants, knowing what their properties are, knowing what you can use them for and probably most importantly knowing HOW to use them.
Herb-craft isn’t just about learning from books or web-sites (useful resources that they are), it is about getting out there yourself and discovering the amazing world hiding in our hedgerows, fields, gardens and other green spaces.
Serious Caution: if you do not know what practices are used to manage the land on which you find a plant growing it is best not to use it, you may be getting a very unhealthy & dangerous dose of pesticides, herbicides and insecticides in addition to the plants properties.
Eat Your Weeds
Many hedgerow herbs & edibles are nowadays classified as weeds and a lot of people spend a lot of time, effort and money trying to eradicate them using poisons. This is having a serious & detrimental effect on our insect population and pollinators (and us too if we use the plant after it has been treated).
Fortunately it is relatively easy to grow many of these hedgerow herbs for ourselves, especially if we mimic the conditions in which they thrive.
How to Grow Hedgerow Herbs does not classify plants that have medicinal and edible properties as weeds but we will indicate where they are scientifically classed as such.
Plants are listed alphabetically by their most common name; as the common names of plants often vary from region to region, this is followed by their botanical Latin name. The botanical Latin name should be in italics but unfortunately our system does not allow us to do this within the titles.
Botanical names: are binomial (two-names), each plant is assigned its own unique name. This means that wherever you are in the world, and whatever language you speak, you will be able to identify a plant, and communicate with other growers.
All plants have two main names, in Italics, which are the genus and the species, such as Allium ursinum (Wild Garlic), Allium ampeloprasum (Broadleaf Wild Leek) and Allium ascalonicum L. – (Shallot) – there are over 700 species of Allium.
The genus starts with a capital letter. It represents a group of plants with similar characteristics – all the plants in the genus will share a recent common ancestor and look similar to each other. They are all likely to need similar growing conditions and will have similar pest and disease tolerance.
The species starts with a lowercase letter. All plants in the same species can reproduce with each other.
Botanical, Latin names are more than just a name; they can give you useful information about a plant, including its colour, where it originates from and its growth habit.
Here are some common words:
alba/albus – white
caerulea/caeruleus – blue
coccinea/coccineus – scarlet
argentea – silver
alpina/alpinus – alpine
campestris – field
maritima – coastal
montana – mountain
pratensis – meadow
sylvatica – forest
angustifolia – narrow leaves
fragans/fragrantissima – scented
foetida/foetidus – smelly (unpleasant)
grandiflora – large-flowered
nana – small, compact
odorata – perfumed
officinalis – has herbal uses
tomentosum – hairy, downy
columnaris – columnar
dentata – toothed
fruticosa – bushy
gracilis – slender
reptans – creeping
scandens – climbing
Country or area of origin
chinensis – China
japonica – Japan
sibiricus – Siberia
occidentalis – America
orientalis – Asia
This section is an ongoing labour of love – it will take some considerable time to write-up the many species of Hedgerow Herbs – we aim at getting several new ones in each week – so do check back regularly. If there is a particular plant that you would like to see added quickly do let us know in the comments box at the base of the page.
How to Grow Hedgerow Herbs - A-Z Guide
Wild Asparagus Asparagus prostratus, was once a plentiful plant. But like many species, due to changes in land use and management, it is in decline. It is now classed as an ‘endangered’ species on the GB Red List.
It is a coastal plant that grows in a handful of counties in the UK, including Glamorgan, Pembrokeshire, Cornwall and Dorset and is genetically different from garden asparagus (Asparagus officinale), it also tastes very different.
Species: Asparagus prostratus Dumort.
Wild Asparagus has seperate Male and Female plants and is insect pollinated, this can cause population problems. Where there is only a small population with only one sex or plants are widely scattered causing pollination problems, population growth is severely limited.
A UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) is in place to help protect and conserve these plants. If you do spot these plants growing wild NEVER dig them up, unless you are transplanting into EXACTLY the same conditions as those in which they are growing, they WILL die. Digging up a plant in the wild will also cause loss of wild species.
Nutrients: Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Sodium, Zinc, Copper, Manganese, Selenium, Fluoride
Propagation – garden asparagus (Asparagus officinale) is usually propated by splitting the crowns once they become large enough. Because they are usually bought as crowns they are normally hybrid types that are all male plants so will never produce seed.
Wild Asparagus however, as we have seen grows as male and female plants and whilst we have never found Asparagus prostatus seed available to purchase we have come across its’ close cousin Asparagus acutifolius (wild mediterranean asparagus). This is an evergreen perennial, it is in leaf all year, and in flower from August to September, preferring well-drained, light sandy, loamy soils, it will even grow in semi-shade and obviously it will thrive by the sea.
Growing – For best results, sow seeds onto a good soil-based compost. Cover the seeds with fine grit or compost to approximately their own depth. We recommend germinating at 15 to 20 degrees C. Although they can be sown at any time, these seeds may sometimes wait for spring before emerging, but spring sowing will obviously give them a full season of growth. These seeds can be very slow indeed to appear so be very patient as they are fresh seeds. Never discard the seed tray!
Borage Borago officinalis; also called Starflower, Buglos and the Bee Bush is an edible, medicinal herb.
It is an annual herb in the flowering plant family Boraginaceae that is native to the Mediterranean region but has naturalised in many other locales. It grows satisfactorily in gardens in the UK climate, remaining in the garden from year to year by self-seeding.
|Family Boraginaceae – Borage family|
|Genus Borago L. – Borage|
|Species Borago officinalis L. – Common Borage|
Borage is an amazing plant, it gets the name ‘Bee Bush’ because bees of all varieties adore it and of old beekeepers used to grow it to boost honey production. Although it is an annual it seeds itself remarkably well and once growing you will probably never have to re-seed.
Plant it in your garden and it will attract pollinators and repel pests. Borage is also used in companion planting. It is said to protect or nurse legumes, spinach, brassicas, and even strawberries. It is also reported to be a good companion plant for tomatoes because it confuses the mother moths of tomato hornworms or manduca looking for a place to lay their eggs. Borage also adds trace minerals to the soil it is planted in; which makes it good for composting and mulching.
John Gerard’s ‘Herball’ states that “Those of our time do use the flowers in salads to exhilerate and make the mind glad. There be also many things made of these used everywhere for the comfort of the heart, for the driving away of sorrow and increasing the joy of the mind. The leaves and flowers of Borage put into wine make men and women glad and merry and drive away all sadness, dullness and melancholy. Dioscorides and Pliny affirm this, ‘Syrup made of the flowers of Borage comfort the heart, purge melancholy and quiet the frantic and lunatic person’.
The seeds contain 26-38% of borage seed oil, of which 17-28% is gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), the richest known source, and is marketed as Starflower Oil. Borage is used as either a fresh vegetable or a dried herb. As a fresh vegetable, borage, with a cucumber-like taste, is often used in salads or as a garnish. It is a source of B vitamins, beta-carotene, fiber, choline, and trace minerals.
The flower has a sweet honey-like taste and is often used to decorate desserts and cocktails. It can be also be used in soups, preserves, as borage jelly and in various sauces. In the Italian region of Liguria, borage is commonly used as a filling of the traditional pasta ‘ravioli and pansoti’.
Traditionally, Borago officinalis has been used for colic, cramps, diarrhea, respiratory problems (asthma, bronchitis), cardiovascular disorders (cardiotonic, antihypertensive and blood purifier), and urinary problems (diuretic and kidney/bladder disorders).(1)
Sprinkle a patch that receives full or partial sun with seeds and then cover with ½ inch (1 cm) of soil or compost. As the plants can grow to be 3 feet (91 cm) tall and 2 feet (61 cm) wide make sure that they have room to grow. They are great for shading your smaller partial sun plants.
Borage Seeds: You can get Borage seeds from both Marshalls Seeds (Wildflower) and Suttons Seeds (Organic)
Dandelions Taraxacum officinale, are considered to be ‘pesky little weeds’, especially when they crop up in the middle of a lawn. They are definitely NOT pesky little weeds and have many benefits.
|Family||Asteraceae ⁄ Compositae – Aster family|
|Genus||Taraxacum F.- dandelion|
|Species||Taraxacum officinale – common dandelion|
- They are a plant that attracts pollinators and beneficial insects; both Bees and Ladybirds rely on Dandelions as the first source of nourishment to appear in the spring, the seeds are an important food source for certain birds and they are used as food plants by the larvae of some species of Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths).
- Dandelions have a long taproot which aerates the soil and brings up nutrients for shallower-rooting plants.
- The taproot is capable of going as deep as 3 feet into the soil, in order to find water, which makes it capable of surviving through dry spells.
- Dandelions can be eaten and studies have shown that Dandelion ‘greens’ contain vitamins A, C, E, K, B6, beta carotene, folate, thiamine, riboflavin, calcium, iron, potassium and manganese.
- Dandelion-and-burdock is a popular fizzy drink made in the north of England.
- Dandelion root has also traditionally been used to make a coffee substitute.
- The leaves of the plant can be eaten as a salad or fresh vegetable. In Asian cooking, for example, dandelion leaves are used like lettuce, boiled, made into soup or fried.
- The flower-buds can be added to omelettes and fritters, the flowers baked into cakes, and even the pollen sprinkled on food for decoration and colouring.
- Dandelion blossoms make a delicious country wine and a beer is brewed from the whole plant before it flowers.
Traditional Medicine Uses:
Dandelion has been used as a herbal medicine to treat wide-ranging conditions, including stomach and liver complaints, diabetes, heart problems, anaemia, respiratory ailments, consumption (tuberculosis), toothache, broken bones and sprains, sore eyes, cuts and nervousness.
Growing Dandelions: is not usually a problem, persauding people not to eradicate them is.
Propagation: by seed, wind borne – get a Dandelion ‘clock’, play the old childhood game allowing the seeds to land where you want them to grow and the plant will do the rest.
This is a plant with many common names including, Bacon Weed, Dirty Dick, Goose Foot, and Pig Weed. A few, other names like Muck Hill, Dung Weed, Muckweed, Muckhill weed, Midden Mylies for instance, tell you that it quite likes growing on heaps of manure or compost.
It is a species of goosefoot whose native range is obscure as it now grows almost everywhere (even in Antarctica, apparently)
What does Fat Hen look like?
C. album is quite variable in appearance but often there will be a white bloom on the leaves near the stem, also there can be a purplish colour near the leaf axils. The leaves are usually roughly triangular but not always and they also are usually toothed as in these specimens but again, not always. The small flowers are radially symmetrical and grow in small cymes on a dense branched inflorescence 10–40 cm long, they are bi-sexual and female with five sepals and five stamens. The seeds have a fat content and can be ground into a type of flour; they were discovered to be the last meal of ‘Tollund Man’ (a body found in a bog, dated to 400BCE)
The Common Stinging Nettle Urtica dioica, has been used in herbal medicine since ancient times; the Egyptians used stinging nettle to treat arthritis and back pain, the Romans used it to keep themselves warm.
Stinging nettles offer a variety of nutrients which include; vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, amino acids, polyphenols and pigments — many of these also have antioxidant properties.
|Family: Urticaceae – Nettle family|
|Genus: Urtica L. – nettle|
|Species: Urtica dioica L. – stinging nettle|
- Vitamins: Vitamins A, C and K, as well as several B vitamins
- Minerals: Calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and sodium
- Fats: Linoleic acid, linolenic acid, palmitic acid, stearic acid and oleic acid
- Amino acids: All of the essential amino acids
- Polyphenols: Kaempferol, quercetin, caffeic acid, coumarins and other flavonoids
- Pigments: Beta-carotene, lutein, luteoxanthin and other carotenoids
Uses: (3) The effects of nettle cultivation on the environment are potentially favourable, it being a perennial low-requirement crop (it can reach about 3–12 Mg ha−1 dry stalk yield with low inputs) also in food/feed, medicinal and cosmetic sectors.
Health: Can be used to detoxify the body, as an aid in painful labour and to assist with painful periods, to improve circulation, to prevent kidney stones, to strengthen bones and as an anti-inflammatory. It is also used to alleviate arthritis and as an anti-histamine.
Other: Has a long history of being a textile fibre (cellulose content is around 86%).
Propagation: Usually non-needed, expose a bare patch of ground and you will get nettles (the seeds seem to be guided by some honing device, potentially courtesy of our feathered friends). As with Dandelions trying to stop them seems to be the main problem.
An area or corner left as a wild-life area is a good place to encourage them. On small ‘mixed’ farms a nettle patch invariably develops on a ‘muck-heap’. In case of difficulties (virtually unheard of) gather seeds from a patch in the autumn once the plants have ‘gone to seed’ and toss onto the ground where you would like them.
Ramsons (Wild Garlic) Allium ursinum is also known as buckrams, broad-leaved garlic, wood garlic, bear leek or bear’s garlic.
It is a bulbous perennial flowering plant in the lily family Amaryllidaceae. It is a wild relative of onion, native to Europe and Asia, where it grows in moist woodland.
|Family||Liliaceae – Lily family|
|Genus||Allium L. – onion|
|Species||Allium ursinum L. – wild garlic|
What do ramsons look like?
A bulb growing to 0.3 m (1ft) by 0.3 m (1ft in)
Leaves: long, pointed and oval in shape with untoothed margins. Leaves grow from the plant base, from the bulb of the plant itself. Leaves have a garlic scent.
Flowers: white in colour. Six petals make up a flower, with around 25 of these forming the rounded shaped flower cluster. Flowers are on leafless stalks.
Fruit: a capsule which has black seeds inside.
Allium ursinum is hardy to zone (UK) 5 and is not frost tender.
It is in leaf from February to June, in flower from May to June, and the seeds ripen from May to July.
The species is hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs) and is pollinated by Bees, insects.
Suitable for: light (sandy) and medium (loamy) soils.
Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils.
It can grow in full shade (deep woodland) semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil.
Edible Uses: Flowers, Leaves & Bulbs can all be used raw or cooked.
Leaves – Usually available from late January. The leaves make a great addition to salads, one of the few fresh green leaves available in the middle of winter. They are often added to soups, gnocchi, risotto, ravioli, instead of Basil in pesto and as a spice to flavor hard cheeses or spreads based on cottage cheeses
Flowers – somewhat stronger than the leaves, in small quantities they make a decorative and very tasty addition to salads. The flowering heads can still be eaten as the seed pods are forming, though the flavour gets even stronger as the seeds ripen.
Bulb – Has a fairly strong garlic flavour. The bulbs can be harvested at any time, although they are quite small & fiddly, the plant is dormant from early summer to early winter. Harvested in early summer, they will store for at least 6 months. The bulbs can be up to 4cm long and 1cm in diameter. The small green bulbils can be used as a caper substitute.(1)
In European traditional medicine Ramsons have been generally recommended as digestive stimulant, antimicrobial agent, removing toxins from the body, and to prevent cardiovascular diseases. It was often applied as a remedy in respiratory problems, such as common cold with fever or bronchitis. A. ursinum has been effective when used externally to support wound healing, in chronic skin disorders, and in acne. It is useful in reducing high blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels. All parts of the plant can be used, but the bulb is most active. The plant is anthelmintic, antiasthmatic, anticholesterolemic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, astringent, cholagogue, depuritive, diaphoretic, diuretic, expectorant, febrifuge, hypotensive, rubefacient, stimulant, stomachic, tonic and vasodilator. (1)
Sow in a shady site under deciduous foliage (preferably dark enough to inhibit grass growth in high summer) in late summer or autumn. Plants usually take three years to flower and can become dominant on ideal sites. Although ramsons are susceptible to drought and require moist soils they are also intolerant of waterlogged conditions.
Allium ursinum bulbs: You can get Wild Garlic bulbs from