Spice up a cold winter’s day

15th January 2013

Peeking through areas where the snow has melted or tucked under a hedge or dense vegetation whatever the weather and whatever time of year you will find Wood Avens or Herb Bennett Geum urbanum. A very common plant found in woodland, hedgerows and back gardens, it often goes undetected at this time of year as its downy, three-lobed leaves are fairly non-discript and superficially resemble the ubiquitous bramble.
Later in the year the tall flower spike with a bright yellow five petalled flower or the spiky mace like seed head covered in red hooks which follows makes it easier to spot.


Wood Avens Geum urbanum

The leaves can be used at this time of year raw in salads but later in the year they become tough and downy and so are best cooked either fried on their own or with other wild greens or incorporated into soups and stews.

The roots tend to be the main part used. They have a distinct smell and taste of the spice Clove Syzygium aromaticum and actually contain eugenol the same essential oil. The German name for the plant is Nelkenwurz which translates as clove root. And it has been used historically to flavour soups and stews, being grown as a pot herb in the 15th and 16th centuries.

The roots are fairly small rarely more than a 2cm long and 1cm wide. They need to be washed thouroughly and the spidery rootlets removed. They can be used fresh or dry (but loose a bit of flavour if not stored in air tight containers in a cool place) in the place of cloves. I’ve used them in chutneys, curry pastes, spicing pontack sauce as well as adding to milk puddings or compotes. The flavour is nowhere near as strong as cloves so you need rather more of it, but it is a very common plant. It is meant to be at its most aromatic in spring and apparently the 25th March is the day to collect it provided it isn’t wet.
It has a close relative, the now rare Water Avens Guem rivale also known as Indian Chocolate and there is a reference in some books to being able to make a version of hot chocolate with its roots. An early experiment with Wood Aven roots prepared in the same way resulted in a mud tasting drink with the hint of cloves!

The name Herb Bennett comes from its old latin name herba benedicta meaning blessed herb from the belief that it could drive away evil spirits because of the aromatic smell of the roots.
As well as it’s edible uses it has a long history of medicinal use, the roots being taken for mouth ulcers, sore gums,chest complaints, diarrohea, colitis and other stomach disorders,
Other uses include moth repellent and flavouring for liqueurs and beer.

Related posts