Let us start with Common Yarrow, both because it is so pretty and because PictureThis does not really have anything bad to say about it. A wildflower that is considered to be good luck in China and to have magical powers in Scotland. It can be brewed into beer, tea and liquor although PictureThis suggests that you shoud not drink it in large quantities and that you definitely should not let your horse or your dog eat its bitter leaves.
Rather less obviously attractive although much loved by pollinators and birds for its seeds and for their husks which make great nesting material, is the Spear Thistle. However, it is not all good as it is invasive and ‘takes available light and resources from other plants thus eliminating native plants in its invaded habitat’….
This is a Rosebay Willowherb which I had been confusing with the dreaded and mega-ly invasive Himalayan Balsam. Rosebay Willow herb is also known as fireweed because it is one of the first plants to re-emerge after a wildfire. If conditions are right it can be ‘an aggressive weed’ but if they aren’t the seeds may remain dormant for years. Its sweet nectar is an important source of food for many types of birds although its seeds are not that nutritious. It is also commonly used in herbal medicine.
Common Plantain. Anyone with a lawn will know this one although they will no doubt have rooted it out or mowed it long before it has got to this size. It doesn’t appear to do anyone much harm or indeed much good but would take over the world if it got a chance – a single plant can product up to 14,000 seeds in a year and it can self pollinate.
Common ragwort – delightfully cheerful on a dull day but, sadly, very much a weed. Indeed another weed that is poisonous and which will cause skin irritation if touched. Because it looks much like tansy it is often known as Tansy Ragwort.
This spider like creature is Hedge Mustard which is found mainly on wasteland and by road sides – this was growing along the path by the Boating pond. It is great food for caterpillars but its bitter leaves and seeds are also cultivated for human food – often as a condiment or to make mustard (hence the name) in Denmark, Norway and Germany. The Greeks believed that its seeds were an antidote to all poisons; a syrup made from its leaves is often used in herbal medicine for ‘hoarseness, weak lungs and to help the voice’.
I couldn’t leave out the Wild Carrot or Queen Anne’s Lace just because it is so pretty – and I found this one with a particularly good drop of blood (the one dark red flower) in the middle – where Queen Anne pricked herself. Less romatic explanations of the one dark red flower suggest that the dark florets ‘have adaptive functions of mimicking insects toward discouraging herbivory or attracting pollinators by indicating the presence of food or opportunities for mating.’
I am including Small balsam, not because it is pretty but because it has taken over much of Kenwood Woods. It is a relative of the super invasive Himalayan Balsam (that I was confusing with the Rosebay Willowherb) and also of garden bizzie lizzies. Both leaves and seeds are completely edible cooked and raw and it is also used as a treatment for warts, ringworm, nettle stings and as as a hair rinse to relieve an itchy scalp.
And finally, Meadow Crane’s-bill – or what most of us would recognise as a geranium. They are however, wild flowers and, I understood from a fellow walker, had been recently introduced to the heath down near the children’s playgorund as part of a natural wildflower planting scheme.
I am sure that I have no way covered all that the heath has to offer but given that I started off thinking that because it was now August, there would be nothing much to see, not a bad haul.