Wood Avens – Edibility, Identification, Distribution

Geum urbanum AKA Herb bennet or Cloveroot

Wood Avens/Cloveroot

Wood Avens/Cloveroot

  • Identification 3/5 – Fairly distinctive rosettes of trifoliate rounded, lobed leaves with smaller paired leaves further down the stem. When the flower stems grow (up to 70cm), higher leaves are more pointed and angular, though with the same format. Yellow flowers have 5 petals and 5 sepals and often look small in relation to the plant.
  • Edibility – Leaves 2/5, Roots 4/5 – Discard the solid piece of root and “runner” – the flavour is in the small, fine, string-like roots, no more than 2mm diameter
  • Habitat – Woods and hedgerows, especially path edges
  • Distribution – 5 – Very common throughout the UK
  • Season – all year
Wood avens flower

Wood avens flower

This is a super-common plant of wood edges (and often deeper in the forest where light penetrates) and hedgerows, with a long history of medicinal use. The leaves can be used as a pot-herb in spring and summer but their flavour is unremarkable. The part that commands my attention is the root, which has a distinct flavour of cloves. It is just one of many native spices which we have chosen to neglect in favour of imports – read more about our native wild spice rack here. It can be used as a spice in the same way as you may use cloves – as a warm “mulling” flavour (try infusing into sloe gin or eldeberry ice cream), or in spicy dishes and masalas that call for cloves (finely chop the cleaned roots and blend in with the other spices). While wood avens roots aren’t quite as pungent as whole cloves, they are more than just a “taste-alike”, sharing the same chemical component (eugenol) that gives cloves their aromatic pungency.

cloveroots in kitchen
Uprooting plants is technically illegal without the landowners permission. Nobody is likely to object to you harvesting domestic quantities of this “weed”, but don’t clear out whole areas of it. The roots are shallow and fine, so I often uproot, remove about 1/3rd, then replant. This takes very little time and you can feel good in the knowledge that the plant can continue its business with minimal inconvenience.

Cloveroot syrup

I make a rich, clove scented syrup by simmering generous amounts of the cleaned roots in 2:1 sugar:water solution for 5 minutes then leaving to infuse for a few weeks. The resulting syrup will keep well if you add a wee glug of neutral spirit. I then use it to sweeten cocktails, aromatised wines, desserts etc – its great on, or as a “ripple” in ice creams.  Once removed, the now “candied” roots can be dehydrated and finely ground (you’ll need a good coffee grinder and/or a hefty pestle) to make a sweet clove powder for sprinkling on desserts or on the rim of cocktail glasses.

The roots also make a very nice liqueur – see here.

6 Comments

  • Sarah says:

    Hi Mark, love the idea of putting the ground candied root on cocktail glasses, plan to pinch that idea! Once you’ve added some spirit to the syrup, do you keep the syrup in the fridge or not? I don’t add spirit to my syrups but then find I need to keep them in the fridge to keep them for any more than a few weeks, or freeze to keep for longer.

    • mark says:

      Hi Sarah,
      You have to grind the candied root quite fine, then sieve I find.
      I don’t keep my syrups in the fridge and they last fine. I make a strong syrup 2 sugar: 1 water, plus some alcohol, really works well.
      Happy foraging,
      Mark.

  • Helen says:

    I was planning to have a go at making this syrup as I want to try your recipe for tonic water 🙂 Approximately how much root do I need?

    • mark says:

      Hi Helen,

      I use enough to loosely fill the jar I am using. I’m afraid that is as precise as I get! Once you have drained off the syrup, refill the root-filled jar with vodka and leave for a month or so. Makes the most amazing cloveroot liquer. For now extra work! Highly, highly recommended!

      This (or indeed any) syrup isn’t essential for dandelion tonic.

      Cheers
      Mark.

  • Liz says:

    Hi!
    Can this be used the same way as say, water avens Geum rivale, who’s roots are said to taste like hot chocolate when cooked with milk and sugar? Does it make a descent fresh drink, or does it need to be turned into alcohol?

    • mark says:

      Hi Liz, My experience of water avens is that the flavour in the roots isn’t so pronounced – at least certainly not the clove flavour. I’m intrigued by the hot chocolate possibilities – i’ll be checking that out! Wood avens roots can be chewed, chopped or infused into anything you like – it doesn’t need to be alcohol. That’s just my Scottishness coming out… 😉
      Mark.

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