Riverside Fun With Kids-Himalayan Balsam
Himalayan Balsam is an invasive invader and is not feeling the love in this country at the moment. It is a high contender on the 100 most invasive species list which has legislation in place to control it’s spread and groups all over the country are trying to come up with a plan to remove it.
Identification of this plant is easy as it can grow up to 2 metres tall and has beautiful pink flowers. I personally love the plant and it’s nectar rich bouncy pink flowers. As do the bees and obviously my kids.
The common names for this plant are Policeman’s Helmet, Bobby Tops, and Gnome’s Hatstand all refering to the flowers being decidedly hat-shaped. Himalayan Balsam and Kiss-me-on-the-mountain arise from the plant originating in the Himalayan mountains. And ornamental jewelweed refers to its cultivation as an ornamental plant. It’s easy to see why it was first brought here as a garden plant as it is very beautiful, beneficial and easy to grow.
The leaves and flowers smell lovely too and after the plant flowers from June to October, the long pointy seed pods develop and that’s when the fun begins.
The plant forms long seed pods which are stuffed with seeds. When the pods swell up, the slightest breeze or bump encourages them to explode open, casting their seeds up to 7 metres away.
This is the key to the plants success in this country as they scatter their seeds far and wide, especially in water ways which carry the seeds even further.
Himalayan balsam loves to grow on the banks of streams and boggy areas so spraying their seeds like this makes it easy to spread their seeds.
The kids have nicknamed this plant “The Poppers”. As they LOVE popping these seeds EVERYWHERE. However, we recently discovered this plant was an evil invader and it has legislation governing it’s spread so we weren’t allowed to encourage it to spread.
Knowing that spreading these seeds is a big no-no, I wanted to find an alternative, so the kids could still be ‘popper happy’ but we weren’t contributing to an already difficult problem in our countryside.
We wanted to help and support our local countryside and teach the kids how to look after it so we maintain these areas for the future.
When we realised the flowers and seeds of the Himalayan Balsam are edible, we started searching for recipes. We came across a few using balsam seeds as a substitute for sunflower seeds and we were so happy.
My daughter also suggested putting them in our bread too. So this time we took a couple of paper bags with us to put over the pods to catch the seeds.
The kids could be ‘popper happy’ whilst catching the seeds preventing them from growing on the river bank or spreading further. Also, as we went we pulled up some of the plants we passed to help reduce the number growing there.
Wonderful Wildlife Bonus!
We had an extra special day at the riverside we visit, as it is now resident to a growing population of beavers.
As we gathered our seeds, we were lucky enough to catch site of the beavers. We spent a good few hours watching the beavers come and go in their dam, investigating the banks of the river and looking for signs of beavers and other wildlife. We saw a heron and a few fish swimming in the deeper water too.
When we got home we recorded our adventure in our Family Nature Journal we made. We record all our outdoor adventures in here like a diary. What we do, see, hear etc. I will add some photos later to our pages too. It’s a lovely way to great memories of our fun family days. Try making a Nature Journal of your own too.
We gathered a large bag of the seeds by the time we headed home. Arriving home hungry and tired, I made a pot of lentil soup. I had made some bread dough in the bread maker that morning so we decided to use the dough to mix up with the washed seed and baked the bread in the oven. The smell of the bread cooking was amazing and the kids loved eating it. The seeds gave off a lovely smell and flavour. It’s almost an aniseed type of smell- but sweeter.
The bread was polished off with our soup and we even made some straws for our drinks from the balsam stems which are strong and hollow. This was a wonderful sensory connection to the plant too.
We made firm plans to collect more seeds on our next walk.
I can’t wait to try other foods using these seeds. I’ve even heard of these seeds replacing nuts in nut burgers! I’m not sure we’re that adventurous yet but it’s a start.
We are jam lovers and make so many different types of jams and syrups that when I found this recipe for a bright pink sweet syrup made from balsam flowers, I knew we had to try it too.
The flowers can be used like rose petals. They are high in nectar and make this delicious jelly/syrup. It’s a great ice cream sauce with a shocking pink colour.
Recipe from selfsufficientish.com
2oz, 50g Himalayan Balsam Petals
½ lb, 250g Sugar
2fl Oz, 50ml Water
1 tbsp. Lime Juice
1 tbsp. Lemon Juice
(you can use 2tbs of one or the other or use fresh orange juice or squeezed lemon)
1. Cut away all but the petals of the balsam
2. Boil the juice, sugar and water to make a syrup
3. Add the petals and cook on the lowest heat for about half an hour stirring all the time
4. Strain through a fine sieve (the contents of the sieve can be separated out on a plate and eaten like sweets)
5. Pot in heat sterilized jars (jars and lids that have been boiled and are still warm)
It’s amazing what’s all around us if you look. Delicious food For FREE! What a lesson to teach kids!! What could you do with Himalayan balsam?
If you enjoyed this post, you could also check out my post on Teach your kids to forage for more inspiration
Are there other plants you could find out about in your area ?