A flurry of activity in the kitchen: Elderberry, thyme and rose hip cordial

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My little oven has not seen so much activity in weeks.  I made two bottles of a cold and flu remedy, just in time for well the cold and flu season , a bottle of iron tonic, as well as dinner all in a couple of hours.

I was introduced to the wonders of elderberry by Sarah Head and have since made elderberry cordial many times.  This was the first time I branched out with my own recipe.

Elderberries, thyme and rose hips are wonderful herbs to use for colds.  Elderberry and thyme have anti-viral properties, and rose hips are rich in Vitamin C.  The rose hips were fat, juicy and sweet – my friend and I had a nibble while we were picking them a few weeks ago.  These were frozen and I popped them into the pan whole.  Once the herbs were cooked through I strained it though a jelly bag.  Rose hips are full of seeds and their tiny hairs are an irritant – so always make sure if you use them whole to always strain them through a jelly bag.

I wasn’t sure how strong the thyme would be so I was a little cautious.  I think next time I will add more, and let the flavour come through.

Method

Add a small bowl of de-steamed elderberries making sure to remove any green berries to a pan with a couple of sprigs of thyme and a few frozen rose hips.  Cover with about a pint and half of water or there about.  Boil/simmer for 20 minutes.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool.  Strain and squeeze through a jelly bag – use gloves – elderberry stains!  Measure the remaining liquid and add honey.  I had a pint of liquid so I added 6 oz of honey.  Allow the honey to melt and boil/simmer again for 10 minutes – allow to cool slightly.  Meanwhile sterilise your bottles and while they are still hot decant the cordial.

Variations

To create a warming cordial you can add cinnamon, and ginger.  You can also add brandy which is delicious.  I’ve omitted the brandy as I want to take this to work so I added a tsp of citric acid as a preservative.

Well now that burst of energy is over.  I’m off to bed with a hot elderberry cordial, and a drop of bramble elixr in the hope I can ward off any potential cold!

So

To Autumn

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Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells…

John Keats, 1819

The season is turning

Giant beetroot from Wilf

I can feel it in the air, smell it on the breeze, and see it in the hedgerows.  It’s a time to harvest and preserve the things I’ve grown, or collected from the wild spaces.

Over the last weekend I began to dry my small but beautiful onion crop, turned beetroot, and plums into jam and chutney, and cooked lovingly shared meals with beans, tomatoes, potatoes, chard and blackberries.

I’ve had a hard year growing.  I moved to a new allotment plot and the earth was very tired from years of intense growing.  In all my efforts to start things growing and prevent giant slugs from eating plants before they even got started I forgot to add organic fertilisers, mulch or manure!  Thankfully I received precious gifts from fellow growers who had abundant harvests. Over the last few weeks I was gifted beetroot, courgettes, cabbages and spring onions.

But this is not the end.  As the season turns I’ve begun feeding the soil in preparation for next year’s crops by sowing green manure.  I’ve also planted shallots, and spring cabbages.  I still have hope for the winter scarlet kale, and that a few squashes mature.

The Sacred Tree: Plant-Based Oracle Cards

Luis - Huathe - Quert

‘Its [Luis] beauty and the strength of its life energy brings a tangible healing to the spirit’ 

Glennie Kindered, The Sacred Tree

Another way to learn about plant energies, and how to work with them is through plant oracle cards or the Ogham relating to the sacred trees.  I recently acquired a set of ‘Celtic oracle cards’.  I was drawn to their bright simple designs, but wasn’t so taken by the accompanying text – I did buy them from The Works!  The deck consists of Celtic sacred trees and animals.  At the moment I’m only interested in the tree cards.

‘[Huathe] To bring cleansing and unconditional love both giving and receiving’

Glennie Kindered, The Sacred Tree

I decided to ditch their accompanying text and use Glennie Kindered’s interpretations from her book ‘The Sacred Tree’.  I’ve a number of Glennie’s books, I find her words resonate with me and her plant illustrations inspiring.

‘[Quert] A symbol of abundance and fruitfulness – a gift of love’

Glennie Kindered, The Sacred Tree

I used a three card spread to represent past, present, and future as I wanted my interpretations to be simple.  I used the cards as a guide rather than to predict.  To begin I smudged all the cards with sage – which I find to be particularly calming, then I shuffled and thought and shuffled some more and laid out the three cards.  My question was what energies should I be focusing on or working with.  The answer was overwhelmingly LOVE LOVE LOVE! 

When Hawthorn or Hauthe turned up as the ‘present card’ it did make me chuckle as I feel very drawn to hawthorn.  The interpretations are very personal to you so I wont go into detail about my spread, but I will continue to contemplate the energies of each tree and how I can work with them.

 

Herb Garden: In Progress

Herb Garden

Last year I visited this rather wonderful walled herb garden at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre in Birmingham.  It was once the garden of George and Elizabeth Taylor Cadbury.

The garden inspired me to grow my own more formal herb garden, but this task is taking a while to cultivate.

My plants may look a little bedraggled as they’ve sat sloppily in pots since I dug them up last winter.  I lost quite a few and planted some temporarily in another bed to save them.

I’ve been busily sowing seeds, including Yarrow, Rosemary, lavender, Meadow Sweet, Hyssop, Calendula and Marjoram, and I hope to plant out my Rue, Lemon Balm, and Lady’s Mantle in the next few days.

Learning to listen: Hawthorn

Sometimes I feel as rigid as a rock when it comes to words, both written and spoken.  I put things off if I feel I don’t know enough, put off learning if I feel I can’t express myself through words.  I get tongue-tied, over edit as I write (and speak) and occasionally lose breath when faced with speaking in front of an audience.  But I still write, I still talk, I still speak to audiences.  When I am creative I’m ‘without words’ and I can be in the moment – I am not saying I am good at what I do but the act of making something turns all those ‘edit’ switches off.

Hawthorn was my herbal ally for a year.  I spent a lot of time looking at hawthorn, photographing it, drawing it, I dried blossoms, berries, made tinctures and occasionally sat with it.  I didn’t feel confident to make offerings, or to ritualise my experiences as I didn’t ‘know’ enough.  I didn’t feel hawthorn (or any plant for that matter) spoke to me or paid me the slightest bit of attention.  Or was it I didn’t give hawthorn the correct attention?  The photograph above isn’t photo-shopped.  This beautiful heart appeared, I didn’t realise until after when processing all my images.  Hawthorn is heart medicine – simple as that!

On Saturday I pulled all my hawthorn herbal efforts together and laid them out on my oak coffee table.  I had tinctures old and new of May blossom, tincture of haws, last year’s dried blossom, and blossom collected the week previous.  I had hawthorn incense made by herbalist Ali of the Eldrum Tree.  I pulled out a pile of books for reassurance, flicked through some pages and then LET GO and immersed myself in hawthorn.  I sat with hawthorn, I tasted hawthorn, I smelt hawthorn, I held hawthorn, I listened to hawthorn, and then sang to hawthorn –  I sang softly my devotion, my questions, and sang softly but clearly hawthorn’s answers.

Sometimes you should put down books and go with your instincts – its worth it – well I think it is!

Plant Walk: Along the Towpath

I’m on  a journey to learn more about the wild plants which grow locally to me.  Last weekend I went on a plant walk with a fellow forager down a canal towpath armed with a camera and a field guide.  Spring is a wonderful time of year when wild flowers begin to bloom and identifying them becomes a little easier.  We both agreed wild flower plant guides are not always easy to navigate, but I’m quite enjoying Collins Complete Guide to British Wild Flowers by Paul Sterry.  The book is divided up into plant species, which means once you have identified your plant you can place it in its plant family and learn more about it and its siblings!  The front of the book has a short cut to wild flower identification – is it a 3, 4 or 5 petalled flower – that simple  – from there it was fairly easy to identify your plant.  Recording the plants you identify by photographing them, and writing a short description is an important part of this learning journey and will hopefully mean next time you take a plant walk you can identify it without a guide.

Greater Stitchwort (Stellaria holostea)

 Wort: Used in names of plants and herbs, especially those used formerly as food or medicinally

Greater Stitchwort was the first wild plant we met on our walk.  It’s delicate five petalled flowers dance in the breeze.  I was excited to find it was called Stitchwort as I knew wort often meant herb or medicinal plant.  The prefix of ‘stitch’ was an indication of its function as a medicinal herb.  Stitchwort was used to treat ‘a stitch in the side’.

Green Alkanet (Pentaglottis sempervirens)

The name Anchusa is derived from the Greek anchousa = paint, from the use of the root as a dye.

Green Alkanet is a wild flower which grows freely in my garden under the shade of a tree.  I love the name Alkanet it sounds like an Egyptian God!  It’s a member of the Borage family so I imagine, like borage the herb, it grows profusely.  A little digging on one of my favourite herb sites A Modern Herbal I found Alkanet was used to create a red dye used in medicine and textiles.

Medowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria)

‘A cooling, aromatic and astringent herb that relieves pain’  Rosalee de la Forȇt

Medowsweet is usually identifiable by its fluffy bloom.  I’ve met medowsweet before so I could identify it without using a field guide.  Without it’s fluffy bloom Collins would have been difficult to navigate  – this is the downside of many plant guides if all you have is a leaf!  Medowsweet is a medicinal herb.

Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum)

On our way back we came across Herb Robert.  This was the plant my friend was familiar with.  Herb Robert is a wild geranium.  It is another medicinal herb, but one which has fallen out of fashion in modern herbalism.

We ended our walk meeting four wonderful wild plants.  I’ve only just begun looking into their history, and use.  Next stop folklore!

 

Infused Oil: Ribwort Plantain (Plantago lanceolata)

 

 

Springfield Sanctuary is in the Cotswolds and is a very special place indeed.  The Sanctuary belongs to Sarah Head who has been working with herbs since 1995 as well as running herbal workshops for over five years.

Springfield Sanctuary Workshop: Experiencing Herbs

I’ve attended Sarah’s herbal workshops for a few years now, and during the Spring, Summer and Autumn months they are all held at the Sanctuary.  May’s workshop was a joy!  Aside from the sun shinning brightly on us all day, it was wonderful to be back in the dell with Sarah and my fellow apprentices.  This month’s workshop was all about experiencing herbs so we drank herbal infusions, made a macerated oil, and thanks to cloud free skies we also made a flower remedy.

Double infused oil: Ribwort Plantain (Plantago lanceolata)

There are 100s of species of Plantago, many with similar medicinal properties.  The two I’m familiar with are those which grow locally to me – Ribwort Plantain (Plantago lanceolata), and Greater Ribwort Plantain (Plantago major).  Plantain has a number of different medicinal actions, and can also be used internally as a tincture, or tea (more on tinctures and teas another time)

Actions (in relation to the topical uses of plantain)

Henriette Cress refers to plantain as a ‘wound healer’, Matthew Wood lists it as an indispensable first aid herb.  The juice of plantain is cooling, it is an astringent,  antimicrobial, anti-inflamatory and an anti-histamine.  Plantain can be used on insect bites, it can help reduce the symptoms of allergic skin reactions, used on cuts and graze, and relief from pain and swelling.

One of the simplest methods of using plantain is as a spit poultice.  To make a spit poultice chew up a bit of plantain and pop it on the affected area.  I’ve read a number of accounts of spit poultices being successfully used on insect bites and stings, for splinters, and for treating dirty wounds.  I used a spit poultice on a friend when she had an allergic reaction to something her skin came in contact with while gardening.  She instantly experienced a localised rash like reaction on her skin that was very itchy.  We chewed up some plantain growing near by and rubbed it over the affected area.  It instantly felt cooling and less itchy.  We applied the poultice one more time and my friend felt much less irritation.

Method

Macerated or infused oils are fairly straight forward to make.  The Northern European method for making a macerated oil tends to be the heat method as our temperate climate are not often suitable for the sun method.

The method I used is a folk method – no measuring as such.  Fill a bowl with chopped fresh plant matter and cover with a base oil.  Sarah uses sunflower oil, whereas I prefer grapeseed oil as I like the way it absorbs into the skin.  Use enough oil to cover the plant matter.  Cover the bowl with a lid and place the bowl in the water in the slow cooker.  Heat for a couple of hours and check regularly to ensure the water does not dry up.  Remove the plant matter from the oil and repeat the process, adding new plant matter (hence double infused).  Once the oil has been heated for another couple of hours transfer it to a sterilised jar.  When using fresh plant matter allow the oil to stand for a few days before sealing the jar to allow any water to evaporate, as water in the oil the oil may turn it rancid.  Store in a sealed, labeled jar, free from light.  A double infused oil is for external use only.

Plantain macerated oil
Plantain macerated oil

The Wild Herb Garden

I’ve been dabbling with plants for the past few years but I’ve found my desire to work more closely with herbs gets lost amongst too many excuses and I really want that to change!

 The Wild Herb Garden will predominately be an exploration of medicinal, and edible bio-regionally diverse plants to the UK, although I will also explore non-native plants if I can successfully grow them on my small patch of earth.

I currently forage and grow herbs, fruit and vegetables.  I’ve created a map over the last few years of wild foods and medicines which grow within a half hour walk of where I live including elder, blackthorn, hawthorn, ramsons, red clover, yarrow, and apple.  These are just a few of the plants I regularly harvest locally – not bad for suburbia!

I’m also undertaking an herbal apprenticeship with Sarah Head.  Sarah is a kitchen herbalist whose practical approach to the study and use of herbs is really empowering.  Sarah describes the apprenticeship as a ‘opportunity to learn more about growing, harvesting and working with herbs to improve personal and family health and wellbeing’.