Monday, 20 December 2010

December blog party: Adaptogens - A tale of Ashwagandha

This post is part of the December UK Herbarium Blog Party, No time for stress, hosted by Brigitte at My Herb Corner.

If you had asked me two years ago to describe an adaptogen or name one of the plants which fell into that category, I would have looked at you blankly and shook my head. I may have heard the term, but it didn’t really mean anything to me. Then I ordered myself a copy of “Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina and Stress Relief” by David Winston and Steven Maimes and spent several weeks reading during my ten minute commute to work every morning.

Adaptogens are such incredible plants. Winston and Maimes describe them as “remarkable natural substance that help the body adapt to stress, support normal metabolic functions and help restore balance.

In 1968, Bekhmann and Dardymov gave adaptogens a formal definition. They said firstly, an adaptogen is nontoxic to the recipient. Secondly, it provides a non-specific response in the body – an increase in the power of resistance against multiple stressors including physical, chemical and biological agents. Thirdly, an adaptogen has a normalising influence on physiology, irrespective of the direction of change from physiological norms caused by the stressor.

They almost sound too good to be true.

Winston and Maimes provide a list of 21 plants classified as true adaptogens. The frustrating part is that none of them are UK natives. I suppose this isn’t surprising since the cultures which have studied adaptogens most closely are Ayuvedic and Chinese medicines, with the Soviet Union getting in on the act following the Second World War when they were looking to support their scientists to win the space race. Modern Chinese research was also to do with winning – but sporting achievements rather than the struggle for off-planetary supremacy.

I wasn’t sure I could grow any of the listed plants, since most of them thrive in hotter climates. I’d already tried American gingseng (panax quinquefolius) but it disappeared from the herb bed shortly after planting and I didn’t know what I was really looking for to keep an eye on it. Liquorice (Glycorrhiza glabra) was another short lived purchase, but since it’s a herb I feel I should learn more about, it may be something I experiment with a little more seriously in the future.

Two plants really did call to me. One was Rhodiola (Rodiola rosea) because I was curious to smell its root when mature and the other was Ashwagandha or winter cherry (withania somnifera). Everyone seemed to wax lyrical about it and Kiva Rose Hardin wrote a beautiful article about the plants she grows in her canyon. Despite the differences in our climates, I decided to see if ashwagandha was something I could make friends with.

Luckily Debs Cook was growing some ashwaganda plants from seed in the spring of 2009. She gave me two seedlings and I carefully planted them on the patio and watched their progress. It was a joyful experience watching the two plants grow large green leaves, then flower and produce vibrant green fruits which eventually turned a vivid scarlet as they ripened. I was so excited.

I picked the fruits, carefully drying and storing them in the kitchen drawer. I hoped the mature plants might overwinter, given our previous incredibly mild winters. Obviously the severe frosts and snow during 2009/2010 destroyed that hope, but I still had my seeds.

During one of the spring workshops, we carefully pulverised the ashwagandha fruits to reveal white seeds. Soil taken from molehills filled two seed trays and around 30 seeds were planted. Workshop attendees also took seeds home and I know at least one plant germinated successfully and grew.

I have to confess I am not a green fingered gardener. I do not provide seeds with heated trays or self watering systems. They are placed on the patio and left to the vagaries of the weather. I may water them if I remember.

The ashwagandha seeds appeared happy. Over twenty of them germinated and I took six of the largest plants to the farm where they grew into mature specimens. Unfortunately the lack of water and the early frosts meant they didn’t set fruit that I could see. I dug them up and replanted them in my parents’ greenhouse, but I don’t hold out much hope for their survival in the current weather conditions.

I kept twelve plants in large pots on the patio where they would get the most warmth. Two plants in the same position as last year’s plants turned very sickly. I think the cause might be the sudden appeared of a rogue mullein interloper in the pot. Don’t ask me how it got there. I know I should have removed it immediately but I didn’t. I love mullein and to suddenly have it appear in my garden was a real joy. Of course, next year, I shall probably discover it’s not mullein at all but false alkenet and then I shall be really unhappy!

General advice is to harvest ashwagandha roots after the first frost. I had enough plants, but I couldn’t bring myself to harvest them. I kept hoping one of the plants would set fruit, but none of them did. Then I decided to try and over-winter them. There really wasn’t any room in the house and I don’t have a greenhouse, so I placed them all in the garden shed and hoped for the best. I saw them for the first time yesterday when Chris dragged me out from cooking frangipanes to frolic in the powder snow. The snow was beautiful, but my ashwagandha were all frosted so I suspect I have lost them all.

There is something about ashwaganda I really like. I shall try growing them again next year and maybe this time I will harvest some roots and make my own tincture. My aim is to develop an understanding of the plant’s medicine and I am sure that if I have patience this is something achievable. For the time being they have already brought me great delight and sense of accomplishment brought about by the surprised faces of several herbalists when I showed them my plants.

If you are looking for some stress busting recipes at this challenging point in the year try these.
Kiva Rose’s Winter Cherry Nourishing Electuary

2 parts Ashwagandha
1/2 part Nettle Seed
1 part Tulsi (Holy Basil)
2 parts Elm
This makes a lovely moistening adrenal tonic very helpful in times of stress or depletion, providing energy while relaxing the nervous system and body. It’s fairly temperature neutral, and generally gentle enough for anyone.

Ananda Wislon’s Longevity Electuary
In an 8 oz jar, add:
3 tsp Ashwagandha and or Shatawari powder
3 tsp Spirulina powder
3 tsp Slippery Elm or Mallow powder
2 tsp Siberian Ginseng (Eluthero) powder
1 tsp Cardamom powder
1/2 tsp Turmeric powder
Cover almost full with good local, raw honey
Add 1 tsp of Rose hydrosol or Rose elixir. Dried Elderberry powder is optional as well!
Slowly, to avoid the infamous "cloud poof", stir with a spoon until all the powders are smoothed into the honey. Label and store. Refrigeration isn't necessary.

The longevity electuary is intended to be used daily, eaten by the spoonful, used on toast, stirred in warm milk with ghee, or in yogurt or smoothies. Ananda said, “These herbs will provide you with stamina, clarity, physical and mental energy, good digestion, and strong mucous membranes. It is also a notorious aphrodisiac.”

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Last chance to apply for a Springfield Sanctuary Apprenticeship

The opportunity to apply to become a 2011 Springfield Sanctuary Apprentice will close on Friday, 17 December 2010.

The twelve month herbal apprenticeship starts in January 2011. You are offered the opportunity to learn more about growing, harvesting and working with herbs to improve personal and family health and wellbeing.

Outcomes: Year 1

By the end of 2011, the apprentice will have:

*improved knowledge and understanding of twenty personally chosen herbs.
*grown herbs from seeds, cuttings or divisions and taken note of their development using drawings or photography.
*shared in practical tasks to manage the Sanctuary herb beds.
*harvested flowers, aerial parts, berries and roots
*made teas, decoctions, macerations, syrups, infused oils, salves, tinctures, vinegars, flower essences and elixirs
*familiarised themselves with a variety of body processes such as respiration, digestion, circulation etc and looked at several herbs which can help to balance these processes.
*participated in an online email action learning group.
*completed tasks set by the mentor and fed back the results to the other apprentices
*begun to share knowledge, enthusiasm and herbal extractions with family and friends

Outcomes: Year 2 (for apprentices who began their apprenticeship in 2010 and wish to continue)

By the end of 2011, the apprentice will have:

*studied a further ten herbs or looked at the original herbs chosen in more depth
*considered further anatomical or emotional processes e.g. fertility, aging, grief
*considered constitutional elements/energetics from a western herbal medicine perspective
*consolidated and continued all the experiences engaged in during Year 1


Each apprentice is expected to:

*choose up to twenty herbs to study during the year
*attend at least six workshops throughout the year and to attend the Herb Festival held in September.
*complete the tasks set by the mentor within given timescales
*work within the Sanctuary herb beds – digging, weeding, planting, harvesting etc.
*keep a herbal diary and/or online blog detailing activities and learning
*evaluate their personal progress at the end of twelve months

Costs: There is no overall charge for the apprenticeship. Apprentices are expected to make a financial donation when attending workshops or the Herb Festival and to offer practical physical help at the Sanctuary. Anyone considering an apprenticeship should factor in personal costs such as time, transport, access to growing space and internet plus a degree of commitment to their studies and to the Sanctuary.

Note: This apprenticeship is for personal development only. Apprentices study at their own pace. The amount and depth of work is self directed. Guidance will be given on sources of information, but handouts covering all topics may not be available. There is no accreditation from an academic body, certificate of attendance or examination process. The apprenticeship will NOT enable anyone to set up in private practice as a medical herbalist.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Academic celebrations

When you give birth, the last thing on your mind is the outcome of the child's education. As the years roll by you experience the first day at playgroup, first day of nursery or school with varying emotions. The transition between primary and secondary school is probably the most traumatic – as a parent you still have enormous responsibilities preparing, applying, managing entrance exams or SATS tests and then sorting uniform and equipment.

You support their interests and activities – providing a taxi service or, in our case, becoming a roadie, hiring venues and feeding band or cast members. Then comes the break. They go to university. You breathe a sigh of relief and relish the silence, supporting with finance and telephone counselling, but at least there is no active involvement with academic studies or writing essays (until the final dissertation when a plaintive voice asks, “Could you just write me a page on different kinds of eye diseases?”).

It has been such a long process, you don't believe it will actually finish. You plan retirement around how many more years of study you need to support. Then suddenly the day comes. It is all over. Degrees are attained and your heart bursts with pride.

We weren't expecting both degree ceremonies to occur in the same week for both remaining offspring, but they did. Despite freezing weather and snow for the final event, they were both glorious days full of smiles and laughter and hats thrown in the air.

Two of the three graduation ceremonies were held in cathedrals. Richard's in Durham with Bill Bryson as Chancellor, Kathryn's in Coventry. Stephen's was held in The Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham, with Sir Michael Parkinson giving the final address and congratulations.

It is a wonderful feeling to know you have successfully piloted all three offspring through higher education.

Herbal Gifts

I am way behind with my contribution towards the UK November blog party on making gifts with herbs. This was the theme of my November workshop and the Mercian Herb Group meeting, so I am posting some recipes we used then, with many thanks to Debs Cook for her contributions and tutelage.

Even though the ice and snow are upon us, if you have a store of dried herbs or access to another source, you can still make herbal gifts. Here are a few suggestions.


Salt scrub
1/2 cup oil.(118ml or 4fl oz) Use sweet almond, grapeseed or another light-textured massage oil such as an angelica, dandelion or rosemary infused oil . Don't use simple cooking oil from your larder.
1 cup fine sea salt. Baleine is a good choice. Don't use simple iodized table salt -- it's too harsh. If you have sensitive skin you can substitute sugar, which is gentler.
5-15 drops high quality essential oils. The essential oil you choose for your salt scrub depends on the result you want. Lavender is relaxing, lemongrass is refreshing and rosemary is stimulating. You can experiment and do your own blend.
Put the salt (or sugar) in a small bowl.
Add the oil, mixing well with a spoon or wooden stick. The texture should be moist enough to hold together, but not overly oily. You can adjust the amount of oil to achieve that texture.
Gently tap in the drops of essential oil and combine well. So now you're ready to use your home-made salt scrub -- once a week is plenty. This recipe should get you through three salt scrubs.

Rose Water (Gail Faith Edwards)
Pick blossoms on a sunny day when their scent is at its peak or use an amount of dried, scented rose petals or buds. Put into a stainless steel or enamel pot and cover with fresh spring or distilled water. Cover and slowly heat to just below a simmer. Turn the heat as low as it will go and continue heating for about ten minutes tightly covered. Turn off the heat and allow all to sit, covered, overnight. In the morning, strain the fragrant rose water off. Add a quarter of the volume in alcohol as a preservative. Bottle and keep in a cool dark place. Rose water can be splashed all over the body to tone and refresh. As a wash, it can help heal acne.

This recipe can also be made with dried or fresh elderflowers

Rose Petal Cleanser (Tammy Herring)
Fill a glass jar with dried or fresh rose petals and cover with distilled witchhazel (available from the chemist). Use a chopstick to stir the mixture to remove any air bubbles, then refill the jar so all petals are covered. If you leave the petals uncovered they will go brown within a couple of hours.

Seal the glass jar with a screwtop lid, label and date. Leave the jar to infuse in a cool, dark place for a couple of weeks. Strain and pour back into the original dark glass witchhazel bottles. You may find the scent from fresh rose petals is not strong or even non existent, so it might be worth adding some dried rose petals and re-infusing for two further weeks after you have strained the fresh rose petals. Apply to your face with soaked cotton wool pads.

This recipe can also be made with dried or fresh elderflowers

Herbal soap (Anna Kruger)
170g/6oz grated, unscented, uncoloured, very mild soap
120g/4oz dried or 4 handfuls of fresh herb (see below for skin type) simmered in 375ml (1-1.5cups) water in a covered pan and left overnight
1tsp essential oil
Put grated soap in the top of a double boiler saucepan (or a large bowl with a saucepan of boiling water underneath) and stir in herbal tea. Whisk vigorously until all soap has melted. Add essential oils. Pour into small, greased moulds or waxed paper cake cases and leave to cool Place these in a warm place for 6-8 weeks until dry. If making soap for sensitive skin replace 3oz soap with honey and add to mixture as soap is beginning to melt.

Herbs for different skin types
Normal to dry: chamomile, violet leaves, elderflower, parsley, borage, marshmallow leaves and root.
Oily: Lavender, marigold, yarrow, horsetail
To improve circulation: rosemary, nettle, fennel

Massage Oil
Make a double infused oil from suitable herbs
Deep muscle pain – goldenrod
Light muscle pain and breast tissue issues – dandelion
Sciatica – rosemary and St John’s wort
Arthritis – meadowsweet, ginger, solomon’s seal, plantain
Nerve pain – St John’s wort

The term, “double infused” means that you use the same amount of oil for two separate amounts of herb. This usually means dividing your herb harvest into two piles which you add to the oil at different times, the first amount being added at the beginning and the oil then being strained and the first portion removed at the end of the required time, then the strained oil is poured over the second portion which is subsequently heated.

If you are intending to use the infused oil as a massage oil or salve for children or frail elders, you may wish to undertake a single infusion for some highly aromatic herbs e.g. rosemary.

Moisturising salve
To make a simple salve, grate up some beeswax and add it to the hot infused oil, stirring continuously until it melts. (About 1oz beeswax to 8 fluid ozs of oil) Test on the back of a wooden spoon to see whether it is of a suitable consistency, then pour into small jars and seal. If you are not confident to do the spoon test, an easier way of checking is to drop a very small amount of oil plus melted wax into cold water in a small bowl or mug. The salve will immediately cool and you can rub it between your fingers to check the desired thickness.

The salve will thicken on cooling, usually from the bottom upwards if you pour into cold jars. It will usually be a paler colour than the original oil.

To make a moisturising salve use oils which have an affinity with the skin such as calendula and add violet leaf or marshmallow oil to add moisture. If you want the salve to have a strong scent, add 1-4 drops of your favourite essential oil per fluid oz of oil, but do not do this if the salve may be used by a young child.

You can experiment with adding honey or lanolin to your salve to give it extra softness.

Lip Balm
The easiest way to make a lip balm is to infuse dried calendula petals with 2/3rds cocoa butter melted with 1/3 sunflower oil. When poured into cold jars, the balm will keep solid at room temperature.

Rosebud Lips Balm
225ml (9floz) Calendua Oil
3 Tablespoons Jojoba Oil
45g (1½ oz) Dried Alkanet Root
30g (1oz) Beeswax
12 Drops Rose Essential Oil (optional)
Method - Gently heat both oils in the top of a double boiler for about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the alkanet root and steep for around 30 minutes, to extract the colour from the root.
Strain the root from the oils through a muslin cloth. Return the oils to the double boiler with the beeswax. Once this has melted, remove from the heat and add the rose essential oil drop by drop. Pour into small sterilised pots or jars. Allow to cool thoroughly before putting the lids on.

We first made this lip balm last February following inspiration from The Victorian Farm. Debs found the recipe and it has been really useful. I prefer to make the lip balm without essential oil because it makes my lips tingle. This time we used a combination of calendula and dandelion flower oil which made a lovely rich infusion.

Creams and ointments are made by emulsifying a mixture of infused oil and water. You can also make a cream by adding your own tincture and oil to a commercially prepared cream or ointment. Christopher Hedley’s basic recipe for a cream is
1oz base cream (eg Aqueous cream)
1 tsp infused oil (e.g. marigold or St John's wort)
2 tsp tincture (e.g. rose petal or comfrey)
4 drops of essential oil (e.g. lavender)
First add the infused oil to the base cream and stir until it is all absorbed. Then add the tincture and stir again, then add the drops of essential oil and stir again. Spoon into small jars with screw top lid and use.


Moths do not like cloves, so pomanders are the perfect, sweet-smelling preservative for drawers and wardrobes. Choose which citrus fruit you would like to make into a pomander – lime, lemon or orange. Put in a warm place to dry for 2-3 days. Place sticky tape around the centre of the fruit - one circle for lemon or lime, two for an orange. Using a thick darning or knitting needle, make a hole in the skin of the fruit and insert a whole clove. Make sure you cover the whole surface of the fruit. Remove sticky tape then cover the pomander with a mixture of equal portions of nutmeg, cinnamon and orris root powder. Place somewhere warm and dry for 2-3 weeks. The fruit will shrink so you may have to reinsert any cloves which have fallen out. Shake off excess powder and tie a ribbon around the fruit in the space left by the sticky tape.

Sleep pillows
Gather equal portions of dried lavender, hops and rosemary. Grind the rosemary to release scent. Place inside a small muslin bag and secure firmly. You can add a few drops of lavender essential oil if you wish before securing the bag. The muslin bag can be placed inside a cotton case if desired. Place this sleep bag either on or under the pillow to aid sleep. It can also be used when travelling to aid sleep in a strange bed.

Scent bags
Fill a small muslin or organza bag with your herb of choice – lavender (soothing), rose petals (uplifting), lemon balm and marjoram (soothing), mugwort (to aid dreaming), pennyroyal (to deter insects).

Friday, 15 October 2010

Autumn bounty

Lying in bed this morning, I watched dark shapes fluttering earthwards in the breeze. The oak tree has begun to shed its leaves. Soon we will be awash in brown mulch and kept awake by acorns hitting the caravan or car roof!

The last few weeks have been a rush of gathering. Red rosehips and blackberries will soon be too ripe to pick and birds will have devoured all the elderberries.

As September departed in warm sunshine, I went foraging in the Friary field around the corner from my house. Everything was still damp from recent rain, so I left the bounty of nettle seed, but I found enough elderberries, haws, sloes and rosehips to make up a large jar of elderberry vinegar for Jacki and a delicious cordial. Since the latter is for enjoying rather than as a medicine, I didn't bother to evaporate it very much, which gave a larger yield.

Elderberry vinegar
Strip elderberries from stalks discarding any green ones and place in a glass jar. Cover with cider vinegar. Podge with a chopstick to remove air bubbles. Refill the jar with cider vinegar, seal, label and date. Keep in a warm dark place for three weeks then strain or use with the elderberries still in.

Elderberry honey
Place elderberries in a glass jar about 2/3 full. Cover with runny honey. Infuse for 4-6 weeks in a cool place watching carefully. Elderberries are covered with wild yeast and if kept in a warm place in too full a jar they can ferment and ooze over the side of the jar or even explode. Elderberries stain pink/purple, so should be wiped up immediately.

To make a delicious anti-viral oxymel, add 2tsp of elderberry vinegar to 2tsp elderberry honey in a mug and fill with boiling water. Otherwise, use the honey to sweeten other herbal drinks for an added anti-viral kick!

Spiced Hedgerow Cordial
An amount of hedgerow fruit – haws, sloes, rosehips, elderberries
1 inch of root ginger (grated)
1 nutmeg (grated)
2 large quills of cinnamon or cassia (whichever you have to hand)
6 cloves
Juice from one or more lemons
As many lbs of honey or sugar as you have pints of liquid remaining after evaporation

Strip the elderberries from their stalks using a fork. Remove any green elderberries. Wash remaining fruits if you think they need it. Place your hedgerow fruit in a large pan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer with the lid on for about half an hour. Strain the liquid and push any juicy bits you can through the sieve. Discard the debris and wash the saucepan. Measure the liquid and put on a low heat to evaporate for a while, depending on how thick you want your cordial to be. When you are happy with the consistency, measure the liquid again and add 1lb sugar or 1lb honey to every pint of liquid. Heat very gently until the sugar/honey is dissolved. Add lemon juice to taste. Sterilise bottles in the oven for ten minutes on a low heat and sterilise the tops by putting them into a saucepan and boiling for ten minutes. Pour cordial into bottles, seal, label and date. To make the drink, add 1 tablespoon of cordial to a small cup/goblet of boiling water. Sip and enjoy.

I stole time last weekend to visit my parents and the Sanctuary. I really enjoyed searching for conkers in the empty pasture as light faded. The following day, my father wanted to dig up potatoes planted in the new bed, so while he dug, I gathered a last harvest of calendula petals and seeds, roses for white wine vinegar for cleaning, hops to tincture and New England aster to dry and display. Later, we picked rosehips and elderberries to dry and freeze.

I decided to use technology on the conkers this year instead of Chris and his hammer, so about thirty went into the grinder for an infused oil and the same amount into the liquidiser with some vodka to prepare a tincture. This is James Wong's method. It is a lot easier if you haven't managed to pick conkers in early August when they're still immature enough to slice, but it's going to be a pain to strain when it's ready. Luckily I have some butter muslin and will be able to squeeze! The oil came out a beautiful pale green. I shall be using it in a moisturising salve for my legs along with calendula and marshmallow leaf oils.

Like many people, our apple tree has been laden this year. The fruit is a flavourful cooker, but it's almost impossible to keep. The fruit starts rotting almost as soon as it hits the ground and some years on the tree as well! I haven't had time to pick all the apples on the tree, but I've been trying as much as I can to keep up with the windfalls.

It's a real bonus to sit on a sun-drenched bench and peel a basket of apples while honey bees cover the Michaelmas daises in the border. I bought my wicker gathering basket from Mellingey Mill Willow Craft Centre near Padstow over ten years ago. I love it. A basket of apples fills my largest 5 pint saucepan with apple slices which will then reduce by a third when cooked. I used to cook the apples into plain apple sauce with sugar, but this year I've been experimenting with a spiced apple sauce which we've been eating with Greek yoghurt for dessert.

Spiced apple sauce
Peel, core and slice cooking apples into a saucepan. Add half a grated nutmeg, 1 tsp powdered cinnamon and ½ teaspoon of powdered cloves. Add the minimum amount of water you can (I usually place the saucepan under the tap, turn it on and immediately off again). Place the now covered saucepan on the heat and bring to the boil slowly. Simmer until the apples are all soft stirring occasionally to ensure they don't stick or burn on the bottom. Leave to cool, then freeze or keep in the fridge.

Instead of spices, I've been experimenting with lemon juice, zest and honey replacing sugar. The first batch was too sharp for most tastes, but I'll try again soon.

I've also been cooking apple cakes using a family recipe from Germany. It's a really useful recipe if you have run out of eggs for a fruit or sponge cake or are entertaining vegan visitors.

Apple Cake
12 oz flour (½ plain and ½ wholemeal)
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda and a pinch of salt
6oz margarine
6oz dark brown sugar
2oz walnuts (or mixed ground nuts)
10oz dates (or mixed dried fruits)
½ pint apples stewed without sugar
Prepare cake tin by greasing and lining with greaseproof paper. Heat oven to 180degrees C or Gas Mark 5. Sieve flour with bicarb and salt. Rub flour into margarine until it resembles breadcrumbs. Mix in sugar, nuts and mixed fruit. Add stewed apple and mix thoroughly. Pour into cake tin and place in the oven as quickly as possible. Cook for 1-1 ½ hours until a sharp knife or skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

Last night was the October West Mercian Herb Group meeting. The subject was herbs for Halloween and I'd asked everyone to choose a herb and make something from it. Unfortunately it was a very select turnout with only four people, but we enjoyed tasting Judith's clove and ginger cookies and my apple and honey muffins and soul cakes.

The muffins and soul cakes are a useful double act to cook since one calls for egg whites and the other egg yolks. I found the recipes from the internet, but I've adapted them to suit what I had available.

Apple muffins
2 egg whites
240g (8 oz) flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
170ml (6 fl oz) milk
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 tablespoons honey
110g (4 oz) chopped apples
Preheat oven to 190 C / Gas mark 5. Lightly grease one 12-cup muffin tin, or line with paper muffin cups. Lightly beat egg whites. In a separate bowl, mix dry ingredients thoroughly. Mix together milk, oil, honey with a whisk in another bowl until they emulsify then add chopped apples. Gently fold in egg whites to the wet mixture. Add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients. Fold together until just moistened. Batter will be lumpy. Fill greased muffin tins two-thirds full. Bake about 20 minutes until lightly browned.

The muffins have a delicate honey flavour. They seemed a little dry to me, although the others enjoyed them, so I might add whole eggs next time and see what happens.

Soul cakes
6ozs butter
6ozs sugar
12ozs plain flour, sifted
3 egg yolks
generous pinch (1tsp) of dried calendula petals
2 tsp mixed spice (powdered cinnamon/nutmeg/mace/cloves)
1 tsp allspice
3 tbsp currants
2 tsp milk
Crush the calendula petals in a pestle and mortar, add the milk and grind to combine. Sift together the flour and remaining spices into a bowl.
In the meantime, cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Beat the egg yolks and add to the creamed mixture a little at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the sifted flour and spice mix and stir in the currants. Add the milk and calendula mixture and enough additional milk to form a soft dough.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured surface and shape into flat cakes about 5 or 6cm in diameter. Transfer to a well-buttered baking tray and place in an oven pre-heated to 180°C and bake for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until lightly golden. Allow to cool on the tray for 10 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

I didn't add additional milk because I'd reduced the amount of flour from 20oz in the original recipe to 12oz as the former amount appeared somewhat excessive. I took a pinch of dough, rolled it into a ball between my hands and covered it in sugar before placing on the baking tray.

Only three of the three dozen soul cakes I made actually flattened into proper biscuit shaped, but the shape they retained makes them look something special, which is what you want with a soul cake which is made especially to remember and honour our beloved dead. Thankfully we still have two weeks until the end of the month, so there is still time for more foraging, cooking and enjoying the autumn bounty.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Learning more about herbs

Many people want to learn more about herbs and there are many different ways of progressing both practical and theoretical knowledge. For those who wish to follow a degree course there are a number of academic institutions. Links can be found on the Herb Society education page.

Those looking for a more practical, self developmental approach to learning there are now various herbal apprenticeships being run in the UK. In the US, the apprenticeship movement has been flourishing for many years. Most of the respected herbal leaders such as Rosemary Gladstar, Susun Weed, Margi Flint, Gail Faith Edwards and Kiva Rose Hardin have been running practical or distance learning apprenticeships for many years. To my knowledge, this has not been available except on a very limited scale in the UK.

Anne McIntyre has been offering apprenticeships for several years and is looking to expand her placements. Anyone interested in learning with this wonderful teacher should contact Anne via her website

Sensory Herbcraft are offering their first herbal apprenticeships starting in September 2011. Their courses will be held in Cheshunt, Herfordshire and more details can be found on their website.

I am also offering apprenticeships beginning in January 2011. More details can be found here. If you are interested in discussing a place, please email me on sarah at headology dot co dot uk. If anyone knows of any other apprenticeships being offered in the UK, please let me know.

If you cannot commit to either a distance learning course or an apprenticeship, there are always local herb groups. More are being set up each year. Look in the Herbal Groups section on Herb Society website to find one near you or think about setting one up in your area.

Debs Cook and I founded the Mercian Herb Group which has now divided into an East and West Mercian Group. The East Mercian Group will be meeting in the Derby area and I am hoping we shall be holding meetings in Rugby, Leamington Spa and Birmingham for the West Mercian Group.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Celebrating Herbs Festival: Creating a dream

How do you describe a dream coming true? This is what it feels like when I think back over the first Celebrating Herbs Festival at Springfield Sanctuary. It started as an idea last summer, but as the months progressed and wonderful people agreed to come and talk about herbs in a Cotswold field, the possibility suddenly became a reality.

We knew the weekend could not just include herbs. There needed to be other activities going on for those who might accompany the herb enthusiasts. Sky Symphony kite team kindly offered to come and perform their stunning displays of synchronised kite flying to music throughout the weekend, turning down two requests to fly elsewhere. David Heeks, a budding children's author from Solihull Writers Workshop agreed to tell stories and delighted everyone with his tales and songs. Nik Mohammed brought his Beginners archery setup and nearly everyone tried their luck at hitting the target.

I cannot thank the medical and horticultural herbalists enough for educating us with their chosen subjects. Anne McIntyre was truly wonderful, her calm and gentle presence exuding a wealth and depth of knowledge of her beloved herbs. She inspired us all to use the information she shared and discover more about the herbs she mentioned.

Unfortunately Zoe Hawes was unable to join us because of illness, but the extra time allowed people to go with Denise Fiddaman on a herbwalk around the Sanctuary before returning to the main marquee for a fascinating talk from Davina Wynne-Jones and Saskia Marjoram on the energetic properties of herbs. Davina brought with her some beautiful pictures of her own herb garden in Barnsley near Cirencester.

On Friday and Saturday evenings we enjoyed imprompu concerts performed by our three offspring – Kathryn, Richard and Stephen together with other festival goers. Dave Salmon from Sky Symphony offered some wonderful covers and compositions including my personal favourite, Susie's Lullaby, while Ian and Heather gave us some memorable folk songs and Johnny Cash numbers. Glynn Morgan had us in stitches on Saturday evening with his message from the Darleks and Janey recited a Spike Milligan poem.

The Head trio also entertained festival goers at lunchtime on Saturday and Sunday with a combination of jazz, blues and folk including a number of original songs composed by either Kathryn or Stephen..

Kristina Patmore and her partner, Cameron, transformed the oak glade beyond the summerhouse into a herbal dyeing arena. The hard spring water gave incredible deepness to colours achieved from various dyes. Amongst those Kristina used were onion skins, nettles, dyers greenweed, madder and woad. The wool she dyed had been pre-mordented with alum. She also experimented with two different dyes, achieving a beautiful shade of Lincoln Green on one sample.

Victoria Logue began the Sunday session, with a fascinating talk on herbs for bees followed by a demonstration of seed planting, which taught me a great deal. Two of the Sanctuary Apprentices, Jacki and Kaz described their herbal journey during the following session before we broke for kite displays and a shared lunch. Jenny Jones and Anne Chiotis completed our Sunday afternoon lectures with talks on the immune system and herbs for stress.

The weather proved wonderful all weekend despite a wet and murky start to Saturday morning. Once the sun came through everything dried up and stayed warm.

It is the joy on people's faces which will stay with me. One person said afterwards, “Spending the weekend there, the camping, the talks, the people, the view, was the best tonic I could possibly have had to set me up for the coming weeks.”

Everyone I spoke to talked about the wonderful time they were having, from the views outside, the awesome kite displays to the shared herbal learning. They asked if we would put on the festival next year. Originally we had been thinking of a bi-annual event, but this year was such a success, we shall try to do it again next year if we possibly can.

Hope you enjoy the photos alongside. Many thanks to Jacki for sharing her photos of the weekend.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Monday, 6 September 2010

Five days to go!

It doesn't seem possible over a year has gone by since I made the decision to hold the first "Celebrating Herbs" Festival in the Cotswolds. Now the field is mown where the marquees will be sited and people are camping, the marquees are awaiting erection in the barn and I think I've cooked enough food to feed the speakers and extended family over the weekend.

Chris and my father spent most of last weekend building a new seat around the oak tree near the dyeing area and moving one of the other benches to the new herb bed, so people can sit and admire the view or watch the demonstrations.

You can download the programme from the Springfield Sanctuary website. We've tried to include fun events for all the family, so you don't have to be besotted with herbs to attend and can find other things to do and enjoy.

Kathryn has been appointed musical director for the four impromptu concerts, which should include an eclectic range of music, stories and poetry plus anything else anyone brings along (juggling anyone?).

If you're at a loose end this weekend and fancy a trip to the countryside, come and join us!

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Exciting news: Celebrating Herbs Festival 10-12 September

Chris and I are putting the finishing touches to the Herb Festival which will take place on the Sanctuary fields from 7pm Friday, 10 September 2010 to 5pm Sunday 12 September. Our keynote speaker is Anne McIntyre. There will be other talks and demonstrations throughout the weekend on all aspects of herbs from medicine to dyeing. Chris' kite team, Sky Symphony, will be displaying twice on Saturday and Sunday. There will be a kite workshop and stories for children, along with beginners archery. Each evening we will gather for music and stories, so bring your notebook, instrument and voice! To see the provisional programme go here

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

More rushing around!

After trips to Rotherham, Sheffield, Doncaster, Sandwell and Warrington over the past few weeks, we spent a wonderful weekend at the Festival at the Edge indulging in storytelling and folk singers. Monday was spent in London followed by two days at the Cruse conference held at the University of Warwick. Tomorrow we're off to Warwick Folk Festival to stay in the grounds of Stephen's old school and listen to lots of great singers, bands, morris sides and other amazing happenings. I shall still be working in my Birmingham office, but travelling to and from the caravan on Thursday, Friday and Monday.

Does such dashing around allow any time for herbs? Well, we had a glorious workshop on July 10th where we harvested nettle seed, white horehound, SJW, scullcap, lemon balm, sage, ox-eye daises, yarrow, meadowsweet, plantain and betony.

Since then I've put up some tinctures, made meadowsweet and plantain oils and given two herbal talks on roses (to the Mercian Herb Group) and summer herbs (to a residential home for older adults). The rain has reduced my picking to the odd sojourne with the garden SJW - adding to the oil infusing on the windowledge and a small jar of tincture tonight.

The ashwaghanda seedlings are maturing nicely in their pots. I know the online advice says they should be planted straight into the ground, but I dont' trust the slugs in my garden so I have ten plants in pots here and a further 6 in the Sanctuary main bed.

One of the interesting happenings this year has been the appearance of a strange root. I thought I'd inadvertantly dug up a marshmallow root, so I put it in a pot and forgot about it. When it started to grow in spring, it didn't look like anything I'd grown before, so I left it alone and watered it occassionally. It was really exciting when I realised that the root was actually butterfly weed or pleurisy root (Asclepias tuberosa). I first saw this plant growing in California two years ago and although I ordered two plants in two separate years, they'd both seemed to disappear. I'm really glad one has decided to re-appear and is flowering beautifully!

Summer is always a busy time, but soon we'll be off to Cornwall for a well-earned rest! Maybe then I'll have time to put together some new blog posts and prepare for the Herb Festival in September

If you're interested in collaborative poetry, check out my latest posting at Mercian Muse

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

The joys of harvest

After complaining about the lack of time to wildcraft in my last posting, the plants have had the last laugh. Everywhere I look something is either blooming or making its green profusion known for gathering before the flowers bloom.

Harvest began in earnest on 17 June when I wandered around the Priory field picking elderflowers to make into elderflower cordial for the workshop at the farm on June 19th. The recipe can be found here.

Cotswold nettles gathered during my visit on 15 May for tincture and vinegar while Chris was flying kites at the Bidford on Avon Steam Faire, were ready to cut again to make a cold water maceration for workshop participants to drink. I suspect I covered the nettles and a few sprigs of red clover with a little too much water as the resulting infusion was lighter than last year although it did deepen in colour as I reached the bottom of the bowl.

During the workshop we gathered catmint, white horehound, white hyssop, lemon balm and sage which are drying laid out on the sofa of the Sanctuary summerhouse. After everyone left, I picked some beautiful yarrow which was flowering next to the greenhouse.

The plants outside the glass were bright pink while those inside were the usual white of the wild plant. I have no idea what makes the flower change colour. I know the plants are both wild, because they transported themselves to that spot and my parents have never grown cultivars in the garden. I can only think it is something to do with nutrients in the soil. The flowers of farm marjoram is deep pink, almost crimson, while the majoram in my garden on acid, clay soil is always very pale pink.

On the Sunday afternoon, before I left for home, my father helped me pick elderflowers and red clover from the field by the bungalow and I plucked a small handful of dog rose petals – just to feel that I hadn't totally missed out on their beauty. Their scent was glorious!

Once home, the elderflowers were transformed into an elderflower water and a new citrus tincture with the remainder of the harvest were put to dry. The dogrose petals made a new elixir and roses from the garden were added to the garden rose elixir, which has a definite rose scented “kick”.

I used the red clover blossoms which my parents had so carefully picked to make an elixir and tincture and put the whole aerial parts on the table in my garden summerhouse to dry for tea.

The star of all this profusion has to be St John's wort. The first two flowers appeared on midsummer's day and I've picked a bowlful of flowers most days since then. Two full 2lb jars of oil are infusing on the kitchen window sill, two similar jars of tincture sit in the larder - the first one has already turned an amazing shade of red! - and a small jar of honey is infusing next to the oil. I can't remember harevsting so much St John's wort in so little time any other year!

Sean Donohoe inspired me in his article on restoration following heat stroke to make some Lemon balm elixir last weekend . It was one of our hottest days and I spent most of the time sitting in the shade under the apple tree. I've already gathered enough for two jars of tincture and Sunday's harvest was enough for both the elixir and a further jar of tincture.

I can thoroughly recommend a soothing cup of yarrow, plantain, lemon juice and St John's wort honey tea. I made one for myself using leaves growing in between our patio flagstones following a visit to the dentist for a large filling last Friday. As I get older, I find such visits more and more traumatising and normally I am laid out for the rest of the night once the anaesthetic wears off. Maybe it was the skill of my new dentist, but I had absolutely no pain or suffering at all! I think my herbal tea helped too!

So, what are the rest of you out there in the herbal world doing with your herbs at the moment? Are the plants flowering earlier or later than usual? Are they more or less prolific or do you feel the season is moving as it should?

Monday, 14 June 2010

Wildcraft frustration

There are times I envy those who dedicate their entire lives to herbs; who do not face the frustration of other commitments which eat up time and opportunity to respond as seasonal harvests approach.

My first panic attack occurs when pink-tinged hawthorn blossoms appear in hedges. Will there be time to seek out flowers and leaves to make tinctures or flavoured brandy or dry for teas? Things have been easier since we allowed part of our hedge to grow into unruly trees in our back garden. Each May sees them covered with pure white flowers and a small branch makes enough tincture to keep me in medicine for over twelve months.

It only takes half an hour to sit in sunshine and strip everything from the wood into two large glass jars to be covered in vodka and left to mature on the bottom shelf of the larder. This May I wandered into the garden one Sunday morning, still dressed in nightclothes to commune with my hawthorn before getting dressed and leaving to deliver training in Newcastle. Unfortunately we were too early for rose petals below the Angel of the North and no spare time to explore suitable hedgerows for anything else.

At the beginning of June we travelled to Exmouth for the annual kite flying festival. All the way down the M5, I caught tantalising glimpses of white elderflowers, waving ox-eye daisies and pink dog roses, but you can’t stop on a motorway and there are never any places to park a caravan along a quieter road, so I have learned not to remark on any abundance during a journey.

It’s the same if I pass a farm shop, craft market or pottery while we're on holiday. If I mention them to the driver, he will affect that seasonal disorder, “holiday deafness” which means he won’t affect to have heard me until we are at least two miles away from the facility when he will say, “Oh, did you want me to stop?” Of course if there is anything signposted for steam trains, kites, golf or chocolate factories, he will immediately stop the car, turn around and go back! (Before you ask, I’m not really interested in chocolate!)

At least in Exmouth, I knew I could gather some wild fennel and harvested yarrow and burdock leaves to tincture as well. There were no signs of elder trees on the estuary and I’d forgotten the bush overlooking the car park until we drove away, but I wouldn’t really have wanted to gather there.

Last Thursday saw me on a journey from London to Taunton gazing out of a train window at all the beautiful elder trees and dog rose bushes. I even noticed the deeper pink of briar rose bushes. At one point a huge buzzard rose up over a field with a freshly plucked rabbit in its talons! A wonderful reminder of the wild, secret life which continues as we pass by.

My plan was to scour our caravan site near Dunster for elderflowers and rose petals the following day while we prepared for my sister in law’s medieval wedding in the Tenants Hall at Dunster Castle on Saturday. I’d forgotten that most large caravan sites are heavily manicured - not an unruly hedge in sight and no sign of either an elder tree or a rose bush – very frustrating!

It didn’t help that Chris could only think about football and the wedding, so I was left to wander around gathering ivy from oak trees and willow fronds from beside the stream to make myself a circlet to go with my medieval costume for the evening banquet.

Now I will be shut up in my office for a week with piano pupils to teach after work and no time to explore the highways and byways until next weekend. Waiting for the train this morning, the elder tree in the hedge looked decidedly green after all the recent rain, so I can only hope there will be some blossoms left to harvest at the farm next weekend!

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

June Blog Parties - Calls for submissions

I don't know where May went to. Well, I do - a lot of it was spent on the M1 travelling "up north". The two weeks we were away seemed to stretch into at least a month of events and experiences. I missed both blog parties, which was upsetting as I had worked out what I wanted to write for both, but had no time or energy to transfer the words from my head onto the computer. Maybe those of you who read this blog could let me know if you would like to read my thoughts on speedwell and "Keeping yourself alive: sexuality in maturity". If so, I might post them later in the year.

The next UK Herbarium blog party will be hosted by Lucinda over at Whispering Earth. Her chosen subject is “Leaf and Blossom, Bark and Berry: My Favourite Tree Medicines“. Lucinda is flexible as to her definition of ‘tree’and shrubs such as crampbark and blackberry can be included. This is actually a good time to talk about crampbark because it is probably the only bark collected while the tree is flowering, usually, bark is harvested when trees are asleep.

If you haven’t joined the UK blog party before but would like to it’s easy; write a piece and add it to your blog and send Lucinda the link before the 20th June and she’ll add it to the list on her blog on the 20th. If you don’t have your own blog, if you send your post to Debs Cook as a word document to debs at herbal dash haven dot co dot uk. She will then add it as a guest post to the UK Herbarium blog.

The Herbwifery Forum International blog party for June is on the subject of "Beating the heat of summer" and will be hosted by Kristine Brown on her blog Dancing in a field of Tansy I might have trouble with this subject as I can't remember the last time we had a hot summer!

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

A fairy tale

Some of the folk over at Down to Earth Forum have been discussing anxiety - when it occurs and what can be helpful in managing the emotion. I asked if they knew the story of the soldier, the inn and the axe. It was one told me by my mother when I was a child - the moral being that it is never worth worrying about something which might never happen. Some people asked to be told the story, so I have written my own version from what I can remember and have posted it here.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

April blog party: Herbs for aches and pains

This post is a belated addition to the April UK Herbarium blog party - better late than never!

It took me years to appreciate the subtleties of pain. My first insight came from discussing different methods of pain control during labour with an anaesthesiologist as part of a year long study of parentcraft classes offered by our local community midwifery services. We talked about relaxation techniques, drugs, tens machines and an innovative offering of acupuncture.

I knew about gas and air – it was my only pain relieve when my three children were born. Later I learned that pethidine was also a common form of pain relief offered at accident scenes and in ambulances with the dangers of addiction. Individuals would be blacklisted by the service if they appeared to be asking for the drug for very minor incidents.

Later, I became involved with facilitating patient feedback from a pain clinic. Once more there was a hierarchy of distraction, relaxation and acupuncture before the drugs and nerve blocks were offered. It is interesting that my sister has gained great benefit from the acupuncture offered at her local pain clinic in Derby, something she wasn’t expecting when it was first offered!

Some years ago I attended a lecture on pain management from the medical director of our local hospice when I started to become involved in the development of end of life services. He talked about the two different pain trees – aspirin and paracetamol /opiate derivatives and the importance of understanding the source of the pain before offering something to help the individual cope.

He also stressed the involvement of emotional and spiritual aspects to pain – something you don’t expect to hear about in a post-graduate lecture theatre – but which hospice doctors are often adept in discovering and helping with because they take time to talk to their patients and are not afraid to discuss the most difficult subjects. Even more importantly, they take time to listen.

It really should come as no surprise to learn we hold emotional pain within different areas of our bodies. This is very evident from research done on back pain. I remember a talk from a skilled osteopath, who told the story of a lady who came to him with chronic back problems. As he worked on her back, she told him how unhappy she had become since her husband retired. Their time together was nothing like she imagined it would be and his invasion of what had been her personal space and activities because he no longer had anything else to do, was proving intolerable.

Once she identified her “real problem”, her back pain disappeared, helped not only by the osteopath’s skills but his ability to listen and support her in talking about her situation.

Aches and pains should never be ignored. They are messages from the body to tell us something is happening or needs to happen. Hopefully those messages allow us to act before pain becomes so intense we lose the ability to function. Everyone is different. Everyone responds to pain in a different way.

Having observed the difference in response to pain in my family and Chris’ family, I have come to the conclusion some of it is neurological – some people’s nerves are closer to the surface and are more vulnerable – and some is learned behaviour. It is much easier to deal with pain with a calm demeanour rather than rushing around shrieking as if the world were ending!

So where do herbs come in to all this?

As always, herbs can be fantastic allies within a regime to support the whole person. Where aches and pains are concerned I would actually extend the whole person concept to the whole family. Being emotionally attached to someone in pain can be the most difficult thing anyone has to endure. You cannot bear their pain for them, however much you wish to.

The guilt and concern of being pain free when someone else is hurting also needs to be addressed and supported. Nervines can be helpful in this situation – chamomile, lemon balm, motherwort, skullcap and even St John’s wort as either teas or tinctures can be helpful in stressful situations. Remember that children are able to cope much better with either their physical or emotional pain if the person who cares for them is perceived to be strong.

Pain often comes from muscle tension or spasms. Anything which eases the tension either through warmth, relaxation or massage can be extremely helpful. No household should be without a hot water bottle and/or a wheat pillow which can be heated and laid over the affected part.

Fomentations and poultices can also be used in the same manner – chamomile, mustard, horseradish, ginger – always remembering to check the area regularly to prevent skin blistering.

Many herbs can provide relief when administered in a soothing massage oil or salve.

Dandelion flower oil is useful for a light muscle massage. Last year I went to give a herb talk at a sheltered housing complex. One of the women asked if I had anything for the pain in her shoulder. The only oil I’d taken with me was dandelion flower, so I gave her the salve and told her to rub it in and see what happened. She reported the pain eased considerably.

Rosemary is a favourite for soothing back massages. A German friend of mine is a professional oboist. His orchestra pit is very cramped as it is almost underneath the stage and he has to hold the same position for long periods whilst he is playing. He suffers with severe back aches and pains which have been greatly helped by his wife massaging him with rosemary oil. I made them a selection of St John’s wort, angelica and rosemary oils to take home with them one year and before we met the following year, they requested another batch of rosemary oil!

Golden rod infused oil can be another help in deep muscle massage.

Where pain has a nerve component such as sciatica, St John’s wort and rosemary oil blended together can bring relief. If there is also an inflammatory element, St John’s wort and meadowsweet can bring relief.

Pain from inflammation also needs to be treated internally. I’ve found plantain, calendula and turmeric to be especially helpful here. Sage and elderflower can often be used for their cooling effects.

Where muscles are actually spasming, crampbark can be helpful. When dealing with period pains, Howie Brounstein pointed out that menstrual pain is a bit like having bitters in our diet - you want to know our abdominal muscles are working at maximum capacity to ensure they are removing the womb lining in the most efficient way. To remove the pain entirely, to lose any efficacy of their function is actually counter productive.

If you do suffer with monthly or occasional problems, I would suggest reading the relevant chapters of Carol Wood's book, "The Woman's Guide to Herbal Medicine" which is available online. Her chapter on menstrual problems is very comprehensive, giving ideas for dietary changes, exercises and herbal supplements which can help with PMT and menstrual pain. She suggests cutting out wheat and wheat products for a month if you have a tendency towards bloating and says that severe pain can sometimes be cause by lack of calcium which can be helped with calcium supplements.

If the muscle spasms are in your legs, then crampbark tincture and magnesium supplements can be helpful. If the spasms could be of a nervous origin, you may want to try a gentle nervine. A friend of mine was suffering with spasms in her upper abdominal muscles recently. She came to one of the talks I was giving for the Mercian Herb Group where various tinctures were handed round for people to try. She liked the motherwort tincture so much, I gave her the bottle to take home with her and she told me recently the spasms are much diminished.

Pain can also come from joint damage or disintegration. Matthew Wood and Jim Macdonald have been doing a lot of work with using mullein root for straitening the spine and solomon’s seal for supporting the regeneration of mucous membranes and cartilage around joints. You can find Jim’s excellent discussion papers on the two herbs here

During the February workshop, one of the participants created a salve for her frozen shoulder with Solomon’s seal root, plantain and St John’s wort oil. She emailed me later in the week to say she had used it and been able to sleep without pain for the first time for weeks.

One of my apprentices also created an arthritis salve during the previous year’s salve workshop. He used plantain, ginger, SJW and meadowsweet. He gave it to his father for the arthritis in his hands. His father reported the salve had been the most effective pain-resolver he had ever used. His mother in law also tried it and found it helped her arthritis as well.

Children can also suffer joint pain. Most parents will be woken in the night at some stage of their child’s development by screams relating to “my knees hurt”. In my pre-herbal days, I soon learned that wrapping the offending joint in firm bandages was just as effective as a dose of Calpol and today I would also massage with St John’s wort oil. Some children also benefit from physiotherapy to help them stretch their limbs, especially if they have excessive “growth spurts”.

This has been a long post, but aches and pains are a complex area of study. I haven’t mentioned using Californian poppy or our own field poppy which will soon be gracing the fields. I have not used them yet, but maybe, one day, I shall have stories to share about these plants.

In conclusion, the next time you find yourself or your loved one in pain, it may be helpful to answer the following questions.
How did this pain arise?
Will it feel better if I rub it, warm it or cool it?
Will it feel better if I gently stretch or move around?
Who might be my herbal ally at this point in time?
How can I help myself relax/rest?
And when the pain is diminished, ask yourself what you have learned!

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Update since Spain

I can hardly believe it is only two weeks since we returned home from Spain. The physical exhaustion of 32 hours in one position with little sleep really took its toll both physically and mentally. There seemed to be no time to recover before we were having to cope with various family stressors coupled with another weekend away at the farm.

The herb workshop was lovely and you will see some photos on the right of the blog. Everyone had fun. We planted lots of herbs and seeds and Chris even managed to give most of the summerhouse a new coat of preservative.

Daffodils were fading fast in the glorious, warm sunshine, but the whole Sanctuary was alive with blues, whites and yellows from forgetmenots, ground ivy, dandelions and creeping comfrey.

Even though I was exhausted, the supper party for my uncle and aunt’s golden wedding was great fun. I sat next to an Egyptologist from Oxford University and spent most of the time quizzing him about his lifelong research – Egyptian methods of preparing the soul for the afterlife. One of his students has just completed a PhD on Egyptian interpretations of dreams. I would be fascinated to read it and compare their interpretations to those of Freud and other writers.

Sitting opposite me was an expert on orchids and she has agreed to identify the new orchid which appeared in the field this time last year.

It would be hoped that a Bank Holiday signifies a time of rest and relaxation – maybe with a few hours spent pottering in the garden or sowing vegetable seeds. As always, the forecast was grim. It was to be expected temperatures would return to freezing since blackthorn blossom was in such profusion in the hedgerows!

Chris spent most of Saturday creating a portable framework to carry the backdrop for Kathryn’s musical, The Girl with the Crystal Heart, which is being performed in the Dovehouse Theatre at Langley School tonight and tomorrow night. My job, besides providing the embroidery prop, was to feed the cast and extras during the Sunday dress rehearsal and on performance days.

So Bank Holiday Saturday was spent picking nettles, garlic mustard and sorrel from the garden and turning them into nettle pesto and nettle and sorrel soup. Henriette Kress asked for the recipes when I mentioned them on Facebook, so here they are.

Nettle pesto
4oz pine nuts
4 oz grated parmesan cheese
2 crushed garlic cloves
Leaves and flowers from six garlic mustard plants
Enough nettle leaves to fill a 1 pint saucepan
8 fl oz extra virgin olive oil.
A handful of fresh basil leaves
Blanch nettles and garlic mustard leaves for one minute in boiling water. Drain. Transfer leaves, pine nuts, cheese and garlic cloves to liquidiser and keep adding olive oil until the mixture blends easily. The original recipe calls for about 4 oz of olive oil, but my leaves were in such a compact block, I had to use loads of oil. This made 2 jars of pesto and tastes really good.

Nettle and sorrel soup
4/5 pints rich chicken stock made by boiling a chicken carcass for 4 hours with 2 tablespoons winter savory vinegar, 2 dried bay leaves, 5 peppercorns, a sliced onion and 3 sticks sliced celery. When using stock, discard herbs and chicken bones but retain vegetables for the soup.
½ basket of nettle leaves removed from their stalks
2 large handfuls of fresh sorrel (I gathered most of my plant). You could use less and cook for less time than I did.
2 peeled and sliced carrots and potatoes.
Salt and pepper to taste.
Add fresh ingredients to the stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes or until potatoes and carrots are just soft. Blend, check seasoning and serve with fresh bread topped with pesto!

Sunday I made two and a half loaves of sandwiches for the thespians, chicken a la king, flapjack, ten pints of steak and kidney stew and a vegetarian curry.

Bank holiday Monday, cooking completed, I made double infused oils with the rosemary and thyme collected in Spain. I also cleared the backlog of tinctures still left in the larder – skullcap, dandelion leaves, dandelion roots, Jim Macdonald’s wonderful bitter!, an opal fruits tincture, citric bitter and a forgotten bergamot elixir. Perhaps now I will have room to make some more!

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Guest blog post: Cleavers

Today's guest blogpost is by Jacki, another of my apprentices. She tells the story of her discovery of cleavers


Until a few weeks ago I’d never even heard of Cleavers (Galium aparine)! I hadn’t included it as one of my herbs to study as part of the apprenticeship with Sarah. I guess I couldn’t have really if I’d never heard of it! I’ve become more aware of it and how it could be useful to me. Recently, I started asking questions and researching it and, as promised, below is the outcome.

I do recall it growing, at the bottom of my garden, sometimes completely covering the old fencing by the end of summer. Since the new fencing was erected I don’t see it anymore. I think it has ended up in my neighbour’s garden. I wonder if I could ask for it back! I doubt it still exists to be honest; she is very handy with the weedkiller spray.

I can’t remember what first drew my attention to it more recently. I’m thinking perhaps I was just browsing in a book and one of the alternative names given to it caught my eye. Afterall, who wouldn’t be curious about a name like ‘sticky willy?!

It has many other names: Goosegrass, Barweed, Catchweed, Cleavers, Cleavers Goosegrass, Cleever, Clivers, Eriffe, Goosebill, Goosegrass, Grateron, Grip Grass, Hayriffe, Hayruff, Hedge Clivers, Hedgeheriff, Loveman, Mutton Chops, Robin-run-in-the-Grass, Scratweed, to name a few.

It’s found in Australia, Britain, China, Europe, Iraq, Mexico, Turkey and the US. It grows anywhere but prefers a loose moist soil in partial shade. It will reproduce easily and can be invasive (really!). Although the origin is debatable Angela Paine has included it in her book exclusively about Celtic Herbs.

It uses little hooked bristles on the stems and leaves to attach itself to objects and climb its way upwards. I remember looking at it one year and feeling the fuzzy roughness.

The leaves are narrow, spear-shaped and occur in rounds of six to eight leaves, at intervals, along the stem. Flowers bloom April thru til September. They are white and star-like, growing on a separate stem rising from the same point as the leaves. The seeds are contained in little round balls, covered with hooked bristles that attach themselves to everything and anything that brushes passed them, which ensures dispersal of the seeds.

It is edible raw. I have a friend who has started cutting it up and putting it on her porridge in the morning...but I’ve always thought her rather strange! It can be used as a pot-herb (which my online dictionary tells me means, any plant having leaves, flowers, stems, etc., that are used in cooking for seasoning and flavouring or are eaten as a vegetable) or it can be added to soups. I have a lovely recipe for a kind of pastry-less quiche. I often make it when I have a glut of eggs. It is great warm but can be sliced and eaten cold. It contains, butternut squash (or is it sweet potato?), red onions, eggs, spinach and is topped with feta cheese before baking. I would like to try substituting the spinach for cleavers one day.

I read somewhere (?) that using the plant as a vegetable has a slimming effect on the body but there wasn’t any further explanation. Perhaps it is how it helps the elimination process that accounts for this but I’m unsure. Does anybody have any further information?

Several sources quote Cleaver seeds as a good coffee substitute. It simply needs to be dried and lightly roasted and supposedly has much the same flavour as coffee. I find it quite surprising that this isn’t better known. I have every intention of collecting the seeds and will, hopefully, be trying it out on beware! I thought a good way of accumulating a large enough supply would be to simply send the dogs off through the undergrowth because they will come back covered in them whether I want them to or not. For some reason Sarah didn’t seem to think this would be the best way to harvest the seed!

Medicinally it is used both internally and externally in the treatment of a wide range of ailments.

A quick inventory: it is said to be alterative (gradually induces a change, tending to cure or restore to health), anti-inflammatory, antiphlogistic (counteracting inflammation), aperients (purgative), astringent, depurative (promotes elimination via natural channels of the body), diaphoretic (inducing perspiration), diuretic, febrifuge (lowers body temperature to prevent or alleviate fever), tonic and vulnerary (wound healing).

(Please forgive my need for the definition of certain words but I had to go back to my dictionary to clarify some of the meanings)

The fresh plant or juice is used as a medicinal poultice for wounds or ulcers. Other skin problems such as seborrhoea (greasy, oily), eczema and psoriasis will benefit from using it externally on the affected area. A ‘tea’ can be made for this by placing one teaspoon (I’m guessing this means dried) of cleavers in a cup of boiling water and allowing the mixture to steep for at least thirty minutes. Use it to wash the skin when it has cooled. It is a good hair tonic and can help alleviate dandruff.

Cleavers is an excellent herb for the urinary system. It increases the amount of toxicity eliminated by the kidneys and can help soothe cystitis.

As a good cleansing herb it will assist liver problems. It will help clear the liver of toxins. Cleavers is often used to detoxify after long periods of using medications that damage the body. It is a general detoxifying agent in serious illnesses such as cancer. It is used particularly for cancer involving the lymphatic system.

Cleavers stimulate the lymphatic system and relieves swollen lymph glands. The lymphatic system is responsible for eliminating the toxins and waste products that accumulate in the body. If the system is not functioning properly the removal of the toxins can become sluggish and impaired. Too much toxicity and the lymphatic system can actually become damaged itself.

Its detoxifying effect can help rheumatoid arthritis and gout. I think I also saw some information about cleavers being useful for high blood pressure but I seem to have lost that somewhere along the way.

An infusion of the herb has shown to benefit in the treatment of glandular fever, tonsillitis and hepatitis.

Now for the science bit! I’m only copying this bit in case somebody thinks it’s useful, it’s all a bit over my head at the moment (even with the help of a dictionary). The plant contains organic acids, flavonoids, tannins, fatty acids, glycoside asperuloside, gallotannic acid and citric acid. It also contains the constituent asperuloside, a substance that is converted into prostaglandins by the body. Prostaglandins are hormone-like compounds that stimulate the uterus and affect blood vessels.

A medicinal tea is simply: 3 heaped tablespoons of dried or fresh herb to a pint of boiling water. Allow to stand for 10 minutes and when cool take mouthful doses throughout the day.

Another recipe I found is: Place one teaspoon cleavers and one teaspoon uva ursi in a cup of boiling water and allow the mixture to steep for thirty minutes then drain. Add honey to sweeten if the tea is too bitter for your taste.

Just for interest I’m also listing some of the other uses I found for it while I was doing this research:

· Several Native American tribes used an infusion of the plant for gonorrhoea.

· It has been used as a love medicine by one North American tribe. An infusion of the plant was used as a bath by women to be successful in love.

· Gerard writes of Clivers as a marvellous remedy for the bites of snakes, spiders and all venomous creatures (one advantage living in England – no seriously venomous critters around).

· It provides food for the larvae of many butterfly species.

· A red dye is obtained from a decoction of the root.

· A thick matt of the stems, when used as a sieve for filtering milk, was said to give healing properties to the milk and is still used in Sweden for that purpose.

My particular interest is twofold. Firstly, I have a cat, Princess Icky Poo, she has kidney disease and also often gets cystitis. Damage to the kidneys is irreversible and progressive so I’m really interested in anything that will help with the management of the problem. I chopped some fresh leaves very finely and added them to her usual wet food. I was delighted when later I examined the bowl to discover almost all the leaves were gone. Incidentally, I also regularly give her parsley the same way.

Before anybody tells me off, I did check it was OK to give her cleavers before including them in her meal. It would seem that I’m not the first to make the connection. Gregory Tilford in his book, Herbs for Pets, states that, ‘cleavers is a safe long-term aid in the treatment of feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD), and the herb may also be useful for chronic low-grade kidney inflammation’.

Oh and did I mention that the dogs, rabbit, chickens and parrots are all having some too?!

The second reason for my interest is more personal, I want to use it for its detoxifying properties. I may include other herbs at a later date but firstly I’m just going to use cleavers so I can better monitor the result.

I started to realise, that if I’m going to use the herb over a significant amount of time, I could have a problem. I am going to need to store it. An easy way to do this would be making a tincture using a reliable method but I don’t want to work using alcohol so that’s when I started to get really confused. Although some sources suggest drying, others seem to think that it is not a good idea because it can lose too much of its potency by the drying process. It sounds simple enough to dry the herb but how would I know if it lost its worth? It’s annoying because I’m sure you can actually buy cleavers as a dried powder.

Juicing seemed to be the next suggestion. What a palaver, I thought but apparently not according to some. Note to self, don’t bother re-decorating the kitchin before attempting this. Actually, upstairs I have a juicer. I bought it a couple of years ago (literally) for my daughter but as it is still upstairs, unopened and unused I might just claim it back for myself. Having extracted the juice it can be frozen. One idea is to freeze it in ice cube trays. Once frozen, they can be popped into a tightly sealed polybag for storing.

The next problem seems to be collecting it. It’s more an issue of when rather than how. I think even I can master the gathering process! Apparently, cleavers has a very short life cycle and is best harvested from the beginning to the middle of its flowering period, which seems to mean that it can only be harvested for about a week! Do I really have to be monitoring the parks and canals daily waiting for just the right moment to go collecting my stash? Other information suggests that it needs gathering before it flowers. This seems a lot simpler information and makes much more sense, to me, the worth of the plant will go into the flowering process. It also gets tougher with age.

Incidentally, I have just seen mentioned that I could make a cleavers vinegar. I don’t think Princess Icky Poo will be that impressed but it will be good for me. I wonder what it would taste like in honey.

I’m looking for recipes to try out now. I want to find and try as many as possible.

Most of my work thus far is mainly theory as I explored this worthwhile ally. I guess what I have really shared is my investigation and decision making process. I will need to update it at some point to including my successes, failures and conclusions.

The best bit is I also discovered that much more scientific research is being done on the plant and it is of great interest to pharmaceutical companies. Do you think they will contact me if they need any help?!

Postscript. I have been experimenting with the recipe from Brigette

The truth is I saw the recipe and instantly changed it (typical). I exchanged the macaroni for wholewheat pasta and because I don’t know what onion weed is I use an onion and then put in whatever else I want (e.g. cleavers, nettle). It’s a good way to ‘hide’ the herb! It’s really simple and taste lovely.

I’m looking forward to trying it using ‘jack by the hedge’ (garlic mustard) but haven’t found any near where I live yet.


Gregory L. Tilford, Herbs for Pets (2001)

David Conway, The Magic of Herbs (1973)

Richard Mabey, The New Age Herbalist (1988)

M Grieve (Mrs), A Modern Herbal (1931)

Angela Paine, The Healing Power of Celtic Herbs (2006)

Annies Remedies:

Deb Jackson & Karen Bergeron:

Michael Vertolli:

Brigitte Myherbcorner:

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

April UK Blog party: Herbs for aches and pains

April's more clement weather sees most of us out working with plants in whichever way we can. Increased activity can often bring aches and pains to areas we haven't used in a while. Here are some fascinating articles for this month's blog party. Thank you to everyone who has participated this month. My article will be a little late as I'm recovering from a 32 hour coach journey through Spain and France to get home after our flights were cancelled due to the Icelandic volanic eruption. I know I shall be trying out new recipes to help with my aches and pains!

Brigitte offers some helpful advice on preventing aches as well as recipes to treat them if they do occur

Debs shared some exciting recipes for bath soak, salve and linament in her article here

Elizabeth has been studying sweet marjoram for her contribution to the blog party and has found new ways to help aches.

Lucinda reminds us we can never lump any kind of malaise into one "idea", but need to discover which herb best helps which kind of condition.

My contribution covers my experience of learning about different pains and their controls and how herbs can be helpful.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Seeking more sun

What can one say? The sun is shining and promises to remain for the entire weekend. We shan’t be around to enjoy its Spring warmth as we’re jetting off to sample the delights of Spain for the first time with old friends.

It seems strange to be travelling to a country whose language I don’t speak, yet I’ve probably met more Spanish speakers than English speakers in California, but most of them were bi-lingual. Spain is one of the few countries which refuses to pander to immigrants. They will pay for you to learn Spanish, but won’t provide interpreters or provide any information in other languages.

This seems a completely different way of thinking from our own, where Equal Opportunities legislation impels everyone to provide access to information in someone’s mother tongue. As I sit at my office desk, I frequently receive emails asking for Polish or Punjabi speakers and several of my colleagues have Russian speaking clients. We have an office in Spain, so fluent Spanish speakers are easily accessible, but I remember interviewing a Spanish doctor once who wanted to be trained as a psychiatrist and her English was the worst I’d ever heard, so I’m not sure her country’s ethos supports those who wish to work abroad.

Richard and Laura visit Spain regularly to train with their skydiving colleagues. Richard studied Spanish at school, but like his siblings and father, did not enjoy languages. This always makes me sad, because I loved learning French, German and Latin, even writing poems in French during a long holiday in Le Mans!

Kathryn has also travelled there before me, staying in her boyfriend's Grandmother's apartment. They loved the heat and wonderful sea food, so I'm looking forward to trying some paella and other dishes.

I’m wondering what herbs I’ll come across in Spain or whether the golf complex we’re going to will only nurture grass rather than green in general. Whatever I find will be an adventure and I’ll share some of the pictures when we return.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Celebrating a Herbal Springtime

This post is part of the Herbwifery Forum April blog party hosted by Cory Su on her blog Aquarian Bath

Spring evaded us for longer this year. Now the waiting is over as suddenly my garden is swathed in yellow. Forsythia blossoms hang from the naked cherry tree like a sunshine waterfall. Daffodils, primroses and cowslips offer yellow beacons amidst the dark brown earth, while a solitary primula promises red flowers in the near future.

Gooseberry and blackcurrant bushes have already unfurled their vibrant green leaves. Red currants and raspberry canes will not be far behind. I can see leaf buds swelling on the hawthorn hedge like a grey/green mist as I check the new plum trees for signs of contentment with their new home.

Spring brings bursts of new energy. Friday night saw me collecting nettles, garlic mustard, spinach and sorrel from the garden for my workshop soup. Already their different shades of green are painting a new palate together with the stalwarts of winter – holly, ivy, laurel, rosemary and yew.

Early fronds of St John’s wort have been growing for several months now, their lemony tang a burst of flavour on my tongue. Sea holly shoots are blue/green compared with their shiny green golden rod neighbours. A touch of red nearby reveals new rhubarb stalks, their green curled leaves waiting to explode against the hedge.

In the shade of the laurel hedge, violet flowers offer a swathe of colour amidst the green. Early rosettes of other herbs are beginning to make their mark – lemon balm, mint, vervain, valerian, while yarrow fronds wave at me as I step outside the back door. Their roots run deep beneath the paving slabs, but they grow straight and tall if left alone.

Underneath the bench a tiny elder tree hides, grown from an escaped berry two or three years ago. It cannot stay where it is, but neither can I move it without re-arranging the terrace. It may be safe for one more year, but then, who knows!

Spring can also bring sacrifices. This year it was angelica. Last year it grew happily behind the Mexican orange bush, but that has gone to make way for summer vegetables. If the angelica stayed, it would shade smaller plants and make the bed more difficult to manage.

It was a sturdy plant, defying the frosts and snow of winter, returning to full strength as temperatures rose and daylight lengthened. We tasted her leaves, bathing ourselves in her fragrance. She was photographed before being dug, then carefully washed and taken indoors to be swathed in honey and vinegar; her essence transferring to different mediums to nourish others.

Over the weekend, a single buff-tailed bumblebee buzzed her way around the garden. I watched her resting on the white patio door while I washed newly dug dandelions on the patio table, noting their difference from Cotswold cousins. The leaves were immersed in vinegar. Half the roots were chopped and roasted in the oven before joining their fresh counterparts, together with grated ginger root, dried orange peel and a pinch of ground black cardamom to be covered with vodka for a bitter tonic.

These are my first medicines of spring. Tonight they will be shared with another group, opening their hearts and minds to the endless possibilities of nature – food and medicines close at hand in their own gardens.

Friday, 26 March 2010

April UK Blog party: Herbs for aches and pains

I'm hosting the UK Herbarium blog party on 20th April. A recent posting on the Herb Society Forum started me thinking about all the new aches and pains we gather as we start back working in the garden, or generally exercise more because of the lengthening days and hopefully more clement weather.

What are your favourite herbs to use at these times? Is it a salve or oil to massage in to the aching area, or do you opt for a herbal liqueur to savour as you take your ease?

Please send me the url for your blog party posting either as a comment here or to my email address, sarah at headology dot co dot uk before 20th April and I will reveal them all on the day!

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Ostara blessings

It feels as if spring is finally coming our way. To help you celebrate the Equinox, I have posted two stories on Mercian Muse

Thursday, 18 March 2010

March UK Blog Party: My Herbal Treasure -Violet

They say violets flower from the end of winter until early Spring, but I will always associate them with Mothering Sunday. We would go to our local Cotswold church and be given bunches of primroses and violets to pass on to our mother as a small gift.

One year, Rev Walker, gave us a special card to go with our flowers. My sister’s card was a picture of a chancel with sun cascading in through the window and an appropriate verse, mine was a bunch of violets.

I always loved their scent. It was one of the perfumes of spring, delicate and short-lived. To me it bore no resemblance to the commercially scented sweets my grandmother sometimes offered.

There were few cars along our narrow country roads when I was young. It was safe enough for my sister and I to cycle the short way to the local quarry – then a dumping ground for the village. We would go to see what had been left, clambering over piles of earth to reach the farthest point where our small garden lay. There we transplanted snowdrops, primroses and violets, watching them grow and flourish in the warmth of each new spring before summer covered everything with nettles and we stayed at home.

We had no primroses or violets on our farm, so we dug up a few plants from our quarry garden and took them elsewhere – primroses in the garden and violets sheltered behind wiry hawthorn trees where they would be safe from cattle or sheep.

Those hawthorn trees are now part of the Sanctuary and violets spread a bright green carpet across the earth.

Susun Weed was the first person to draw my attention to violet as a medicinal herb in her book, Healing Wise. She talked about violet’s nutritional support for women. Her words were wonderful, but they didn’t mean anything to me until Rebecca Hartman, Kiva Rose Hardin and Darcey Blue French were discussing the amounts of mucilage present in leaves of viola odorata’s cousin, viola tricola (heartease).

“I wonder what they mean,” I thought to myself, never having chewed a violet leaf.

A few days later I was wandering by myself in the Sanctuary. Taking my courage in both hands, I plucked two violet leaves and chewed them. There was no real flavour, but as the leaves decomposed in my mouth, I discovered the mucilage.

It was a revelation – fleeting, but noticeable. It reminded me of the tiny remains after the shell of a Smartie had been carefully crushed between my teeth as a child and worked until a scrap of goo remained.

I now understood what mucilaginous and demulcent meant.

Like all herbs, violet is not just one thing. For a start, her scented purple flowers are not true flowers at all. Those appear later. They are green and hide underneath leaves where no-one can see them.

Violet is described as an “alterative” or “blood purifier”, a perfect addition to spring salads or mineral-rich hot, long infusions. Susun Weed adds her to red clover, plantain and nettles. Jim Mcdonald likes to combine her with hawthorn and oatstraw.

From times long past violet has been used to soothe hot, dry coughs such as whooping cough, congestion and sore throats. Rebecca Hartman has a lovely recipe for blender juice made from “weeds from your lawn” – plantain, chickweed, violet and mallows. She picks the leaves, washes them if necessary then throws them in her liquidiser with some cold water, blends, then leaves them for a short while before blending again then straining and drinking.

It is important to use cold water if you want to extract the most mucilage from a plant. It is the mucilage which coats and soothes the dry throat and chest. It can also help with irritated bowels or be sponged on sunburn.

Violet is not a single season herb. The leaves grow all year round, even surviving the recent months of snow and ice. Something has been feasting on the violet leaves in my garden and the ones in the Sanctuary look very small and fragile, but vibrant. I only found three flowers blooming last weekend, so I won’t be making violet syrup this year.

Susun Weed’s recipe for violet syrup
1/2 pound/225g fresh violets
2 cups/500ml water
2 cups/500ml honey
Enlist all the help you can to pick violet blossoms. Boil water; pour over blossoms; cover. Let steep overnight in nonmetallic container. Strain out flowers. Reserve purple liquid. Combine violet infusion and honey. Simmer gently, stirring, for ten or fifteen minutes, until it seems like syrup. Fill clean jars. Cool. Keep well chilled to preserve.

Violet syrup from the website
Pour 1 pint of boiling water over 1 cup packed, of fresh crushed flowers and leaves, cover and let stand for 12 hours. Strain and squeeze through cloth, add 2 lb. of sugar and boil for 1 hour or until syrupy. Store in glass jar. Give 1 tbs. (1 tsp. for children) 2 or 3 times a day.

Violets contain many different compounds including vitamins A&C and salicylic acid, which means it can be taken for headaches, migraines, body pain and as a sedative. Apparently work is also being done with breast cysts – using violet both internally and externally as a poultice – and with HIV and cancers. It’s not a good idea to eat the roots unless you need an emetic!

I use her mainly as a double infused oil to offer added moisture to any salve I am making. Like her cousin, heartsease, she is good with irritable skin conditions and plays her part in soothing troubled hearts. She is also a wonderful teaching aid. Anyone who visits the Sanctuary is offered a leaf to chew, a new experience to bring delight and wonder.

Violets allow me to focus on both past and present. Their scent reminds me of a carefree childhood, while their leaves show me the wealth of support she is able to offer to mankind.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

UK March Blog Party: My Herbal Treasures in March

Brigitte has announced the subject for this months blog party, its “My Herbal Treasures In March”, information and instructions from Brigitte’s blog My Herb Corner are:-

“Spring and Autumn are the best seasons to dig up things like dandelion roots for coffee or medicine, so we might share the same things at the same time in the Northern- and Southern Hemisphere of this beautiful planet.

If you live in the UK or Commonwealth you are invited to share your favorite herb(s), recipe(s) or harvest of this special month.

Post it on your blog before the 20th of March and send the link to:
brigitte at myherbcorner dot com

I will collect all posts and will open the party with the links here on myherbcorner on the 20th of March.

If you like you can make yourself a cup of plantain tea which is my favorite herb. You will find some words about this lovely herb on the 20th and I hope you join in the fun. I am already curious about your post”

Apologies for the late posting of this announcement, I've been busy digging in the garden and away training in Cambridge this week. Hopefully there is still time for you to think of a subject and get the links to Brigitte. If you need somewhere to post, let me know.