Thursday, 31 May 2012

On holiday with herbs

After a frantic two months of hospital visits, house improvements, cooking and gardening, we're now on holiday in the West Country for two weeks. We started off in Exmouth at the Rotary Club's annual kite festival. Sky Symphony were performing alongside other sport kite display teams such as Air Dynamics and Flame, the international revolution formation team, The Decorators and Avon Kite Fliers' single string soft body kites.

The Kite Festival takes place on public ground next to the estuary where sunsets are spectacular against the opposing hills and fennel grows in abundance. This year I thought to create a new tea using what I'd brought with me and what I could gather along the estuary banks. It was a delightful drink served either hot or cold.

Exmouth Estuary Tea
4 large fronds of fennel roughly ripped
1 handful of hawthorn blossom
1 elderflower
1” peeled ginger root chopped fine
1 sliced orange
Place everything in a large heat proof jug and pour over up to 1litre or 2 pints of just boiled water. Cover and infuse for ten minutes. Drink warm or chill. It will keep for up to 24 hours.

When the festival finished on Sunday evening, we moved on to southern Devon. We are now based at Lydford, a small village with a rich and ancient past. In Saxon times it was a significant town as important as Exeter, but once the Normans invaded, the domain ended up with Richard, Duke of Cornwall who built a tower used as court and prison where summary justice was dealt to the surrounding populace. It gave rise to the saying that they “Hung and drawn at dawn, then proceeded to the hearing”!

Lydford is also well known for the spectacular Gorge, now managed by the National Trust. Despite intending to have a rest day on Monday, we couldn't resist walking around the Gorge with the White Lady's waterfall and Devil's Cauldron. The round trip of five miles was stunningly beautiful and well worth undertaking, but I managed to damage my big toes with significant bruising.

I was really worried that pressure would build up behind the nail and need lancing, so I took my foraging basket around the caravan park and immediately found yarrow and plantain. These were added to cleavers and what looked like wild valerian leaves to make a strong tea. Then I soaked my feet in a small bowl sitting outside on the grass wrapped up in my purple cloak until the footbath was cold. A spit poultice of more yarrow and plantain was tied around my big toe with a piece of old sheet at 2 hourly intervals and kept on overnight.

The throbbing disappeared by morning and thankfully there was no problem walking in sandals the next day. My toes were still tender to touch, but no swelling. Walking around Morewellham Quay where they filmed the Edwardian Farm was a really enjoyable experience, but the heat and extra exercise did make my ankles swell and my toe look fairly angry, so I spent the evening with my feet up and my toe ensconced in another spit poultice overnight. It is healing slowly.

The interesting point to me of Morewhellam Quay was that in its hayday, thousands of tourists would arrive by paddle steamer, visit the copper and arsenic mines and be served cream teas by the local women. As Ruth Goodman demonstrated during the TV series, the Government supported the teaching of woman how to make clotted cream and preserves to boost the local economy. Amongst the other items sold to tourists were herbal remedies. I think the Trust which now owns the Quay is missing a trick in not including herbal workshops alongside the rope making and child labour rock breaking!

Yesterday we visited Buckfast Abbey which has an extensive lavender garden. The sensory garden was stunning, but I was really disappointed in the physic garden. It has obviously been created by someone with limited knowledge of herbs. Honeysuckle was labelled as “poisonous if eaten” and in the poison garden, goats rue (galega officinalis) was labelled as rue (ruta graveolens). Solomons seal (polygonatum multiflorum) was also present in the poison garden, which was deeply saddening to see.

Today we had a restful day around the village. The church of St Petroc has a beautiful roodscreen carved by two Edwardian ladies at the turn of the century. After a cream tea in the local pub, we stumbled across the ancient Saxon spring newly restored by the local council to celebrate the village's heritage. Beside the spring grows a wonderful profusion of watercress – the blooms almost as strong as horseradish root and very tasty!

Tomorrow we resume our journey to Cornwall to share our grandson's first beach holiday. I'm sure there will be lots more herbs to enjoy.