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Archive for the ‘Blackthorn’ Category

A bright sunny Sunday morning meant the perfect opportunity to get out early and make a Blackthorn blossom remedy.

Blackthorn, Prunus spinosa, the same tree that gives us the deep blue sloes in autumn, has currently exploded into confetti-like blooms all over the hedgerows and woodland edges, making such a cheerful sight after the muted tones of winter.

Because the blossom of blackthorn comes out before the leaves the effect is even more striking as the pure white flowers stand out so dramatically against the hard, dark wood, without any background of green to soften the effect. This makes it easy to differentiate from the hawthorn, also known as whitethorn, whose leaves appear before the blossoms.

Blackthorn has long been associated with darkness; the unknown and mysterious, the subconscious and feared, and yet, in early Spring, it is the very epitome of brightness, beauty and expansion. As such it was considered symbolic of the cycles of life and death by our ancestors who honoured it as one of the trees in the Celtic alphabet or Ogham.

For me Blackthorn is the tree of transformation; from winter to spring, from darkness to light, from introversion to extroversion, from sadness to joy. It honours each part of the cycle as equal without only valuing the experiences that feel most pleasant. It is a great remedy for everyone to take as we emerge from winter but can be supportive all year round for those who are experiencing change or feel overwhelmed by negative emotions. Blackthorn will support us with moving through these whilst also helping us to go deep within ourselves to find the lessons in all our experiences.

It is important to understand that this, or any, flower remedy is not about superimposing a ‘positive’ emotion over a ‘negative’ one in order to live a life devoid of painful experience. They are just about offering support and the potential of opening up a little when we feel overwhelmed or constricted and thus unable to flow freely with our feelings. At some point we may find we no longer need them but until then we have them as support when the way ahead is unclear.

It has often been observed that the word emotion refers to energy in motion (e-motion) and this is a beautiful reflection. Emotions come and go, we as the witnesser of emotion remain in stillness.

However it is our habit, or the habit of mind, to immediately relate to every emotion that arises as a true and rightful aspect of who we believe ourselves to be. Thoughts such as ‘I am unworthy,’ ‘I am afraid’, ‘I am ugly’, or equally, ‘I am worthy’, ‘I am brave’, ‘I am beautiful’, remain unchecked and unverified and thus we believe them to be reality. Beauty, worthiness and bravery are concepts that exist in the mind only. Comparing them to other concepts lends them a kind of weight but what we as consciousness are is beyond all concepts.

It is formless, unchanging being and we are always it, whatever we may be experiencing in the moment.

When we begin to identify less strongly with our emotions the need to change them becomes less pronounced. We may still feel any number of strong emotions, from fear to grief or even hatred, but we no longer think these define us and so they do not make us suffer in the same way as before. In fact, often when the tempests come, we can find a joy and a peace that co-exist alongside them. Somehow we are both and neither, they simply arise in the vastness of our own hearts.

“I am not enough is a thought. I am enough is also a thought. They are not original to you… A thought without belief has no power at all but a thought with belief can start a war.”  Mooji

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The Harvest Moon shone bright and beautiful in the sky at the beginning of the week and it seems there is no denying it any longer, autumn is here.

Autumn signifies many things to many people but for me, aside from its obvious beauty, it represents a time of community and friendship. I normally like to go out harvesting alone and wander in silence amongst the plants and the trees but in autumn there is something so special about gathering together with a friend and filling your baskets with the glorious bounty of the land. Now is the final celebration of the abundance and generosity of Mother Nature before we start to withdraw against the harsh onslaught of the winter months and what better way to celebrate than with each other.

I have been blessed to go out berry harvesting with two lovely friends and wonderful herbalists, Therri and Mindy this month and have spend a great afternoon up the step ladder with my lovely husband collecting Hawthorn berries and sloes.

Mindy amongst the Hawthorn

When up in my favourite elder picking spot we noticed both flower and fruit on the same tree. This is something I have never seen before, have you? Excuse the poor quality photo, the light wasn’t great that day.

Flower and berries on the wise Elder Mother.

The result of these outings was lovely fresh tinctures, dried berries and lots of delicious syrups!

The first elderberry harvest.

My first syrup making session was with elderberry, unbeatable for tastiness and immune supporting goodness for the colder months. I have already posted my method for elderberry syrup making here, so I won’t repeat myself but this year I added a vanilla bean to the ginger, cardamom, clove and orange peel and it turned out really well, so tasty I keep sneaking to the fridge for an extra spoonful.

Next up was the hawthorn berry syrup. The Hawthorns round here have been so fat and large this year and the trees literally dripping in them. I wonder if that means we are in for another hard winter.

I made a simple hawthorn and ginger syrup by simmering them together in a pan with enough water to cover, straining the liquid and adding about 2/3 the amount of raw honey once the liquid had cooled sufficiently. I use a fair amount of ginger because I love the resulting taste of the two combined but you can adjust according to preference.

You can tell when it is almost ready because the berries start to loose their colour. I simmered mine on a low heat for about half an hour.

Berries starting to loose their colour.

At the time of straining they have gone a yellowy colour.

It’s basically the same technique as the elderberry syrup but it’s good to store your hawthorn syrup in jars rather than bottles because the berries are high in pectin which means it can set like a jelly and you’ll need to be able to spoon it out. The more of the thicker, mushy liquid you strain into the end product the more likely it will set. There is lots of goodness in this bit too however, so I say go for it. Do be warned though as I can’t imagine many things more dissapointing than being unable to get at all my delicious syrup because it had set in the bottle.

Look how firm the resulting syrup/ jelly is here on our morning porridge.

Finally, the pièce de résistance was the five berry syrup I made which included elderberries, blackberries, hawthorn berries, rose hips and sloes. I used the same technique again but this time added no spices or other flavourings and just let the natural flavour of the berries shine through. It’s so yummy I am wishing I had made litres of it!

Simmering berries.

Give them a good mash to get all the goodness out.

This syrup feels so vital and nourishing and is packed with antioxidants and other immune supportive constituents.

Another advantage is that it gives you a wonderful opportunity to polish up your Lady Macbeth impression.

“Out, damn’d spot! out, I say!—One; two: why, then
’tis time to do’t.—Hell is murky.—Fie, my lord, fie, a soldier, and
afeard? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our
pow’r to accompt?—Yet who would have thought the old man to
have had so much blood in him?”

Watch out amateur dramatics… here I come.

I hope your autumn has also been full of harvests and community or anything else that nourishes your soul.

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Hedgerows In Bloom

My train journeys this week have been an absolute pleasure due to the beauty of the hedgerows at this time of year. Everywhere Blackthorn has blazed into great clouds of white blossom making the landscape sing with the rising energies of Spring.

Here the fresh verdancy of the young Hawthorn leaves mingles with Blackthorn blossom and the golden puffs of Pussy Willow.

A small deciduous tree, Blackthorn often grows with Hawthorn but is easily distinguished from it by the fact that that it’s blossom arrives before the leaf where as the leaf of the Hawthorn comes out before the blossom. When it does come into leaf they are small, oval and darker than Hawthorn’s deeply lobed leaves.

Blackthorn, known as Straif in the Celtic Ogham or tree alphabet, has been typically associated with the dark half of the year and with the mysteries of the unconscious mind. Long regarded as a powerful magical ally it was much maligned by the superstitions spread by the Church during the witch burning times.

Despite it’s association with all things dark and mysterious, Blackthorn is one of the first plants to bring us the glimmer of Spring and shows us well how dark turns to light, and back again, with the turning of the year. In her brighter aspect she earned a place alongside Hawthorn in the May Day festivals where she was known as ‘the Queen of the Woods’. Blackthorn can help us attune to the rhythms of nature and is also a powerful ally to help us transform negative emotions into sources of strength and compassion.

Pussy Willow is also bedecking the hedgerows with colour and vitality. To me they so well express the vitality of Spring with their vigorous upward growth and explosive yellow flowers.

How beautiful it looks against the backdrop of blossoming Blackthorn.

In other news, this month Leslie over at the lovely Comfrey Cottages blog will be hosting the April blog party on the 20th. She says:

“I have chosen for a theme Spring Wild foraging/Wild crafting and Spring Herbal Gardening I am hoping that everyone who wants to be able to participate has a spot they can forage in, but if not, I think by including the herbal gardening in the theme all should definitely be able to participate who want to :)”

Click here to find out more.

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The first frosts have chilled the landscape, turning the view outside our window to a scene of subtlety and wonder.

First Frost

After the first frost is the perfect time for picking rosehips which are now a lovely deep red and a little softer and sweeter, perfect for syrup making.

Reder, softer, perfect for picking!

It’s also the best time for picking sloes which are so abundant here in the hedgerows right now, though they wont be around for much longer. Blackthorn, which gives us the sloe berries, is a tree surrounded by folklore and long associated with witchcraft, darkness, winter and the waning moon. The berries and the leaves make valuable astringent remedies and the flowers are said to have a mildly laxative effect, though I have never tried them so can’t offer any more information than this.

Hedgerow Sloes

The berries can be made into a syrup by simmering gently with a little water, straining and mixing with honey to taste once it has cooled. It’s a good idea not to heat honey too much as it destroys the enzymes and, according to Ayurvedic medicine, turns it to poison. You could also heat the juice again with sugar to make a traditional syrup though this would negate somewhat the immune supporting effects of the berries. Take a spoonful daily as an invigorating tonic or to aid in convalescence.

Sloes

The Blackthorn, Prunus spinosa, bears such impressive thorns they are referred to in both its English and botanical names. It’s good to take care when picking sloes as they are fairly savage and wounds from them can easily turn septic.

Beware the Blackthorn’s thorns.

This year I am attempting to make sloe gin with honey rather than sugar. This method seems to have worked well with the damson vodka I made a couple of months ago (and sneaked a little taste of last night!)  but as sloes are far more sour and astringent than damsons we’ll see if I get away with it in the gin. As sloe gin is said to be best after six months it might be a while before I can report back on this recipe! Eating sloes raw is never a pleasant experience as my dear friend Sascha, who helped me with the harvest, demonstrates below.

Eurghk!!

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