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Archive for the ‘Autumn’ Category

This Too Shall Pass

Many have heard the story of the great king and his search for truth but, as this evening is a cold one and I hope you are sitting at home around the fire, perhaps sipping some chai or a little sloe gin, I shall wait for you to get comfortable and then I will tell it. At least I will tell it as I think it may have happened.

Once upon a time, in a land far away to the east, there lived a wise old king. His palace was great, his court was fine and his accomplishments were many. He never wanted for anything and was constantly engaged in one entertainment or another. He was very learned and had read the great treatises and scriptures of many a land and many a faith. Though he had realised much and people far and wide thought him to be deeply wise, still he felt something was missing.

So one day he gathered together the very cleverest of his advisers and all the wise men and great sages of the land and he charged them with finding something that was always true. Something that was true when he was happy and true when he was sad, that was true in the springtime and true in the winter and that was true in his greatest victories and also in his greatest defeats. The wise men were perplexed, ‘what is that which is always true?’ they asked themselves. They each set off to the far ends of the Kingdom and then further beyond still, to many distant lands, intent on discovering this truth that the king had asked from them. They agreed to meet back at the Kingdom after one full year and tell the King what they had discovered.

All but one.  He stayed in his little cottage at the edge of the woods and tended to his garden. When the villagers and courtiers passed by they said, ‘ that is the lazy wise man, he hasn’t even gone to meet with the priest in the next town, just sits in his garden watching the birds and the clouds or gazing into the trees. The King surely won’t be pleased with him.’  And so the year went on and the wise man observed how the spring turned to summer which turned to autumn and how the plants in his garden died and returned again. He saw how the birds came and went and even the great trees would pass eventually, and when they did, they would give new life to many insects and creatures.

After the year had gone by all the wise men met up in the Court ready to astound people with all the clever things they had learnt. They told tales and riddles from lands far and near, spoke words of subtlety and cunning and made every man’s head present hurt with the thinking. But the King was still not satisfied. Finally our own wise man, from the cottage by the woods, stepped forward and said to the king, ‘Sire, I have seen that which is true. It is true in my garden and true in the forest.’ At this the people laughed, ‘silly old fool’ they thought. ‘It is true throughout your Kingdom and true even to the very ends of the Earth. And it is true in my own heart.’

‘So’ said the King, ‘what is this truth of which you speak?’

The old man bent his head and spoke softly as the last leaves of Autumn drifted through the windows and on to the Palace floor. ‘And this too shall pass’ he said, then turned away and walked back to his cottage in the forest.

At last the King was satisfied.

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A few people commented that they would like the recipe for the soup and herbal stock that featured at the end of my last post so, somewhat belatedly, here it is!

Herbal stocks are a great way of getting extra nourishment into our diets, especially at this time of year when we can use small amounts of immune supporting herbs to sneak extra medicine into our day through the most natural of all methods, our food.

When making a herbal stock I use whatever I happen to have in the cupboard so it will vary every time. This also means you can be very fluid with it and if you don’t have all the ingredients it’s no problem, you can just use one or two. This stock below had a number of different herbs in it but you could do equally as well using just echinacea root and elderberry or any of the other ingredients listed depending on your preference. You can play about with other herbs too, I remember Danielle mentioning that she uses astragalus root in her soups.

When making stock, I tend to just use herbs that I would not blend into the soup directly such as tough roots and bay leaves etc. The ginger, rosemary, chilli, powdered cinnamon and other soft ingredients I generally put straight into the soup as normal, but as this is merely a guide, feel free to play about as you feel inspired.

Herbal Stock Ingredients (for a soup to serve 4):

1 tsp Echinacea root – for boosting the immune system
1 tsp dried Elderberry – for nourishing the immune system
1 tsp dried Hawthorn berry – for supporting heart and circulation
1 tsp Burdock root – for gentle cleansing and nourishing
2 Bay leaves – for flavour and supporting digestion
4 slices dried Reishi mushroom – for nourishing the immune system (and too many other things to go into here!)

Simmer all ingredients together in about a litre of water for 20 mins approx then strain and add into your soup.

Soup Ingredients:

1 squash or small pumpkin
2 medium onions
6 cloves garlic
chunk of ginger to taste
coconut oil for frying
Herbal stock
1 tsp turmeric powder (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

This soup is an incredibly simple one which just involves lightly frying the onions, garlic and ginger in the  coconut oil, then chopping the squash and adding to the pan with the turmeric, salt, and pepper. Stir for a few mins then add the strained herbal stock. Simmer until the squash is soft, blend and enjoy with any number of delicious, seasonal toppings…

sprinkled with nettle seeds…

topped with steamed kale (as inspired by my friend Deborah)…

or, my personal favourite, a large helping of finely sliced mushrooms fried in a little oil and tamari.

I hope you are also enjoying lots of seasonal and nourishing goodies to keep you strong in body and mind.

 

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More Autumnal Delights

I have never been able to decide which is my favourite season, they all have their beauty and each fills me with its own unique sense of magic. Right now though, I can’t imagine what could be better than these bright autumn days and chill evenings spent reading and drinking chai by the first fires of the cold months to come.

There are so many things to love about this time of year. The crackle of fallen leaves…

 

and the fantastic fungi.

 

This last one I believe is Ganoderma adspersum a native relative of the much celebrated Reishi mushroom. You can read Stephen Church’s account of it’s medicinal uses here.

The glistening cobwebs that catch the light and leaves as if gathering mementos of the season’s fading beauty.

And of course the trees themselves, all burnished bronze and breathtaking in their passing.

Then there is the food too. Squashes and berries, fresh walnuts cracked open with a hammer, kale and  mushrooms. From the first ripening berries through to the last fading leaves, autumn is truly a season to delight the senses.

Now is the time for nourishing our bodies, our minds and our souls with good food, rest, time spent in nature and loving company before the arrival of the harsh winter months. This simple pumpkin soup was blended with plenty of onion, garlic and ginger and topped with tamari fried mushrooms. Easy to digest and full of goodness, it’s perfect for this time of year.

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The Autumn King

If the Oak is the King of the woods than at no time is his reign more glorious than in autumn when his leaves glow gold and many beings are nourished from his acorns.

Whenever I have lived or wandered abroad I cannot think of Britain without thinking of oak trees. Perhaps then it’s appropriate that I have ended up in a village whose name means ‘place covered with oaks’ or ‘overshadowed by oaks’. Nowadays there are not so many great oaks remaining but sometimes, my husband and I like to stand atop the Downs and dream of the time when everything before us; the farmer’s fields, the gardens, the roads would all have been covered with oak trees.

Whilst the autumn colours of the oak are not as showy as some of the more exotic trees that are visible at this time of year in parks and gardens, their subtle beauty is somehow more deeply fulfilling. I said to my husband as we walked at the weekend, ‘the maples are pleasing to my eyes, but the oaks are pleasing to my heart.’

Oaks were said to be sacred to the Druids. Some suggest the name ‘Druid’ actually comes from the old Gaelic name for oak, Duir, though others have dismissed this saying that instead, it originates from Dru – meaning ‘highest’ and vid – meaning ‘knowledge.’ Who knows the truth, but I cannot imagine any race who lived amongst the oaks would not have held them sacred. Oaks appear in the mythology of many lands and there are about 600 species in the genus across the world.

The oak has many associations with protection and strength, partly because of the numbers of creatures that it shelters in its bows. Apparently it houses the greatest biodiversity of herbivorous insects of any British plant. Even in death it is home to a great many insects. In the Bach flower remedies, oak is given to those who offer their strength to others and keep persevering until they themselves end up drained and exhausted. Taking the remedy is thought to re-establish the positive qualities of oak, those of courage, protection, strength and endurance.

The oak tree was also associated with weather gods as apparently, it is hit by lightning more often than other trees. It has featured alongside the Gods of thunder and lightening in many European cultures, from Zeus of the ancient Greeks, to the Norse Thor and the Baltic Perkunas. This weekend however, it was also resplendent in the sunshine.

Acorns were of great importance to country folk as  a primary food source for their pigs in autumn. Before this, they were  also an important food source for people themselves and were eaten by a variety of cultures from all over the world. To eat acorns they must be soaked or boiled first to remove the tannic acid. I read a recipe for acorn muffins the other day, it sounded perfect for eating round the fire with a spicy herbal chai when the dark days of winter are upon us.

And of course the oak has its place in herbal medicine as well. A very useful astringent, the bark can be used to staunch bleeding of all kinds from haemorrhoids to a mouthwash for bleeding gums.

In pagan mythology the Oak King was said to reign from mid-winter to mid-summer, after which the Holly King took his turn on the throne for the second half of the year. But for me, Autumn will always be the time of the oak.

What is your favourite autumn tree?

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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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Autumn Colours

As Autumn begins to give way to Winter it seems as though nature is enjoying a last revelling in the intensity and vitality of this year’s fading life. The colours of Autumn help me view my surroundings with fresh eyes, even in those most world weary of moments.

The last blaze of the leaves reminds me that death and endings may also be resplendent with beauty when we invest them with the totality of our being.

The emerald greens of moss and lichen have an almost spring like vibrancy; endings as beginnings, birth as death.

The subtle browns and mauves of fungi nestled in the forest floor keep us alert to the less showy of Autumn’s many splendours.

I love this sense of a final celebration, one last expansion before sleep, one final song before we can only hear the whispering earth in dreams of ice and of long winter shadows, through the softest of slumbers in the ancient quiet of the earth, beneath the misty darkening days.

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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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