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Archive for the ‘Autumn’ Category

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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Fabulous Fungi

 

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Common Aspen, Populus tremula, is a species of poplar native to Europe and parts of Asia and closely related to the North American Aspen, Populus tremuloides. Known as the trembling or quivering tree, once you know Aspen it’s impossible not to recognise. It’s forever dancing, forever whispering, forever shimmering with the breeze and glistening in the light.

Aspen

I first learnt about Aspen and it’s healing properties through the Bach Flower Remedies where it is used for treating fears and anxiety of unknown origin. It is associated with fear in the doctrine of signatures because it appears to be trembling in the wind. Indeed the aspen is hardly ever still, except when there is no wind at all, and you can hear the distinctive rustling of it’s silvery leaves which are associated with the moon and see them glistening in continuous motion whenever you draw near.
The Celts saw the Aspen as the Whispering Tree. Closely associated with the wind, it carries messages from the ancestors offering deep understandings and a gateway into the worlds beyond our own and the realms of faerie. To sit beneath an aspen and listen to its leaves is to hear a thousand thousand voices, all singing the songs of life and its mysteries.

Aspen Leaves

Though the aspen has been associated with fear, to me the shimmering motion of its leaves seems more one of joy and exultation in the present moment and the gift of life. I find sitting with Aspen an experience of blissful connection. To me it’s a tree of light, totally connected to the divine and dancing its marriage to the consciousness that underpins its existence. Its trembling seems to me to demonstrate its exquisite sensitivity, its awareness of its own mortality and the pure joy and exuberance it experiences in the act of living. Perhaps it heals us from fear because it itself knows no fear, it doesn’t look to the future or the past which is the source of all our fears. It just dances it’s joy for this moment and in doing so, teaches us to shed our habitual worries and anxieties too. Sitting beneath an aspen brings me a sense of wonder and reminds me to celebrate this present moment and to laugh with amazement that I am alive right now, in this moment, what a miracle!

Aspen Sky

Associated with Autumn, it’s good to sit with at this time of year as it helps us to shed our old fears and outworn ideas at the turning of the pagan new year at Samhain (Halloween).
Glennie Kindred writes that Aspen ‘ grows by sending up new suckers which can become new trees. Thus an aspen will create hundreds of interconnecting trees all joined together at the roots, providing us with a clear image of continuity, growth and connection to the source. Linking to the spiritual source, love, is the culmination of a spiritual journey. Everything leads to here and everything follows from here.’
The Celts believed the whispering of the ancestors could lead to visions or messages in answer to our questions. Mostly, I believe the ancestors, through the sweet musical voice of the aspen, are whispering to us to live our lives, live them fully, live them well and live them in joyful celebration of this moment right here and now.

References:
The Tree Ogham – Glennie Kindred
Tree Wisdom – Jaqueline Memory Paterson

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I’m not sure if the rose hips are particularly lovely this year, or if it’s just that we now live in an area so full of wild roses that I’m spoiled for choice, but I seem to find myself exclaiming over their beauty every time I leave the house.

Rose hips are sweetest after the first frost but I usually pick some as soon as they are bright red, with no orangey colour left, and continue picking in small batches until they are finished.

 

Beautiful Rose hips

 

I don’t do a huge amount with rose hips I must say. I’ve added them to my hawthorn vinegar and a tincture and made a couple of batches of syrup so far and I love to add a few to decoctions and nettle nourishing infusions. A nourishing infusion is like a really strong tea of a particularly nourishing herb which is full of vitamins and minerals. The inimitable Susan Weed has written a lot about them and you can see how she does it over at her website here. I just add a few rose hips to the nettle at this time of year as the high vitamin C content helps with absorption of the iron that nettle is so rich in.

I don’t tend to make jellies and such,  just because the high sugar levels don’t particularly agree with me, but I make my rosehip syrup with raw honey using much the same method that I used for my elderberry syrup which I described here. This basically involves simmering the roughly chopped hips in enough water to cover for about half an hour, then straining through a jelly bag to get rid of all the pesky and irritating hairs. You can return the hips to the pan with fresh water once or twice more and get a lot more juice from them so don’t throw them away after the first go. When the liquid is cool I mix in about half the quantity of raw honey. You can add more, up to equal amounts to make it last longer but this can over power the delightful sweet and sour taste of the rose hips.

 

Plump and ripe

 

Another syrup I made this year used dates and a couple of fresh chillis from a plant on my windowsill to make a lovely warming, earthy and sweet treat that hasn’t lasted long at all in our house! I made it by simmering and straining the rose hips with the chillis as above, then making a paste from several fresh dates and a little of the rose hip juice over a low heat adding a little more juice at a time until it is all well mixed. At the end I added a little brandy to help preserve it as it wouldn’t keep long otherwise. This has definitely been my favourite rose hip recipe of the season!

 

Rose hips in late afternoon autumn sun

 

Rose hips are rich in Vitamin C and other antioxidants including flavonoids which have been shown in some studies to have anti-inflammatory properties. The flower of the rose is also known for its cooling and soothing properties when dealing with inflammatory conditions. These properties and other constituents like plant sterols also make rose hips beneficial for protecting the cardiovascular system.

All the more reason to enjoy some lovely rose hip syrup in our tea or any other way that takes your fancy.

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I have many mottos but one of them is ‘Eat something from the wild everyday’. At this time of year we are spoiled for choice with the hedges dripping with all sorts of goodies, but by preserving, freezing and making lovely medicines we can make sure we have something to keep us going all through the winter too.

Eating local wild foods is not only great for our health, as they are often fresher, more vital and richer in nutrients than anything we can buy, but also connects us to a sense of place and belonging and encourages a deeper relationship with our natural environment. Even if it’s just a few berries whilst out walking or a handful of leaves added to a salad or soup, the plants around us are experiencing the same environmental conditions that we are and have adapted well and therefore are able to help us do the same.

 

Nourishing foods and medicines from the hedgerow

 

At the moment I’m enjoying most of my wild foods in the form of elderberry and rosehip syrups, blackberry crumbles, nettle seeds, hawthorn teas and the young ground elder leaves that are poking up through my newly weeded vegetable beds and taste lovely in carrot and apple soup.

My mornings are starting at the moment with a lovely big glass of ‘hedgerow milk’ which consists of freshly made almond milk, a little local honey, some hawthorn berry powder, rosehip syrup and nettle seeds. Delicious and nourishing it helps me start the day feeling energised, connected to the land and full of gratitude.

 

Morning Hedgerow Milk

 

Eating local wild foods helps ensure we are getting the right nutrients for our seasonal needs. The berries that are in abundance here at this time of year are filled with anti-oxidants including flavonoids and other polyphenols as well as lots of Vitamin C to help protect our bodies and support our immune systems as the weather gets colder. Many also have an anti-inflammatory action which helps soothe the aches and pains that can accompany colds and flus.

Foraged nuts and seeds such as walnuts, cobnuts or hazels, chestnuts and nettle seeds are nourishing and contain proteins, healthy fats, vitamins such as B’s and E and are a good source of well sustained energy.

And soon it will be time for harvesting roots which help us to draw our energy in and down (just like the plants do at this time of year) and give us much sustenance and grounding ready for the more inward focus of the winter months.

When the spring comes round we can feast on young green leaves of plants and trees to cleanse our winter stagnancy and boost our dwindling levels of many key nutrients. Brigitte just wrote a post here about all the lovely tree leaves she is harvesting for her salads over in New Zealand where Spring is in full swing!

Nature does take care of us well!

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Discovering Spindle

I recently went on a lovely day workshop with Susan Hall of Earth Wisdom entitled ‘The Magical Language of Trees’. Sue was speaking mostly about the symbolism and meanings of the Tree Ogham which includes a series of twenty trees and plants used as an alphabet and system of divination by the Celts. It was really enjoyable learning about the meanings given to each tree in the morning and then spending some time outdoors connecting with the trees themselves in the afternoon. As well as the twenty main trees of the Ogham, Sue explained that there were also an additional five, one of which is the beautiful hedgerow shrub, Spindle, Euonymus europaeus. Of all the trees we discussed spindle was the one I knew least about but, as is so often the way, since that day I’ve been spotting it everywhere I go!

Hedgerow Spindle

A lovely small tree or shrub, it is really in the autumn that Spindle begins to shine due to the incredible hues of the leaves and the berries which are bright pink with an orange seed inside that hangs down and becomes visible later in the season. Many species of the genus Euonymus are poisonous and unfortunately the beautiful berries themselves are toxic however there are a couple of types that are used medicinally such as E. americanus, and the  E. atropurpureus, also known as burning bush. Both these grow predominantly in the U.S. however, where they are commonly known as Wahoo, so we English folk must derive our Spindle healing from her beauty alone.

Spindle leaves

As the name implies, it was used for making spindles and, possibly because of this, it has become associated with crafts and creative endeavours. For the Celts it is thought to have symbolised completing lessons in order to move forward,  as well as sweetness and delight.

Beautiful hues of the autumn Spindle

Whilst in Westonbirt Arboretum a few weeks ago we saw a beautiful winged spindle which had the most fabulous bright pink leaves.

Winged Spindle with Cyclamen

Pink leaves of the Winged Spindle

I would love to make a tree essence from this wonderful plant, especially at this time of year when she is looking so vibrant. I feel it would be useful for accessing deeper aspects of our conscious and being able to express them creatively. Any plant with such a wonderful colour palette has to inspire artistic expression! Though Spindle is so showy right now, the rest of the year she is not very noticeable at all so perhaps it might also be of use in helping people access their own inner beauty at different times of life.

The berries are often the most noticeable, varying from bright to paler pink and containing a vibrant orange seed.

The berries

Pale pink berries

Bright pink with distinct segments

Spindle Seed

I feel lucky to have attended such a lovely workshop and been inspired to meet this new friend and begin to explore the gifts she has to offer.

Isn’t the beauty and variety of nature amazing?

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It’s been a busy week so far gathering the last of the blackberries, the first of the rosehips and lots and lots of lovely hawthorn berries. I don’t think I really have a favourite herbal plant, there are so many to love and admire, but if I had to choose one then hawthorn would certainly be a strong contender.

Beautiful Hawthorn, abundant with berries

The Hawthorn is a beautiful and elegant tree, with a rich lore of mythology and magic behind it, however it still remains very much human in scale. Growing in practically every hedgerow, it’s easily accessible and offers us medicine in the form of its flowers, leaves and berries. Whenever I see hawthorn, which is pretty much everywhere round here, I think ‘friend’.

Hawthorn Berries

Hawthorn is fascinating medicinally because it’s one of the few recognised Western herbal adaptogens, loosely meaning it helps to bring the body into balance, irrespective of whether it is over or under functioning. Widely used as a heart tonic it can help stabilise both high and low blood pressure and will benefit almost any problem that affects the heart or circulatory system, from high cholesterol to chilblains. It helps to dilate coronary arteries, improving circulation and bringing relief from angina. It also increases the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively by improving the contractility of the muscle and its high levels of antioxidants help to protect the capillaries.

A cascade of berries

What is particularly interesting though is that whilst here in the West hawthorn is used almost exclusively as a heart tonic, it has been used quite differently by other cultures and in other ages. Culpepper, writing in the 17th Century, tells us it is ‘singularly good against the stone and… for the dropsy’ implying it was mainly used as a urinary tonic, possibly because, being a member of the rose family, it has some astringency. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, where it’s known as shān zhā, it’s been used predominantly as an aid to digestion, to help the body assimilate fats and as an aid to liver function. In Ayurveda the berries are considered sour and heating, so not suitable for Pitta types in excess. In the Yoga of Herbs the authors write, ‘Hawthorn berries are a good example of the stimulatory power of sour herbs for both circulation and digestion. They have a special action on the heart, strengthening the heart muscle and promoting longevity. They are particularly good for Vata heart conditions like nervous palpitations, or the heart problems of old age (the age of Vata) like cholesterol and arteriosclerosis.’

The flowers are soothing and nervine and many herbalists combine preparations of flower and berry to get the benefits of both. You can read more about the flowers in my earlier post here.

Red and shiny and perfectly ripe

I like to prepare my berries in alcohol or vinegar as well as drying a good number for use in decoctions. To make a decoction simmer two teaspoons of dried berries in a cup of water for 15 mins and drink three times daily.

A delicious herbal vinegar can be made by filling a jar with hawthorn berries, either  alone or combined with rosehips and covering in apple cider vinegar then leaving to infuse for a month to six weeks before straining and rebottling. Remember to use a plastic lid as metal with go black and nasty.

Tincture can be made in a similar way by covering the berries in vodka or brandy. This year I made a simple hawthorn tincture in vodka and another in which I combined the berries with rosehip and ginger in a mixture of port and brandy, yum. Let infuse for 2-3 weeks before straining and rebottling.

A lovely way to use hawthorn berries is to dry and powder them. They can then be used in numerous ways by adding a little of the powder to smoothies, soups, cookies, breakfast cereal or just about anything else. They are very tough though and have a stone in the middle which needs removing so it can be easier to just buy them already powdered from a good herbal supplier.

Left to right – hawthorn and rosehip vinegar; (top) hawthorn, rosehip and ginger in port and brandy; hawthorn tincture in vodka.

Hawthorn, you truly are a heroine!

Lusach has a beautiful post on making hawthorn berry decoctions here, which is well worth a read.

References:
Culpepper’s Complete Herbal – Nicholas Culpepper
Medical Herbalism – David Hoffman
The Yoga of Herbs – Dr. David Frawley and Dr. Vasant Lad

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Henge Moon

We were lucky enough to have a Stonehenge access pass a couple of nights before the Autumn Equinox and enjoyed a magical evening of soaking up the atmosphere as the moon rose on one side of us, whilst on the other the setting sun cast golden light onto the stones and long shadows into the gloaming.

Stonehenge

Setting Sun

Stones framed by a pink sky

Golden light on the stones

Fire in the sky

Henge Moon

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