Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Spring’ Category

The Spring blooms are looking utterly resplendent this year, aglow in the bright sunshine and adorning every woodland and waste ground with their wild beauty.

Daises and dandelions make a happy trio.

Many things like the woodland bluebells have arrived earlier than usual with the warm weather.

They look particularly beautiful with the white blooms of stitchwort.

The sweet violets have all gone now but dog violets can still be seen. Unlike the sweet violet these have no taste so are not as valuable for medicine but are still deeply healing for their mucilaginous and clearing properties and for their faery like beauty.

Another flower long associated with the faery folk is cowslip, in fact they are thought to lead the way to the fairy realm. In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Ariel tells us  “Where the bee sucks there suck I, In the cowslip’s bell I lie, There I crouch when owls do cry, On the bat’s back I do fly.”

Cowslip is a useful anti-spasmodic and helpful for nervous tension though be careful if you decide to harvest it from the wild as it is becoming endangered.

Lungwort and speedwell are another welcome sight. There are many different species of speedwell, below are the common field speedwell and the tiny but perfectly formed ivy leaved speedwell.

Lungwort – Pulmonaria officinalis

Field speedwell.

Ivy leaved speedwell.

Forget-me-nots are one of my favourite sights at this time of year and the similarly flowered green alkanet which, though very invasive, is still lovely to see in great stands by the side of the road.

Forget-me-not. How could we?

Green Alkanet 

Finally all the dead nettles, or archangels as thy are attractively known, are out and looking lovely as ever. The only one I know that is used medicinally is the white dead nettle though Culpepper says all three have a beneficial action as astringents in staunching bleeding. I will report more on this after I’ve done a bit of research!

White Archangel.

Yellow Archangel.

Red (sometimes called purple) Archangel.

I hope the Spring flowers are brightening your day too.

Read Full Post »

In spite, or perhaps because of, it’s ubiquity at this time of year, Ground Ivy is a herb that has fallen out of fashion in these modern times when the more exotic a herb is, the greater its value is esteemed to be. Many of the older herbals speak highly of it however and it certainly earned its place in folk medicine for the treatment of a variety of ailments. Glechoma hederacea, as is its official title, was also known as ale-hoof due to its uses in brewing ale, or gill-go-by-the-ground, from the French, guiller, to ferment.

Gerard, writing in the late sixteenth century, described it thus, “Ground Ivy is a low or base herb; it creeps and spreads along the ground hither and thither, all about, with many stalks of uncertain length, slender, and like those of the Vine, something cornered and something reddish.” He classed it as hot and dry and recommended its use primarily for tinnitus, eye problems and as a cleansing agent. He gives us this lovely description of a remedy for the eyes, “Ground Ivy, Celandine and Daisies, of each a like quantity, stamped and strained, and a little sugar and Rose water put thereto, and dropped with a feather into the eyes, takes away all manner of inflammation, spots, webs, itch, smarting, or any grief whatsoever in the eyes.”

Here in the South Downs, as in much of the UK, it certainly grows ‘hither and thither’ and is looking beautiful at this time of year with its classic mint family hooded flowers adorning every roadside and path. April/ May is the best time to harvest the areal parts whilst it is in full flower and highly aromatic. The taste is very pungent, hence why it is generally considered heating and drying, though other herbalists have called it cooling, primarily due to its bitter and cleansing properties. Hilda Leyel informs us that it was once so popular and so widely on offer as a blood tonic “that it was one of the London street cries.” She also recommends it for tinnitus as well as for coughs and colds.

Hildegard von Bingen believed that it removed bad humours from the head which closely relates to its most common use today. Colds, catarrh, sinusitis and bronchial congestion are all conditions currently still treated with Ground Ivy. It is a mild expectorant with anti-catarrhal and anti-inflammatory qualities making it useful in some cases of hay fever. It contains many of the constituents common in other Lamiaceae, or mint family, plants such volatile oils and triterpenes which are thought to be anti-inflammatory. Its astringent and anti-inflammatory properties might also help to explain why it was found to be useful for eye problems and its anti-catarrahal nature could explain why it helped certain cases of tinnitus, probably those where congestion was a factor.

Ground Ivy also has a good reputation as a valuable tonic for the kidneys and bladder. Bartram says it is supportive to primary treatment in kidney disease and has been used with success for cancer of the bladder, though he gives no more information than this. It certainly has diuretic properties and has been used in the past to treat cystitis. Mrs Grieves writes, “As a medicine useful in pulmonary complaints, where a tonic for the kidneys is required, it would appear to possess peculiar suitability, and is well adapted to all kidney complaints.” This is particularly interesting as in both Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Iridology there can be an important link between these organs. In TCM the Lungs are said to direct Qi  from the breath down to the Kidneys which then hold the Qi.  If the Kidneys are compromised and unable to fulfil this function properly it will result in chest congestion and trouble breathing.  Ground Ivy therefore sounds like an ideal herb in such a case.

Finally, many herbalists have recommended its use as an astringent and anti-inflammatory for the G.I. tract where it tones and soothes in cases of gastritis, haemorrhoids, IBS and diarrhoea.

A tincture can easily be made via the folk method which involves filling a jar with freshly picked and chopped plants- leaves and flowers- then covering in vodka and leaving to steep for a fortnight before straining out the plant material.

References:
John Gerard – Gerard’s Herbal
Mrs C.F. Leyel – Herbal Delights
Mrs Grieve – A Modern Herbal
Thomas Bartram – Bartram’s Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine
Gabrielle Hatfeild – Hatfield’s Herbal
Tobyn, Denham and Whitelegg – The Western Herbal Tradition

Read Full Post »

This post is my offering for the April Blog Party, hosted by Leslie at Comfrey Cottages on the topic of Spring Foraging, Wildcrafting and Gardening. Check her blog on the 20th to see the links to the other posts.

Invasive they may be, but many of the plants that take over the hedgerows and waste ground, not to mention our gardens, at this time of year are also exceptionally useful, full of health giving properties and, in some cases, also delicious.

At the moment I’m particularly enjoying liberally lacing my salads with the lovely Jack-By-The-Hedge, Alliaria petiolata, also known as garlic mustard because of it’s distinctive taste of, yes you guessed it, garlic and mustard.

According to ‘wildman’ Steve Brill, “This despised invasive plant is actually one of the best and most nutritious common wild foods.”

Mrs Grieve writes “The leaves used to be taken internally as a sudorific and deobstruent, and externally were applied antiseptically in gangrenes and ulcers. The juice of the leaves taken alone or boiled into a syrup with honey is found serviceable in dropsy. Country people at one time used the plant in sauces, with bread and butter, salted meat and with lettuce in salads, hence it acquired also the name of Sauce Alone. The herb, when eaten as a salad, warms the stomach and strengthens the digestive faculties.”

Most pungent herbs have an affinity for the digestive system as they are heating, thus stoking the digestive fires and promoting flow of digestive juices. They also help to thin mucus which is important in many spring ailments such as hay fever and sinus congestion.

The photos above were taken a week ago but now all the plants except those in deepest shade have begun to bloom. The flowers are also edible and look lovely sprinkled on salads, soups or other dishes.

Apart from sliced finely in salads and grain dishes like quinoa or millet, I have used garlic mustard to make an infused vinegar and as part of my Spring tonic formula, see below. Steve Brill also uses the root which he says has a horseradish flavour, though this is something I have yet to try.

Garlic Mustard infused vinegar and Spring tonic.

The idea for this Spring tonic came from my friend Therri who is full of inventive herbal inspirations. She makes hers from nettles, ramsons and ground ivy, all found growing together and then tinctured together to make a base formulas for people suffering from spring allergies and the like.

Just by my house is a little copse where cleavers, nettles, ground ivy and garlic mustard all grow up together so I decided these four would make the base for my own Spring tonic blend. I don’t usually tincture things together, preferring to do them separately then blend where appropriate. In this case however part of the magic is in the togetherness, using a community of spring plants that grow close by where you live or practice will be particuarly beneficial for people of that area.

A community of Spring tonics; nettles, cleavers, ground ivy and garlic mustard.

Another plant that I have been eating this spring is ground elder, though possibly with something more akin to grim determination than actual enjoyment. I must confess I don’t find it as delicious as some of the other wild greens around at this time of year but, in small quantities, it can be quite palatable, especially blended in soups. It’s also good as a cooked green and theres a nice recipe on Eat Weeds for stir fried ground elder and tempeh which you can read here. I also came across a ground elder and vanilla muffin recipe here, will wonders never cease?!

The reason I am persevering with this particular wild edible is simple, my garden is riddled with it.

When my Dad, a gardener by trade, came to visit soon after we moved in last year, he took one look at it and proclaimed, “you’re going to have to use Round-up on that.” “No!” I cried, “surely I can manage it organically.” He laughed.

So you see, at stake here is not only the organic status of my garden but also my pride.

Ground elder was originally introduced to the UK by the Romans, and much like its benefactors, it proceeded to take over and has proved even harder to be rid of. They used it as a salad crop and it was said to help gout and arthritis too. Though I have been assured that its not really strong enough to be of much use medicinally, I can imagine that regular eating of the plant would work as a preventative, only because it’s pungent taste is not dissimilar to a strong parsley or celery seed, both of which have been used to treat similar conditions. Perhaps I will try a little bit of tincture just to experiment and I am sure it would make a nice infused vinegar.

It seems to me that there are very few invasive weeds that do not have some use or other, many in fact being the most useful plants we have. And you know what they say… if you can beat ‘em, eat ‘em.

Read Full Post »

Lesser Celandine or pilewort, as it more commonly known, grows freely in woodlands and other moist, shaded places and brightens the way whenever you pass it by. It’s Latin name, Ranunculus ficaria, refers to the resemblance of its tubers to figs and an old common name for it was figwort (not to be confused with the plant more commonly  known as Figwort, Scrophularia nodosa). Piles, or haemorrhoids, for which the plants got its modern common name, also used to be known as figs, so this usage for our pretty spring friend is nothing new.

In Mrs Grieve’s classic, A Modern Herbal, she tells us, “Wordsworth, whose favourite flower this was (in recognition of which the blossoms are carved on his tomb), fancifully suggests that the painter who first tried to picture the rising sun, must have taken the idea of the spreading pointed rays from the Celandine’s ‘glittering countenance.’ “

It is true that this little flower arrives early in the spring, appearing almost like a symbol of hope for the warmer days to come.

Used mainly to treat non-bleeding haemorrhoids and a sore or itchy anal area, it is oft quoted that  the main indication for this plant came about from the doctrine of signatures as its bulbous tubers are not dissimilar to the appearance of piles. Many years of use however, as well as a modern understanding of its constituents, back up this traditional insight. Pilewort contains tannins and saponins and is both astringent and demulcent, so toning and soothing to inflamed or irritated membranes.

In the past an infusion of pilewort was commonly taken internally as well the the ointment applied topically but these days it is mostly the ointment that is favoured.

Bartram recommends making an ointment by macerating one part whole fresh plant whilst in bloom to three parts of benzoinated lard. I stuck to making an infused vegetable oil via the heat method.

After harvesting the whole plant – roots, leaves and flowers – I washed them thoroughly to get rid of the tenacious clay soil that stuck between each nodule and then spread them out to dry off in the dehydrator for a couple of hours. If you don’t have a dehydrator then just blot them dry as best you can and leave to wilt slightly overnight. This reduces the water content of your herb and helps prevent rancidity. I then infused the herbs in sunflower oil in a bain marie for several hours on a low heat. You can read my detailed instructions on how to make an infused oil here.

Many people combine the infused oil with horse chestnut oil or tincture to make a nice astringent ointment but, as I have none at present, I came up with this alternative.

Fig Ointment:

40ml pilewort infused oil
20ml plantain infused oil (just use extra pilewort if you have no plantain oil).
20 ml calendula infused oil
10g beeswax
5ml self heal tincture
5ml witch hazel
10 drops lavender essential oil
10 drops geranium essential oil

Melt the beeswax in a bain marie and add the infused oils, stirring until fully mixed. Add in the tinctures and witch hazel and whisk or blend with a hand blender until fully incorporated. Stir in essential oils and leave to set.

Apply liberally several times a day to affected area.

Read Full Post »

Spring is getting into full swing here in the South East and the time for indulging in copious bowls of nettle soup is upon us once more. Each year I end up with a new favourite variation on this time honoured classic of wild food cuisine and this year I’ve managed the impossible. I’ve come up with a recipe that my husband not only tolerates, but actually enjoys too.

Creamy Nettle and Broccoli Soup with Wild Garlic Oil:

Ingredients-
1 colander full of freshly picked and washed nettle tops
1 head broccoli
1 tin of cannellini beans
1 large onion or 3 shallots
3 cloves of garlic
Tablespoon olive oil
squeeze of lemon juice
stock and seasoning to taste
Wild garlic oil (and leaves if available) to garnish

This is such a quick and simple soup but the texture and flavours make it feel both nourishing and fulfilling. Begin by lightly frying the onion and garlic in the olive oil until softened but not brown. Add the stock, cannellini beans (pre-cooked) and broccoli to the pan and cook until broccoli is tender. Add the nettle tops and a squeeze of lemon and cook for a few minutes until the nettles are wilted and soft. Add seasoning to taste and blend to a thick and creamy consistency. Garnish with a drizzle of wild garlic oil and, if available, some freshly chopped wild garlic leaves and violet flowers.

To make the wild garlic oil you simply lightly pack your blender with freshly picked wild garlic leaves and add somewhere in the region of 250ml virgin olive oil. Blend until you have an almost smooth vibrant green oil. This will last a couple of weeks in the fridge and can be added to soups, salad dressings or smeared on crackers. I always add it at the end though as wild garlic looses much of its flavour when cooked.

You can read my last year’s nettle soup recipes here and my recipe for wild garlic pesto here.

I hope  those of you in the Northern hemisphere are enjoying your spring bounties too.

Read Full Post »

There is a small area of woodland near my house which is filled with violets at this time of year. If you stumble on them unawares they will quite take your breath away. Sometimes the smell is barely detectable but when the sun is shining and the breezes blow, it is utterly divine. I have harvested twice from this patch over the last couple of weeks in order to make an infused honey, an infused oil and a flower remedy. Coming home with a harvest of violet flowers is like carrying a bag of precious jewels, truly a privilege. Unless they continue to bloom so prolifically, I will seek another patch to harvest for a tincture as it’s so important to remember not to over harvest one area.

The sweet violet flowers we know and love are what is known in botany as chasmogamous flowers, those that display their stamens and style for  insect pollination, but many species of viola also produce tiny self pollinating flowers later in the year which are known as cleistogamous. This means that we can be a bit freer with our harvest than we might otherwise be but we should still remember that insects need the flowers for an early source of nectar and therefore not take too many. Also, a beautiful patch of wild violets is enjoyed by many passers by and its not fair to strip it bare.

As a herbal remedy Violet is used most often for it’s soothing, demulcent properties found in the leaf and flower. Being cool and moist they are particularly good for conditions where there is heat such as inflammation and irritated coughs. Culpepper wrote, “A drachm weight of the dried leaves or flowers of Violets, but the leaves more strongly, doth purge the body of choleric humours and assuageth the heat if taken in a draught of wine or other drink.”

Three species are used medicinally, Viola odorata, V. tricolour (the wild pansy) and V. yezoensis (the chinese violet).  The wild dog violet is one of the most common violets found in the UK but it lacks scent, unlike the odorata, though it is still mucilaginous.

Violets are also gently cleansing and decongestant and can be used safely for helping clear the chest and sinuses. Combined with their anti-inflammatory effects and their antioxidant content, this makes them particularly helpful for allergies. You can read Danielle’s fantastic post about treating seasonal allergies here.

They are also specific for a sluggish lymphatic system and make a very valuable spring tonic herb for getting everything moving again after a stagnant winter. This makes them helpful for breast swellings and mastitis and many sources recommend them for cancer treatment. Used as a poultice and taken internally as tea or tincture they were a traditional remedy for breast cancer. I think they resonate with this area of the body particularly as they are, to me, a remedy of the heart. It is with a slight sense of shame that I realise I left them out of my herbal hugs post back in January as they are certainly deeply comforting and loving in their energy. In fact Violets were used by the ancient Greeks in potions for love and fertility.

I also like to use violet as a skin remedy. Both the odorata and the tricolor, better known as heartsease, which flowers a little later, are very valuable in oils or washes for a variety of skin ailments. Their cooling, soothing and protective properties can be used on both dry and weeping eczema as well as acne and irritated, itchy skins. The leaves and flowers contain volatile oils and saponins both of which are extracted well in an infused oil which can then be made in to a lovely cream. I like mine combined with chickweed, speedwell or lavender infused oils depending on the person it is for. For acne treatment I would use it as a wash rather than an oil based preparation.

The flowers and leaves are a very gentle laxative and are often given to children in syrup form to ease their bowels. The root however is a strong laxative and purgative and in high doses will cause vomiting, so be wary.

Also be sure not to use the house plant, African violet, which is poisonous!

The flower remedy is a particularly special preparation which holds many great lessons for us. It is for those who have a very pure vision of the way they feel the world should be. It is a remedy of the imagination, for promoting and holding a clear and positive vision and returning us to a sense of child-like joy and wonder that can heal despondency and the fatigue caused by living in a challenging world.  The sweet violet helps us stay centred in the place where love and imagination has the power to manifest physically and create a better world as a result.

The upper petals are open to give and receive but the perfect gold centre is protected, so the visions held cannot be compromised by the challenges of this world. The fine veins running through the petals are like nerves, indicating the extreme sensitivity of the violet personality. Their heads seem to hang heavy indicating how weighed down these folk can feel by the suffering they see around them. They grow close to the ground indicating how the remedy can help in grounding our dreaming into the here and now and stabilising us when times are tough. The large heart shaped leaves unfurl from the centre enabling us to open our hearts to all life’s experiences whilst remaining equanimous, grounded and free.

A perfect remedy for our troubled times, the violet is one of my favourite flowers.

It was truly a blessing to have such a bright sunny morning for making my flower essence. I’ve spoken to flower remedy makers who do theirs whatever the weather but I find there’s nothing like sunshine to result in a wonderfully energised remedy. You can read my post on how to make your own flower remedies here.

Violet infused honey is such a treat and you can leave the flowers in to add a decorative and delicious touch to your food. It has many of the same properties as the syrup but is simpler and better for those who seek the medicinal benefits of honey rather than using sugar. An added advantage is that you don’t have to heat the flowers or honey at all so none of the antioxidants or vital enzymes will be destroyed. I had thought I wouldn’t bother at all with a syrup this year but Sarah Head posted such an enticing recipe here which involves a magical colour change, so I might have to do a small batch after all!

To make the honey just fill a jar with violet flowers, cover with a reasonably runny raw honey and stir with a chop stick. let infuse for a fortnight or so and then enjoy. The flowers tend to float to the top so just turn the jar or give it a stir now and again to ensure everything is well mixed.

The violets have also been gracing my food regularly over the past couple of weeks and I find nothing more cheering than their beautiful colour mixed here with the leafy greens of my lunch which consisted of quinoa, walnuts. sunflower seeds, cleavers, tender new hawthorn leaves, viola flowers and lemon juice.  It was a delight for all my senses.

Read Full Post »

They’re back and they’re bad – as my fingers, still stinging two days later, can attest. So far this year I’ve only picked a few nettles, to add to teas or green juices, so it was a pleasure to get out in the bright sun this weekend and gather some fresh young tops for making a spring tonic tincture.

Sarah Furey told me that Stephen Church of The Herbarium told her (who says the oral tradition is dead) that the young nettles appearing at this time of year which have a reddish tinge to their leaves are particularly high in minerals and make for an exceptionally nourishing spring tonic tincture. It makes sense doesn’t it, when you think that the reddy colour can often signify the presence of iron.

This is one of those wonderful examples of how using our senses to observe the subtle changes in plants throughout the year can give us so many clues as to their healing virtues.

Later, when the nettles grow tall and vibrantly green, their diuretic and kidney tonic properties are more prominent.

In the true spirit of enquiry, I decided to make two nettle tinctures this year to compare and contrast the differences in taste and action.

I gathered enough young nettle tops for a couple of litres of tincture, washed them thoroughly and allowed to drain. I made a 1:2 tincture but, as the nettles were fresh, it will probably end up more in the region of a 1:3. If you’d like specific advice on tincture making, the best place to visit is the afore mentioned Herbarium which has brilliant instructions for making tinctures from various different plant parts. You can read the first part of the series here.

I packed my blender with the nettles and alcohol (vodka is fine for this tincture) and pulsed it until the nettles were nicely broken down but not pureed. Then it went into the jars where it will macerate for two weeks in a cool dark place being shaken and blessed daily.

And there were just enough left over to add to a green juice with some cleavers, fennel, celery, cucumber, apple and ginger.

Delicious and radiant, the nettle is so abundant and full of virtues we should count ourselves very lucky to be surrounded by it.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,493 other followers