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Archive for the ‘Teas’ Category

Brambles are one of those plants that display perfectly how the abundance and resilience of a particular species can make it beloved by some and loathed by others. Blackberries, the fruit of the bramble or Rubus fruticosus, must be by far the most popular and well known of wild foods, growing in practically every hedgerow and irresistible to all who pass by. Yet the bramble is also the gardener’s bane, invasive, fast growing and difficult to eradicate, this woody weed is a far from popular addition to most gardens. Here at our new house we have quite a bit of it growing through the area we hope will become our veg patch and, whilst I’m not exactly thrilled to see it there, it’s humbling to remember all the gifts of food and medicine that brambles give to us each year and seek to find ways to manage it naturally, principally by using it freely.

Bramble

As we follow brambles through the year we can find something of use at all times except darkest winter. In early spring the leaves and young shoots can be used as a pleasant tasting, cleansing and tonifying tea. The leaves can be harvested throughout the summer and are a valuable astringent due to their tannin content. Traditionally they were used to treat diarrhoea, sore throats and dysentery. The root bark is a stronger astringent, indeed it may be too strong for people with very sensitive stomachs, and is also useful in cases of diarrhoea as well as spasmodic coughs. I don’t have any experience with using the root bark myself though I have made the leaves into teas and an infused oil which is helpful for bumps, bruises and minor injuries. The oil or tincture also make a valuable addition to creams or salves for treating haemorrhoids and varicosities, due once again to their astringency. The leaves have been recommended for treating bleeding gums for this same reason, as well as for their vulnerary properties. An infusion of the leaves or root can also be used as a compress or formentation for sores, burns, varicosities and minor wounds. The inner part of the spring shoots can also be eaten as a tasty, crunchy vegetable, either raw in salads or lightly steamed or stir fried. Just peel the outer portion of the stems back to reveal the yumminess within.

Later, as the flowers begin to form in summer, a lovely flower remedy can be made which I have found useful for people who are good natured and generous at heart, but can tend to be over-dominating. The American FES remedies make a blackberry essence which they claim “helps the person who cannot make a viable connection with the will. The soul has many lofty visions and desires but is unable to translate these into concrete manifestations.” I suppose both these things relate to the ability of the blackberry to make its mark on the world, but in an appropriate way! It would be interesting to hear anyone else’s experience of blackberry flower remedy and what they have found it useful for.

Now, on to the berries themselves! Though they are probably most delicious straight from the bush and still warm from the late summer sun, there are numerous things that can be done with a blackberry. Cakes, crumbles, biscuits, smoothies and many other puddings benefit from their flavour but they are also useful in promoting health as they are full of vitamins and antioxidants. They are high in vitamins C and K, folic acid and manganese and rich in the antioxidant polyphenols which are thought to be beneficial in preventing a host of diseases.

Blackberries

One way I enjoy my blackberries later into the season is by infusing them in apple cider vinegar for use as a deliciously fruity salad dressing. This could also be taken with a little warm water and raw honey as a remedy for gout and joint stiffness. In fact, blackberry was used by the ancient Greeks as a cure for gout.

I made my blackberry vinegar with the addition of a cinnamon stick this year to make it extra warming and delicious for this time of year. Just lightly fill a jar with blackberries and one cinnamon stick broken into pieces, then cover with apple cider vinegar and leave to infuse for a month, swirling the mixture daily for the first week. Be sure to cap with a plastic lid as the vinegar will erode metal.

Blackberry and Cinnamon Vinegar

The bramble is a plant surrounded by folklore and superstition. A sacred plant of the Druids, it was said to protect the faery realm and was also connected to the Goddess. Mrs Grieves tells us that they “were in olden days supposed to give protection against all evil runes, if gathered at the right time of the moon.”  Walking or crawling under the arch of a bramble shoot was thought to cure a variety of diseases from whooping cough to warts, though I’m inclined to believe all the scratches just took your mind of any other problems you were experiencing! Even today it is thought unlucky to eat blackberries after Michaelmas, on the 29th September, as they have been claimed by the devil. This is actually quite sensible as Michaelmas is usually around the time of the first frost after which the blackberries can begin to decay and mould… so let the devil keep ‘em.

I’ve just realised that leaves us only six more days to gather as many as possible… so I’m off!

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Wondering reverence amongst the Pines

Trees have captured our imaginations since people first walked amongst them. Possibly even before. There has never been a time when our lives did not depend on the majesty of these great beings, whether for food, shelter, fuel or medicine. As the daughter of a forester I suppose it was inevitable that my chosen path would in some way come full circle and include a special place for trees. I am so grateful for the healing provided by them, there always seems an extra special something in a blend of herbs when it contains some tree medicine!

I think trees function as nervines simply by their virtue of being. In my experience, nothing is a greater tonic to the nerves than a walk in nature, wandering through aged boughs and young saplings and feeling your gaze flooded with a thousand shades of green. The nervous system, down to the neurones themselves, bears a striking resemblance to trees, with their myriad branches and roots stretching out and connecting, sending messages and forming an incredible network, the like of which we have barely begun to understand.

A Neuron

Having said that, within herbal medicine, not many trees are considered nervines. The blossoms of Hawthorn have been described as such, Peach and Rose make great cooling remedies for the nervous system and then there’s the lovely Linden, one of my favourite trees that is also one of my favourite nervines. Linden, also known as Lime Tree (though no relation to the fruit!) is one of the herbalists greatest allies for soothing stress, tension and nervous excitation. The name comes from an Anglo Saxon root, though ‘Linden’ was originally an adjective, meaning ‘made of Lime wood’. In German, the verb ‘lindern’ means to alleviate, ease or soothe.

In various European cultures it has been associated with the divine feminine, being sacred to Freya and Frigga, Goddesses of love, fertility, domesticity and divination.

Limes are an ancient species, there is a small leaved lime in Westonbirt Arboretum that is at least 2,000 years old. Limes and elms were once the commonest trees in Britain, flourishing around 6,000 years ago, during the warm Atlantic period. These would have been our native species, Tilia cordata, or small leaved lime, and Tilia platyphyllos, the broad leaved lime. Both of these are now fairly rare, especially the broad leaved, and the lime trees common in parks and lining avenues are the common limes Tilia x europaea or Tilia x vulgaris.

A Common Lime - just before flowering.

I was hoping the Limes would be in flower by now but everything is a bit late this year. I’m waiting on them blooming any day though! I was planning to share a few more of my recipes but I’ll do an update with some ideas for using the blossoms as soon as they are ready for picking. I’ll be doing some tincture, infused oil, a flower remedy (weather permitting!) and an elixir so do check back in a week or two for some medicine making ideas. Linden is one of the last trees to flower and the blooms are only fresh for about a week so everything has to be dropped as soon as the blossoms open and the bees start buzzing. Bees are the best guides to finding a Linden in flower as they can be heard making merry with the pollen, one of their favourites, from quite some distance. There is an altogether musical quality about this tree and it’s wood was a common choice for making instruments such as guitars and recorders due to its fine acoustics.

If the elder is a venerable and wise old grandmother then the linden is a kind and gentle young lady, softly singing her child to sleep. You always feel cared for with a cup of linden tea in your hand. Due to it’s gentle nature and sweet honey like taste, Linden makes a lovely children’s remedy taken as a tea, with a little honey if required. It can soothe irritability in children and adults alike and makes a lovely footbath to aid a restful night’s sleep. In Peter Conway’s interesting book “Tree Medicine’, he writes. ‘If you are stressed, tense or overworked, you need limeflowers.’ Well thats most of us then! It is highly beneficial to constitutionally nervous types whose anxiety goes to their digestion, a pattern which I can definitely relate to, being what is known in iridology as an ‘anxiety gastric’ type.

It’s list of actions include antidepressant, antispasmodic, demulcent, diaphoretic, expectorant, hypotensive, nervine, sedative and stomachic and as such, it’s is good for more then just stress.

Linden branch - note the heart shaped leaves.

It’s been traditionally used as a heart tonic, helping to reduce cholesterol and high blood pressure, especially if the cause is anxiety driven. It does this in part by relaxing the circulation. If you try clenching your fists hard you’ll notice the skin in your palm going white where the blood has been unable to flow before turning red as the blood rushes back in. Now imagine being in a constant state of anxiety, it creates constriction which results in shallow breathing, reduced circulation and eventually dryness where the blood has been unable to adequately nourish the skin. Linden effectively treats all these conditions, by relaxing the nervous system and the circulation and soothing dryness and inflammation with its high mucilage content. In this way we can see its energy as being expansive in opening up the channels of the body to allow relaxation and flow.

It’s also a valuable medicine for the immune system being regularly drunk as a hot tea in France for colds, flus and fevers. As a diaphoretic it helps the body produce sweat which can lower a high temperature and rid the body of infection. Its anti-inflammatory and expectorant properties make it useful in respiratory conditions where it helps remove phlegm, soothe irritated passages and boost the immune system.

Interestingly, some describe it as energetically cooling and others as warming and we can see both of these qualities if we consider its ability to stimulate and move (qualities traditionally thought of as warming) as well as it’s use in cooling the body by encouraging sweating and calming anxiety.

The bracts and almost opening blossom, both of which are used medicinally.

There are also a variety of external uses for lime blossom, as the high mucilage content helps to soothe irritation and inflammation when used an an infusion for compresses or baths or as an infused oil. It is also a valuable herb for beauty as it is high in antioxidants, helps to regenerate the skin and and is thought to help clear acne when used in facial washes. This year I plan to make a nourishing and softening blend of linden and elderflower infused oils to make into face creams. Lovely.

Linden shines as a tea, having such a palatable taste that there are few who will dislike it. I included my ‘Hug in a Mug’ recipe in my recent post on rose which contains linden blossom, rose and avena, but often I just make a simple linden blossom tea and float a few rose buds on top which gives it a beautiful flavour as well as aesthetic appeal. To enhance the diaphoretic effect it is lovely taken with elderflower at the onset of a cold or flu and can be combined with hawthorn to emphasise it’s ability to lower blood pressure and protect the heart. In very large doses it can cause nausea and may be damaging so stick to 3 or 4 cups a day long term or take larger doses for a short period only.

Linden and Rose Bud Tea

The Linden is truly a gift of healing and wonder. It is strong and ancient yet also elegant and and it teaches us lightness, grace and a subtle kind of merriment. I’m excited for the first blooms which should appear very soon and will be reporting on the harvest and the medicine making as and when it happens.

A Lullaby of Linden:
I would like to sit with you
In a silence
Punctuated only by song,
Strange and sweet
And whispering of stars that fell an age ago.
Stillness and lullaby are my gifts to you.
My honied words, a subtle kindness
That tells you, ‘Dear one, stop,
You are held, you are loved.’
I’ve seen your life in a blink of my own
But to me you are unique in whichever form you appear today.
My song is your medicine.
Stillness and lullaby are my gifts to you.

References:
Picture of a neuron available at http://www.sullenriot.com/media/images/article-images/neuron.gif
Tree Medicine – Peter Conway
The Desktop Guide to Herbal Medicine – Brigitte Mars
Hedgerow Medicine – Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal
The Living Wisdom of Trees – Fred Hageneder
Flora Britannica – Richard Mabey

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Horsetail, Equisetum spp., is truly a wonder from another age. The Equisetum family are known as a ‘living fossils’ as they are the only living examples of the Equisetopsida class which formed the major part of the understory of the great Paleozoic forests. These covered the land for over 100 million years, roughly 542 to 541 million years ago, a time which saw the first large reptiles and an explosion in marine life. Now Equisetum arvense usually grows between 20-40 cm high, but at that time, its relatives grew up to 30 metres tall, giant green skeletons which stroked the heavens with their feathery branches. This era ended with the Permian- Triassic extinction event, or the Great Dying as it has become known, the largest mass extinction in the history of the Earth. It took the Earth 30 million years to recover. Horsetail however endured and, as a result, holds in its dreaming more than we humans, as relatively new species on Earth, can possibly imagine.  Fossil records show that Horsetails made up a large part of the coal forest swamps and are therefore powering much of our current lifestyle.

Horsetail Fossil

Fossil showing stem and leaves

There are a variety of species including Marsh, Water, Great and Wood Horsetails, several of which have been used for medicine, though the most commonly used is Field Horsetail, Equisetum arvense, as the others are thought to be more toxic. Even Field Horsetail can cause problems to livestock if they eat a large amount as it contains an enzyme which depletes thiamin (Vitamin B1) levels. This enzyme is deactivated by heat though so teas or decoctions will be safe long term for humans and animals alike. It’s best avoided in pregnancy however as it contains high levels of selenium. Horsetail is a gymnosperm, or non-flowering plant, which spreads through spores released by fertile stems. These grow up in spring to be replaced later in the season by the distinctive, segmented sterile stalks which are used in medicine. Horsetail thrives in damp soils so its no wonder that it’s made such a happy home here in the UK!

Field Horsetail growing at the edge of uncultivated land.

Uses: Horsetail is a wonderful example of the doctrine of signatures as its skeletal structure and jointed segments indicate one of its primary uses in strengthening and healing joints, bones and connective tissue. Matthew Wood writes, “If you pick the young plant and break the seal between the joints, there is still an elastic material within the joint that holds it together. As you roll the joint between your fingers, you will notice that it flexes much like one would want the knee or any joint to flex when bending. The idea of cartilage is immediately presented to the mind.”  Famed for its high silica content it not only helps the musculoskeletal system but strengthens weak nails and hair when used either externally or internally as well as arteries and veins. This is also reflected in the strong stems which could be seen to relate to the various channels of the body.

It is also commonly used in conditions of the bladder including chronic cystitis, benign prostate enlargement, incontinence and enuresis (bedwetting) as it strengthens the connective tissue of the bladder and has astringent properties. As a kidney tonic, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial it is greatly beneficial for the whole urinary system and can be a helpful diuretic, reducing oedema and swelling.

The astringent and healing properties also make it a great wound herb when used externally as a compress or poultice.

Interestingly, Wood also uses Horsetail for any of the indications for which homeopathic Silica is recommended which can include nervousness with fidgeting, hair pulling, nail biting and sensitivity to cold with a lack of vital heat and poor peripheral circulation.

Sterile Stalks of Horsetail

Methods of Preparation:

Tea – A tea from horsetail can be made by infusion (steeping in hot water) or decoction (simmering gently in a pan of water for about 15 mins). The decoction is preferred for its healing properties but an infusion is helpful as a gentle long term remedy for strengthening hair and nails. The silica in horsetail is water soluble so these are ideal preparations to be taken internally or used externally by adding to the bath, using as a compress or a strengthening hair rinse or nail soak. A tea made with Oatstraw is nice for supporting bone health, taken with St John’s Wort it may help in cases of bedwetting and with Yarrow, Couch Grass and Marshmallow it can help sooth cystitis.

Vinegar – This can be made by steeping Horsetail herb in apple cider vinegar for a month to six weeks, straining, then enjoying added to salads, diluted in water for compresses or added to the bath water – about 1/2 a cup. Vinegar is a particularly useful method for extracting minerals from a wide variety of herbs.

Tincture – Particularly helpful for urinary tract problems as well as general healing, I make mine in Vodka as the higher water content enables more of the minerals to be extracted.

Poultice – Maria Treben recommends lightly steaming the stems before wrapping in linen and lying on the affected part of the body, keeping warm with a hot water bottle and repeating as necessary.

Essence – An essence of horsetail is thought to be beneficial for communication, helping us connect with different levels of our being and with each other.

Dried Horsetail Stalks, Horsetail Vinegar (left) and Tincture (right).

I find Horsetail a fascinating and enchanting plant. It whispers of another age when it was as mighty as the great dinosaurs with which it shared the land and reminds us of the immense history of our home, the inevitability of change and the responsibility we now have as its caretakers.

Now I don’t know about you, but one thing I remain unconvinced of it’s similarity to a horse’s tail. I think it bears a much closer resemblance to a cat’s tail, especially a raggedy, yet beautiful, old tortoiseshell’s tail like this one. What do you think?

A striking resemblance? You decide.

References:

Fossil Photos courtesy of Louisville Fossils and Fossil Mall, all other photos Lucinda Warner 2010
Hedgerow Medicine – Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal
The Book of Herbal Wisdom – Matthew Wood
Flora Britannica – Richard Mabey
Health through God’s Pharmacy – Maria Treben
The Desktop Guide to Herbal Medicine – Brigitte Mars

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Cowslips and Primroses are two of the cheeriest and prettiest of our spring wild flowers. They have a rustic charm reminiscent of days gone by when they were used much more commonly in medicine than they are today.

Cowslip, Primula officinalis, and Primrose, Primula vulgaris, contain similar properties, being of use for soothing the nerves, easing insomnia and improving headaches. An infusion of Cowslip with Wood Betony is said to be of particular use in headache and migraine. They are both anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic, making them useful for muscular pains, rheumatism and gout and an infusion of the flowers of either plant can be used in the bath for soothing these conditions. They have also been recommended for pulmonary problems as both have expectorant properties.

Cowslips

Infusions of Primrose or Cowslip flowers have been used to brighten the complexion and reduce wrinkles. Culpepper recommends a Cowslip ointment saying, ‘Our city dames know well enough the ointment or distilled water of it adds to beauty or at least restores it when lost.’

Both flowers are associated with youth in the Victorian language of flowers, Cowslip also being associated with winning grace and primrose carrying the meaning, ‘I can’t live without you.’ Both have also been associated with faeries in folk tradition and magic.

The flowers and young leaves can be used in salads, though they are potentially allergenic so always do an allergy test first by rubbing a little of the juice from a leaf on the inside of the lips and seeing how you react.

Primrose

Both plants used to be very common but are much rarer now due to changing habitat as well as pesticide and agrochemical use. Therefore it’s important to harvest responsibly, and only in areas where they are abundant, if you wish to use them for food or remedies.

Maria Treben rates Cowslip highly as a remedy for insomnia. Here is her recipe for a sleep inducing tea:

50g Cowslip flowers
25g Lavender
10g St John’s Wort
15g Hops
5g Valerian

Pour 1/4 litre boiling water over a heaped teaspoon of the herbal mix, allow to infuse, add honey if desired and drink in sips before bed. She says, ‘This tea should be preferred to all chemical sleep inducing remedies. Sleeping pills destroy the nervous system whereas this tea removes nervous complaints.’

Cowslip was also commonly made into wine. For a modern day approach to this, loosely fill a bottle with fresh cowslip flowers, pour white wine over them, bottle and leave in the sunlight for fourteen days. Take 3 tablespoons a day for nervous system and heart complaints.

Primrose flowers also make a lovely infused vinegar which can be used in cooking or salad dressings.

Enjoy these sweet spring soothers and remember to harvest them with care and gratitude, never taking too much from one area.

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Over the last month or so we’ve been getting a lot of oranges in our organic fruit and veg box. I guess the apples and pears are running low so they’re bulking up the local produce with a few things from further afield. I don’t usually go for oranges but I’ve found myself enjoying them more and more and have been inspired to use the peel in a variety of ways as well as eating the fruit.

Orange peel has many beneficial qualities, being higher in vitamin C, flavanoids and enzymes than the fruit itself. I have been using large strips of it fresh in teas, on its own or with other herbs, and also cutting it into smaller pieces and drying for future use.

The peel has long been used in Chinese Medicine, from both the sweet orange (Citrus sinensis) and the bitter (Citrus aurantium) as well as from tangerines (Citrus reticulata). It had several key functions including ‘moving the chi’ to reduce any accumulations, or congestions, whether in the respiratory tract, bowel or liver.

Primarily a digestive aid, orange peel is aromatic, carminative, anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic and can help with bloating, wind and constipation. The bitter orange peel is more cooling and than its warmer, sweeter cousin and so has a greater affinity with the liver and gallbladder being both a cholagogue and a choleretic. Sarah Head has written a lovely post on citrus bitters on her blog which you can read here.

Being thermogenic, orange peel can boost the metabolism which makes it helpful for weight loss, as does its ability to aid in digesting fatty foods.

Also high in vitamins A and C, orange peel can be helpful for building a healthy immune system and warding off coughs and colds. It is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and has high levels of antioxidants, making it very suitable as an addition to any immune tonic blends.
Immune tonic tea with orange peel, cinnamon, elderberries, cardamom and ginger.

It also contains d-limonene, as does lemon peel, a substance which has been shown to inhibit tumour growth in some studies and which is currently being more fully researched.

The orange family also gives us a whole host of wonderful essential oils including tangerine and mandarin. The sweet orange oil, which is expressed from the peel of the Citrus sinensis variety, is uplifting, warming, anti-depressant and emotionally balancing, bringing some of the joy of childhood to a gloomy day. Citrus aurantium gives us no less than three precious oils, bitter orange, from the fruit, petitgrain, from the leaves and twigs and neroli, from the blossoms. Neroli is one of my favourite oils so I will be sure to write more on it in the future.

 

Here are three simple ways you can incorporate the health giving properties of orange peel into your life. Always remember to use organic oranges as toxins from pesticide sprays will be stored in the skin.

Orange Peel, Ginger and Cinnamon Infused Honey:
This harnesses the anti-bacterial and warming properties of the orange peel.
Place several long strips of orange peel in the bottom of a glass jar. I use a vegetable peeler to avoid taking too much of the white pith. Add five or six slices of fresh ginger and two cinnamon sticks broken into small pieces. Fill up the jar with good quality, raw honey and stir to release any air bubbles. Leave to infuse for about three weeks, stirring daily for the first few days. Strain the honey and place it in a fresh, clean jar. Use a spoonful in teas or any other way you fancy.

Orange Peel and Cardamom Tea
The combination of orange peel and cardamom enhances the digestive properties of both these herbs and makes a delicious after dinner cuppa.

Orange Peel and Lavender Tea
This tea can be made with fresh or dried herbs and is so lovely for balancing and calming the emotions and inducing a sense of peaceful contentment.

Sweet Orange Oil Footbath
You can’t beat this one for banishing the winter blues and bringing a smile to even the most jaded of lips. Dilute four drops of sweet orange oil in a tablespoon of base oil such as sweet almond and swish into a lovely hot foot bath. It’s always important to dilute essential oils before adding them to the water or they can irritate the skin.

 

All this talk of oranges reminded me of a poem I used to like many years ago. I dug it out and am including it here for your pleasure. To me, it sums up perfectly the generous gifts of joy the orange tree so kindly bestows upon us.

The Stolen Orange by Brian Patten

When I went out I stole an orange
I kept it in my pocket
It felt like a warm planet

Everywhere I went smelt of oranges
Whenever I got into an awkward situation
I’d take out the orange and smell it

And immediately on even dead branches I saw
The lovely and fierce orange blossom
That smells so much of joy

When I went out I stole an orange
It was a safeguard against imagining
There was nothing bright or special in the world.

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Whenever I need a bit of luxury in my life, rose and cardamom tea is just the ticket. These two herbs not only taste beautiful together but also have some great medicinal properties that help balance us when things get stressful.

They both have a long history of use as aphrodisiacs and were key ingredients in any number of ancient love spells. As they both aid the release of nervous tension and stress and have exquisite aromatic flavours, it’s not hard to see why this would be so.

Cardamom is wonderfully warming and soothing to the digestive tract and is a first rate choice for bloating or gas. Rose petals are usually considered cooling but also have some important digestive properties in increasing bile flow and protecting the liver.

They also both help to dry up congestion and mucus so can be useful at this time of year for those pesky ‘change of season’ runny noses.

Enjoy half an hour before meals to maximise the digestive properties or at anytime for the wonderful flavour and balancing, heart opening, love inducing effects. Just crush a few cardamom pods and add a small teaspoon of rose petals per cup.

If you really need some pampering, take a leaf out of my book and indulge in this tea with some homemade rose and cardamom chocolates (recipe to follow soon), whilst relaxing in a rose and cardamom bath… pure heaven.

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