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Archive for the ‘Wildcrafting’ Category

September is such an exciting month because everything is shifting. It feels not quite one thing or another as there are still the vestiges of summer with bright sunny days and roses in the garden, meanwhile autumn is well underway with the hedgerows dripping in berries ready for the harvest.

Every year is different however and this year the elderberries have been sparser than I have ever known them before. I assume this is because it was so wet in June when the flowers were out, meaning many pollinators were not able to access them and fulfil their important task. Many of the trees near me look like this photo below.

Still after ranging further afield than normal I have managed a decent harvest, though I’ll need some more for tincture making before the season is out. How are the elderberries looking around you this year?

There are many other beautiful berries hanging heavy from the branches however and it is always wise to include them in your diet for their wonderful antioxidant properties that help to protect and heal every cell of the body.

The hawthorns are fat and fabulous this year, I suppose as they were pollinated before the heavy downpours came, the wet summer would have helped them grow large, if not necessarily more potent.

The blackberries are also wonderfully abundant, ripe and juicy, though the sloes seem thinner on the ground than usual in the blackthorn trees near my home. I have it on good authority however that they are growing well in other parts.

Blackberries

Sloes

Like sloes, the berries of guelder rose or cramp bark  (Viburnum opulus) and rowan or mountain ash (Sorbus acuparia) are not eaten raw but are good when cooked.

Guelder rose berries

In Saturday’s herb group we picked a good selection of berries to make into a delicious variant on my 5 berry syrup recipe which you can find here.

Berries simmering away

As you well know however, not all the berries in the hedgerow are safe to eat and all these pictured below would be well to avoid if you value the health of your internal organs, and in some cases your life.

Holly berries are toxic, avoid them.

The beautiful berries of the wayfaring tree turn from green to bright red to black throughout the late summer and autumn. Alas they can lead to vomiting and diarrhoea though so ’tis best to leave them be.

The yew berries, and specifically the seeds they contain, are highly poisonous.

The beautiful spindle berries give much pleasure to look upon but not to consume, they are also toxic.

Common or purging buckthorn lives up to it’s name.

Black bryony berries are not ones to make into jam or it may be the last piece of toast you get to enjoy.

Finally, the berries of woody nightshade may look enticing growing next to these blackberries but be sure to leave them out of your syrup. Related to the tomato you can see the resemblance can’t you?

This is in no way an exhaustive list but it covers the majority of species growing in my local area. As with all wild plants, if you are not sure of the identification it is best to leave well alone.

I’ll be back in a few days with a post looking at the medicinal properties of elderberries in more detail. In the meantime You can find some elderberry recipes in this post here from a couple of years ago.

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It has been so wonderful to enjoy a few rays of sunshine this weekend after the continuous downpours of previous weeks. Whilst I deeply appreciate the rain, there is something so vital and enlivening about the sunshine at this time of year, plus our vey real need to top up our vitamin D stores after winter.

Finally, all the reasons why May is one of my favourite months were apparent; the garden, growing up so lush and vibrant and about to burst into bloom, the cowslips carpeting the Downs and, very best of all, the musky sweet scent of hawthorn blossom on the air.

As I set off harvesting yesterday I stopped down the garden path to admire these beautiful chive buds. Look closely and you will see the little beads of moisture on the inside. Exquisite no? Like the flowers are gently breathing their way open.

Valerian and roses are all set to flower too. I love the pattern formed by the valerian buds and the spiral of the rose sepals unfurling. This was a new rose for me last autumn, bought for half price from the garden centre. It is called Wild Edric and is supposed to be especially hardy for organic growers as well as beautifully fragrant. Well you know roses are my one weakness….

 

Already in flower and pretty as the day is long are the heartsease. To my mind this is one plant that certainly lives up to its name as it lifts my spirits and enlivens my heart every time I see it.

And gone to seed are the dandelion heads. Much as I love my dandys, I snip most off and just leave a few to populate the garden with their offspring. These downy globes of tiny seeded parachutes are both beautiful and very well adapted for survival.

Then out of the garden and onto the hills, where the wild things grow and the sea winds blow.

This sweet little flower is black meddick which enjoys coastal areas and lime rich soils.

Growing next to it was this chickweed, busting into tiny flower-stars and adorned with tufts of enthusiastic dandelion.

Red campion brings splashes of bright colour to the spring hued greens and yellows of the hedges.

 

And speedwell, one of my favourite of all wildflowers, grows rampant at the field edges.

The blossoms of wayfaring tree, Viburnum lantana, bridge the time gap between the flowerings of blackthorn and hawthorn,  continuing the thread of hedgerow beauty that passes to the elder as the hawthorn blossom begins to fade.

Wayfaring Tree

Buds of Elder

Cowslips are all over the escarpment, enabling me to harvest just enough for tea and a small quantity of infused oil. Remember cowslips are endangered in many parts, though they grow freely here, so cultivate them in your garden for a sustainable harvest unless you have a very prolific source nearby.

One of the things I love best about this time of year is the ability to pick herbs so freely for fresh teas. I am enjoying again my old favourite of lemon balm and rosemary from the garden and there is nothing like a tea of cowslip and hawthorn tops for relaxing in the evening and ensuring a good night’s rest.

My oils are left out in the day, infusing in the full sun, then bought into the warm at night. Like this they should be ready in only about three days. This would not be sufficient time for tougher plants but these fresh flowering tops will give up their constituents quickly in the bright warm sunlight and may risk rancidity or losing their vitality if left out too long.

I have bombarded you with enough pictures for one post but I’ll be sharing thoughts and images from the first hawthorn blossom harvest sometime next week.

What are your favourite things in May?

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This spring the hills around my home have been literally carpeted with delightful and cheery cowslips. Usually I am very restrained in my cowslip harvest, gathering just a few flowers here and there for adding to tea blends, because this beautiful wild flower is not as abundant as once it was and needs protecting. If you had been out walking on this part of the South Downs recently however, you might be forgiven for thinking cowslips were as common as nettles.

Also known as Heaven’s Keys or Fairy Cup, Primula officinalis/ veris, is a wonderful soothing nervine herb with sedative and anti-spasmodic properties. The flowers contain flavonoids which are anti-inlammatory and for the best medicinal action should be collected without any of the green parts. I usually dry the whole head though as I am only really after a nice soothing addition to my teas.

Cowslip makes a lovely tea with chamomile for soothing anxiety and irritation and is ideal drunk before bed for it’s sedative and sleep enhancing properties. I wrote another post about the benefits of cowslip this time last year which you can read here.

The roots contain saponins which make them useful as a stimulating expectorant in coughs and bronchitis though care must be taken as large doses could cause vomiting. I have never worked with the roots before so would be interested to hear from anyone who has. I would caution against collecting cowslip roots from the wild however in order to preserve the plants as much as possible.

The main way I use cowslip  flowers personally is in tea blends. It combines nicely with chamomile, oatstraw and other relaxing herbs. We have been enjoying an infusion of cowslip, rose and lemon verbena before bed which is both delicious and relaxing.

I also really like cowslip infused in oil for cosmetic use. This one was infused on a sunny windowsill for 10 days, plenty of time for delicate flowers like these. I strained it this evening and will be whipping it up into a batch of face cream along with cowslip infusion later in the week.

I mentioned in my post last year that Culpepper wrote of cowslips affiliation for the complexion saying ‘Our city dames know well enough the ointment or distilled water of it adds to beauty or at least restores it when lost.’ Mrs Grieve also shares this wonderful quote by Turner in her Modern Herbal, ‘Some weomen we find, sprinkle ye floures of cowslip wt whyte wine and after still it and wash their faces wt that water to drive wrinkles away and to make them fayre in the eyes of the worlde rather than in the eyes of God, Whom they are not afrayd to offend.’

Cowslip wine is a country favourite which Maria Treben recommends for strengthening the heart and nervous system. This lovely image of making cowslip wine is from Cecily Parsley’s Nursery Rhymes by Beatrix Potter and is available here.

In my recent post on spring flowers I quoted Ariel’s song from Shakespeare’s The Tempest and this time I shall leave you with these lovely lines from A Midsummer Night’ Dream, the words of a young fairy in conversation with that mischievous rogue Puck.

And I serve the Fairy Queen
To dew her orbs upon the green.
The cowslips tall her pensioners be.
In their coats spots you’ll see;
Those be rubies, fairy favours;
In those freckles live their savours.
I must go seek some dewdrops here,
And hang a pearl in every cowslip’s ear.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Nettle Root Medicine

Despite using the leaf and seed of nettle on a regular basis, this year was the first time I have harvested and made tincture from the roots. I was lucky enough to be accompanied by Sascha, who I should probably mention, gathered the biggest root of all, honestly it was quite impressive!

I’ve been feeling the call of nettle root strongly this autumn and it keeps popping into my mind in relation to a particularly problematic case involving hormonal dysfunction. I have little experience of using the roots of nettle clinically other than in cases of male pattern baldness and problems of the prostate, most notably Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH). However the case in question is that of a woman, though certainly a testosterone imbalance is indicated in her symptoms, and there is little information available to support my intuitive nudging that this was the right medicine to turn to.

Several studies have shown the success of nettle root in treating BPH, particularly in its early stages when it can help to slow the growth of prostate cells, improve urinary flow and alleviate the constant urge to urinate. This is especially so when combined with other herbs such as Saw palmetto or Pygeum. It does this primarily by inhibiting proteins that help to carry certain hormones into the cells and would otherwise encourage the growth of prostate cells.

In its action of reducing the numbers of sex hormones available to the tissues I imagine that the benefits of nettle root must be more wide ranging than we usually consider. Though, without doubt, certain herbs may have a greater affinity for either male or female conditions and personalities, there is always some crossover and no herb can be said to belong exclusively to one sex or another. Traditionally, nettle root has been used to help menstrual irregularities and for this reason it’s best avoided in pregnancy. Linda Crockett, a herbalist specialising in women’s hormonal health, includes nettle root in her formulas for polycystic ovarian syndrome and Susan Weed writes, ‘ Use nettle root as a hair and scalp tonic, a urinary strengthener and stimulant, an immune system/ lymphatic strengthener and a bit of first aid’ – primarily in cases of diarrhoea.

There is also some information available online, though it’s hard to know how much of it you can trust, especially when one website contained the following gem, ‘Nettle root is commonly prized for its stems and leaves, which are reported to contain numerous health benefits’. Anyone else notice the obvious flaw there?

I feel like, in getting to know nettle root, I’m accessing a whole new facet of a long time favourite herbal ally, and I’m really excited to carry on my research and experimentation into the possibilities for its different healing applications.

Soaking the roots.

When digging roots it’s especially important to connect with the plants an ask permission because, unlike when you gather the arial parts of perennial herbs, you are taking the life of the plant when you harvest its roots.

The soil is very sticky clay round here so our roots needed a good soak before scrubbing with a brush and chopping finely ready for tincturing.

I’m quite excited to try the finished result and will be experimenting on myself before giving it to my client. I hope to have some interesting findings to report back before too long.

References:

Healing Our Hormones, Healing Our Lives – Linda Crockett
Healing Wise – Susun Weed
Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy – Mills and Bone

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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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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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