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When the abundant beauty of summer dies back and Autumn begins to turn to winter, our eyes turn to the underlying forms and patterns of the natural world.

First we begin to appreciate the vibrant pigments that lie beneath the leaves’ green chlorophyll and then, when these themselves begin to pass, we look to veins and bark, root and stone and the incredible beauty of the matrix that is uncovered once more.

Though it is still relatively mild where I live, I see the beginnings of winter in line and edge, in soft moss and hard, bare branches and I am grateful for the beauty that underpins it all.

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Summer Retrospective

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As I stand in the kitchen with elderberries simmering on the stove and apple and blackberry crumble cooking in the oven, I have the feeling that autumn is settling in. There is a particular feeling of wellbeing that I associate with the autumn harvests, more so than any other season, though each has its own peculiar kind of magic. Autumn is the season of nourishment, of protection and of the wonderful hedgerow bounty that provides it. You can smell the changing season in the air, feel it in the early morning chill and taste it in every ripening berry.  And perhaps most peculiar of all, the very presence of autumn has within it the promise of spring as the tiny seeds of new beginnings ripen and fall into the Earth’s embrace.

Autumn skies can be some of the most beautiful. My husband took this little video from an upstairs window a couple of days ago showing the clouds rolling across the weald.

Before I get too caught up in autumnal reverie however, I wanted to share some of the highlights of my summer, not quite all of which has been spent pinned under a feeding baby!

June bought us bright sunshine and an abundance of elderflowers which I harvested mainly for diaphoretic teas.

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The wild roses were as good as I can ever remember them, spilling over hedges and farm tracks with abandon.

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The roses in my garden also put on a fine show, despite me having so little time to care for them this year.

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The Downs enjoyed its usual display of wild flowers including eyebright, yellow loosestrife and common spotted orchid.

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And what a wonderful year for butterflies it has been. It gives me hope for the future of our declining populations. There have been lots of small skippers and large whites (not pictured) along with the fabulous peacocks, tortoiseshells and commas.

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Plenty of bees have been spotted hanging off the garden herbs too!

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And once the summer flowers have faded there are still plenty of beautiful seed heads to enjoy.

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Goat’s Rue

This week is World Breastfeeding Week which this year is highlighting the importance of peer support for mothers who, all too often, do not receive adequate support to enable them to continue, or even begin, to nurse their child.  Nursing can be a physically and emotionally draining time for some people along with being a wonderful and loving way to connect with your little one.

It is so important to ensure adequate nutrition to support the body through the nursing relationship, whether it lasts for months or years. It is generally recommended for most people to consume 500 extra calories a day and plenty of extra fluids. Often when a new baby arrives however there is little time for focusing on preparing healthy meals and it is all to easy to rely on quick snacks or packaged food. The body will prioritise giving available nutrients to the baby so it is all to easy for the mother to become depleted.

In Chinese medicine there is a saying, ‘one drop of milk equals fifty drops of blood’ referring to the tendency towards blood deficiency in nursing mothers which is exacerbated by lack of sleep and has symptoms such as pallor, dizziness, fatigue, dry skin, anxiety, poor focus and floaters in the eyes. Some also believe it pre-disposes us to post natal depression. Ensuring a healthy nourishing diet is especially important for mothers who tandem breastfeed or have fed more than one child in close succession.

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Fenugreek

Along with a generally healthy diet a few general and easy to implement tips to increase vitality during breastfeeding are:

  1. Take a high quality multi-vitamin. Breastfeeding, pregnancy and other times of physical or emotional stress are times when it is really worth ensuring all your bases are covered with a good multi-vit.
  2. Ensure an adequate intake of protein. When nursing you are supporting the rapid growth of another person as well as sustaining yourself so it is even more important to ensure you include high quality protein with every meal. If you are a vegetarian as I am, then it is even more vital to be aware that you are not just filling up with carbs. I found it really helpful to pack my freezer with meals I made before my baby arrived to help sustain me in the first weeks.
  3. Try to include dark leafy greens every day as they are rich sources of minerals that help to build the blood.
  4. Include herbal blood tonics such as nettle nourishing infusions and other herbs that are rich in iron such as ashwagandha, both of which will boost vitality in a variety of ways. Ashwagandha is nice taken mixed with shatavari – another Ayurvedic herb (1 part ashwagandha to 3 parts shatavari) in powder form in a small glass of milk to aid assimilation. Shatavari has traditionally been used to support breastfeeding.
  5. Add oats to the diet, another traditional method of promoting breast-milk.

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When considering herbal support for breastfeeding we can think of herbs that promote quality and those that promote quantity of milk, though in some cases the same herbs will do both. Nourishing herbs, full of vitamins and minerals will help to improve the quality of the milk where as those that promote the quantity are commonly known as galactagogues.

Nourishing  herbs like nettle, milky oats and oatstraw, raspberry leaf and alfalfa are all wonderful, mineral rich herbs that help will support the whole body when under any kind of stress. They are also gentle galactagogues that are safe to take by most people. Shatavari, mentioned above, also falls into both categories as a general adaptogenic herb that also increases breast-milk.

Galactagogues are herbs that promote breast-milk production. The majority of women will have an adequate flow of milk and many will in fact have an excess until it balances out to meet the baby’s requirements after the first few weeks. Some however do need additional support to get things flowing and many will experience a dip in production at some point in their nursing journey. Many traditional galactagogues are aromatic and these are thought to work in part because of their anethol content, a constituent found widely in essential oil containing plants like fennel, fenugreek, caraway and anise. Other useful galactagogues include goat’s rue, holy thistle, marshmallow and milk thistle.

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Herbal teas are lovely to include when breastfeeding as they can nourish the body. increase hydration and, if necessary, increase milk production. Here is a recipe that can be taken by most nursing mothers. One cup a day is sufficient if you have adequate milk and three is recommended for stimulating production.

Nursing Mother’s Herbal Tea Recipe:

1 part Nettle leaf
1 part Alfalfa leaf
1 part Raspberry leaf
1 part Oatstraw
1 part Fennel seed
1 part Fenugreek seed
1/2 part Holy Thistle

Give the fenugreek a bit of a bash in the pestle and mortar, it is very tough so don’t expect to break it down too much. Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl and then keep as a loose tea to use in a pot or tea ball or spoon a large heaped teaspoon into pre-made bags like those I have used here. I get mine from woodland herbs.

The addition of catnip, lemon balm, chamomile or spearmint to your tea blend can be helpful in soothing stress and tension for both mama and baby as well as helping to ease colic in the newborn. Fennel is also useful for easing wind and colic as when drunk by the mama, the aromatic constituents pass through the milk to the baby and relax spasms in the GI tract.

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Cautions and Considerations:

The herbs mentioned are all very safe but it is worth noting a few considerations if taking them in quantity. As always if you are on any medication please consult a herbalist first. Both goats rue and fenugreek are known to lower blood sugar levels which could be problematic if you are diabetic or taking certain medicines.

Some herbs are fine as culinary additions but would not be recommended in medicinal doses, for example garlic which can cause colic (in some babies even in small quantities) parsley or sage, which is fine in stuffing but in any quantity can actually dry up breast-milk production.

Borage and comfrey are traditional galactagogues and nourishing herbs and would probably be fine for most people but it is considered wise to avoid them these days due to the Pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs) they contain which may contribute to liver damage in susceptible individuals.

I would also avoid any strong essential oils whilst breastfeeding as the aromatic compounds are readily absorbed into the blood stream. I stick to using the same oils that are considered safe in pregnancy and in the same low percentages. Neroli, mandarin, lavender and chamomile are among those that are gentle and safe for most people.

Interview

I have been interviewed over at Herb Geek. You can check it out here if you are interested!

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Midsummer is upon us and with it that wonderful sense of aliveness that comes with the long days and warm evenings suffused with golden light. After our cold, wet spring everything seems particularly lush as nature rushes to catch up.

Speaking of catching up, I am somewhat behind myself and the post on herbs for breastfeeding that I promised is still half written and awaiting my attention, though I promise to finish it soon!

The little one and I have been enjoying walks to the woodland where his still maturing sight is captivated by the interplay of light and shadow in the sun dappled glades and my own gaze is also delighted by the sun through beech leaves and bracken. I love how it looks so different through the long silvery fingers of willow and the broad green hands of sycamore, the young freshness of hawthorn and the dark majesty of yew.

Whether it be summer, winter or season-less where you are. I wish you many blessings on this solstice.

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Spring has arrived at last and with it some of the bright sunny days that we have felt so starved of recently. It seems like the garden has awoken almost overnight, with the herbs growing taller by the day, especially the angelica which I am starting to suspect is actually a magic beanstalk in disguise.

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Valerian

Rose

Rose

Angelica

Angelica

Oregano

Oregano

Catmint

Catmint

Wormwood

Wormwood

In the fields, woods and hedgerows everything is bursting into life. Down the lane from our house, the blackthorn has only just begun flowering, the latest I have ever known it. Blackthorn is famous for the fact that its blossom comes out before its leaves (which makes it easy to differentiate from hawthorn which has leaves before flowers). It was interesting to note that, being so late blooming this year, the leaves were coming out simultaneously in many places.

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Ash is another tree that flowers before it’s leaves come out. At this time of year its characteristic black buds start to open, become greener and burst into somewhat inconspicuous, yet beautiful, flowers.

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Newly opened bramble leaves have an almost autumnal hue, standing out in the sunlight against the verdant spring greens.

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Daffodils, dandelions, ground ivy and comfrey are all in flower in the banks and hedgerows.

Ground Ivy

Ground Ivy

Comfrey

Comfrey

New life has begun for us in other ways too. Those of you who have been following this blog for a while will probably have noticed that my posts have been a little more intermittent of late and this is mostly due to our own new arrival, a bonny baby boy, born last month and filling much of my time and my thoughts. So if I am sometimes slow to respond to comments or a little sporadic with my posting I hope you will be patient with me. I will be back in a couple of days however to share some tips on teas for supporting breastfeeding.

Until then I hope you are all enjoying the seasons as they find you in your part of the world.

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Betwixt and Between

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There is still a part of me, trained by children’s nature books and the weight of expectation, that believes the seasons will progress in a fairly linear fashion, from winter to spring, onto summer and autumn.

I’m not sure why this would be, as every year seems to follow it’s own rhythm which has little to do with our imaginings of glorious sunshine in summer, sparkling snow in winter and the soft sun and showers of spring.

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Spring nettles and snow

This year has been no exception as we have lurched from snow and frozen winds to bright sun, and back again, within the space of a few short weeks. Somewhere between the chills of winter and the energising opening up of Spring we find ourselves out foraging one day and snuggled up by the fire the next.

Though the trees are mostly still bare-branched and winter sleepy, you can almost feel the sap rising when you place your hand or face to their rough bark. The lack of leaves at this time of year enables the light to fall undisturbed to the woodland floor and here begins the spring growth, working it’s way from the earth skywards as buds and new leaves begin slowly to appear.

No matter what the weather is doing, this time of year always feels so full of magic and potential, as somewhere betwixt and between the holding of winter and the full thrum of spring, we sway, waiting for new life to begin.

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Clematis – or Old Man’s Beard

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Sun drenched crocus

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When the gorse is in flower, kissing is in season.

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Young shoots of wild garlic made for a delicious pesto with hazelnuts and walnuts.

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Beautiful Eder, bursting into leaf.

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Nettle glow

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