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Like many of us I am currently at home with my children so my thoughts have been turning to fun ways to encourage young people to enjoy their accessible outdoor spaces during lockdown. I wanted to draw together a few resources to help kids get to know some of their most common weeds. All the plants I have chosen can be found in the average town garden (at least one that isn’t too well manicured!) and for those that don’t have access to their own outside space you will be able to find them all in a local park, in some cases, even growing out of the concrete! This is based on plants available where I live in the UK but may be appropriate for others living in temperate zones too.

The idea is for you and your children to watch the videos, download and print the colouring sheets and then go outside to search for the plants listed. Learn the herbal and botanical word for each plant and, if possible, harvest some to make the super simple foods or medicines below.

If you are not harvesting from your own garden then you must be wary of foraging safely, for example your local park may use pesticide or herbicide sprays or may be a common dog walking zone. If this is the case you can still hunt for the plants, spot their identifying features and maybe gather a few to make crafts with instead. The forest school classic, hapa zome or leaf bashing would be a great way to use plants that may not be safe to ingest. To do this you lay your chosen weeds between two pieces of white or pale cotton fabric and then gently bash them all over with a mallet so the plant juices come out and stain the fabric with pretty patterns and colours. Pressing them between sheets of paper beneath heavy books until completely dry is also fun to do and you can start your own herbarium by collecting your pressed plants.

If you are completely new to foraging and wild plants then please use a good guide book, double check and be 100% sure of your id before eating any plants!

The clips are all short so as not to overload young children with information but please do investigate further if you want to as there is so much more to say about all the plants mentioned. Also please excuse my slightly awkward and very amateur videos, it’s the first time I’ve made any!

So without further ado… let’s go on a weed hunt!

Download colouring sheets here!

Nettle – Urtica dioica

Botanical term – Opposite leaves – look how the leaves are arranged on the stem, they come out on opposite sides from the same point.

Herbal word- Nutritive – full of nutrients

Recipe – Nettle soup.
Nettle soup is a simple, delicious and nutritious way to enjoy eating nettles! Everyone has a different recipe and ours varies depending on what we have in the fridge but this is one of our favourites:
1 large leek
1 large potato
4 cloves garlic
1 courgette
Olive oil
Stock to cover
Small colander full of nettles
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
Salt and pepper to taste
Fry the leek over a low heat in the oil until it starts to soften, add the potato, garlic and courgette, fry for another few minutes. Add the stock and simmer until the potato is soft. Add the nettles, nutritional yeast and salt and pepper and simmer for another few minutes. Blend until smooth and serve.

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Dandelion fritters and nettle soup

Dandelion – Taraxacum spp.

 

Botanical term – basal rosette – leaves arranged in a circle at the base of the plant.

Herbal word – diuretic – makes you go for a wee more often!

Recipe – Dandelion fritters.
Making dandelion fritters is a brilliant way of weeding your garden and getting a delicious meal all in one. Simply pick a few handfuls of dandelion flowers from a clean, unsprayed area. Brush them gently to remover any dirt or small bugs (washing them makes them too soggy) then hold them by the stems and dip the flowers into a simple batter mixture and fry. We make them savoury or sweet and both are delicious. We start with a simple batter of flour and oat mylk then add maple syrup for the sweet ones and salt and pepper for the savoury ones. It’s that simple!

 

Cleavers – Gallium aparine

 

Botanical term – whorled – leaves radiating from a single point and wrapping around the stem.

Herbal word – lymphatic – supports our lymphatic system.

Recipe – Cleavers cold infusion.
Another really simple recipe, all you do is place a couple of handfuls of freshly picked cleavers in a jug, cover with cool water and leave to infuse overnight. In the morning you will have a delicately flavoured liquid that will gently cleanse your body and help the lymphatic system to move and clear out stagnation. If you don’t want to wait overnight you can mash the plants in the water so they release their juices immediately, then strain and enjoy.

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Cleavers cold infusion

Daisy – Bellis perennis

 

Botanical term – obovate – egg shaped/ spoon shaped leaf.

Herbal word – vulnerary – wound healing.

Recipe – Daisy bruise balm.
This can be made by infusing fresh or dried daisy flowers into a base oil such as cold pressed olive or sunflower then mixing with a little beeswax or candelilla wax to make a balm. There are in depth instructions on how to make an infused oil and a balm on the ‘How to Make’ page which you can access via the menu bar at the top of this page.

 

Plantain – Plantago lanceolata

 

Botanical term – lanceolate – shaped like a lance.

Herbal word – demulcent – soothing, moistening, reducing inflammation.

Recipe – Plantain poultice.
The easiest recipe of all! To make a plantain poultice to help with bites, stings and minor wounds you simply chew or mash the plantain leaf until the juices are released and then place on the afflicted area. You can then cover it with a plantain leaf bandage like the one below.

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Plantain plaster

I hope this has been a useful and fun introduction to some wonderful weeds. Please share it with anyone you think might enjoy it and I’d love to see any photos of your weed adventures and colourings!

Download herb colouring sheets here!

In this post I thought I would have a closer look at using flower remedies during these strange times we all find ourselves in.

Flower remedies are a simple tool which I have always found effective for working with emotional states that we are struggling to shift. I experience them as gently opening wherever there is stuckness and tension, allowing us to gain deeper insights and supporting the natural flow of being. Flower remedies aren’t for everyone, they are an energetic medicine which doesn’t appeal to those whose approach is purely scientific and, to my knowledge, there’s no research on their effectiveness.

I have found them to be valuable allies in my practice and my own life however and I love the process of making them, finding I gain deeper insights and a strengthened connection to each plant I work with. If this resonates with you then I hope the information here will encourage you to have a go at working with them or making your own. I have detailed instructions on how to make a flower remedy in this post here.

During April the spring flowers are blooming all around us and, as the weather here on the south coast has been sunny, it’s a perfect time to make a remedy. In this post I wanted to focus mainly on flowers that are available right now and those listed here are ones I feel to be especially useful for this time. I’ve included flowers that are common and will likely be found growing wild in many people’s gardens as obviously we cant go and make remedies in public spaces at the moment. I know many don’t have a garden though so I’ve also included some helpful Bach flower remedies at the end of this post which can be ordered online.

Blackthorn – Transformation

Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) is in full bloom at the moment and is a great remedy for these shifting and uncertain times. It gets its common name from the dark wood and fierce thorns which stand stark in the winter hedgerow.

In spring the white blossoms appear before the leaves making a dramatic contrast and symbolising the shifts that this remedy can help us to facilitate. The following information is taken from my previous post on Blackthorn which you can read here.

For me Blackthorn is the tree of transformation; from winter to spring, from darkness to light, from introversion to extroversion, from sadness to joy. It honours each part of the cycle as equal without only valuing the experiences that feel most pleasant. It is a great remedy for everyone to take as we emerge from winter but can be supportive all year round for those who are experiencing change or feel overwhelmed by difficult emotions. Blackthorn will support us with moving through these whilst also helping us to go deep within ourselves to find the lessons in all our experiences.

Primrose – Tenderness

Primrose (Primula vulgaris) is looking beautiful right now and the wild yellow flowers make a lovely soothing remedy.

Primrose is for helping us to hold ourselves in tenderness and kindness when difficult feelings arise. It is a wonderful remedy for the inner child and allows for a feeling of safety and care to envelop us in a gentle embrace. It encourages a warm hearted openness to help us move past self doubt and shame. It is a lovely remedy for children who need some support to feel safe and for calming anxieties. Primrose is a great friend for helping us to be more comfortable in ourselves.

Violet – High Sensitivity

This remedy was made with the sweet violet (Viola odorata) which is finishing its flowering period now but the dog violet (Viola riviniana) is in bloom and can also be used. The remedies would likely have some differences but I feel they are both suitable for people who identify as highly sensitive. The following comes from a post I wrote on sweet violets here.

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 have 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.

Forget- me-not – Remember your Gifts

There are a variety of myths about how Forget-me-not (Myosotis sylvatica) got it’s name, tales of drowned lovers and knights heading off to battle. The one that stands out to me though is an old Christian story in which God (or in some versions Adam) was walking through the garden of Eden asking each of the flowers their names. One small blue flower had forgotten who it was and so God named it the Forget-me-not.

This to me very much reflects the use of this essence which is for remembering who we are and the gifts we have to share with the world. Nearly all of us forget ourselves through social conditioning and the lure of the mind and take very convoluted paths back to remembering the simplicity of our true nature. Forget-me-not can help us to navigate this terrain and then in turn, allow us to communicate what is unique about our own expression in the human experience. This seems especially important right now.

Daisy is another excellent choice at this time as it lends us a sense of childlike resilience and an enthusiasm to keep going and to keep seeing the best in our circumstances and in others. Dandelion is also a wonderful remedy for resilience and is very grounding and supportive. It helps us to weather the storm with our feet planted firmly in the earth and can bring strength and warmth even in the midst of challenge.

As May comes around, the Apple and Hawthorn blossom will begin to flower and both these are exceptional remedies for healing the heart along with the Wild Rose which flowers later in the month and into June.

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For those that have access to the Bach flower remedies or wish to order them in, here are a few that may be helpful in our current circumstances.

Flower remedies for frustration: Impatiens for feeling impatient and frustrated, Beech to encourage tolerance.

Flower remedies for change and transitions: Walnut for navigating change and protecting against outside influences, Wild oat for not knowing which direction to take in life.

Flower remedies for fear and anxiety: Aspen for vague, unknown fears, Mimulus for known fears (those we can name), Cherry plum for fear of being out of control, Red chestnut for fear for the wellbeing of others, Rock rose for terror.

Other useful remedies include Star of Bethlehem for shock, Elm for feeling overwhelmed by responsibility and Mustard for feelings of deep gloom.

Bach flower remedies are available here and here (I have no affiliation to either company) and there are also many other flower remedy collections now available.

Do let me know in the comments if you try any of these or have any you would add to this list, I’d love to hear your insights and experiences.

It’s been such a long time since I’ve written on this blog and I’ve been meaning to give it some attention for a while. Though I’ve been neglectful of this space I have been doing regular updates on instagram which you can follow here: https://www.instagram.com/whispering_earth/

There’s so much anxiety right now around the coronavirus pandemic that I thought it would be a good time to share some straightforward tips on how to maximise your wellbeing with simple advice and easily available foods and herbs that you might already have in your kitchen cupboards or gardens.

I’m not going to tell you how to prevent or treat coronavirus, we don’t know at this stage what treatments will prove most effective. However there is much we can do to help support ourselves and each other during what is a worrying time for many.

If you are already on medication for existing health conditions you can still apply some of the advice and use some of the recipes mentioned but do check with a health provider before taking any internal herbal remedies.

For those with a good working knowledge of herbal medicine and a well stocked dispensary I recommend reading these posts by US herbalists 7song and Stephen Harrod Buhner. There is also good advice from Matthew Wood on his facebook page.

However if you have a small collection of home remedies or none at all then I hope to share some things you can do to support yourself and feel a little more empowered. My focus here is very much on strengthening the body through care, attention and simple remedies so it can do the work it needs to. There is lots of good advice on preventative measures and good hygiene from the NHS so please do read that if you haven’t already.

Though all these areas are very much interconnected I’ll consider them one at a time for ease:

  • General health and wellbeing
  • Supporting immunity
  • Caring for the respiratory system
  • Paying Attention to mental health

General Health and Wellbeing:

Unless we take care of our general health and wellbeing any other practices we do will have limited value. This advice is mostly common sense but it cannot be emphasised enough. It really involves listening to our bodies and taking care of ourselves, even when we would usually push through. Sometimes it’s hard to do, especially when we have others to care for, but my hope is that, as people stay home more over the coming weeks, they might have more time to attend to these simple measures.

  • Sleep – this can’t be over emphasised! As a mum of young children I know how easy it is to become chronically sleep deprived but now is the time to rebalance our sleep debt, before we get ill, so that our bodies are best able to cope with whatever comes our way. Going to bed a little earlier each night can make a big difference to our overall state of health and it’s a good idea to turn off electronics early and read/ chat/ meditate before bed to allow yourself time to wind down.
  • Hydration – Another cornerstone of good health, getting adequate fluids helps keep our bodies clear and functioning at an optimum level. Water and herbal teas are good options right now, see below for ideas.
  • Quality nutrition – the building blocks of our health are made from the food we eat. This is a huge topic which is beyond the scope of this post but making sure we include plenty of colourful fruit and vegetables rich in vitamin C in our diet is a good place to start. This is especially important to remember if you are isolating and relying on stocks of dried or tinned foods. Limiting or eliminating sugar and fried foods is also a good idea.
  • Fresh air and gentle exercise – this is important to remember when we are home more. It’s easy to become stagnant which stops the flow of lymph and impairs immunity. If possible get out in the garden or a local wild space and breath deeply. If not then be sure to open a window at home, dance, stretch (seated if need be) and move when you can.

Supporting Immunity

The general care discussed above is the foundation of good immune function and everything else is secondary to that. Bearing this in mind there’s lots we can do to help care for ourselves and give our immunity a bit of a boost.

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Kitchen cupboard Remedies – Even if you have never taken herbal medicine before it’s likely that you have some in your kitchen cupboards. Spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, turmeric and ginger can all be helpful in building our resilience. Apparently doctors in China who were working with affected patients were given decoctions of herbs including ginger, cinnamon and liquorice to boost their defences. The warming spices help to clear mucus, deepen breathing and keep the circulation flowing, all of which can be helpful in this illness.

Herbs like sage, rosemary and thyme also have anti-microbial and warming properties.

Two ways I like to include these herbs and spices in my daily diet are in decoctions (a tea that’s allowed to simmer for 20 mins or more) and in stocks which can regularly be added to soups, stews and sauces.
Mushrooms contain beta-glucans which enhance immune function and are an excellent addition to the stock recipe. I tend to use medicinal mushrooms that I have foraged and dried but you can also use mushrooms like shitakes or even button mushrooms that are easily available in the shops. An added bonus is that if you leave shitake mushrooms with their gills up in the sunlight for a few hours they will dramatically increase their levels of Vitamin D, an essential vitamin for immune function.

Warming apple tea recipe: These herbs can be simmered in two cups of water to make a simple tea or in half water, half natural pressed apple juice (with no added sugar) to make a tasty mulled apple tea. You can omit any spices that you don’t have or use powdered instead of whole ones.
1 cup water
1 cup pure apple juice
2 cinnamon sticks
8 cardamom pods
Half an inch of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
2 star anise
Simmer together for 20 mins, strain into mugs and enjoy.

Immune enhancing stock: I make this stock in the slow cooker overnight but if you don’t have one it can be easily done in a pan on a low heat over the course of several hours. (Obviously do this in the daytime when you are around and keep checking the water has not boiled away, adding more if and when it’s necessary.) This is a guide only and you can play about with the ingredients that you have on hand. If you don’t like chilli for example you can leave it out.
Basic Stock ingredients:
1 pack Shitake mushrooms
Veggie peelings and leftovers such as carrot, squash, leek
Turmeric finely sliced or powdered
Black pepper
Garlic
Ginger
Chilli
Greens such as cabbage or kale
1 tablespoon coconut oil
Enough water to cover and for all the ingredients to move around freely.

Additional herbs that can be included in this preparation if you have access to them include: Medicinal mushrooms such as birch polypore, turkey tail, ganoderma and chaga; Astragaulus root; berries such as elderberries*, rosehips or hawthorns.
*There is some concern over the suitability of elderberry for COVID-19, this is mainly theoretical at present but, even if it is an issue, in this quantity I would consider it safe.

Once the stock is done and strained I like to freeze it into ice cube trays then add one to my cooking or to a cup of hot water to drink a couple of times a day.

Wild plants:  With spring bursting forth in the hedgerows there are some commonly growing herbs that can be harvested now to help support our lymphatic system, which in turn allows for the proper functioning of the immune system. Perhaps the most widely available of these is cleavers, Gallium aparine, otherwise known as sticky weed or goosegrass. Here is an old post from 2010 which gives a bit more detail about how to use this herb. Wild garlic is also growing plentifully at the moment and is a wonderful plant with anti-microbial properties which also moves circulation and thins mucus.
Though not so specific for the immune system, wild greens like nettle and chickweed will supply you with plenty of nutrients which in turn will support the whole body.

Caring for the Respiratory System

COVID-19 affects the respiratory system with many patients experiencing a dry cough and breathing difficulties which can lead to further complications. Here are some simple ways we can take care of ourselves and strengthen this vital part of our bodies.

Deep breathing is important to open the airways and clear out the lungs so they are functioning optimally incase illness comes our way. Gentle movement also helps with this.

There are many herbs that can help support the health of our lungs and move out congestion. These recommendations are based on those that are easily available but please do consult with a herbalist in cases of pre-existing conditions.

Liquorice, Glycyrrhiza glabra, tea is excellent for supporting the lungs and is now available in some supermarkets, though care must be taken for those prone to high blood pressure as it can exacerbate the condition. Opt for one of the other herbs in this case.
Cinnamon, Cinnamomum spp., opens the airways, is anti-microbial and deepens breathing.
Plantain is a wild plant that is commonly found in gardens and grassy areas. Both broadleaf plantain, Plantago major, and ribwort plantain, Plantago lanceolata, are useful herbs for strengthening and soothing the lungs. They can easily be made into a tea to drink three times a day and are especially useful for a dry cough.
Thyme, Thymus vulgaris, is a wonderful warming lung herb that helps to calm the cough reflex, clear mucus and open the airways. It’s another common garden herb and is easily available in supermarkets both fresh and dried.

Essentials oils can also be very useful as they generally have an anti-microbial effect and can help to deepen breathing.

Aside from teas, here are some more suggestions for incorporating these herbs and oils into your day:

  • Footbaths: Make a strong infusion of lavender and thyme herbs or use a few drops of the essential oils diluted in a tablespoon of base oil and add to a hot footbath to make a lovely treatment which will de-stress and support the immune and respiratory systems all at the same time.
  • Diffuser: Most essential oils will have a cleansing and anti-microbial effect when used in a diffuser or oil burner. Frankincense, thyme, lavender, silver fir, pine or eucalyptus all make great choices for the respiratory system. A little diffuser on your desk if you are still working in an office is particularly useful to purify the air around you.
  • Inhalation: Steaming your face over a bowl of hot water containing a strong tea or a few drops of thyme, tea tree, eucalyptus or lavender can be a lovely way to clear the sinuses and support the immune system. Cover your head and the bowl with a towel to keep the steam in. Chamomile is a great choice where tissues feel sore and inflamed.
  • Chest salve: A chest salve makes an effective immune and respiratory supporting treatment that is great for adults and children alike, though care must be taken with the oils chosen and the strength of the blend for children. I would recommend a blend of herbal infused oils rather than essential oils for very young children under the age of 2.

A very simple chest rub can be made with the following ingredients:

  • 90 ml sunflower oil
  • 10 ml beeswax
  • 50 drops essential oil –  for example; 25 each of thyme linalol and eucalyptus radiata

Melt the beeswax in a bain marie and add the sunflower oil, mixing well. Remove from the heat and pour into a 100ml jar. Allow to cool slightly (but not set) and stir in the essential oils. Allow to set properly before using by rubbing a generous amount over the chest area and upper back. Breathe deeply.

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Paying Attention to Mental Health

One of the most important aspects of caring for ourselves and each other during the coming months is looking after our mental health. There is a huge amount of collective anxiety at the moment and many are feeling it. Being comfortable with the unknown is deeply challenging for many of us and it’s important to recognise these feelings and seek support from friends, family and professionals if need be. Many people struggle with isolation, especially those who live alone and it is easy to forget how many people there are in our society without a good support network. Reaching out to those who may be feeling low or anxious is our collective responsibility though it can be hard to know who is really in need in our fractured communities. Some areas are starting facebook groups where people can access support and community groups may know of elderly people who need supplies or someone to talk to on the phone.

There are many herbs that can help us with anxiety and low mood and it is best to seek professional advice if you are really in need. However there a few plants commonly grown in gardens or easily available as teas in the shop that can help soothe our minds and brighten our day. These include:

Rosemary – a very common garden plant, rosemary is both stimulating and calming, helping us feel more awake but more grounded. It’s also uplifting and warming and has anti-microbial properties making it an ideal choice at this time.
Lemon balm – also often found in gardens and growing wild lemon balm is a lovely relaxing herb that also has anti-viral properties. It’s just coming up in my garden and soon I will be able to harvest it for teas. It combines really well with rosemary to make a delicious brew.
Chamomile – is a lovely soothing tea and is readily available in the shops. It’s also useful for calming low grade fevers, especially in children.

Deep breathing is not only great for keeping the lungs healthy but also for calming the nervous system.

Wishing you all health and happiness.

N.B. Please remember to make sure you have a good guide book and are 100% sure on your identification before you pick and use wild plants. Also be sure to forage mindfully being aware of the wildlife that also depends on the plants and to avoid areas that may be sprayed, such as some parks.

 

Chickenpox seems to be doing the rounds at the moment, being generally most prevalent in the late winter and spring, so I thought it would be an ideal time to share some tips on how to treat the symptoms at home with easily available herbs and simple home remedies.

Chickenpox is a very common disease of early childhood, about 90% of people will have had it by the time they reach adolescence, and it is generally considered a mild ailment with few cases experiencing complications. The majority of complications occur in adults, as the disease tends to be more severe, and it can be a threat to pregnant women and newborns as well as those with impaired immunity. In these cases it is wise to seek advice from your healthcare provider. In the vast majority of healthy children however it is a self-limiting disease and easing the symptoms is all we need to do.

Chickenpox, also known as varicella, is caused by the varicella-zoster virus and is highly infectious, spreading by contact or droplet infection such as sneezing, coughing or laughing. The incubation period varies between 2 to 3 weeks and the first indication is usually mild flu like symptoms with the characteristic rash appearing within a couple of days. Some children will only experience the rash without other accompanying symptoms but others will feel quite poorly. There is often a fever, which is usually low grade, and possible nausea, headache and loss of appetite. The rash is, for most children, the worst part of the disease as it can be very itchy and uncomfortable. It begins with red spots that blister and eventually scab over and heal after a few days The spots may cover just a small area or extend to most of the body and are particularly common on the face, scalp, chest and belly though they can even spread to the mucus membranes of the mouth. The child will be infectious from a couple of days before the rash starts until it has completely scabbed over and begun to heal. Be aware that new spots may occur and be infectious even after others have scabbed over however.

There is much we can do at home to help our children through the uncomfortable symptoms of chickenpox. Rather than looking to ‘fight’ the virus, herbal treatment will focus on supporting the innate healing powers of the body by easing fevers, soothing the itch, supporting the immune system and promoting healing.

It is wise to seek professional advice though if your child seems lethargic or unresponsive, has difficulty breathing, has blisters which become infected or has a high fever which persists longer than three days or one which exceeds 40 C.

Working with Fever:

Herbal treatment aims to support the body in the work that it is trying to do rather than to suppress the fever by bringing the child’s temperature down.

Fever plays an important role in stimulating the immune system and killing invading pathogens, yet as parents it is natural for us to feel anxious as we watch our children’s temperatures soar. Anti-pyretic drugs are best saved for emergencies and in the majority of cases simple, supportive measures will aid the fever in its work and help make the child more comfortable.

The use of gentle diaphoretics- herbs that encourage blood flow to the periphery and increase sweating- will help a fever to break and a healing sweat to flush toxins out of the system. Diaphoretic herbs are best given as hot teas and a little honey can be added to make them more palatable once the child is over 18 months. These herbs include elderflower, lime blossom, catmint, meadowsweet and yarrow and they can be given singly or in combination depending on what you have to hand. The most famous diaphoretic tea formula is the Gypsy Cold Cure tea which includes elderflower, yarrow and peppermint herbs and makes a refreshing beverage which most children will not object to. Give a small cup of hot tea up to five times daily, reducing to twice daily for a few days after the fever has broken. To make the tea add a heaped teaspoon of your chosen herb or combination of herbs to a cup of water, cover with a tea cosy and leave to steep for 10 minutes, then strain and add honey if desired.

If the child has a high temperature but cold extremities then try adding some fresh ginger root to the tea which will help move the heat out and make them more comfortable. Just add a few slices to the rest of the tea ingredients.

Soothing Itchy Skin:

 The intense itch is usually considered to be the worst part of chickenpox and can make children feel pretty miserable. Itchy skin can be maddeningly frustrating and it is hard for a child not to scratch themselves. Scratching is the major cause of infected spots, one of the most common complications of the disease, so it must be discouraged where possible and the best way to do this is to keep the skin soothed with calming and anti-inflammatory herbs.

General advice for keeping the skin cool includes avoiding man-made fibers which can stop the skin breathing and sticking to light, comfortable and cool clothing. Make the bath water luke warm rather than hot as this can increase itching and try to avoid vigorous exercise when the child is feeling better until such time as all the spots have healed over.

Most herbal treatment will be external; via baths, sprays and creams or lotions. Applied throughout the day these should keep the worst of the itchiness at bay and help the skin to heal more quickly and without scarring.

There are several ways of adding herbs to the bath. A strong tea of dried herbs can be made by infusing a handful of plant material in a tea pot or cafetiere of just boiled water, leaving to steep for half an hour, straining and adding to a shallow bath. The child can then relax for 20 minutes or so in the soothing water which is also used to gently wash the skin – never scrub as it can burst the blisters. Herbs that are great used in the bath for soothing itchy skin and healing chickenpox include calendula, chickweed, chamomile, plantain, peppermint and heartsease. I recommend a mix of equal parts chamomile, chickweed and peppermint. The chamomile is anti-inflammatory and healing, the chickweed is soothing and anti-itch and the peppermint cools and gently numbs the intense irritation.

One of the most effective baths for chickenpox is the traditional oat bath which is particularly lovely when mixed with some dried herbs. It involves placing a handful of rolled or porridge oats in a square of unbleached muslin with a small handful of chamomile or calendula. Bring up the corners of the muslin and tie with some cotton or a hair band. Run the bath water hot and place the bundle into the water, then leave it to steep until the water is luke warm and ready for the child to get in. The bag can then be repeatedly squeezed to release the soothing oat milk which is gently washed over the body. The bag can be very gently rubbed over the body and there is no need to rinse off the milk before drying. When time is short or I have had no muslin to hand, I have also just whizzed up oats with water or herb tea in the blender and added this to the bath.

During the day, regular application of a liquid preparation can help to stop itching and cool the skin. A blend of 50% witch hazel with either calendula tea or rosewater can be dabbed onto spots to help tone and sooth.

A cream or lotion can also be gently rubbed on to itchy areas. You can buy pre-made calendula lotion or chickweed cream from herbal stockists such as Neal’s Yard or Baldwins or use a base cream to which you add tinctures such as licorice or calendula up to about 10%. Aloe vera base gel can also be mixed with herbal tincture and used in the same way. I would avoid the use of an oily salve or balm on the spots as they can trap in heat and create more of a barrier. Generally lighter preparations are better in these circumstances.

A teaspoonful of calendula tincture can be added to a small glass of water and used as a mouthwash if symptoms have spread to the mucus membranes of the mouth.

Supporting the Immune System:

Supporting the immune system will generally include giving a light healthy diet of homemade vegetable soups and lots of fluids. It is very important to ensure dehydration does not occur so plenty of water and herbal teas are vital. If the child is still breastfeeding then this will also be wonderful support to their immune system.

Vitamins C, D, and Zinc are useful for immune function and vitamin A helps to protect the skin therefore a good quality multi-vitamin and mineral could prove helpful at times of illness and recovery.

Herbal teas also have a role to play. Elderberry and elderflower both help to protect the immune system and have an anti-viral effect. Nettle has antihistamine properties which might help to soothe the itchiness and Calendula is a good immune and lymphatic support. Once the fever has past it would be a good idea to move from the diaphoretic tea blends mentioned above to a general support mix such as equal parts calendula, nettle and elderflower.

Calming and Soothing Restlessness and Tension:

 Fortunately, several of the herbs we can use to treat the symptoms of chickenpox have the added bonus of being soothing to the nervous system and helpful for the irritation and restlessness that can accompany itchy conditions. Lime flower, catmint and chamomile in teas or added to the bath will help to sooth irritability and promote a restful nights sleep.

Promoting Healing and Recovery:

 After the symptoms have past and the child is feeling better it can still be useful to support the body to slough of the last of the disease, strengthen the immune system and promote full healing of the skin. A tea of cleavers, violet or calendula will support the lymphatic system to clear itself out. Cleavers is readily available at this time of year and can be harvested fresh from the garden to be juiced or infused. Burdock root is also useful as it supports all the organs of elimination and it can be given as a tea with a little honey to make it more palatable for children.

After the spots have scabbed over and started to heal and fall off you can massage the skin with a nourishing oil such as a combination of hemp, rosehip and either calendula or comfrey infused oil. This will help to prevent scarring and encourage growth of new healthy skin cells.

Adequate rest is also so important, don’t be tempted to rush back into normal routines before there is a full recovery. Convalescence is an often overlooked aspect of the healing process but one that was prized before our pace of life became so frantic.

(This article first appeared in The Mother magazine.)

 

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Spring is shifting into summer here and everywhere is abundant with life.

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Forget-me-nots (Myosotis sylvatica/ arvensis) are little used in modern herbal medicine but were once popular as an astringent for treating eye complaints and respiratory ailments. According to Mrs Grieve they have a particular affinity for the left lower lung. I have never worked with them herbally but I love the sight of great swathes of them carpeting the garden with a ethereal glow.

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Herb robert (Geranium robertianum) and dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) poke up between them. Both widely considered to be weeds they are in fact wonderful healing remedies with a wide variety of uses. You can read more about dandelion here and I will endeavour to write a profile of herb robert soon.

Honesty (Lunaria annua) and greater celandine (Chelidonium majus) add more splashes of colour to the garden.

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Yarrow leaves can be added to salad when very young but wait for them to flower later in the summer for the full range of medicinal actions which you can read about here.

Cleavers (Galium aparine) is one of my most used herbs of spring. We mainly have it in juices and cold infusions to boost lymphatic function and clear out the stagnation of winter. This year I have been enjoying studying it in closer detail through spending time with it, painting and drawing.

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Coltsfoot ( Tussilago farfara) flowers usually appear in March, sometimes as early as February, and are famous for appearing before the leaves leading to the common name, ‘sons before fathers’. Both the flower and the leaf are used medicinally and were recommended for soothing coughs from the time of the ancient Greeks. They are considered one of the best pulmonary tonics in herbal medicine but have fallen from favour in later years due to the presence of pyrrolizidine alkaloids (also present in forget-me-nots) which can cause liver disease when consumed in large quantities or over a long period of time. Most herbalists consider coltsfoot to be safe when taken for a limited time, as to treat a cough, and the only case of toxicity reported involved consumption of a tea that was likely adulterated with another herb. Still it’s wise to avoid if pregnant, breastfeeding or where liver disease is already a factor.

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Daisies (Bellis perennis) are a wonderful wild food and medicine that can be found in almost any garden at this time of year. The flowers make a delightful addition to salads and are also used as an excellent remedy for bruising when applied as a poultice or a salve, lending them the common name of ‘poor man’s arnica’. Just pick a few handfuls of the flowers and infuse into oil before adding wax to make a salve. There are detailed intructions on how to do this in the ‘How to Make’ page of this blog.

Primrose (Primula vulgaris) flowers are lovely in teas and spring salads. You can read more about them here.

Nettles are another favourite food and medicine at this time of year but look out for leaves such as the one above left which contain feeding larvae. Nettles support over 40 species of insects which in turn makes them vital for birds and insect eating mammals. Nettle is considered one of the most important wildlife plants we have as well as being highly nutritious and valuable medicinally.

At this time of year it is so lovely to be out in nature picking leaves and flowers for our food and healing. The sights, smells, sounds, tastes and tactile experience of gathering the herbs are all medicine in themselves.

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Here folks are gathered in the woods on our spring wildcrafting day at Wowo campsite. We have a medicinal summer flower day coming up at the end of June which you can find out more about here.

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It’s been a strange winter this year. Mild and wet for the most part with a with a few bright, crisp, days in-between the drear.

Sitting by the fire has kept us feeling warm and nourished and I have become convinced that gazing at a wood fire is one of the best ways to avoid seasonal depression or the winter blues.

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Bringing evergreens into the house can have a similarly uplifting effect and is a midwinter tradition that stretches back into our deep pre-Christian past and is common to nearly all Northern European cultures.

Conifers, Mistletoe, Holly and Ivy have been considered symbols of eternal life and immortality due to the fact that they stay green and lush amidst the barren winter landscape. In folklore it was believed that they offered a place for the faeries to dwell when it was too cold to be out of doors. They certainly offer shelter to birds outside of the house during the winter months as well as a valuable source of food. The berries of holly, ivy and mistletoe are toxic to humans and should be avoided but the leaves have been used medicinally for many centuries.

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The fresh young leaves of ivy were harvested and used to treat congested lungs, catarrh and coughs. Modern research has validated these traditional uses showing the ivy is anti-spasmodic and rich in saponins, soap like constituents which help to thin and remove stuck mucus in the body. They also help to reduce swelling in the respiratory tract. Some people are allergic to ivy so care must be taken, though reactions are rare.

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Holly was also used for coughs as well as for colds and flus. A few leaves were drunk in hot water as a general seasonal tonic and it was also considered cleansing, being used for arthritis and fluid retention as a diuretic. It’s astringent properties help to tone the mucus membranes and balance mucus production.

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The magical mistletoe is a parasitic evergreen that roots into its host tree and derives nourishment from it, enabling it to grow high up in the branches and without any access to soil. It is famous for being revered by the Druids. According to the Roman writer Pliny The Elder it was gathered with great ceremony including the sacrifice of two white bulls “A priest arrayed in white vestments climbs the tree and, with a golden sickle, cuts down the mistletoe, which is caught in a white cloak.”

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Aside from its important purpose in facilitating kisses, it is also a valuable herbal medicine for treating a number of conditions. The leaves and twigs are the parts used and are most commonly made into a tea or tincture. The berries are fairly toxic but have been used externally in treating frostbite.

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It used to be used as a specific for epilepsy but today it is most popular for treating high blood pressure. It is useful for balancing menstrual flow and can be an important remedy during the menopause for anxiety, heart palpitations and flooding. Some people can find it quite heating though so beware if you are already a hot person and it is also one to avoid in pregnancy.
Mistletoe is also popular as a complementary cancer treatment, especially in Germany and Switzerland.

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These honey mushrooms, Armillaria mellea, are past their best now but in their prime they are both edible and medicinal. They have a history of use to treat neurological conditions such as vertigo and neurasthenia. Modern research has shown them to have anti-convulsive effects. Like all medicinal mushrooms they are also rich in polysaccharides and help to support proper functioning of the immune system.

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Similarly named but visually very different is the honey waxcap mushroom, above. The waxcaps have the most beautiful gills, as seen below with the equally beautiful butter waxcap.

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Winter beauty for me is all about the underlying forms and patterns of things. Whether that is branches stark against the sky, leaf veins illuminated by the low sun or the juxtaposition of hard edged rock and velvet moss.

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Next weekend is the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch so don’t forget to stock up your feeders and spend an hour jotting down any feathered visitors you spot.

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Cold weather usually results in dry skin so I have been making this lovely whipped body butter recipe recently. As I wanted to give it away to some pregnant friends I have kept the recipe simple and free from essential oils but if you get a good quality cacao butter then the chocolatey aroma is just perfect by itself.

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Whipped body butters are popular at the moment with good reason. Beating in the air makes them lighter and easier to absorb than a regular balm but without the fuss of adding water to make a cream so the end product is both simple to achieve and lovely to use. During winter I seem to think a lot about food so it’s no surprise that this recipe ended up being nutty, chocolatey and scrumptious smelling.

Nutty Chocolate Whipped Body Butter:
Makes 8 60g jars or 4 120g jars. Half the recipe if just for personal use.

Ingredients:
120g Cacao butter
120g Coconut oil
120g Shea Butter
60ml Macadamia nut oil
60ml Hazelnut oil
5ml Vitamin E

Melt all the ingredients except the vitamin E in a bain marie or double boiler making sure the pan underneath doesn’t run out of water. Stir regularly to ensure they are well mixed.

Once all the butters are melted, remove the bowl from the heat, allow to cool a little, add the vitamin E and stir well, then place in the fridge for about an hour giving it a stir every now and then. It is good to keep an eye on it as different fridges will have slightly different temperatures so yours may be ready after 40 mins. You will know it is good to go as they butters will still be semi-liquid but will have gone completely opaque. If they are too solid you won’t be able to whisk them so do keep checking.

When ready remove from fridge and start whisking. This will be a lot easier if you have an electric whisk, if not be prepared for aching arms! Soon it will start to look like thick buttercream icing. From here you can either spoon it into jars or pipe it in using a small plastic bag with the corner cut off.

Enjoy!

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Lime Blossom Interview

I was recently interviewed for the herbal podcast Listen on the many benefits of lime blossom.
If you are interested in finding out more you can listen to it here.

I hope you enjoy it!

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Today marks the Celtic festival of Samhain, or Halloween as it has been rebranded for the modern age. It marks the end of the harvests and the beginning of the long night of winter.

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It is said that for our Celtic ancestors, all things began in darkness, with a time of dreaming and gestation, and as such, Samhain marked the beginning of the New Year, just as dusk heralded the start of a new day.

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In this time and place we see death as a finality that comes at the end of life. A nothing, a void, an inevitable stopping. But what if we were to shift our vantage point a little, step to the side and see as our ancestors saw, that death is also that which precedes life. It just depends at what point on the wheel you want to step on.

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Sitting in nature at the time of year it is easy to see this time of darkness and dying as the start of something new and quietly wonderful. Plants and trees shed their seed to be blanketed by fallen leaves, a soft slow beginning. So much has happened unnoticed, long before the first shoots of spring.

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Observing the natural world we see how life and death each contain the seed of the other.

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Samhain is also the time to honour the ancestors. Those who traveled their journey whilst we were still snug in the Earth, sleeping, sending down our strong roots and dreaming of warmer days to come.

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The Downs are beautiful at any time of year, even in deepest winter when grey skies and bitter winds make them seem grim and inhospitable. I’m not sure it ever gets better than August though, when wildflowers carpet the steep slopes and everything is climaxing in one last great show before the Autumn days draw in. The buzzing, whirring and fluttering of hoverflies, bees and butterflies is intense as they load up on pollen and nectar and the smells so rich you can end up feeling as euphoric as the insects appear to be.

The peacock butterfly is always a favourite of mine, let’s face it, there’s not many creatures so flamboyant on our humble Isle. And the Blues so soft and ethereal, it almost brings a tear to my eye to watch them.

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Peacock butterfly on Ragwort

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Small White on Common Knapweed

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Common Blue (underside) on Ragwort

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Common Blue on Ragwort

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Gatekeeper Butterfly

How gorgeous are these emerald hued beetles? They appeared to be in heaven, caressing each other and the thistle flower with their spindly legs. The rose chafer or Cetonia aurata, is not a rare beetle but it still takes the breath away.

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Rose Chafer on Creeping Thistle

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Creeping thistle is very common and has the most wonderful earthy honied scent. A small handful of the flower heads in hot water make a delicious tea. When they finish flowering the seeds are equally beautiful, catching in the wind with their silken threads.

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Creeping Thistle Seed Heads

Hemp agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum) is another common wildflower, though somewhat confusingly it is no relation to either hemp or agrimony. It is little used today but in the past it was an important medicinal herb used for treating fevers and cleansing the blood. It has been found to contain potentially toxic alkaloids so would not be appropriate for ongoing treatment or in large doses which, in any case, may cause vomiting. It is a wonderful plant for butterflies, bees, moths and other insects.

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Hemp Agrimony. (Notice the hawthorn berries ripening in the background… not long now!)

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Hemp Agrimony with Canadian Goldenrod

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Hemp agrimony, Canadian Goldenrod, Rosebay Willowherb, Hawthorn and Wild Clematis.

This goldenrod is not the native variety (Solidago virguarea) but the Canadian (Solidago canadensis) which was originally grown in gardens but is now not uncommon as a wildflower here in the South. It is very striking with a delicious heady fragrance which results in it being surrounded by clouds of happy insects.

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Canadian Goldenrod in full sun!

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Harvesting the wonderful mugwort (Artemesia vulgaris) was one of the reasons for this morning’s walk. Mugwort is a fantastic medicinal herb that deserves much more than a quick summary but (among its many other uses) it is well loved for its affinity for the female reproductive system and its use as a digestive tonic. It is also steeped in folklore and myth and has long been used to promote lucid dreaming. Considered sacred to the Goddess Artemis, from whom it gets its Latin name, it is associated with the moon and all things magical.

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Our Lady Mugwort

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Yarrow is surely one of the most useful herbs we have, being helpful for a wide array of ailments. You can read more about it in my post here. They are mostly white with the odd pink one scattered in.

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Pink Yarrow

Classic wildflowers of chalky soils like the Downs include the graceful wild mignonette and agrimony. Agrimony (Agrimonia Eupatoria) is such a beautiful and cheerful herb, most commonly used for treating diarrhoea in children due to its gentle astringency. Also used for healing sore throats, toning the bladder and gut and healing wounds, it is member of the Rose family.

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Wild Mignonette

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Agrimony

Small scabious doesn’t have the most glamourous name but it is so beautiful it can just about get away with it! Perhaps the other flowers named it to prevent it becoming arrogant? I expect there is a story in there somewhere. The seed head alone is a work of art that only Mother Nature would be capable of.

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Scabious seedhead – Incredible!

Greater knapweed and rosebay willow herb are also important wildlife species and red bartsia is an attractive wildflower that is semi-parasitic on the roots of grasses.

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Greater Knapweed

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Red Bartsia

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Spires of Rosebay Willowherb

Queen Anne’s lace or wild carrot is another beautiful yet common wild flower. The name is said to come from the small red flower that is sometime seen in the centre of the head and relates to a story that Queen Anne, consort to James I, pricked her finger and stained the centre of her lace red with a drop of her blood.

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Queen Anne’s Lace or Wild Carrot with visiting Green Lacewing

Another of its common names is ‘birds nest’ after the stunning seed heads that form after it has finished flowering.

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Wild Carrot seed head

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May is truly one of my favourite months of the year. On the tipping point between seasons we have the last of the spring greens along with the first summer flowers and there are always lots of wonderful things to gather.

I enjoyed a harvest of pine pollen with some lovely women folk early in the month and now have delicious infused vinegars and tinctures to sustain us through the year. Pine pollen is a pale yellow powdery substance released from the male catkins each Spring and is a marvellous food and medicine, being rich in vitamins, minerals and proteins and having a whole host of beneficial actions from anti-inflammatory to adaptogenic and androgenic. Humans have used pine as medicine since our origins.

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Hawthorn is the gem of the season and is so abundant that it is usually possible to gather freely for use in teas, tinctures and other preparations. I have written many posts on Hawthorn on this blog but you can read a little more about the medicinal qualities of the flowers here.

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Our garden has been so thoroughly carpeted in dandelions that the flowers have graced our table on more than one occasion. The classic way to eat them of course is as fritters and they certainly make a delicious treat that way. All you need to do is dunk the flowers in a simple batter and fry, then hold on to the stalk and eat the battered flower head, discarding the green parts left. I have written more about the many medicinal benefits of dandelion here.

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Now the flowers have turned to clocks and my son delights in blowing them hither and thither. I expect our dandelion carpet will be even more extensive next year as a result!

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Ribwort plantain also grows in abundance here along with a little broadleaf and hoary plantain to add variety to the mix. I have been busy making infused oils to help heal all the little injuries that are so common for exploratory toddlers. Ribwort plantain is also a wonderful lung herb amongst other qualities and makes a great field plaster. I will dedicate a full post to its many wonders soon.

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Shepherd’s purse is a valuable astringent remedy, particularly for the uterus and gets its name from the little seed capsules which resemble, you guessed it, shepherd’s purses.

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We also have lots of garlic mustard, or Jack-by-the-hedge, growing in the garden. Delicious earlier in the season the leaves become bitter after it has flowered but it is still a good plant for wildlife, especially the orange tip butterfly, so I leave it be.

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Speaking of wildlife we have had lots of welcome visitors. A couple of foxes frequent the garden daily and they are such a pleasure to watch.

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Nature at this time of year is full of sensory delights.

From colours:

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Buttercup

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Herb Robert

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Rock rose

To textures:

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Mullein

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Bistort

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Lady’s mantle

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White horehound

To delicious smells:

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Santolina

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Golden Marjoram

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Sage

The garden is also full of the promise of things to come. Elderflowers and St. John’s wort will soon be flowering and ready to pick, gooseberries are nearly ripe and we are looking forward to apples and strawberries later in the year.

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Apple blossom

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St. John’s wort

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Gooseberries

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Strawberries

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Elderflower soon to be in bloom

Lest it all seem too idyllic however, this month has also been fraught with horticultural challenges. First my mini greenhouse blew over in the strong winds and all my seedlings were lost. Then the birds puled up all the yellow rattle plugs I had planted and finally someone, possibly a rat, dug up my newly planted salad trough. As my Dad, who has been gardening for many years, reminds me, gardening is full of ups and downs. I like to thing it is Mother Nature’s way of reminding us that we don’t have as much control as we think we do.

And ultimately, that can only be a good thing!

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