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Archive for the ‘Blog Parties’ Category

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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How wonderfully creative my fellow bloggers are! This month we have a delightful selection of posts around the theme of herbal creativity.

From Danielle over at The Teacup Chronicles we have a very exciting announcement for her new herbal tea company! She talks about the creative ideas that formed her tea blends, the colour palettes and design for her labels and gives us an enticing snapshot of her lovely new products. Read her inspiring post here.

Debs from Herbaholics Herbarium gives us a wonderful treat of her favourite floral photographs taken here in the UK and in France. She paints an evocative picture of the warm summer months and shares with us what photography means to her. Read her uplifting and beautiful post here.

Sarah at Tales of a Kitchen Herbwife has delighted our hearts with some of her beautiful poetry. Did you know she has published a book of poetry? She also tells us about some herbal songs, with an interesting bit of history, and  some of her lovely embroidery projects. Read her magical post here.

My own post looks at the ever changing and uniquely creative force that is Mother Nature and considers the work of Geothe in developing a more holistic approach to science whilst following the developing buds of Elder. Read it below or click here.

Now I am happily imagining myself reading Sarah’s book of poetry whilst sipping one of Danielle’s lovely teas with a calendar of Debs’ photos hanging on my wall.

Happy Spring Equinox, I hope you too feel those creative juices flowing with the lengthening days and warmer weather!

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Your art is to be the praise of something that you love. It may only be the praise of a shell or a stone.
John Ruskin.

This is my little offering for the March Blog Party, the topic of which is herbal creativity. I must apologise if this post is a little rambling and incoherent, it started of in quite a different place to the one in which it ended and I fear the part of it that made sense may have got lost somewhere en route!

It occurred to me as I turned my mind to the topic of herbal creativity that nothing has quite the same creative potential as nature herself. One man who understood this well was Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, whose work is testament to the depth of understanding that can be achieved when we enter into a communion with nature rather than imposing rigid theory upon her. He sought to understand the unity inherent in nature through a technique of contemplative observation which harnessed the cognitive perception of the mind rather than denying its existence. Where as empirical science sought to understand nature through objective observation of phenomena, then impose theory upon it, Goethe understood that pure sensory experience is not possible and that understanding only arises through a meeting of sense perception and mental faculties. What we perceive therefore, arises at the meeting point of mind and matter, “the complete phenomenon is visible only when there is a coalescence of sensory outsight with intuitive insight.”

For Goethe, science “involves not only a rigorous training of our faculties of observation and thinking, but also of other human faculties which can attune us to the spiritual dimension that underlies and interpenetrates the physical: faculties such as feeling, imagination and intuition.”

I wrote a post last year on working with Goethean observation in deepening my relationship with Comfrey which you can read here. This year I found myself captivated by the emerging buds of my favourite Elder and I decided to attempt the process once more.

When working with this technique it is wonderful if you can observe your chosen plant at least once a day as this allows for a deep observation of the subtle changes which are occurring. This wasn’t a possibility for me at this time so I had to content myself with twice weekly visits, all of which still afforded me a magical view into the dynamic processes involved in the life of this beautiful tree.

When I had a little more time I opted to draw the buds as this requires a much more profound engagement and necessitates a far deeper level of observation. Mostly I made do with photographing the changes I observed though and scrawling a few key lines in my notebook. The object here is not to produce a piece of fine art but to engage with what we see in a way that allows for a relaxing of our normal consciousness that sees the plant as ‘out there’ and ourselves as ‘in here’ and enables a kind of flow to arise which recognises both the seer and the seen as being at one.

“I would rather teach drawing that my pupils may learn to love nature, than teach the looking at nature that they may learn to draw.”

John Ruskin

Goethe realised that scientific, or indeed any truth is active and not passive, just as the observer themself is dynamic and ever changing. By entering into the flow of the plant he was able to see that each part is a metamorphosis of another. In botany we are accustomed to looking at and identifying different plant parts, such as leaves, sepals, petals and stems. When we pick a plant, press it and make a herbarium specimen -the traditional way of recording plants in botany- we only get a snap shot in time rather than facilitating an understanding of the continual metamorphosis of the plant, how each part belongs to a developing whole which is never static but forever adapting to the environment around it. He explained, “The variation of plant forms, whose unique course I had long been following, now awakened in me more and more the idea that the plant forms around us are not predetermined, but are happily mobile and flexible, enabling them to adapt to the many conditions throughout the world, which influence them, and to be formed and re-formed with them.”  In fact Goethe’s ideas were to become key in the developing theories of evolution.

What a wonderful thing it is to see new life emerging. By practising Goethe’s technique of gentle observation I was able to witness how each part of the Elder gradually transforms into another. How the stem lengthens into buds along its nodes. How from the buds emerge six little leaves parting slowly to reveal the sepals, like hands clasped in prayer, protecting and holding their treasure within.

Slowly, as these hands begin to open we see another transformation has taken place. Somewhere, hidden from sight, the tiny beginnings of the elderflowers have formed. These in turn will open out and become the large, flat, white flower heads that mark the beginning of summer in June. As the year continues to turn they will become the ripe black elderberries that will help keep us healthy all winter long.

At what point in time can we say the elderberry is born? When the first buds appear? When we see those first little clusters that will become the flowers? Or not till later, when they become recognisable as such? We tend to see bud, flower and fruit as separate instances in time and neglect the thread that runs through all, from life to death and back again.

Taking any point in time as static can tend to inhibit understanding rather than promote it, and that is why practising Goethean observation can be so transformative. We stop looking for a phenomena that is inherently existing, as we Buddhists say, “from its own side’, and start to understand that life and its myriad expressions are part of a continuum that is constantly creative, never still, always metamorphosing.

“How difficult it is not to put the sign in place of the thing; how difficult to keep the being always livingly before one and not to slay it with the word.”  Goethe.

Through our own creative process we can start to become one with the miraculous creative process of  all nature.

Please pop back tomorrow when I’ll be posting the links to everyone else’s creatively inspired ideas.

References:

Henri Bortoft – The Wholeness of Nature – Goethe’s Way of Science
Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird – The Secret Life of Plants

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We’re almost, almost into spring, the sap is rising and there is that special zing in the air which signifies the wheel of the seasons turning once more. Everyone is starting to emerge from their wintery hibernation and fresh ideas abound so I thought it would be a good time to celebrate our Herbal Creativity.

This is a very broad topic covering anything that inspires us or encourages our creative side. You might want to share some herbal crafts that you particularly enjoy, a short story or poem inspired by herbs, a herbal drawing or photographs or a recipe that you are particularly proud of, be it culinary, cosmetic or medicinal. This blog party is about ideas you have enjoyed playing with and also about sharing with each other some of the ways in which herbs inspire us in all the many facets of our lives.

If you have your own blog then add your post before March 20th and email me the link at whisperingearth@gmail.com  -I’ll post the links to all the entries here that evening. If you don’t have a blog but would like to join us anyway you can email your piece as a word document to Debs at the UK Herbarium on debs at herbal-haven dot co dot uk and she will add it to the UK Herbarium blog as a guest post.

I also remembered earlier that I am a little late in announcing the winner of my anniversary giveaway. It was Rachel, who wrote the first comment on the post which was nice. I hope you enjoy your oil!

Whilst on the topics of herbal creativity and lateness, here is a painting I did in honour of Imbolc, the Celtic festival which marks the beginning of spring. Imbolc was a month ago now and I hoped to portray the wintery feel that was still all around us at that time but with the promise of spring and potentiality waiting in the earth. It is oft said that the tree already lives in the seed and I like to imagine all the flowers and leaves, already perfectly formed and waiting in the realms of the possible to come forth when the right conditions allow.

 

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Danielle over at The Teacup Chronicles is our hostess for February’s blog party with the delightful topic of Gems from the Herbal Library. She’ll be posting the links for all the entries tomorrow so do wander on over there to see what books others have been inspired by this month.

Sometimes, reading reams of research material and the like can begin to sap the joy from our herbal learning and it’s easy to forget the simple pleasures of gazing on a wild plant or a herb in our gardens. It’s not always possible to get outside and sit amongst our green friends however, especially at this time of year, which is why I decided to share with you some of my favourite illustrated herbals. I’ve always been a visual person and I can never get a real sense of a new or exotic herb until I have seen it with my own eyes, no matter how much knowledge I may have gleaned on it’s usage.

So without further ado here are some of my favourite herbal picture books, I hope you also get some pleasure from gazing on their beauty.

The Illustrated Book of Herbs, edited by Sarah Bunney, is full of delightful drawings alongside small entries on the botanical descriptions and traditional uses of each plant.

The Illustrated Herbal by Philippa Beck is a similar, though smaller, volume covering fewer plants but including some interesting recipes for medicinal and cosmetic use. I particularly love this illustration of plantain.

A wild flower guide rather than  a herb book, The Illustrated Flora of Britain and Northern Europe, by Marjorie Blamey and Christopher Grey-Wilson is still most definitely a gem of my herbal library, one of those things that you find in a second hand book shop and treasure ever more. Each page is filled with illustrations and I’ve found it a useful reference guide as well as a thing of great beauty.

A Country Herbal by Leslie Gordon, contains some great images like these Medieval depictions of mandrake and marjoram and some interesting tidbits on traditional plant uses, though it’s fairly light on useful medicinal information.

Slightly more modern, these three also make delightful additions to my picture-book collection.

Herbal by Deni Brown, was a Christmas present this year and I love the mix of beautiful photos and botanical illustrations in this lovely purple cloth bound book. There’s not much in it that would be new for the experienced herbalist but it’s still a delight to own, just look at this wonderful illustration of dandelion.

I love all the bright and vibrant photos in Hedgerow Medicine by Matthew and Julie Bruton Seal and I’ve picked up some great tips from it’s simple and easy to read style and lovely recipes. This is a perfect book for beginners interested in picking and making their own remedies from the wild but it’s still enjoyable for more experienced herbalists too.

Last but not least is The Complete Floral Healer by Anne McIntyre which is full of the botany, folklore and medicinal properties of a whole host of well known flowers. It’s also bright and beautiful with photos or illustrations for each entry. Check out this lovely skullcap drawing.

I hope you enjoyed looking at this little selection of my favourite illustrated herbals and do let me know if you can recommend any others!

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A couple of days ago we woke up to a beautiful frosty, mist shrouded morning which faded from ice to fire when the morning sun blazed its way across the Downs.

This is the time of year when you can feel Spring in the air, tantalisingly close, and I start to feel impatient for some warmer weather so I can get outside and start planting.

I have big plans for our little garden and am probably going to have to downscale a bit in order to fit everything in. The good thing about my experience of inner city container gardening is that I can use space effectively to cram as much green in as possible and I’ll certainly also be growing lots in pots. Most of my plants have survived the winter despite being hiked from a nicely sheltered patio garden to a blustery, exposed little plot which gets hit directly by the icy blasts that rush in from the Low Weald.

I’ve just had a couple of seed deliveries and will be setting up the seed trays before too long. It’s all very exciting!

Finally, incase you haven’t spotted the announcements elsewhere, Danielle will be hosting the February Blog Party on a topic which is close to all our hearts, ‘Gems from the Herbal Library’. All of us herby bloggers share a love of words as well as a love of nature so this promises to be a great topic and I’m sure we’ll all discover a new treasure to add to our collections. Read all about it in her post here.

As you can see, I’m not the only one who appreciates herb books in our household.

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January Blog Party!

There have been some lovely posts for this month’s blog party in which we considered the role of Herbal Hugs- delicious, supporting or uplifting medicines that help us through difficult times and comfort and open our hearts. I hope you enjoy reading them all as much as I did!

Ali at Eldrum Musings has written about a lovely rose hip syrup that she made recently along with some rosehip vodka and wine. She also speaks about some of the other herbs she considers to be herbal hugs. She says, ‘while there are several herbs that crop up as a real herbal hug for me, the most recent encounter I have had with a really comforting herb has been with the rose hips I went out and picked from our hedgerows a couple of weeks ago.’ Click here for her delicious recipe that will brighten the January days.

Brigitte at My Herb Corner has given us a choice of activities to lift our spirits as well as a beautiful tea blend to bring us a ray of summer sun. She reminds us to get outside too saying, ‘Nature is always providing us with her lovely medicine, nurturing the animal kingdom and humans as well.’ Click here to read all about her herbal inspirations to make your heart sing.

Danielle  at The Teacup Chronicles has given us a choice of delectable herbs and recipes to bring you balance and bliss. She says, ‘For me, these plants are often those that deeply nurture the body, delight the senses, and uplift and soothe the spirit. But most of all, they are plants that work on that ambiguous place known as the heart – that place where love originates and is received.’ Click here to read about all her favourite herbal hugs to nourish and uplift your heart and mind.

Debs at Herbaholic’s Herbarium talks about how supportive the floral remedies are when we need emotional support and considers how fragrance and colour play a large part in their effect. She says, ‘It’s a whole new way of looking at herbal healing, a sort of colour therapy combined with herbal medicine and aromatherapy.’  How lovely!  She also shares a recipe for lavender chocolate truffles. Click here to read her kaleidoscope of herbs to love and support you.

Sarah Head at Tales of a Kitchen Herbwife has written a lovely post full of fruity, sweet and floral delicacies. She says, ‘To find another human being who feels safe enough to hug isn’t always possible. Sometimes we have transformed into the prickly hedgehog which makes it difficult for those around us to offer the support we need. Sometimes we just want time alone. If this is the case, it is the perfect time to indulge in a herbal hug or two.’ Click here to feel soothed and inspired.

Sarah Furey has joined us with a guest post on this blog all about her beloved Vervain, herbal hug and sacred plant of the Druids which you can read here.

My own post contains some of my favourite ways to give myself a herbal hug with teas, elixirs, powders and aromatherapy.  You can read it by following the link here.

Update: Carey at Serving Gaia has also just written this lovely post on the supportive effects on kukicha tea which you can read here.

Thanks so much to everyone who took part, I have really enjoyed reading your posts and have come away with much inspiration.

Herbal Hugs to one and all.

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