Archive for the ‘Seasons’ Category



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


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.



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.


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.



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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.





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.


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.


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.

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.



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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.


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.



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 hop on.




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.




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
















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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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.


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.




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.



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!


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.



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.


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.


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.



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

From colours:




Herb Robert


Rock rose

To textures:






Lady’s mantle


White horehound

To delicious smells:




Golden Marjoram



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.


Apple blossom


St. John’s wort






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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Spring is finally in full swing here in Sussex. The sun is shining, March winds are blowing out the winter grey and lots of wonderful young edibles are popping up in the meadows and hedgerows.

Wild garlic (Allium ursinum) is one of the most delectable of these and also one of the most easily recognisable as well as being abundant in damp and shady places such as woodlands and stream edges.

A warning that is often given alongside foraging information on wild garlic is to be wary of its similarities to the leaves of Lords and Ladies or Cuckoo Pint (Arum maculatum) which often grows amongst it. The leaves can be easily camouflaged but, on closer examination, actually look quite different so getting to know the characteristics of these two plants is important for wild harvesting. 


Spot the difference

I suspect the majority of problems arise from people picking handfuls of young leaves without too much attention to detail so it’s always good to harvest a little more mindfully and respectfully to avoid getting any unwanted hitchhikers in your basket.


Young Wild Garlic

The leaves of wild garlic are convex, broadly lanceolate and glabrous (smooth and hairless) and have one main central vein with parallel secondary veins.


Wild garlic – left, Lords and Ladies, – right

Lords and Ladies on the other hand has a broad arrow shaped leaf, with a more wrinkled appearance. However the mature leaf shape may not be fully present in the youngest leaves so the most important thing to notice is the difference in patterning of the veins. In Lords and Ladies they are pinnate, meaning the secondary veins are paired oppositely, emerging out to the edge of the leaf from the central vein. On close inspection they look quite different from the parallel veins of wild garlic.


Lords and Ladies emerging


Lords and Ladies

It also often has characteristic purple spots on the leaves though these are not always present, especially in the young leaves, so cannot be relied upon for a positive identification.


Characteristic purple spots

Wild garlic can also be confused with the leaves of Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis) before they are in flower and the two do in fact look very similar. Lily of the Valley is highly poisonous when eaten, though it is also a valuable medicine when given in the correct dosages. One of the main differences is that Lily of the Valley usually has pairs of leaves on a single stem where as wild garlic only has one. Lily of the Valley is rarer now than it used to be but it is still important to be able to recognise the differences.

The most important id feature of wild garlic is its distinctive smell which neither Lily of the Valley or Lords and Ladies have. If you have any doubts at all, leave aside the plants you are unsure of.

Below we can see wild garlic growing up amongst two poisonous neighbours. Dog mercury with the small green flowers and the larger leaves of Lords and Ladies next to it.


Wild Garlic, Dog’s Mercery and Lords and Ladies

Alongside our usual pestos and infused vinegars I have been enjoying wild garlic cashew nut ‘cheese’ this year which is a lovely creamy treat spread on crackers or used as a sauce on pasta or millet.

Ingredients and Method:

1 cup cashew nuts (soaked in enough water to cover for at least an hour and drained)
A large handful or wild garlic leaves
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup water (you can add more to make a thinner sauce consistency)
1/4 cup nutritional yeast (optional but adds a nice cheesy flavour)
Salt and pepper to taste

Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until combined and smooth. Store in the fridge and use within a few days.


Wild Garlic cashew nut cheese

If you fancy picking some wild garlic with myself and Anna Richardson next month we are holding a spring greens foraging day at Wowo Campsite in East Sussex. Other dates for summer and autumn are also available.

Edible and medicinal spring greens- Saturday 25th April 10.30am – 4.30pm

Women’s Flower Day – Saturday 11th July 10.30am – 4.30pm

Autumn Wild Foods and Medicines – Saturday 19th September 10.30am – 4.30pm

You can find out more and book online here: http://www.wowo.co.uk/faq/30-services/107-anna-richardson-wild-crafts.html

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Autumn Foraging Workshops

Autumn bounty

Autumn bounty

We had a wonderful time at the Wild Plant Craft workshop over the Autumn Equinox weekend, meeting like minded people and spending time connecting with nature and gathering food and medicine from Mother Earth’s autumn bounty. Here are some of the highlights!

Anna and I will be doing another day of foraging and making at Wowo campsite in East Sussex on Sunday 26th October focusing on acorns, roots and medicinal mushrooms.

Meeting hazel

Meeting Hazel.

Collecting Himalayan Balsam seeds

Collecting Himalayan Balsam seeds.

Foraging fun

Foraging fun.

Clover blossom

Clover blossom.

Digging for roots whilst the smallest member of the company has a nap.

Digging for roots whilst the smallest member of the company has a nap.

Talking about Hawthorn, one of my favourite trees.

Talking about Hawthorn, one of my favourite trees.


Singing Anna’s beautiful Hawthorn song.


Fruits of our labour.

Foragers of all ages.

Foragers of all ages.

Taking time to meet the plants.

Taking time to meet the plants.


Anna talks about chickweed.

Anna talks about chickweed.

Busy with preparations.

Busy with preparations.


Berries simmering over the fire with hazelnuts roasting in a shallow pit beneath.

Berries simmering over the fire with hazelnuts roasting in a shallow pit beneath.

Ingredients for iron tonic.

Ingredients for iron tonic.

Food and medicine from the Earth.

Food and medicine from the Earth.


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From top left clockwise: Nettle, hawthorn blossom, cleavers, ground elder, ground ivy, garlic mustard/jack by the hedge, dandelion flowers, hawthorn leaves, dandelion leaves.

One of the things I love most about spring is that it is probably the time when picking plentiful quantities of wild food is the easiest, at least in temperate northern zones such as the area in which I live. There are many edible wild spring greens in the hedgerows, woods and waysides and in no time at all you can have an abundant harvest for creating delicious and healthful meals and teas.


A mix of wild and cultivated salad leaves decorated with primrose, three cornered leek and heartsease flowers.

Eating even small quantities of wild foods regularly is one of the best things you can do for your health as they are so nutritionally dense, vibrant, seasonal and fresh. So many of the best wild foods are those we consider weeds, but when we look at the qualities of these plants, how tenacious and insuppressible they are, we can see that their strength and vitality surely makes for a more fortifying meal than those cultivated plants that have been shipped half way round the world and sat on supermarket shelves for days. I think weed is a derogatory term, the four letter word of the plant world, which I will henceforth refer to as w**d. I do however reserve the right to use it, along with other four letter words, in the presence of my arch-nemesis ground elder.


Young lime/ linden leaves

At this time of year we have a lovely mix of mild tasting moistening greens, like the young lime/linden and violet leaves, and more drying or pungent herbs like nettles, young yarrow leaves, jack-by-the hedge and the dead nettles. This makes for a perfect balance of nourishing and toning qualities to help build us up and get us into shape after winter.


My little forager picking lime leaves.

The three cornered leek or wild onion is one of the most delicious additions to spring salads, tasting something like a spring onion, and the flowers make beautiful decorative additions to any meal and are also edible. They are more common in the south west than the south east and I don’t find many growing near me but luckily it has spread all over my parent’s garden so I got to pick lots when visiting recently.


Three cornered leek



From a distance it looks a little like white bluebells or even snowdrops but can be easily differentiated close up by the shape of the flowers and the distinctive triangular stem, hence the common name of three cornered leek. Also the smell of onion is a give away. Do be sure of your identification as both snowdrop and bluebell bulbs are poisonous.


Wavy bittercress is a very common spring salad green which has delicious leaves and flowers and tastes much like normal cress.


Wavy bittercress

Lady’s smock, also known as cuckoo flower, is another edible mustard family plant with deliciously peppery leaves and flowers.


Lady’s smock

Jack by the hedge or garlic mustard is also in the mustard family or Brassicaceae. This family used to be known as the Cruciferae so if you have an older plant identification book you will find this name instead.

Jack by the hedge

Jack by the hedge

Nettles are found in abundance at this time of year and are a true superfood for the blood. You can read more about them in a previous post here.


Nettles in the spring sunshine

Pick cleavers by the handful for use in cold infusions and juices, instructions for which can be found here.


A tangle of cleavers

Wild garlic is one of the true delicacies of the season. If, like me, you love the fiery garlic taste then make it into a pesto by itself but if it is a bit too intense for your palette you can tone it down with nettles or shop bought herbs like basil. More about wild garlic can be found here.


Wild garlic pesto – pungent and powerful!

Do remember when picking wild greens to be absolutely 100% sure of your identification as some edibles have poisonous lookalikes. Also avoid the sides of paths where dogs are commonly walked and always, always pick with respect to the environment and don’t over harvest. Finally avoid the edges of fields unless you know the land to be organically managed.


At the back; cleavers cold infusion and hawthorn blossom tea. Centre; nettle pesto with jack by the hedge and ground elder. Front; wild green salad of hawthorn leaves, jack by the hedge, dandelion leaves, violet leaves and white dead nettle with nettle pesto and dandelion flowers on toast, nettle and ground elder soup.

Spring greens and flowers also make for wonderful teas.

Ground ivy has a pleasant but musky flavour which is nice in teas when mixed with something lighter like a little mint from the garden. It is great for stuffy sinuses that can go along with spring allergies.

Ground ivy

Ground ivy

And the most wonderful spring tea of all in my opinion is hawthorn blossom, the very Queen of May herself. Read more about hawthorn blossom here.

Hawthorn blossom

Hawthorn blossom

I have also written a post on harvesting spring greens in this issue of the Mother magazine.

Wishing you all a joyous Beltane and a marvellous May Day!


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