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Archive for the ‘Summer’ Category

There is little to rival the sheer exuberance of the garden at this time of year. Even in my little patch things are flourishing and vital.

Blue and pink Hyssop are covered in blooms.

Echinacea is looking beautiful. If you look at this close up you can see that each head is actually made up of many tiny individual flowers, called florets. Amazing no?

I planted the cornflowers late so they are only just blooming now.

I adore borage flowers, they are so ethereal yet the plant’s medicine is so strengthening. Along with the normal blue flowers I’ve had a few rogue pink ones this year.

Self heal and heartsease, both favourites of mine and excellent skin healing herbs, are adorning the spaces between larger plants.

Monarda, geranium ‘rozanne’ and Calendula all add some blazes of colour.

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And best of all we are harvesting something delicious for our table everyday. Romanesque cauliflowers captivate me completely, their fractal forms seem almost unreal. Peas are about my favourite garden snack, along with strawberries of course, and salads fresh from the garden are a million, million miles from those bought in the shop.


The Roses and Motherwort have also been stunning but they will have posts all of their own in the next week or so. I hope you are enjoying your gardens, patios, window boxes and local parks this summer, wherever in the world you may be.

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Since my last post on harvesting nettle seeds I’ve had a couple of emails asking me for more specific details about how and when to harvest. I remember that when I first started to collect herbs and make my own remedies it would always annoy me when writers skimmed the surface of the topics they were discussing, making assumptions that their readers already knew how to make this or that. So, in the spirit of making things clearer, I thought I’d post a few more photos to show those of you who’d like a bit more info exactly what nettles look like at different times of the year, how the seed should look when you pick it and how it looks when it’s dried. I hope that clears up any confusion and makes it easier to get out and enjoy your harvest.

Nettles come up in Spring at which time you can harvest them for soups, to eat raw, to add to juices, vinegars, teas or enjoy as a steamed or cooked green.

Nettles in Spring

Later, as summer starts to warm up, the nettles begin to flower at which time they are no longer good for eating. Nettles in full sun will flower before those in the shade and will also produce seeds earlier.

Nettle in Flower

The flowers begin to turn to seeds…

Ripening into seeds

But aren’t ready to harvest until they look like this.

Perfect Timing

Collect the green seeds rather than the brown or black.

After hanging the stems to allow the insects to escape, cut off the small strands of seeds and allow to air dry or use a dehydrator like this one.

Drying nettle seed in the dehydrator

When dry, take small handfuls of the seeds and rub through a sieve.

Sieving dried seeds

The seeds will come away and you’ll be left with the small grey-green stands like these.

After sieving

Pop your dried seeds into a jar, store somewhere cool and away from bright light and enjoy sprinkled on food.

Jar of dried nettle seeds

Hope that was helpful!

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Nettle Seed

I passed a lovely afternoon recently in harvesting my first nettle seeds of the year. They are so abundant right now and so helpful during these busy periods that it was a real pleasure to get out gathering them.

There are a couple of great articles on the internet describing how to harvest nettle seeds along with their uses which I highly recommend reading, notably those by Henriette here and here and Kiva Rose here and here. Though many people know how beneficial nettle leaf can be, until the recent revival of interest in nettle seeds it was a little used remedy in modern herbal medicine. Even now it seems to be much more popular amongst traditional herbalists and herbwives rather than medical herbalists, not that the distinction is always so clear.

The benefits of nettle seeds have some overlap with those of the leaf, both being strengthening, mineral rich, great for skin and hair and for supporting the kidneys and urinary system. Whereas the leaf is gentler and more nourishing however, the seed packs more of a punch.

Abundant and ready to harvest.

According to Henriette, ‘Nettle seeds are adaptogens. They help with the general stress response, they strengthen the adrenals, and they’re loaded with minerals and trace elements’. As most of the hype around adaptogens has centred on exotic plants from far away lands it’s particularly nice to have such a great example growing abundantly here in the UK. I always think that the medicines we need most are the ones which are most abundant near where we live and in these stressed-out, sped-up times, for many of us nettle seed is no exception.

Useful for chronic exhaustion, adrenal fatigue and burnout, nettle seeds have also been used to aid kidney function in both people and animals with degenerative conditions. David Winston writes here, ‘I discovered Nettle Seed could be used as a kidney trophorestorative – literally a food for the kidneys. I have used the seed tincture to treat over 30 cases of degenerative kidney disease and the results have far exceeded my expectations. A recent study published in the Journal of The American Herbalist Guild [4(2):22-25] confirms my clinical experience, showing that Nettle Seed increases kidney glomerular function and reduces serum creatinine levels. Many herbalists have seen significant benefits from using Nettle Seed tincture in patients with glomerulonephritis, chronic nephritis with degeneration, and to protect the kidneys from nephrotoxic medications.’ Impressive stuff.

As the endocrine glands work together to maintain a subtle balance in the body, often a medicine that affects one of them will have a knock on effect throughout the entire system. So nettle seeds can help harmonise the whole of the endocrine system, though their primary action is to balance the adrenals.

Last year, Sara Jane of Brighton’s Green Aprons group told me that taking just a small amount of the fresh green seeds had kept her awake the whole night. Kiva Rose has also spoken of the overstimulating effects of the fresh seed. They don’t seem to affect me in quite the same way, so perhaps it’s constitutional. From an Ayurvedic perspective I imagine Pitta types would find them quite stimulating but Kaphas could benefit from their energising effects. I’m pretty Vata and, as I say, they haven’t ever kept me awake, though they did give me  a surprising and uncharacteristic motivation to do lots of housework! Perhaps I shall make my fortune marketing them as the new ‘mother’s little helpers’. Or perhaps not.

To be on the safe side, it’s best to take the dried seeds as they have a more gently restorative action and are energising without being too stimulating.

Harvest now will the seeds are hanging in strands

The first time I harvested the seeds I ignored Henriette’s advice and, like many a young herbalist who disregards the voice of experience and wisdom, I came a-cropper. As she suggests, nettle seeds do seem to harbour a remarkable amount and variety of insect life, so it’s really best to do as she says and cut whole stems rather than just the seeds and hang them for a few days to allow the wildlife to escape. I take them down before they are completely dry and finish them in the dehydrator but that’s just because years of living in damp houses have made me cautious of air drying anything. Once dry, strip off the strands of seeds and rub them through a sieve, you’ll be left with a beautiful harvest of dried nettle seeds.

Most of the nettles growing near me are the perennial Urtica dioica but if the annual Urtica urens is more abundant near you then do remember when collecting seeds that the success of next year’s new plants depends on them. If you have only a few plants in your area, look elsewhere for your bounty. This lovely nettle patch, and a couple more like it, are just outside my house so I’m lucky not to have to worry about over harvesting!

Nettle Patch

Nettle seeds are so easy to incorporate into your daily diet and can be thought of as much as a nourishing ‘superfood’ as they are a medicine. Sprinkle them on salads, soups, in sandwiches or blend in smoothies. Take up to a teaspoon a day and see how you go, you can use more or less depending on how they affect you.

I make a delicious seasoning from nettle seeds, hemp seeds, nutritional yeast, mixed herbs and a pinch of salt and pepper.

This amount of nettles filled an average size jar with dried seeds. I’ll need to do another few harvests in order to make a tincture from the fresh seed and stock enough dried seeds to see me through the year.

Nettle Seed Harvest

For more detailed info on when to pick and how to process nettle seed see this post here.

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I love this time of year when the trees and bushes are dripping with ripening berries. It’s funny to think that only a couple of months ago they were adorning the landscape with their wonderful flowers.

Over the course of the summer months we watch and wonder as these….

Elderflowers

Turn to these.

Unripe Elderberries

These…

Bramble in Flower

To these.

Blackberries

These…

Hawthorn Flowering

To these.

Ripening Haws

These…

Wild Roses

To these.

Rosehips Ripening with a Gentle Blush

And these…

Blackthorn Flowering

To these.

Sloes

Other than the blackberries I haven’t harvested anything yet as it’s still a little early. Having said that, I’ve seen lots of ripe elderberries elsewhere though the ones near me are still green. I’ll be sure to post recipes and tips from my harvests as they occur!

We both took the day off work today to celebrate my birthday (which is actually tomorrow) and after some exploring we indulged in picking and eating blackberries to our heart’s content.

There was just time to greet our new friends before heading home for blackberry smoothies.

Good Afternoon

For a special treat this evening I made us little raw berry crumbles which are so yummy and nutritious and simple to do. Just fill a small pot with blackberries and raspberries and cover with a simple crumble topping of oats, sunflower seeds, macadamia nut oil, local honey and a pinch each of vanilla powder, cardamom powder and cinnamon powder. I popped it in the dehydrator for a couple of hours to warm and soften but if you don’t have one you could warm it in the oven for 20 mins on the lowest heat instead. Enjoy with a spoon of blended frozen banana ice cream.

Berry Crumble

I hope you all have time to get out and enjoy the hedgerows too. With love.

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I went for a lovely walk on the Downs yesterday afternoon with Sarah, aiming to harvest some Yarrow and see what was about. It was a beautiful sunny day and there was such an abundance of wonderful healing plants everywhere we looked. Sarah is a great herbalist and teacher so I always learn lots from my time with her.

We saw lots of Lady’s Bedstraw, Gallium verum, a lovely cleansing herb which can help the kidneys, liver and lymphatic system and aid in skin disorders, much like it’s close relative Cleavers, Gallium aparine. It has a delightful odour and was used as a strewing herb and to stuff mattresses (hence its name).

Lady's Bedstraw

The Agrimony, though slightly passed its best, was still looking so beautiful. Seeing this herb on a walk is always a pleasure. As an astringent it’s useful for stomach upsets and sores and can help tone oily skins when used as a face wash.

Agrimony

We also saw Wild Lettuce, a useful sedative, growing next to flowering Mugwort.

Wild Lettuce

Mugwort

I was very excited to see the haws starting to form on the beloved Hawthorn.

Swelling Haws

There was lots of mallow, a traditional wound herb, and some wonderful wild marjoram which I’m going to write a fuller post on in a couple of days.

Mallow

Wonderful Wild Marjoram

I was so happy to see some eyebright which I hadn’t encountered in the wild before.

Eyebright

And last, but by no means least, we managed to collect the thing we came for, some lovely blooming Yarrow. What a great afternoon!

Yarrow

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Wondering reverence amongst the Pines

Trees have captured our imaginations since people first walked amongst them. Possibly even before. There has never been a time when our lives did not depend on the majesty of these great beings, whether for food, shelter, fuel or medicine. As the daughter of a forester I suppose it was inevitable that my chosen path would in some way come full circle and include a special place for trees. I am so grateful for the healing provided by them, there always seems an extra special something in a blend of herbs when it contains some tree medicine!

I think trees function as nervines simply by their virtue of being. In my experience, nothing is a greater tonic to the nerves than a walk in nature, wandering through aged boughs and young saplings and feeling your gaze flooded with a thousand shades of green. The nervous system, down to the neurones themselves, bears a striking resemblance to trees, with their myriad branches and roots stretching out and connecting, sending messages and forming an incredible network, the like of which we have barely begun to understand.

A Neuron

Having said that, within herbal medicine, not many trees are considered nervines. The blossoms of Hawthorn have been described as such, Peach and Rose make great cooling remedies for the nervous system and then there’s the lovely Linden, one of my favourite trees that is also one of my favourite nervines. Linden, also known as Lime Tree (though no relation to the fruit!) is one of the herbalists greatest allies for soothing stress, tension and nervous excitation. The name comes from an Anglo Saxon root, though ‘Linden’ was originally an adjective, meaning ‘made of Lime wood’. In German, the verb ‘lindern’ means to alleviate, ease or soothe.

In various European cultures it has been associated with the divine feminine, being sacred to Freya and Frigga, Goddesses of love, fertility, domesticity and divination.

Limes are an ancient species, there is a small leaved lime in Westonbirt Arboretum that is at least 2,000 years old. Limes and elms were once the commonest trees in Britain, flourishing around 6,000 years ago, during the warm Atlantic period. These would have been our native species, Tilia cordata, or small leaved lime, and Tilia platyphyllos, the broad leaved lime. Both of these are now fairly rare, especially the broad leaved, and the lime trees common in parks and lining avenues are the common limes Tilia x europaea or Tilia x vulgaris.

A Common Lime - just before flowering.

I was hoping the Limes would be in flower by now but everything is a bit late this year. I’m waiting on them blooming any day though! I was planning to share a few more of my recipes but I’ll do an update with some ideas for using the blossoms as soon as they are ready for picking. I’ll be doing some tincture, infused oil, a flower remedy (weather permitting!) and an elixir so do check back in a week or two for some medicine making ideas. Linden is one of the last trees to flower and the blooms are only fresh for about a week so everything has to be dropped as soon as the blossoms open and the bees start buzzing. Bees are the best guides to finding a Linden in flower as they can be heard making merry with the pollen, one of their favourites, from quite some distance. There is an altogether musical quality about this tree and it’s wood was a common choice for making instruments such as guitars and recorders due to its fine acoustics.

If the elder is a venerable and wise old grandmother then the linden is a kind and gentle young lady, softly singing her child to sleep. You always feel cared for with a cup of linden tea in your hand. Due to it’s gentle nature and sweet honey like taste, Linden makes a lovely children’s remedy taken as a tea, with a little honey if required. It can soothe irritability in children and adults alike and makes a lovely footbath to aid a restful night’s sleep. In Peter Conway’s interesting book “Tree Medicine’, he writes. ‘If you are stressed, tense or overworked, you need limeflowers.’ Well thats most of us then! It is highly beneficial to constitutionally nervous types whose anxiety goes to their digestion, a pattern which I can definitely relate to, being what is known in iridology as an ‘anxiety gastric’ type.

It’s list of actions include antidepressant, antispasmodic, demulcent, diaphoretic, expectorant, hypotensive, nervine, sedative and stomachic and as such, it’s is good for more then just stress.

Linden branch - note the heart shaped leaves.

It’s been traditionally used as a heart tonic, helping to reduce cholesterol and high blood pressure, especially if the cause is anxiety driven. It does this in part by relaxing the circulation. If you try clenching your fists hard you’ll notice the skin in your palm going white where the blood has been unable to flow before turning red as the blood rushes back in. Now imagine being in a constant state of anxiety, it creates constriction which results in shallow breathing, reduced circulation and eventually dryness where the blood has been unable to adequately nourish the skin. Linden effectively treats all these conditions, by relaxing the nervous system and the circulation and soothing dryness and inflammation with its high mucilage content. In this way we can see its energy as being expansive in opening up the channels of the body to allow relaxation and flow.

It’s also a valuable medicine for the immune system being regularly drunk as a hot tea in France for colds, flus and fevers. As a diaphoretic it helps the body produce sweat which can lower a high temperature and rid the body of infection. Its anti-inflammatory and expectorant properties make it useful in respiratory conditions where it helps remove phlegm, soothe irritated passages and boost the immune system.

Interestingly, some describe it as energetically cooling and others as warming and we can see both of these qualities if we consider its ability to stimulate and move (qualities traditionally thought of as warming) as well as it’s use in cooling the body by encouraging sweating and calming anxiety.

The bracts and almost opening blossom, both of which are used medicinally.

There are also a variety of external uses for lime blossom, as the high mucilage content helps to soothe irritation and inflammation when used an an infusion for compresses or baths or as an infused oil. It is also a valuable herb for beauty as it is high in antioxidants, helps to regenerate the skin and and is thought to help clear acne when used in facial washes. This year I plan to make a nourishing and softening blend of linden and elderflower infused oils to make into face creams. Lovely.

Linden shines as a tea, having such a palatable taste that there are few who will dislike it. I included my ‘Hug in a Mug’ recipe in my recent post on rose which contains linden blossom, rose and avena, but often I just make a simple linden blossom tea and float a few rose buds on top which gives it a beautiful flavour as well as aesthetic appeal. To enhance the diaphoretic effect it is lovely taken with elderflower at the onset of a cold or flu and can be combined with hawthorn to emphasise it’s ability to lower blood pressure and protect the heart. In very large doses it can cause nausea and may be damaging so stick to 3 or 4 cups a day long term or take larger doses for a short period only.

Linden and Rose Bud Tea

The Linden is truly a gift of healing and wonder. It is strong and ancient yet also elegant and and it teaches us lightness, grace and a subtle kind of merriment. I’m excited for the first blooms which should appear very soon and will be reporting on the harvest and the medicine making as and when it happens.

A Lullaby of Linden:
I would like to sit with you
In a silence
Punctuated only by song,
Strange and sweet
And whispering of stars that fell an age ago.
Stillness and lullaby are my gifts to you.
My honied words, a subtle kindness
That tells you, ‘Dear one, stop,
You are held, you are loved.’
I’ve seen your life in a blink of my own
But to me you are unique in whichever form you appear today.
My song is your medicine.
Stillness and lullaby are my gifts to you.

References:
Picture of a neuron available at http://www.sullenriot.com/media/images/article-images/neuron.gif
Tree Medicine – Peter Conway
The Desktop Guide to Herbal Medicine – Brigitte Mars
Hedgerow Medicine – Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal
The Living Wisdom of Trees – Fred Hageneder
Flora Britannica – Richard Mabey

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