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Archive for the ‘Summer’ Category

Roses, chamomile and nigella.

Borage, valerian and rose.

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I just love this time of year when everything in the herb garden is overflowing; with colour, scent, the buzzing of insects and the joy of being, expressed in its fullest.

The intermittent sun and rain have ensured lush growth on everything. Several things have bolted like the lettuces, parsley and this 8 foot monster lovage.

Lovely lovage.

Parsley gone to seed.

However plenty of other things are just opening, the feverfew and vervain included. I adore vervain, Verbena officinalis, it is easy to see why it was considered a sacred herb by the Druids, it has such a magical quality to it.

Feverfew

Vervain

Many herbs are in full bloom and perfect for harvesting now like lavenders, thymes and white horehound.

Thyme

Lavender

White Horehound

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Lavender – Edelweiss

The garden is full of one of my favourite flowers, Nigella, or love-in-a-mist. This year I not only have the usual blue variety but some gorgeous pink ones, Mulberry rose, the seeds for which were sent to me so kindly by Cheryl last year.

One of the real highlights of summer is the vibrant colours, sun-filtered and glowing so that even in my tiny plot there is always something new to marvel at. Yellow loosestrife is a beautiful wildflower but one I grow in pots due to its over zealous nature!

Yellow loosestrife

Rosa ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’

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Even simple salad vegetables can be among the highlights of the garden.

Tree spinach

Red orach

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These lovely little sea thrifts were given to me by my father who grew them from seed.

What are the highlights of your garden right now?

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It’s been a while since I posted about the beautiful Hawthorns that I have been observing as part of the Tree of the Year project. They sit atop the Downs, relentlessly battered by wind and rain, and as a result they differ from many of the other Hawthorns in this area. With everything being early this year, most of the trees already had bright red berries at the beginning of August, not quite ready for harvest, but not far off. On these trees however, the berries were still small and green, reflecting how the harshness of their environment affects their development.

Nearly a month on they are reddening up nicely and the trees from a distance have that exquisite blush which tells you autumn is around the corner.

There is no doubt that the constant high winds we have had all summer have taken their toll. The trees look less healthy than this time last year with many of the leaves browning and some branches swept almost bare. Like people whose lives have been filled with hardship, they are weathered and worn.

It’s interesting to observe how bare of berries the side of the trees that faces the wind is compared to the relatively more sheltered branches.

I feel these trees teach me a lot about resilience, tenacity and strength and about adaptability in the face of hardship. They speak of the beauty of form and motion and of holding fast to this living edge of surrender. Perhaps most importantly they show that, in spite of difficulties, it is still possible to give generously.

Elsewhere on the Downs other Hawthorns tell their stories, each as unique as snowflakes.

I loved this one, entangled with the wild rose like lovers.

And everywhere the berries are fat and red and perfect. I’ll be out next week to get the first harvest in. Who wants pills when your medicine can look like this?

The Downs themselves are carpeted with wild flowers at present.

The yellows and whites of bedstraw, yarrow, burnet saxifrage and cat’s-ears mix with the mauves and purples of two of my favourite wild flowers;

Small Scabious

and Round-headed Rampion.

Whilst lone stalks of agrimony wave in the breeze.

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This post is part of the July Blog Party hosted by Danielle over at The Teacup Chronicles. Check her blog tomorrow for links to the other entries.

The idea for this blog party was ‘cooling drinks for the dog days of summer’ so it may come as a surprise to some that I have chosen to write about herbal teas (well, I am English after all). I drink teas come rain or shine and there are many lovely cooling herbs that make fine summer teas. Now I know the UK isn’t famous for its scorching weather but folk from hotter climates also enjoy teas on even the warmest days of summer. In India I drank chai, in Morocco it was fresh mint tea and in Mexico we used to have a lovely cinnamon infusion. Some of these drinks, as well as being taken hot, also contain warming spices which we associate more with winter drinks but these can actually open up the pores enabling you to cool down more effectively. Such is the magic of herbs.

To make the perfect cup of tea it’s ideal to use filtered water as the taste will be purer. Warm the pot with a little hot water first, discard then add about a tablespoon per pint of your chosen herbal mix. Pour over hot water that has just boiled but ceased to bubble and leave to infuse for 10/15 mins to extract as much benefit from the herbs as possible. If you need a sweetener then add a little honey after pouring when the tea will have cooled enough to avoid destroying its beneficial qualities. Ayurvedic medicine warns strongly against heating honey. Sip slowly and with gratitude for the multitude of wonderful herbs available to us.

Some of my favourite summer herbs include:

Chamomile – Soothing to the digestion and the nerves, chamomile is a lovely after dinner summer tea and helps calm overheated, irritable children (and adults).

Rose – Cooling, toning, calming and full of love, rose is lovely mixed with gently moistening herbs like Lime blossom and mallow or cooling diaphorectics like elderflower for a harmonising summer treat.

Sweet Woodruff – Cooling, mildly cleansing, good for the digestion and relaxing, this herb is a lovely addition to many summer tea blends with its mild and pleasant taste.

Sweet Woodruff

Elderflower – Cooling, diaphoretic and soothing to the upper respiratory tract, elderflower also has a light and pleasant flavour which is ideal for summer teas.

Hawthorn Blossom – Calms the nerves and opens the heart, if you like the taste, which I do, then this one is a winner.

Lemon Verbena – One of my favourite herbal teas, alone or in combination, not only for the delightful, refreshing taste but for its ability to calm digestion, fevers and nervous tension or anxiety.

Lemon Verbena

Borage – Demulcent, cooling and anti-inflammatory as well as strengthening to the adrenal glands, borage makes a nice addition to blends of summer teas as it doesn’t have much of a flavour by itself.

Lemon Balm – The perfect summer cup of tea! Delicious by itself or with other herbs like rose, other mints and lavender, it uplifts the spirit and cools the body and mind.

Mints – Spearmint, garden mint, peppermint, apple mint, ginger mint, chocolate mint… the choice of mints is endless! My favourites for tea are Moroccan mint and spearmint but I use various others too. What could be more refreshing than a cup of fresh mint tea? It’s also delicious as iced tea, chilled in the fridge with a little ice added before drinking.

Spearmint

Fennel – A great digestive tea, fennel has many uses, from boosting milk flow in nursing mothers to respiratory congestion and lifting low libido. It’s a tasty addition to tea blends and works well with other digestive herbs like chamomile.

Calamint – Sweet, aromatic and warmer in nature than some of the other mints, Calamint is also a good diaphoretic, digestive and expectorant herb.

Marshmallow – One of the best herbal demulcents, Marshmallow is lovely to include in blends for people who get dry in the summer.

Marshmallow

Lime/ Linden Blossom – Calming, cooling and moistening, this is a delicious tea for those who are stressed out and over worked or are having trouble getting off to sleep.

Calendula – Healing, anti-inflammatory and useful to the immune system, Calendula petals add a splash of colour and many benefits to any tea formula.

Lavender – Another great nerve soother and digestive herb, Lavender can help headaches from the heat and is lovely taken just before bed to help ensure a relaxing night’s sleep.

Lavender

Some summer tea combinations I particularly enjoy include:

* Lemon Verbena, Sweet Woodruff and Spearmint.

* Fennel, Calamint and Lemon Balm.

* Elderflower, Rose and Borage.

* Linden, Chamomile and Hawthorn Blossom.

* Apple mint, Monarda and Calendula petals.

And to finish, for those who know the old ditty…

I like a nice cup of tea in the morning,
I like a nice cup of tea with my tea,
And when it’s time for bed,
There’s a lot to be said,
For a nice cup of tea!

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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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