Saturday, 28 November 2009

The Journey Starts Here

I've been accepted by Sarah Head onto her herbal 'simpler apprenticeship' for 2010.

Right now, I've to choose 10-20 herbs to study in greater depth, keep a detailed diary of my herbal journey along with studies of human physiology and much more.

The apprenticeship will take me from a casual observer to someone who will undertake an intimate observation and relationship with these plants. I will hopefully not only be able to recognise them at their peak, but at every stage of their development. I will help nurture some into life (many of course, need no help) and experience their profound gifts of healing, insight and nourishment that they bestow upon those who choose to look.

Whilst this is a new journey for me, I feel like it's a journey of rediscovery, of unearthing the knowledge, feelings and sensations that my ancestors would have simply had to know in order to survive and thrive.

I look forward to everything this coming year will bring. It feels like this is the right place and the right time for me - the synchronicity of the events and happenings of the past few years have brought me to this place so I may honour my ancestors and understand the awesome power of nature.

My chosen herbs are:
  1. Nettle
  2. Plantain
  3. Dandelion
  4. Rosemary
  5. Hawthorn
  6. Elder
  7. St John’s Wort
  8. Valerian
  9. Agrimony
  10. Cleavers
  11. Lemon Balm
  12. Comfrey
  13. Wood Betony
  14. Mullein
  15. Meadowsweet
  16. Calendula

Sunday, 15 November 2009

A herbal Aladdin's Cave

When like me, you are at the beginning of your journey into herbalism, one of the biggest problems is having the herbs you want to use to hand. Even if you do have that herb, you've probably got it dried when you need a tincture, or in an oil when you need a vinegar!

Of course you can go and buy dried herbs from a variety of places, but can you really trust your source - do you know what sort of quality the herb is? The answer of course is to harvest yourself and build up your own collection so you have good herbs to hand at all times, but this isn't going to happen overnight.

My friend/teacher and general herbal goddess, Sarah Head has her own collection built up over the years with hard work and dedication. At a course I attended on Saturday, I took the opportunity to take a few photographs of her collection to aspire to...

From Earth Gazer

From Earth Gazer

Monday, 9 November 2009

Nettle as a wild food

The nettle (urtica dioica) is a fantastic healing herb and food. Although most people regard it as a weed, it is possibly one of the most useful plants available to us. I hope, over time, to write a whole lot more about nettle and my experiences of using it.

Young nettle tops are incredibly rich in the minerals which are sadly lacking in a lot of other foods. They have an antihistamine effect and can be used to treat allergies and hayfever. Nettles also enhance natural immunity.

Delicious Nettle Soup

Nettle tea is really simple to make – just grab and handful of fresh nettle tops (wearing suitable gloves of course!) and stuff them into a teapot. Pour on freshly boiled water and leave to infuse for 15 – 20 minutes. Pour the tea and drink it. The tea is reported to be good for the following; spring tonic, anaemia, bleeding, diarrhoea, gout, fluid retention, low blood pressure, high blood pressure, coughs, allergies, regulates breast milk production, skin problems and high blood sugar. Nettle tea can also be used externally for cuts and wounds, and as a hair tonic.

Have a watch of this excellent video about nettles by Frank Cook. Frank says that nettles should become the national food of england!

Frank Cook on Nettle as Wild Food from Robin Harford on Vimeo.

Nettle Nutritional Profile
(calculated on a zero moisture basis per 100gm)
Aluminium: 13.8 mg
Ash (total): 8.4%
Calcium: 2900 mg
Calories: 0.60 /gm
Chromium: 0.39 mg
Cobalt: 1.32 mg
Crude Fibre: 11.0%
Dietary Fibre: 43.0%
Fat: 2.3%
Iron: 4.2 mg
Magnesium: 860 mg
Manganese: 0.78 mg
Niacin: 5.20 mg
Phosphorous: 447 mg
Potassium: 1750 mg
Protein: 25.2%
Riboflavin: 0.43 mg
Selenium: 0.22 mg
Silicon: 1.03 mg
Sodium: 4.90 mg
Thiamine: 0.54 mg
Tin: 2.7 mg
Vitamin A: 15,700 IU
Vitamin C: 83.0 mg
Zinc: 0.47 mg
Source: Nutritional Herbology: Mark Pedersen

Monday, 5 October 2009

Elderberry Syrup

A couple of years ago, the only context I had on the Elder was things like Elderflower cordial - a nice, sweet, refreshing drink.

Since then, my understanding and experience has grown and I can appreciate the tremendous benefits that the Elder bestows on the world. So I was really pleased to discover that there were several Elder bushes just 500 yards from my home.

Although we are at the end of the season for the berries, on Saturday I had half an hour to spare, so took the dog for a walk down to the 'green' and went hunting for ripe Elderberries.

As mentioned above, it's a little late in the season, so good berries were a harder to find, but if you look for them, they are waiting to be discovered! 30 minutes later, I had collected what I thought was enough and headed back home (actually, I was also collecting Haws, but that's for something else).

I decided to make an Elderberry Syrup to a recipe in the book 'Hedgerow Medicine - Harvest and make your own herbal remedies'. First I got the berries off the stalks using a fork - this was much easier to do than I anticipated! The berries were then washed and placed in a pan with half of their volume of water.

This was then simmered for 20 minutes. As soon as you start this part, I guarantee two things will happen - 1) you'll love the wonderful deep purple colour you get in the pan and 2) you'll be salivating at the smell!

The pan is then removed from the heat and left to cool (once cool, I actually covered it and left it until the next day). The contents are then strained - initially I used a sieve and pressed as hard as possible to get all the juice out, but this was not totally effective, so my wife supplied a (clean) pop sock/stocking and that worked a treat! Ideally you would use a fruit press or a jelly bag for this task, and beware - it can be very messy!

I then measured the liquid and for every 500ml, you add 250g of muscovado sugar (I actually ended up with on 100ml of liquid, so used 50g of sugar), a cinnamon stick, some cloves and a slice of lemon. All this is put back into the pan and simmered for another 20 minutes.

Once again, the smell is just gorgeous! The final liquid was put through a sieve and poured into a sterilised bottle.

The Elderberry syrup is reputed to be excellent in helping colds, coughs and flu - perfect timing as the weather is now starting to get colder and those bugs are all around!

The dose is one teaspoon neat every few hours for colds and flu, or it can be used as a cordial and mixed with hot water.

Next year, I'll start earlier and make up a decent quantity!

Friday, 2 October 2009

The Hawthorn

Hawthorn leaves
From Earth Gazer

Hawthorn stick with Ogham symbol carved onto it.
From Earth Gazer

Certainly where I live, Hawthorn is an amazingly prolific tree/shrub. However, it was only in May 2008 that I really started to notice it - somehow the fantastic white flowers made their presence felt and I realised that Hawthorn was 'all around'.

In the early part of the year, you can simply pick and eat the fresh young leaves like a salad - it was once referred to as the 'Bread and Butter' tree because people used to eat the leaves to take the edge of their hunger before a meal (although personally I can't see the association between bread/butter and Hawthorn from the taste perspective!).

In the autumn, the Hawthorn shows off once more, proudly displaying it's red berries or 'Haws' which can be made into an edible 'leather' as a convenient way to take in the medicinal qualities of the tree. Flowers, leaves and berries can also be made into tinctures, the taking of which is said to act as tonic for the heart and circulatory system.

Moon Gazing Hare

From Earth Gazer

Moon Gazing Hare - small painting by me.
(Watercolour in Moleskine notebook)

Monday, 22 June 2009

Why is recycling not enough?

In this day and age, we're all encouraged to 'do our bit' for the environment. The most obvious action that most people take is recycling, and it's easy to see why - councils provide the means for us to do simply by giving us a separate box for paper, glass and whatever else your council has decided to collect from you.

Whilst recycling is a great and important thing to do, the downside is that it eases people's consciences and can make them think they've 'done their bit' and that they don't have to do anymore - which is far from satisfactory.

If people recycle, the basic problem is that they have, in the first instance, consumed/bought/used something which has a waste element to it. I'm not saying we should never buy anything, but think carefully about the first part of the three R's mantra - REDUCE. We should all be thinking and acting to reduce our waste and recycling by not consuming as much, or at least being more selective about our purchases.

Accepting the fact that living a modern lifestyle will inevitably mean we end up with stuff to recycle, we should also be aware that recycling only works if we, as consumers, choose products containing recycled materials. In other words, if you recycle loads of paper, do you make sure the lovely A4 printer paper you buy has a high or even 100% recycled content? Doing this means precious resources are saved and it takes less energy to recycle old paper into new paper than to cut down trees and start the process from the beginning. The same applies to glass and many metals too. This is the second part of the three R's - REUSE.

Finally, if you have reduced and reused, then the final option is of course, to RECYCLE.

The YouTube clip below helps to illustrate some of the issues regarding paper.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Foster rabbits

We're fostering a pair of rabbits for a few weeks. They came into the rescue centre from a family who bought them for the kids, and of course, the kids loose interest in a few weeks (same old story).

When they arrived, they were terrified and would throw themselves against the side of their enclosure when anyone came near. The rescue wanted them to go with someone who could give them individual attention and get them used to being handled, plus it would enable their character to be assessed before they are put up for re-homing.

This is 'Harebell' in the garden - lovely pose!

This is Harebell's partner, Borage, looking quite cute on the sofa.

They both have great characters, Harebell in particular has really come on and is incredibly inquisitive and loves to jump from the floor onto the sofa, and then onto the top of the sofa!

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Sunset over Glastonbury Tor

Not my photo unfortunately, but simply wonderful.

Found browsing the net at this site: Image © Colin Russ

Friday, 29 May 2009

Fitting In

Last saturday, I took my dog for a walk along the local canal towpath. This time of year is just so abundant with lush growth along the path and I was trying hard to identify as many of the plants as possible. Nettle and Cleavers are very profuse at the moment, as is Hawthorn, currently in flower.

As you walk along the towpath, to one side you have fields, woodland and serenity, but to the other, over the water, you are on the edges of a modern 'upmarket' housing development. Some of the houses are OK looking, but then you come to the apartments.

Looking more like soul-less offices than places to live, they sit uncomfortably opposite open fields, a testament that people can use bricks and concrete to build over nature, but the beauty and the soul are missing. In an effort to make the place 'chic' there is water flowing between some of the buildings - the noise it makes is quite loud, perhaps to distract people from what is really happening around them?

I read a blog post yesterday (Into The Hermitage) which struck a chord with me. Rima, the blogger, is leading an 'alternative' life - currently on the road and living in a converted horse box with her partner, she paints and sells her wares wherever she can. She attended the Small World Festival, which as she says, is a 'gathering of hippies'. In a place where you would expect she would 'fit in' perfectly, she found she did not...
Many of the conversations we had with people made no sense at all. People mostly didn't really want to buy pictures, cans of beer abounded, and people staggered around the site until well past dawn.
I do not judge people's need to celebrate or escape, just the brutishness with which it is done sometimes. It made me feel like I was hiding from school bullies again. It made me feel like I do not fit in, in the very place where an onlooker might assume I would.
From Into The Hermitage by Rima Staines
It made me realise that I don't fit in either. I am trapped in what looks like suburban normality, yet I don't belong here. But I also don't think I belong with the alternative set that I once thought I did. I am different, I am unique, I am searching for something, or somewhere to 'belong' to.


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