Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Valerian, a herb with more questions than answers?



One of the first herbs I came across being used medicinally was valerian.

“I take it when I can’t sleep,” my friend told me, producing a plastic box filled with large white tablets. “They smell disgusting but they work.”

It was several years before I decided to grow the plant. It was a delightful companion, growing happily in the shade, reproducing itself without any help or support and providing tall, white flowers tinged with pink every summer. I gave away at least twenty plants to replenish a friend’s medicinal garden. I harvested some roots and made a dried root tincture. It’s still sitting in my larder as I’ve never used it.

It was resilient as well. The year of my largest potential harvest, my next door neighbour dug up all my plants when he replaced the fence between our two gardens. He’s asked me if there was anything in the border I wanted to keep. I hadn’t realised he would dig quite so far up so only mentioned the rose and a fern. I remember coming home from work that night and discovering the decimation. I cried for an hour wondering what I had done to deserve such a loss when the lesson was that I needed to be more specific.

The following spring I noticed the valerian re-appear and since then it has happily recolonized its original position. The flowers scent the entire garden for more than a month, attracting bees and other insects to gather nectar from its tiny floral trumpets.

Valeriana officinalis grows wild in Europe, Asia and North America. Its roots and rhizomes have been gathered for medicinal use for centuries. It is said that cats and rats love the scent of the root and the Pied Piper of Hamelin used it to lure the rodents from the town.

The constituents of valerian are volatile oils, valepotriates, valerianic acid, glycosides, alkaloids, choline, tannins and resins. It has many actions, including anxiolytic, sedative, hypnotic, anodyne, anthelmintic, antibacterial, antispasmodic, astringent, bitter, carminative, diaphoretic, diuretic, hypotensive, nervine, restorative, stomatic and tonic. With such a long list of actions it is no wonder valerian has been a staple of herbalists over time.

Within the digestive system, valerian acts as an antispasmodic and sedative,. It relaxes tension and spasm in stress related issues such as dyspepsia, intestinal colic and irritable bowel syndrome. It is also helpful with circulatory problems as it helps to lower blood pressure but also increases blood flow to the heart. It can also calm nervous palpitations.

Valerian is most well-known for its mental and emotional properties, especially as a sedative and nerve tonic. Anne MacIntyre says it is the valepotriates which are mainly responsible for the calming effects. She says it is excellent for anxiety, nervous tension, agitation, panic attacks, irritability, insomnia, nervous headaches and exhaustion.

In World War I it was used to treat shell shock and nerve strain caused by air raids. Agatha Christie mentioned it in “Murder on the Orient Express” when the victim was given his nightly dose of valerian before being stabbed.

Valerian relaxes smooth muscles, hence its use in stress related digestive disorders, colic, period pain and headaches. It can also be helpful as an antispasmodic for paroxysmal coughs and croup.

Valerian can also help in the treatment of addiction, chronic aggression and Attention Deficit Disorder.

Annie cautions that valerian should not be used for long periods. She says that excessive doses may cause headaches, muscle spasm, insomnia or palpitations – the very effects for which some people may be taking it! Henriette Kress adds that if you take valerian for more than a few days at a time you may well find yourself becoming over-emotional e.g. bursting into tears for no reason.

What the text books don’t say, although some herbalists are beginning to mention it in passing is that people react in different ways to valerian. Most people find it sedates them but there is a significant number for whom the herb acts as a stimulant. When I mention this during workshops there is always at least one person who has either had personal experience of valerian keeping them awake all night or knows a good friend which has reacted in the same way.

There have been no written studies performed on valerian as yet that I know of. 7Song 7Song, the Ithacan herbalist, has said this is something he wants to consider at some point. He estimates in his practice, one in twelve people taking valerian find it stimulating, which is approximately eight per cent – quite a significant proportion!

Some herbalists believe the effects of valerian can be predicted given someone’s particular constitution but it is still a case of trial and error knowing how it will affect you personally. When my herbalist friend suggested valerian might be a useful ally for me during a particularly stressful phase in my life, she told me to try it during a weekend when I had nothing else to do. I’ve never found such a weekend so have never tried it!

There does seem to be a difference in how you make your valerian extract. Dried root tincture will be different from fresh root tincture. If you are using a concentrated alcohol to extract constituents the dosage should be in drops rather than teaspoonfuls.

Henriette Kress recommends making a tincture or tea from fresh or dried aerial parts which will be a much weaker medicine and might therefore be tolerated better than the stronger root extract. Other herbalists have been taught to do a cold water overnight maceration of the dried root as the volatile oils are destroyed by boiling. Their dose is ½ to 1 tsp of this liquid.

Debs Cook, who is one of those who finds valerian too stimulating, has noticed people who are sedated by valerian loathe the flower scent, describing it as smelling like “cat’s piss”. Interestingly, people who adore the scent of valerian are those who find it stimulating.

Valerian is an extremely useful herb for many different conditions but it must be treated with caution until you know how it will affect you. Anyone taking an ‘over the counter’ sleep remedy should read the label carefully. Valerian is often one of the ingredients, along with wild lettuce, passionflower and hops. You don’t want to be crawling the walls instead of experiencing a good night’s sleep!

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Resources for UK herbal beginners: Books and Websites



I am often asked, “Which herb books would you recommend?”  

To help answer the question, several years ago I posted a list of suggested reading for people new to herbs based on my own fairly extensive library.  Since then a number of books aimed at herbal newcomers and some more specialist books have been published so I thought it was time to update my list and share the results.

Before I start suggesting titles, I do have some thoughts you may wish to consider before you go parting with hard earned money or putting in inter-library loan requests.

Firstly, it’s as well to do some research about the author before you decide to follow their teaching. They may be experienced, have the most wonderful writing style which really harmonises with your way of thinking and be lauded by everyone you have ever heard from but if they don’t live in the same country or continent you may find their favourite herbs are not ones you have easy access to. Their climatic conditions and local challenges may not be yours. 

If you limit yourself to their writing you may learn a whole load of skills and competencies but never have a chance to use them which can lead to frustration.

Their access to mainstream healthcare services may be very different from yours. They may have an insurance based health service rather than one free at the point of use. They may be offering a herbal service to communities who have no other access to healthcare in a “rich country” or in a “poor country” with a long cultural history of using plants for medicines.

 They may have a culture of using suppositories as their main method of delivery of pharmaceuticals whereas you have never had experience of doing this to another person and may not feel comfortable suggesting to your nearest and dearest they really should let you treat them in this way.

They may live in a country where it is illegal to sell alcoholic extractions unless you are a qualified pharmacist or illegal to buy them unless you have a herbal qualification. This may leave you wondering if you should or can use alcohol in your herbal journey when the rest of the world seems to prefer this medium above anything else.

They may have decided to augment their herbal training by learning an “Eastern” energetic approach as opposed to Western. This is usually either Ayurvedic (from the Indian subcontinent) or Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) or could be South American or Tibetan. You then have to decide whether you will follow your teacher’s energetic leanings or learn a different energetic approach based on your own location.

You also have to ask yourself what you want to learn from their books. Do you want something which teaches you about recognising plants in their growing space? Do you want to know about the medicinal uses of plants and how to prepare them? Do you want to be inspired by a herbalist’s story? Do you want to know about treating a particular sex or age group? Do you want something to recommend to someone else who is afraid of herbs?

No one book will give you everything. Reading many books will not necessarily make you a skilled and competent herbwife or herbalist. You have to work with the plants themselves to achieve that. Books are wonderful resources and there are now amazing websites available written by herbalists who want to share their knowledge and enthusiasm with the world.

Read everything you can but make sure you augment this knowledge with personal discussions both locally and online so you can practice what has inspired you until you feel comfortable to start sharing your knowledge with others.

Books for complete beginners
You cannot go wrong with these books. They are all simple, straightforward, good illustrations, easy to read and the recipes/formulae work.

Bruton-Seal, J & Seal, M Hedgerow Medicine: Harvest & make your own herbal remedies 2008 Merlin Unwin Books Ltd ISBN 978 1 873674 99 4
Bruton-Seal, J & Seal, M Kitchen Medicine: Household Remedies for Common Ailments and Domestic Emergencies 2010 Merlin Unwin Books Ltd ISBN 978 1 906122188
Julie is an experienced UK medical herbalist who practices in East Anglia. These two books are relatively new, with stunning pictures taken by Matthew and easy to follow recipes.

Hoffman, D The Complete Illustrated Holistic Herbal 1996 Element Books
ISBN 1 85230 847 8
David is American but trained in the UK. This was the first herb tutor I ever bought. It’s very safe, gives practical information which is easy to follow and replicate. All his books contain basically the same information so you can swap one for another. I still refer to it if I’m wondering how to treat a new condition.

Kress, H Practical Herbs 2011 Tamerprint Oly ISBN 9789526757506 
Kress, H Practical Herbs 2 2013 Tamerprint Oly ISBN 9789526802503
Henriette is an experienced Finnish herbalist who trained in the US with Michael Moore. Her books are sensible, straightforward and ideal for the herbal beginner. They are available as a downloadable .pdf as well as paperback.


McIntyre, A The Complete Herbal Tutor 2010 Gaia Books Ltd ISBN 9781856753180 Anne is one of our UK Herbal Elders. All her books are easy to read with a plethora of interesting and useful information. This book has beautiful illustrations, comprehensive materia medica and she references all the attributes of each plant which has lead me to new books and authors.

Ody, P The Complete Medicinal Herbal 1993 Dorling Kindersley ISBN 0 7513 0025 X The second herb tutorial I bought. Again, all Penelope’s books are very safe and practical. This one has interesting case studies to illustrate uses and a table of doses for children at various weights and ages which I found useful.

Shaw, N Bach Flower Remedies : A Step-by-Step Guide 1998 Element Books ISBN 1 86204 106 7
Shaw, N Herbal Medicine : A Step-by-Step-Guide 1998 Element Books ISBN 1 86204 196 2
Shaw, N Herbalism: An Illustrated Guide 1998 Element Books ISBN 1-86204-224-1
Shaw, N & Hedley, C Herbal Remedies 1996 Parragon Books Services Ltd ISBN 1-84164-0549
Chris Hedley and Non Shaw are husband and wife who have practiced herbal medicine since the 1960s in London. They have been teaching and sharing their herbal knowledge for many years and are beloved by the international herbal community. Their books are easily accessible and full of delightful surprises, being far more comprehensive than the layout suggests. I just wish they would write many, many more!

Wardwell, J The Herbal Home Remedy Book 1998 Versa Press ISBN-13 978 1 58017 016 1
Joyce’s book is the only American book which I’ve included in the complete beginner section because it’s very good and gives you confidence to go and make your own remedies. The only drawback is that she uses some trees which are not local in the UK.

Useful Herbal websites
There is a plethora of herbal information available on the internet. Many websites are attached to commercial outlets and unless you know the author of the information I would suggest you verify it using another source before you believe it.

The websites I am recommending here are all written by people I either know personally or have proved to me they actually know what they’re talking about.

A wonderful, online resource put together by professional UK herbalists who are trying to keep the tradition of folk medicine alive.

Henriette Kress’ website is full of good, solid herbal information and wonderful photos. You can also join her email discussion list for herbal medicine and browse the archives.

Jim is a herbalist in Michegan who teaches all over the US. His website is full of interesting herbal information and links to useful articles written by others.

Kiva Rose Hardin is an American herbalist living in New Mexico. She is an advocate of bioregionalism and folk roots herbalism. Her articles are lively, interesting and enthusiastic.

Susun Weed is an American herbal icon with a wealth of experience, knowledge and information. Don’t be put off by her written or verbal mannerisms.

Rosalee de la Foret is an American herbalist who provides interesting articles on herbs and works with John Gallagher of Learning Herbs.

Ali English is a trained medical herbalist living and practicing in Lincolnshire.

Lucinda Warner practices herbal medicine in the south of England.

This blog is written by Debs Cook, who used to manage the UK Herb Society website. She and I have been herbal friends for many years and her knowledge of herbs is sound. She also writes her own blog, Herbal Haven


Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Revising the basics : winter colds and coughs (and a touch of family)



I seem to have spent the majority of this holiday season listening to other people cough, sneeze and blow their nose. I suppose it’s only to be expected at this time of year after a mild autumn has suddenly turned into a very frosty winter and everyone has been rushing around like mad things trying to prepare for their own family or personal celebrations.

Of course we all hope our immune systems are healthy enough to ward off whatever germs are around but you can help yourself by leaving button mushrooms on your windowsill for three days to drastically increase their Vitamin D content before you eat them. Helpful herbs are echinacea, and astragalus. Echinacea can be taken as a tea, tincture or tablets. Reishi or Shitake mushrooms also have immune strengthening properties and both the mushrooms and astragalus root can be used in stews or soups. (Remove the sliced astragalus root before serving.)

Remember that grief and loss can severely deplete your immune system, so special consideration should be given to anyone who is suffering at this time. Immune strengthening herbs should not be taken if you have an auto-immune condition such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, fibromyalgia etc. as they might precipitate a flare-up in the condition.

Thankfully, my parents and their carers were all well when we visited on Christmas Eve and two of our children with their partners joined us at the farm for Christmas dinner. Only Stephen’s girlfriend, Sarah was suffering from the lingering effects of a dreadful cold and cough which struck her during their pantomime run during the third week of December. She had already been dosed with sage and thyme elixir and was given another bottle of cough syrup to try out when she left us last weekend.

Our poor daughter in law was the only person in her household to stay well over Christmas when her mother contracted tonsillitis, her father developed a serious chest infection and both her children and Richard went down with a dreadful cold. They were just getting better when they came to us for three days on December 27th but the baby, Thomas was not well. Neither child ate as much as normal but Thomas still hovered up his carrots while James stuck with plain pasta shells and five clementines in one day!

Yesterday we travelled to Woking to visit all Chris’ family. His mother has developed pains in her back and is under the GP’s care. I didn’t dare offer her any pain salve to rub on but Chris’ father has felt the benefit of mullein root tincture for a back issue he developed several years ago. Every Christmas I make him some hawthorn cider vinegar to help with his heart issues. This year the colour was a beautiful stain glass red.

Perhaps now is a good time to revise the herbs which can help during these difficult times. At the first sign of a cold, I use dropperfuls of elderberry elixir (equal to 30 drops or ½tsp) every two hours or so for the first day then three times a day. For children I would substitute a dessert spoon of elderberry cordial.

Colds are the perfect proving ground for fire cider vinegar. I’ve got to the stage where I loathe the taste as a drink so take 2tsp in a shot glass diluted with water. Chris still prefers his with honey and boiling water in a mug. In between the medicinal mugs I’ve been offering an infusion of ginger, lemon juice and slices of orange. I can drink it straight but Chris has it mixed with honey or some spiced apple cordial which needs using up.

Today has also been stock making day from the remains of the turkey carcass. You can make stock from any bones. There is nothing more important than a nourishing broth for people with digestive difficulties or those recovering from viral infections.

Cover the bones in a large saucepan with water. Add 1-2 tablespoons of cider vinegar to help release the minerals from the bones. Add anti-viral herbs e.g. rosemary, thyme, sage, bay. (1 pinch of each herb plus 1 or 2 bay leaves) peppercorns for flavour, onions and leeks for pro-biotic stimulation of good gut bacteria, celery sticks (at least 3) for prevention of gout and help with arthritic or inflammatory conditions. DON'T ADD SALT.

Bring to the boil and simmer for at least one hour. If you are using large mutton or beef bones put aside 3-4 or more hours making sure the liquid level doesn't drop too much. If making stock in a cookpot/slow cooker, simmer all day on low.

Strain the stock and use to add a mixture of vegetables or vegetables and meat. If the bones have meat left on them, use it in the soup. Alternatively the stock can be frozen in small quantities and used as a nourishing drink or sauce base later.

If you are vegetarian or vegan, you can still make a nourishing stock by cooking vegetables, herbs, roots and mushrooms together for long periods.  Start by dicing at least half an onion per person and sweat in olive oil with at least two cloves of garlic. Add half a pint of water or vegetable broth per person together with a large handful of peeled and  chopped seasonal vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes, cabbage, celery, corn, turnips, potatoes and fresh or tinned tomatoes. Add one small handful of seaweed per person to provide seasoning and to strengthen the immune system. Finally add one ounce fresh, or one-half ounce dried mushrooms per person (any kind) together with dried or fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, marjoram, and sage) and tonic roots (Siberian ginseng, astragalus, burdock, dandelion, chicory, yellow dock, American ginseng).  Bring to the boil and simmer for an hour. You may wish to remove the roots before serving.

Viral infections make everyone miserable. There are some simple actions which can be taken to make life less uncomfortable, but these must be carried out in conjunction with common sense and basic nursing care.

The secret of herbal help is to start taking it as soon as you suspect you are coming down with something. It doesn’t actually matter what form you take the herbs in, as long as you take them as soon as you can, ideally at half hourly intervals for the first 12 hours or so.

Cider vinegar: sage, fire cider, garlic, - dose is 2 tsp in water or as a drink with honey
Elixir: elderberry, sage/thyme, bergamot, – dose is 1/2tsp/1 dropperful/30 drops
Honey: elderberry, bergamot, thyme/garlic, sage – dose is 2 tsp, can be eaten, drunk or added to bread or other food.
Tea: elderberry, calendula, sage, thyme, Echinacea, bergamot – dose is 2tsp dried herb or 2 tblsp fresh herb steeped in just boiled water for 10 minutes with a lid. Add honey to taste.
Tincture: elderberry, Echinacea – dose is 1/2tsp/1 dropperful/30 drops

For colds
Classic Cold Tea
Use 1tsp each of dried peppermint, yarrow and elderflower (1tblsp if fresh)
Pour 1/2-1pt boiling water into a teapot of cafatiere and steep for ten minutes. Strain and drink every half hour. Sweeten to taste. If you don’t like the taste of peppermint you can use other herbs such as New England Aster, or bergamot. If you only have a herb in tincture form, add the tincture either 1 tsp or in drop dosage to the hot infusion.

Ginger and Lemon Tea
Grate or finely chop 1inch root ginger without peeling. Place in cafatiere or teapot and fill with just boiling water. Infuse for ten minutes. Squeeze the juice from half a lemon and place in a cup or mug. Pour the strained ginger tea over the lemon juice and add honey to taste. For an anti-viral chesty tea, add 1tsp dried thyme and 1tsp dried sage to the grated ginger root. Infuse together and pour over lemon juice and honey.

For Fevers
Make elderflower tea and serve hot. Elderflower is a diaphoretic which will make you sweat and kill the virus. This is especially useful for children. Boneset tea is also useful for bone-aching fevers. If you have a fever which won’t break, give vervain tincture – half a tsp or 30 drops.

For coughs
Before deciding what herb to use, you must be sure what kind of cough you are dealing with.

Dry, irritable coughs: cherry bark, ginger
Cold, hacking coughs: angelica, fennel
Wet, green, mucous laden coughs: elecampane root (especially good for children and people who suffer with asthma)
Deep seated infected chest infections: mullein
Ordinary coughs: sage & thyme, white horehound/hyssop/marshmallow leaf or root.

Cough Syrup
(recipe from Non Shaw and Christopher Hedley's Herbal Remedies)
1 l (2 pints) water
40 g (1 1/2 oz) dried herb or 100 g (4oz) fresh chopped herb
450 g (1 lb) sugar
Put herb in water, bring to a boil, let simmer 20-30 minutes, strain.
Clean out pan, pour liquid back into it, let sit on minimum heat until you only have 2 dl (7 fl.oz) left Add sugar, simmer until sugar has dissolved, pour into jars, label. (This takes time. 1 fluid ounce evaporates about every hour.)

A children’s cough syrup can be made from onions or elderberry and Echinacea in equal parts. For a “straightforward” cough syrup, use 2 parts peppermint, 1 part hyssop, 1/2 part thyme, 1/2 part horehound. For a cough syrup which can also be used as a drink, use hyssop, thyme, elecampane, white horehound, lemon balm and root ginger.

N.B. Do not use peppermint with children under 2 years. Honey can be used as a substitute for sugar, but do not use with children under 1 year.

Dose: 1 dessertspoon as and when or make a drink with 1 tblsp and sip.

If you have blocked sinuses, thyme can useful but horseradish is very effective as well. If you have continual sinus problems, read Jim Macdonald’s excellent paper.

I hope you escape the winter without succumbing to any nasty bugs but if you do, reach for your syrups, tinctures and elixirs, wrap up warm and get plenty of rest.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Foraging in the rain (or what's been happening for the past month!)



No matter how good a herbwife’s intentions, sometimes you have to do what you can with what is easily available with tools you have to hand. This was why I found myself, last Friday morning, trudging along sodden hedgerows in my mother’s wellingtons with cold November rain rattling down around me. The left boot leaked so my sock was becoming increasingly wet but I was determined not to be beaten until my basket was sufficiently full of rosehips and sloes to make my suffering father a new batch of syrup for his cold and cough.

My father will be eighty-six next month. He comes from small, Welsh, farming stock and was brought up in depression-ridden Black Country until his mother died from TB when he was ten and his father found a Warwickshire farmer to apprentice him to a different life. He’s always been strong with boundless energy. Someone, who could do anything he set his mind to but the last ten years of caring for my increasingly fragile mother have taken their toll. He needs lots of sleep and worries, so we visit every fortnight and I provide most of their food so he only has to cook occasionally.

Our last visit to their farm, a month ago, culminated in another bout of inflamed gallbladder pain for me. It resolved by the following morning, as it usually did and as my eldest son and his family were spending the weekend with us, I ignored it. It was the premiere of my daughter’s first play, performed by her new drama company and directed by my second son. It was a resounding success and Chris and I were so please her brother and sister in law could share in the excitement.

For me it was the beginning of the end. My gallbladder decided it would not be ignored any longer. After four days of continuous pain I gave in and asked Chris to call the GP, expecting him to prescribe pain killers and nothing else. It was somewhat shocking for him to take one look at me and arrange immediate admission to hospital.

It was an interesting eight days. The care was exemplary; the staff wonderful - skilled, caring and compassionate. I learned many things about myself and other people. The greatest torture was not having two professionals trying to find a vein in both my arms to take a cannula for one and a half hours when I spiked a fever; it was being forced to listen to adrenalin-ridden TV soaps by my neighbours every evening when all I wanted to do was sleep!

Luckily, the fever had abated by the time the Upper GI surgeon came to see me, so he decided against an emergency cholecystectomy. I quite like my gall bladder, even though it’s now full of stones so I was glad to keep it for a while longer. They pumped me full of so much saline, potassium and hardcore antibiotics, I was awash with fluids, hands swollen and deeply purple arms.

Everything resolved once I came home. I could walk, talk, sleep and turn over on both sides without discomfort. A low fat diet cooked from scratch from real ingredients is no hardship although I shall miss peanut butter, hummus and cream.

Did I take any herbs once I had access to my larder? Yes, but I kept it simple. Dandelion and burdock to help support the assault on my liver by all the complex pharmaceuticals, yarrow to deal with all the bruising and nettle seed with my morning porridge to combat all the stressful situations I’d been through. Lots of low-fat yoghurt with fresh fruit to help rebuild my gut bacteria.

For over a week I was forced to rest, doing nothing more strenuous than checking emails and watching whatever TV programmes I desired. It was bliss. I even managed to attend my niece’s wedding, touched by how pleased everyone was to see me.

The following week I prepared more food for the farm in between resting. We had no idea my father had succumbed to a virus brought in by one of my mother’s carers. He grew progressively worse over the Thursday and finished the bottle of rosehip syrup I’d brought him previously. I made it into a tasty drink by covering the base of a small cup with syrup, adding lemon juice and pouring over boiling water from the kettle on the hob.

Making a new batch of rosehip syrup seemed my best course of action since I could walk along the next door fields but there was no way I could visit my herb beds to gather sage and thyme. I might walk down there but could not have walked back.

The rosehips were large and plentiful. I found sloes for extra vitamin C in the rickyard and greater plantain rosettes were plentiful in the lawn to soothe any inflammation in his chest. Chickweed was growing in the greenhouse so was added to the mix for even more vitamin C.

The pan full of herbs simmered away on the Rayburn while my father returned to bed and fell into a heavy sleep. I cooked a lamb chop casserole to feed my parents over the weekend and vegetables to go with the bolognaise sauce I’d prepared at home for lunch that day.

With no hand blitzer, the syrup responded well to an ordinary potato masher, producing two pints of deep, thick, rose liquid. I’d found five jars and bottles to sterilise, producing enough syrup to keep everyone going over the next few months. It tasted good as well.

The carers were intrigued. Both hail from Portugal.

“Did you buy the ingredients?” asked Maria, who told me she wanted to take a Chinese herbal medicine course next year.  I shook my head, wondering how it would even be possible to source what I had foraged when the nearest town is sixteen miles away and there is no internet access at the farm for online shopping.

My father had previously given Maria a dose of the cough syrup I made for my mother’s constant, mucous-driven cough when she was suffering. She said it had cured her.

“You should sell all this, it’s delicious!” Maria enthused but I explained I was more interested in teaching others to make their own medicines rather than entering the maze of commercial regulation.

It’s been a challenging month and I am still spending a great deal of time resting, although probably not enough! My father is much improved and grateful we were there when he needed us and for the full store cupboards and freezers. Although the text books will all tell you to pick herbs when they are dry, there will be times when much can be gained by foraging in the rain.