Saturday, 18 April 2020

Making your own: Green Powder

Several years ago, we were sitting in the summerhouse at the Sanctuary eating our lunch and one of my apprentices started talking about green powder. I’d never heard the term before but apparently it was something sold in health food shops for large sums of money. The shop variety contained spirulina and other green “superfoods” and the idea was to add it to your daily smoothie along with other nutritious fruits or vegetables.

Later the same year, my friend and herbalist, Lynne Tynan-Cashmore presented me with a jar of homemade green powder which she added to soups, stocks and stews during the winter to boost the immune system and keep everyone as well as possible. I began to do the same. Every time I made spaghetti bolognaise sauce, fish stew, sausage stew or impossible quiche, I sprinkled in a scoop of green powder. I also added it to bones when making stock.

The powder disappeared into the food but definitely added a richness and flavour. I was completely sold on the idea that green powder enhances whatever you are cooking and helps stave off winter lurgies.

There was no way I was going to spend money in a shop when this was something I could easily make at home. What plants would be suitable?

The first thing to do when making something for the first time is to wander around your harvesting area and decide what is there. Whether this is your garden or a local park, canal side or woodland, you need to be certain you can identify the plant correctly to ensure it is edible before you pick it. If you’re in a public space you also need to have permission of the landowner (if you’re on farmland) and make sure the plants aren’t contaminated by dogs, cats, foxes, rats or pesticides.

My basic ingredients for green powder are ground elder and nettles. Ground elder is a major invasive weed introduced to the UK by the Romans to provide a green vegetable during the hunger gap in springtime. You must only pick the young shoots as older plant parts will give you the “runs”. It is chock full of vitamin C and minerals.

Nettles also have to be picked early before they produce their strings of flowers in late May (earlier if the weather is hot). I tend to pick the top four leaves to eat in spring, then do a major harvest of vibrant green leaves to dry in early May. These get stored in jars for nettle chai and other drinks or for adding to soups and stews.

The more you pick nettles, the more new growth you will produce and the longer you will be able to harvest. Nettles are also packed full of minerals and vitamins and are invaluable both as food and medicine.

Other useful green leaves which grow in my garden are sweet violets (plants introduced from the farm) and sea holly (a plant bought specially because the young leaves can be eaten in salad in the spring). You could add fresh hawthorn leaves as those have been eaten as they emerge throughout history. Later in the year, I will dry nasturtium leaves as these, too are packed with minerals and have anti-viral properties. You could add herb Robert leaves, since those also boost the immune system, but not too many as the scent could be overpowering and they are quite difficult to dry.

My favourite herbs to add to the mix are marjoram (because I have loads growing in the garden and it spreads like a weed!) and lovage because I love the flavour. If I had enough parsley, that would go in the mix and small amounts of rosemary. Sage would be good too, but I tend to use all my purple sage in cough elixir and I don’t like it in cooking. Similarly, I prefer to use mint and lemon balm fresh in egg mayonnaise rather than stews. You could add it to tagines, but I find my homemade harissa mix enough.

If you like aniseed flavours or wanted to make an aniseed dominated green powder to use for fish or chicken, then adding fennel, tarragon, sweet Cecily and dill to the background of other green leaves would work.

If you have plants like chard, kale, sorrel, spinach, they can be dried too, but be mindful of only using small amounts if you or someone you feed is prone to producing bladder or kidney stones.

How to make green powder

Gather a basketful of green leaves and herbs. Make sure they are clean and wash in cold water if necessary, drying on a tea towel or air drying outside if the weather is warm, covering with a muslin cloth to stop them blowing away. 

Place in a dehydrator at 40 degrees C for one or two days until completely dry. If you don’t have a dehydrator, place in a paper bag and dry in a warm place for several weeks until brittle to touch. Remove any obvious stalks from nettle leaves.

Pound the dried plant material into a powder using a coffee or spice grinder or a pestle and mortar. Pour the powder into a glass jar with a lid. Label and date. 

Store in a cool dark place. Should keep for at least one year. If the powder loses colour and scent, you know it will no longer be any good and should be consigned to the compost heap. Add one heaped tablespoon to any meal during cooking.

Thursday, 19 March 2020

Surviving This Virus : Some Herbal Approaches.

We are living in very strange times; very scary times. How do we manage something we can’t control? I have put together a few ideas you may wish to consider.
Sleep well: When you are worried, a good night’s sleep is often elusive. Think about the activities which help you sleep. Don’t eat at least two hours before bedtime. Prepare for sleep by turning off electronic devices an hour before bed. Practice “pottering” before bedtime. Don’t stay in bed if you can’t sleep but get up and do something boring, then return.  
Herbs which can help sleep are chamomile (tea), lemon balm (tea), lemon balm and lime flower (tea) , skullcap (tincture) for “stopping the mice running around inside your head”
Eat well: Try to consume a nutritionally balanced diet full of good protein, fruit and vegetables
Make soup: Whenever I’m worried, I make soup. There are lots of recipes on this blog.
Discover what makes you laugh: Whether it is Fawlty Towers or a thirty second video on Facebook, cherish the incidents which make you smile and preferably laugh out loud. Laughter lifts your mood and helps you feel better. Playing board games or computer games with others online will help you feel connected and less isolated and take your mind off anything worrying.
Embrace fresh air and movement Getting outside and moving about stops your body feeling stiff and also helps your mood.
Discover what you have available already in your home. E.g. Sanitisers, spices, fruits, herbs, homemade medicines. You may be surprised what is hiding in your cupboards which may be helpful now.
Plan what you are going to do when someone is ill Make a list of all your medicines and fruit and vegetables. Which ones will you use when?
Information: What is a virus? How does it spread. How does it replicate and infect/overwhelm? This is a useful website. 
                        What is special about Covid-19? It likes cold and damp. It is destroyed by heat. It is stopped by barriers.
Why use herbs?
Lots of them have anti-viral properties. They can help support your body do what your body knows how to do to fight the invader.
How does your body fight?       
It raises your internal temperature to kill off the virus. The raised temperature will often give you headaches, make you feel either hot or very cold, make your body ache (this may be from the shed, dead virus tissue which has to be removed) and other, difficult symptoms.
It makes you cough to get rid of invader or by products – either a dry, unproductive cough or a cough with mucous/phlegm (be aware of the colour – clear = ok, yellow= infection present, green = nasty infection) The greater the amount of mucous, the deeper it is probably being drawn from in the lungs. You need to aim to enable the mucous to move easily.        
What can you do to help?
Use hand washing protocols and diluted bleach to wipe down appropriate surfaces (but not anywhere there is food)
Keep warm and rest.
Rest, rest and more rest.
Starve during the fever stage (don’t ask the body to waste energy trying to digest food)
Drink lots of hot/warm drinks to coat the throat and keep hydrating (every 15 minutes, new drink every hour)
Gargle with cider vinegar or sage tea with salt or just salt and water to move the virus out of the throat. Preferably have the water as hot as you can tolerate but don’t burn yourself!
If the fever is too high, use sponge baths to reduce body temperature using tepid, not cold, water.
Easily digestible food (broth/soups) once the fever stage is past.
Rest, fresh air, sunshine.
Support your major organs
Lungs – hawthorn (tincture, tea, leaf/blossom/haws, eat the new leaves emerging now) Deep breaths moving from chest to stomach and back again, mindful breathing, relaxation breathing.
Heart – hawthorn (unless you are a thin, elderly male with low blood pressure, when hawthorn tincture is not recommended). If you suffer with palpitations from anxiety or menopausal symptoms, mix equal parts of hawthorn berry and motherwort tinctures and take 1tsp during an event or 1 dropperful (half a teaspoon/30 drops) three times a day whilst feeling anxious. Hawthorn berries infused in cider vinegar (1 or 2 tsps in water with honey once a day) can be a gentle alternative to the tincture.
Liver – dandelion, burdock and milk thistle seeds(1tblsp a day ground fresh over cereal or salads).
Kidneys – dandelion, nettle seed tincture, fresh nettles
Herbs for supporting the various stages of viral infection
NB Do not use echinacea if you have any auto-immune conditions.
Immune system
Elderberry (tea -1 cup, tincture, elixir – 1tsp a day prophylactically) and
Astralagus root
Burdock root
Shitake and reishi mushrooms
Bone or mushroom broth,
Drink these several times a day and other immune enhancers beforehand
Vitamins C and D
Turn off the news and social media
Talk to people, play games
Find something that makes you laugh and makes you feel happy
Do something outside (preferably in sunshine!)
Engage in “escape” activities e.g. read a book, play an instrument, craftwork (knitting, spinning, crotchet, sewing, colouring, woodworking, etc.) watch non-stressful TV, play online games.
Use lemon balm, chamomile or IDGAS tea (equal parts of chamomile, lemon balm and vervain)
Flower essences e.g. agrimony and vervain.

During the illness
Stop taking the immune enhancers
Don’t take ibuprofen or neurophen for pain (try to do without aspirin and paracetamol as well if you can) This is now WHO guidance.  
Day 1 Elderberry every 2-3hrs. Gargle with cider vinegar or sage tea with salt or hot water and salt to remove virus from your throat. Have the gargle mixture warm. Take 2tsp of fire cider vinegar with honey to taste as a drink at least three times a day. Increase Vitamin C intake
Day 2 onwards  Use the heating febrifuges and anti-inflammatories - elderflower, ginger, turmeric, yarrow plus demulcents for the throat - marshmallow, plantain plus the usual sage and thyme.
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.
If you have a fever which won’t break, give vervain tincture – half a tsp or 30 drops.
Elderflower and Yarrow is a good combination for fever and anti-inflammatory

Fever pain remedies
Boneset tea or 1 tsp boneset tincture is also useful remedy for bone-aching fevers.
Crampbark tincture – 1tsp 3x a day or every 2-3 hours if very bad. Works with kidney pain and any cramping pain
Chamomile tea – relaxes all smooth muscles. Drink half an hour before bed or when sleep is required.
Wood betony for headaches, especially headaches caused by inflammation of brain tissue e.g acquired brain injury or meningitis. 1tsp tincture in a shot glass of water. Sip.

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 seed, fenugreek seed, New England Aster

Wet, green, mucous laden coughs: elecampane root (especially good for children and people who suffer with asthma) This can be made into a tea, added to syrup or use a tincture. Very good for bringing up mucous

Deep seated infected chest infections: mullein (make sure to strain tea or decoction thoroughly so tiny hairs from leaf don’t irritate throat tissue)

Ordinary coughs: sage & thyme, white horehound/hyssop/marshmallow leaf or root.

Unproductive coughs: put yourself inside a steam “tent”. Put boiling water in a bowl with aromatic herbs (sage, thyme, white cedar or juniper twigs) or a tsp of Vicks vapour rub (don’t use this if you are asthmatic!). Place a towel over your head to keep the steam in and inhale the steam for at least ten minutes. Do this four times a day if possible. Take great care if doing this with children.

To sooth lung tissue irritated by coughing add plantain leaves and/or marshmallow leaves or roots to a tea. Flax seeds or chia seeds, soaked in water and simmered with cinnamon and orange juice can be used as an alternative.

Onions can be really helpful in warming and expelling mucous. See this article by Kiva Rosethorn Hardin.

Starve during the fever phase but make sure there are lots of hot drinks since this helps get rid of the virus. Don’t allow dehydration as this can bring on kidney issues.
Once the fever has broken
Drink warm, nourishing broths and soups. Continue with the cough herbs and spices e.g. sage, thyme, hyssop, white horehound, golden rod plus soothing herbs and seeds adding in elecampane in whatever form you prefer for any deep seated mucus plus mullein if things are really bad. 
If at any time you can't breathe, then dial 111 and let others take over.
During recovery phase
Don’t try to resume normal activities too soon or you may relapse. Rest, rest and more rest. Continue with the herbal teas and soups you have found helpful.
There is lots of other information available online. My thanks to Coventry Earth Spirit and Lucinda Warner of Whispering Earth blog for prompting this blog post. Other herbalists you may wish to consult include Jim Macdonald, Henriette Kress, Matthew Wood, Margi Flint, Stephen Buhner, Paul Bergner, Nikki Darrell and Pip Waller.

Monday, 5 November 2018

November already!

The year is flying by.

The heavy frosts from last week have taken my runner beans and the ashwagandha I have grown in the raised garden beds for the first time. We harvested the second sowing of ashwagandha at the October workshop and all the roots were divided up amongst the attending apprentices to either dry or tincture. These garden roots will be tinctured in vodka, when I find a moment to thoroughly clean them and chop them up into sizable pieces.

I am still harvesting the fruits of the large plants grown on my patio. They have loved the hot weather and even complained about the lack of water at some points in the year. Usually the adult plants prefer their world to be fairly dry, unlike their immature seedling selves. These roots will be washed and dried ready for decoctions in milk and rose petals or overnight cold water macerations.

Last month I gave a talk to Headless Cross Mothers Union in Redditch. There was a huge horse chestnut tree in their car park so it was easy to talk about the uses of conkers and bark. I talked about the bag of herbal remedies I'd taken on my writing retreat "just in case" although the only remedies which had been used were the grapefruit and Seville orange bitters and the nerve pain salve which ended up being slathered on a culinary burn to very good effect. The ladies smelled the fire cider vinegar with wrinkled noses but were quite impressed with the elderberry and rose petal elixirs, even asking if they could make some from their own garden roses.

Next week I'll be giving a herb talk to Shirley Tangent, the female part of the Round Table family. I'm looking forward to sharing ideas about herbal remedies for winter ailments.

It's the time of year for applications for the 2019 Springfield Sanctuary Herbal Apprenticeship. It is open to anyone in the UK who can make the commitments and wants to learn about herbs. We have a wonderful community of like minded individuals who enjoy coming together and sharing their enthusiasm. It's a joy to see them develop and go on to create their future dreams.

If anyone is interested in the apprenticeship, please contact sarah at headology dot co uk for further details. The closing date is December 9th 2018.

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Been busy!

Less than three weeks to go until the "2018 Celebrating Herbs Festival" You can find the link to the programme for the weekend here

One of the reasons for a lack of blog posts here this year is that I have been busy writing. Last year I published Playing with Herbs: A beginner's guide to Herbcraft 

This year I've been working on two poetry books and my second herb book. Sanctuary Healing: Energetic Uses of Plants and Trees

The two poetry books have also been inspired by Springfield Sanctuary. The first is Poems for Difficult Times which were written when I was providing training on coping with bereavement and loss. 

The second book, Springfield Sanctuary Poems and Songs takes you on a journey through the seasons at the Sanctuary. There are also songs with music which I've written and perform during our festivals.

All the books are fully illustrated with photographs of plants, places and people who love the Sanctuary.

The books are available through Amazon and other online book sellers world wide. If you are able to provide me with a review for any of my work, it would be much appreciated.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

The Forgotten Few: Herb Robert

Plants are subtle. Sometimes they shout at you. Sometimes they brush against you until you take notice. Sometimes they sit and laugh at you for ignoring them. They know you will come to them eventually.

It was Australians who first alerted me to Herb Robert. “Where can I get hold of some herb Robert plants?” asked one woman.

“Why do you want to grow it?” I asked. “Over here, it grows everywhere; a ubiquitous weed. We try to ignore it.”

I was told it was the latest wonder drug, being used for cancer. She wanted to eat it every day to boost her immune system. She told me the name of the Australian herbalist who was waxing lyrical about the herbal properties and posted a link to Isobell Shipard’s articles. I read them and promptly dismissed them. I’m never comfortable when unknown authors gush about something. When they mention a particular product will cure all known cancers, it’s usually time to go and do the washing up.

I forgot about the articles. I did go out into the garden and noticed herb Robert was growing all over my garden; a geranium with a tiny pink flower. Its stems were mostly green but some of them were red. I smiled at it and let it slide from my memory.

It niggled at me for a couple more years that I knew nothing about this plant. Eventually, I asked the fount of all knowledge - Facebook – if anyone was working with herb Robert and had they heard about the claims being made for it in Australia. The responses were eye-opening. Several practicing herbalists in the UK and Ireland were using herb Robert in their practice with fascinating results. I needed to know more.

Who is Herb Robert? (Geraneum Robertianum)
 Herb Robert is a member of the cranesbill family, so named because the seedpods have bulbous bases and pointy tips which resemble a crane’s bill. The plant can either be annual or biennial. It grows up to 20”/50cm tall, although I’m sure the once which colonised my stream bank this summer were taller! It has deep-cut delicate leaves with three or five leaflets. The plant is hairy and smells musky, often turning deep red as it ages.   The flower has pink petals which are round-edged with white veins. The stems form nodes at the base which turn red and the roots are shallow. They are really easy to weed!

Herb Robert has many different names. Julie Bruton-Seal says its name was originally Rupert (named after a 7th century saint) and there are many different saintly Roberts including a pope associated with it. Dylan Warren- Davies, the Welsh herbalist ascribes the Robert as St Robert of Molesme, the founder of the Cistercian monastic order who was a noted herbalist and healer. The name is also connected with Robin (the bird) and Robin Goodfellow (a mischievous household sprite) but several commentators have pointed to the Latin term, rubra meaning redness as a possible source.

Wherever you are in the UK, herb Robert will have its own local name. Geoffrey Grigson, in 1958, collected 110 different regional names. Julie Bruton-Seal notes nearly a quarter were variants of robin or Robert, six were related to the plant’s smell (Stinky’ Bob!) and four to kissing. The connection between Herb Robert and Robin and Puck gives it a darker side. Don’t kill cock robin, don’t uproot herb Robert, don’t cross Robin Goodfellow – all will bring ill-luck. Only one of herb Robert’s local names mentions death. This is “Death comes quickly” and is only found in Cumbria.

What does Herb Robert do?
Look at the plant. Its redness signifies life and blood. A friend’s grandmother used to make herb Robert tea when she was feeling ill. She didn’t know she suffered with sticky blood but her grandmother recognised herb Robert would do what was needed.

Culpepper and other ancestral herbalists used herb Robert for both internal and external bleeding and other discharges. All parts of herb Robert can be utilised. Don’t try and dry it, it doesn’t work. You might be lucky if you take all the leaves off or try drying the roots. If you look hard enough it should be available all year round or infuse it in something for the times you can’t gather.

Julie Bruton-Seal says that Herb Robert can also be used for eruptions of the skin, including skin ulcers, tumours and eczema. She quotes Pechey in 1707 who noted it was helpful in treating erysipelas. Aerial parts can be useful as a mouthwash for gum disease and sore throats. The Irish traditionally use herb Robert for kidney issues as the plant is mildly diuretic and cooling. The tea can be used as a compress when there is backache.

Both Culpepper and Maud Grieve talk about herb Robert being used by farmers for all kinds of diseases in cattle and for increasing fertility when cows can’t be got into calf. It may be that the agricultural use of the plant continued when the practice of using it for humans had been forgotten. Apparently, it is still a common remedy in Ireland for red-water fever in farm cattle.

Let’s think about the smell. It stinks. Only John Pechey thought it smelt like parsnips. It’s possibly the only plant that slugs, caterpillars and other munchers studiously ignore. There must be something in the plant which repels insects.

Earlier this year, a herbalist posted about an insect repellent she’d made with elder leaf. I’d just had to prune an elder branch, so decided to make a double infused oil and add herb Robert oil to the salve along with some traditional repelling essential oils (citronella, sandalwood). 

I took it the Radical Herb Gathering in June. Every evening we were eaten by midges. The first evening I daubed myself with the insect salve – no midges. The second evening I forgot the salve and was attacked on all fronts. I put salve on the parts of my skin where I’d been attacked and it was instantly soothed.

The Irish herbalist, Bridget Meagher, is using a tincture of herb Robert for head lice. It’s wonderful to have another plant in our arsenal to deal with infestations.

There are many more uses for herb Robert besides internal and external bleeding. One Irish herbalist, is using it for high and low blood pressure, excessive menstrual bleeding, balancing blood sugar levels and as a nerve restorative. Another uses it for varicose veins and haemorrhoids mixed with yarrow and horse chestnut. A third for ear drops when treating otitis externa. She infused herb Robert with plantain, calendula and mullein in sweet almond oil. 

Why does it do all these things?
Herb Robert contains vitamins A, B and C. It has a vast array of minerals- calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus and germanium.

Its actions are astringent, antibiotic, adaptogen, antiviral, styptic, tonic, diuretic, sedative, antioxidant. 

Herb Robert contains a natural source of germanium which David Farrell described in 2015 as “a valuable element and powerful antioxidant which has the ability to make oxygen readily available to the cells of the body.” He explains that more oxygen at cellular level gives the body more opportunity to fight disease by its own powers and healing can take place quickly. If cells can’t get oxygen, they can’t get nutrients to regenerate. Those cells then become anaerobic, a state leading to pain, disease, wayward cells and possibly cancer.

Farrell quotes the Nobel physicist, Otto Warburg, who said “the prime cause of cancer is lack of oxygenation of cells”. In 1966, he discovered that cancer cells could not exist in the presence of abundant oxygen but only in an anaerobic state. It’s thought that germanium stimulates electrical impulses at a cellular level to create a beneficial ripple effect throughout the whole body.

Finally, I went back to Isobell Shipard’s articles. She came across the claims for herb Robert from a 1976 article written by a Spanish doctor, who had been inspired by a Portuguese letter written to Natura magazine in 1953. The stories concerning cures talked about taking powdered herb Robert leaves mixed in fresh raw egg yolk – a form of administration I have never heard of before. It makes me wonder why the herb is maximised in a fat solution or whether it is a cultural way of taking medication in southern Europe e.g. French people prefer suppositories to tablets; Italian men drink raw eggs to increase their virility (if the fictional Scilician detective, Montalbano, is anything to go by!)

Isobell Shipard was a leading herbalist in Queensland, Australia. She died at the end of 2014 and was instrumental in bringing herbs to the attention of ordinary Australians. She advocated the use of herb Robert for over twenty-five years and without that Australian prompt I would never have considered using this powerful little ally.

I hope to inspire others to treat herb Robert with more respect and admiration for its wide range of uses. 

Bruton-Seal, J & Seal, M Wayside Medicine Merlin Unwin Books 2017 ISBN-13: 978-1910723-37-7
Culpeper, N Complete Herbal 1653 Wordsworth Reference 1995 ISBN 1 85326 345 1
Facebook Forgotten Herbs Group discussion contributions from Julie Bruton-Seal, Joanna Byron, Natasha Clarke, Nikki Darrell, Althaea Hawthorn, Mari Jerstad, Saskia Marjoram, Brigitte Meagher, Claire Mullen, Margaret Palmer, Mina Said-Alsopp, Jane Wallwork-Gush, Monica Wilde
Grigson, G. (1996) The Englishman’s Flora. Helicon Publishing Ltd, Oxford
Warren-Davis, D Reflections on Herb Robert posted 15/5/16
Plants for a Future Herb Robert (January 2004):
Shipard, I Herb Robert – Natural Alterative (3/2/08)
Wood, M The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants 2008 North Atlantic Books ISBN 9 781556 436925
Wood, M The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to New World Medicinal Plants 2009 North Atlantic Books ISBN 9 781556 437793