The wheel of life is constantly turning. Days grow quietly longer, edging us out of winter’s darkness into the promise of spring renewal. Each year we anticipate change and each cycle bring new things to notice and consider.
This year has brought us so much loss. Everyone has been touched either publicly or privately and for some, the final journey in this world continues, affecting those they love and all who know.
In the countryside, the mild winter has not allowed the period of rest the land expects. Primroses have been blooming since December, maybe to prompt questions about its qualities. It is not just the flowers which gladden our sight and bring their candied sweetness to the table, the whole plant can gently soothe us. Leaves and flowers can be dried for tea and tinctures, while the flower essence can be helpful to stressed children.
Mature primrose roots are harvested in autumn before drying to combat nervous headaches. In ancient times, primroses were held in great regard for muscular rheumatism, paralysis and gout but today they are more often used as an expectorant or as a general tonic for the respiratory and nervous system.
The plants must have been laughing at us as we gathered around them last weekend in glorious sunshine, wondering about their properties when there was so much we could have been doing!
There was much we did do. Nibbling on St John’s wort and ground ivy leaves, noting their fresh and pungent flavour as well as storing up their properties for future reference. A medicinal tea was created for toothache from meadowsweet, sage and thyme but we drank nettle for refreshment and nettle soup to sustain us.
There is nothing which compares with young, fresh nettle. When asked to describe the flavour, the only real answer is “green” which tells us nothing and everything in just one word. We crave the vigour of this early plant to cleanse our sluggish blood stream after winter stagnation. It brings the vitamins and minerals we need to enhance our mood and start our activities in the lengthening light.
Helen’s nettle soup
A bowlful of fresh nettle tops
1 clove of garlic
1 stick of celery
4 pints stock/water
Peel and dice the onion, celery and garlic, sweat them in a pan with oil until soft. Crush the hazelnuts and add to the pan with the peeled and sliced potato. Cook for about fifteen minutes until almost soft. Add the nettle tops five minutes before cooking ends. Season to taste. Blitz the soup until smooth. Serve with sourdough bread.
We find new allies amongst the detritus covering the herb beds. Bramble roots for digestive upsets infused in vinegar, golden nettle roots to tincture for prostate health and the ubiquitous couch grass to soothe the pain of urinary tract infections –cystitis, urethritis and prostatitis. It helps to dissolve stones and gravel as well as preventing their build up. It is also used for bronchitis and laryngitis and can be used with other herbs to treat gout and rheumatism.
The rhizomes are thin, white threads in the soil leading up to tufts of grass-like leaves on the surface. The underground labyrinths are washed and cut up into inch-long sections before drying. A mild, pleasant-tasting tea is made from infusing 2 tsps. of the roots in boiling water for ten minutes and can be drunk three times a day for a medicinal or preventative dose.
No matter where we look there is new growth. In my garden, pigeons are feasting on emerging hawthorn leaves. Elder leaves have been present for a few weeks now and the crampbark buds are beginning to burst. Other trees are still asleep but it won’t be long before their sap with be rising.
Now is the time for preparation, to sow seeds, to divide roots and begin cuttings. The light encourages us outside to experience a new warmth, another new beginning and all possible hope for the future.