Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Solstice Harvest

Walking out into the garden, my intention was to continue finding permanent homes for the dozens of tomato plants languishing in the seed house. Unfortunately, the bag of compost was almost empty so I had to be content with filling pots for only a few.

My eyes were drawn to the carpet of daisies covering the grass around the raised vegetable beds.

“Gather what you have,” the garden whispered.

The previous morning, my husband ended up with a bruised brow bone after an altercation with the new vacuum cleaner. His cries of pain brought both wife and daughter to his side but there was little we could do as he pressed a cold cloth to the offending temple.

A nasty, raised bump was a salutary reminder of the dangers of housework. The daisies offered a solution. Forgotten by the mists of time, daisies have always been a bruise herb. Today we might turn to plantain, yarrow, comfrey or elder leaves or bark but herbalists trying to revive the use of various weeds, think we should be considering daisy as well.

Author and herbalist, Julie Bruton- Seal, recently told the story of administering a salve of daisy mixed with mugwort to her elderly mother when she dropped a bottle onto her foot and thought she’d broken something. The pain diminished considerably after the first application and she was able to go for a long walk that evening. The salve was applied a second time the same day and her foot did not swell or bruise.

The herbalist, Nikki Darrell, was the first person to alert us to the many different facets of daisy. She has been using it as an alternative to arnica is deep tissue salves mixed with plantain. This salve is not only used for bruising, but also to repair old acne scars, treating kitchen burns and scalds and for bites and stings. She has also made a flower essence which she has found helpful in “restoring the inner child to health” and for birth trauma in both mother and child.

My harvest yielded a basketful of flowers and leaves together with a sprinkling of greater plantain and yarrow leaves growing in the lawn underneath our ancient apple tree. By nightfall it had been doubly infused in sunflower oil and mixed with beeswax to provide a bruise salve which my husband was able to apply before bed.

As I gathered the daisies, my eye was drawn to a waterfall of fresh, green cleavers climbing up the wooden frame which screens the compost bins. In Victorian times, genteel ladies would drink vast amounts of cleaver tea to ensure a clear complexion but I generally use it as a means of helping the lymphatic system to flow. My stock of tinctures was getting low. Now seemed the perfect time to capture the vibrant essence of several herbs.

Willowherb has always been a nuisance in my garden. I failed to value it as a helpful plant for several decades until I was researching prostate support and discovered it had been under my nose all along. Now I add it to my “prostate tonic” along with nettle root, saw palmetto and couch grass. Hiding in every bed in my garden, I picked a huge bunch and turned it into tincture by evening.

Every year new herbs come to my attention. This year, it is Herb Robert. Named after a saintly French Abbott, who lived at the same time as Hildegarde of Bingen, this fragrant plant with its tiny, pink flowers is being lauded as a cancer preventative in both northern and southern hemispheres.

Many herbalists are now working with this plant and have discovered it is a strong styptic with astringent properties, which gives it a place in the first aid cabinet and for longer term use when dealing with “boggy tissue”. It also acts as an anti-oxidant and has the unique ability to oxygenate cells, making it useful in strengthening the immune system and restoring nerve damage.

So far I have eaten the suggested 3-4 leaves a day for a week and found myself feeling totally exhausted. Maybe I was being shown I needed rest! We’ve also made a flower essence (supposedly good for revealing faerie) but I have yet to work with it. Tinctures should be made from plants whose stems are turning deep red for the strongest medicine, so these were the ones I gathered and prepared.  

Another new activity this year has been making my own green powders to provide added vitamins and minerals during winter months. These can be made by dehydrating and grinding any edible green plant. So far I have processed nettles, ground elder, marjoram, lovage and watercress, adding the herbs for increased flavour.

Nettles and ground elder found their way into my baskets and soon the dehydrator was filled with these, together with lemon balm and a luxurious pineapple weed which was smothering my pleurisy root shoots in their large tub. I’d never eaten pineapple weed leaves before. They were really succulent and tasty. I know they can be used in the same way as chamomile, although with weaker effect so I’m looking forward to adding it to my larder.

The last plant in my solstice harvest was Sweet Cecily. Long known as a method of reducing sugar consumption with sour fruit such as plums and rhubarb, it can also be made into a pleasant, aniseed aperitif by macerating green pods and leaves in vodka for three days then leaving the strained liquid to mature for several months before drinking. I prepared this liqueur many years ago but the bottle disappeared, so it was time to try again.

Every solstice is different in the continuing seasonal wheel. This year I listened to the garden and was rewarded with valuable food and medicine for my winter stores..


Lyssa Medana said...

I shall definitely be checking out cleavers. I am not sure how confident I am, but I have ongoing swelling in legs and it may be a real help. Thank you! x

Sandies' Patch said...

Really interesting post to show if we 'listen and look' in our own gardens we can find treasure! I'm particularly interested in the uses for daisies.
Thank you for sharing.