With a quarter of 2016 already behind us, it’s sometimes good to review what you’ve achieved. In an ideal world, every item sown, harvested and processed would be entered into a suitable journal as part of a continuing record of activity and evaluation along with visits, discussions and continuing professional development.
Once upon a time my life was a little more organised than it is now. My herbal diary is rarely completed so I rely on my monthly apprenticeship emails to jot down what has been happening in my herbal world. I also try to keep a pictorial record in the hope everything will come together and prove I haven’t been completely idle.
Here is a summary of what I’ve been up to so far this year.
What have I made?
Spiced Nettle Latte
1 large handful of dried nettle leaf
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ a freshly grated nutmeg
1 inch of peeled and diced root ginger
Hot milk (cow’s or nut milk)
Place nettle leaves and spiced in a large cafatiere/French coffee press, pour over just boiled water and infuse for ten minutes. Depress the plunger then pour equal portions of spiced nettle infusion and hot milk into a mug and sip. Further nutmeg can be grated over the top of the mug if desired.
Spiced Flaxseed tea
Place 2 tsps of flaxseed/linseed in a 2 pint saucepan and fill with cold water along with ½ a cinnamon stick and some fresh or dried orange peel and 3tblsp orange juice. Bring to the boil and simmer gently without the lid on until the water has evaporated by half (around half an hour but keep an eye on it!). Strain into a jug and then distribute. Consume immediately whilst still warm.
2 generous pinches of dried chamomile flowers, stems and leaves. Infuse for ten minutes then drink. (I dry and use all the aerial parts of my homegrown chamomile) Really good for making you sleepy if you suffer from insomnia.
Fresh nettle tea
Pick two handfuls of young nettle tops, rinse and place in a cafatiere or china teapot. Infuse for ten minutes then drink.
Soothing eye bath tea
Add equal amounts (1 pinch) of dried plantain, elderflower, chamomile, calendula, rose petals into a cafatiere. Cover with just boiled water and infuse for ten minutes. Allow to cool then use in eye bath or as compress for tired, sore or dry eyes.
Infuse equal portions of fresh or dried sage leaf, St John’s wort flowers or leaves and meadowsweet leaf with just boiled water. Leave for ten minutes, add 1tsp salt per half pint of water if using for a mouth wash or omit the salt if intending to swallow the tea after swishing around affected area.
After decanting and tasting the first infusion of this heavenly quince liqueur, I decided to use the remains to infuse a second batch.
Seville Orange Bitter
Juice as many Seville oranges as you have and remove the pips. Chop the remaining peel and place in a glass jar until almost full. Add 1 tblsp runny honey, 6 cardomoms and a tsp of fennel seeds. Pour over the orange juice then fill up the jars with vodka, remembering to stir the mixture with a chopstick to remove the air bubbles and refill the jar so all the orange peel is covered. Seal, label and date. Store in a dark, cold place for a month or so.
Harvest your crampbark by pruning thin stems from the bush or tree. Ideally you want a stem which is approximately half an inch thick so the bark is easily removed. Peel off the bark with a sharp kitchen knife, penknife or vegetable peeler. Remember to cut away from you. Place the bark shavings into a glass jar and cover with vodka, remembering to stir with a chopstick to remove any air bubbles. Refill the jar, ensuring the shavings are all submerged. Seal the jar, label and date. Keep in a cold, dark place, shaking when you remember for three weeks. Strain into a dark glass bottle, label and date.
A friend gifted me with some commercially dried cut and sifted eyebright. I’m using half of it for tea and tinctured the other half.
Inspired by Lynne Tynan-Cashmore's tales of the therapeutic use of cayenne tincture, I put up my first infusion using home-grown fresh chillies at the end of last year. In February, I strained this batch and added a new selection of dried and fresh chillies which is now macerating in the larder.
I made a calcium-rich vinegar by infusing dried nettles and washed, crushed eggshells in cider vinegar for three weeks.
Primrose Flower Essence
The beautiful sunshine on Good Friday allowed me to harvest primrose flowers and make my first flower essence. I shall be meditating with the essence over the coming week.
I harvested primrose flowers and dried them in the warming drawer of the farm Rayburn. They retained their beautiful yellow colour.
I’ve made up several bereavement and stress mixes using lemon balm, motherwort, St John’s wort, skullcap and vervain. I’ve also offered my uplifting elixir (created from a selection of nervine flowers and leaves) and cough elixir (fresh thyme, sage and white horehound) and cough syrup (hyssop, white horehound and marshmallow leaf). I also made up a high blood pressure tincture based on hawthorn leaf, flower and seed with a few drops of rue. I’m going to be making a prostate tincture this week from nettle root and saw palmetto.
We’ve created two horse chestnut based salves using the infused oil plus (i) calendula, marshmallow and rose and (ii) comfrey, ginger, and St John’s wort. These are arterial strengthening salves.
I’m also going to make a sciatica salve with St John’s wort, meadowsweet and ginger this week.
I’ve started to weed around emerging herbs and have potted up about sixteen St John’s wort seedlings. I have yet to plant any herb seeds but hopefully that will happen soon.
At the beginning of February, I gave a talk to a local WI. They were able to try teas, oxymels, honeys and elixirs and seemed to enjoy learning more about the weeds in their gardens and hedgerows.
I’m held four workshops this year, one on tonics, one on barks and two on recognising herbs. We’ve made herbal teas from fresh and dried herbs, a wine-infused tonic, a bramble root vinegar plus crampbark and nettle root tinctures. We’ve also propagated herbs by taking heel cuttings of woody herbs (sage, rosemary, southernwood), splitting pots of mint into quarters and digging roots of elecampane and hops.
After a four-month hiatus last year, I’ve managed six blog posts in the past three months. It’s not quite one a week but I’m getting there!
I’ve been suffering with dry eyes since the beginning of the year so have been researching herbal remedies which help. I’ll be sharing my experiences in a blog post soon.
I’ve attended a session on spices hosted by Lynne Tynan-Cashmore and came home with two Morrocan spice mixes – Harissa and Merguez and Garam masala. I still have to make up Lynne’s wonderful spice mix for lentils now I’ve replenished all my spice supplies.
I’ve been dipping into seven of Juliette de Bairacli Levy’s herb books and researching her family, friends and the people who influenced her. It’s a fascinating journey.