Monday 11 March 2024

‘Tis the season

With the arrival of the third month of the year, things are starting to move. The quince tree is coming out in leaf. The elder leaves were possibly the first to appear but I wasn’t there to watch them. The blackcurrant bushes are bursting. Spring in finally springing. The snowdrops have seeded, the early daffodils have been waving in the breeze for a month and the main show are blooming.

Sweet violets have been spreading their scented wonder since late January in my garden. We made a violet syrup at the February workshop with a round of “Ooohs” as the lemon juice turned the turquoise liquid pink. I searched for the white violet last Saturday in the nooks and crannies of the Sanctuary bank but although the leaves were present, there was no sign of the flowers.

We have been working at the Sanctuary on the few dry days in between the constant rain. We held our first Wassail on January 6th; serenading the trees and gifting them with bread soaked in cider after a day of pruning and ivy clearance.

At the end of February we began the winter clear up. Wild cherry and crampbark trees were pruned, the large haul of twigs divided between four to debark at a later date. Half a ‘boot load’ was delivered to the Little Bird herbal apothecary in Shipston on Stour, the rest dried or made into tincture.

There are still untouched bottles of crampbark tincture in my larder from previous years, so I processed wild cherry for over an hour before my hands were too sore to do any more. It yielded three trays of bark for drying and those have filled two large jars to store for later.

A week ago, when my writers group were finalising details for our belated Christmas curry meetup, I received an email asking if I’d got any spare cough syrup. It seemed an ideal time to try out the new cherry bark, so the morning was spent decocting cherry bark, hyssop, mullein, sage, thyme and marshmallow leaves, elecampane and astralagus root and rosehips. The first five ingredients were aimed at the cough, the marshmallow to soothe any inflamed tissue and the last two to boost the immune system and Vitamin C levels. I tend to throw rosehips into any kind of winter syrup, ‘just because’.

After straining and measuring the liquid and cleaning out the pan, I let it evaporate for an hour or so, but didn’t have the patience to reduce it by 7/8ths, as you should with a medicinal syrup. After adding the same weight of sugar as the remaining volume of liquid, it made 4 jars of cough syrup and the recipient was delighted. The rest of the group received home made marmalade, made at the beginning of February.

After years of treading water thanks to Covid and various bereavements, we are now making plans and moving forward. Last year’s apprentices have settled into a community and brought a new set to join them this year. They spent Saturday’s workshop picking nettles for ChristopherHedley’s nettle iron tonic, all of them armed with thick gloves against the Sanctuary’s particularly vicious variety.

While the women used secateurs, the men took up pick axes and crowbars to remove roots from unwanted trees to make space for levelling the ground to receive flagstones for a new shed we’re intending to erect.

The bramble hedge which hasn’t been touched for the past three years and was threatening to engulf both the path and eventually the summer house was also given a serious haircut. Roots were dug up from the identifying shoots and I brought home a full basket of leftovers, which were duly washed yesterday morning, left to air dry overnight and this morning have been left in my kitchen hot cupboard to macerate with cider vinegar for three weeks. They still fought back, despite the scissors and secateurs brought in to subdue them! My previous bottle of bramble root vinegar, made around 2005, is almost empty. I’m looking forward to another full bottle in the larder to deal with digestive anxiety and upset tummies.

I have a whole article on “What to do with bramble”, written in 2015. I’ve also discovered Sally Pointer and Alex Langland’s YouTube videos on how to make bramble runner cordage. The apprentices seem keen to experiment but I’ve suggested we wait until summer when both nettles and brambles will be softer and more malleable.

This Wednesday will see my first public talk on holy wells and sacred water. I’m sure there will be a few herbs thrown in for good measure along the way.

Tuesday 20 June 2023

Cooling summer drinks

Many years ago I was asked to submit an article on summer beverages to a magazine. This summer, in the intense heat, I’ve been making more cordials and tweaking some of the recipes, so I thought I would bring the article to my blog audience.

When I was a child, on one hot day each year, my mother would make real lemonade from sliced lemons marinated overnight in a sugar solution and chilled. Summer was the busiest time of the farming year, so we rarely went on holiday. Instead we were left to our own devices while our parents brought in the harvest and looked after livestock.

The lemonade tasted so different from our normal commercial blackcurrant cordial. We were never allowed fizzy drinks because my grandmother once worked for a grocer as a governess. The business made their own carbonated cordials and having seen the process, she disapproved of paying for carbon dioxide piped into flavoured sugar water.

Now we ae subjected to flavoured water with many, questionable additives, sometimes forgetting we have the knowledge and resources to make our own. Yes, they include sugar, but sugar is a natural preservative and you only ingest a very small amount with lots of water.

Last weekend, we helped with a fundraising weekend for a primary school in Mali. I provided a table full of herb and vegetable plants and a box of elderflower and ginger cordial. The cordial was offered as a taster and all the bottles sold.

Elderflower and ginger cordial

10-20 heads of fresh, creamy elderflowers

4 lemons

2 oranges

A large chunk of ginger root (approx. 1-1.5 inches/3.8cm)

2pints/1.2 litres water

2lbs/0.9kgs granulated sugar (or use 1kgsugar:1litre water)

Place the sugar in the water in a saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring until all the sugar is dissolved. While the water is heating, place the elderflowers in a large bowl and cut the zest off the oranges and lemons and add to elderflowers. Cut the ends off the citrus fruit and discard, then slice and add to contents of bowl. Peel the ginger root and dice into small pieces before adding to the bowl.

Pour the boiling sugar syrup over the elderflowers and citrus fruits. Cover the bowl and place in a cool place for 24 hours. I put a plate on the top of the bowl to keep the citrus fruit submerged in the syrup. After 24 hours strain (eat the orange slices – they are amazing!). Strain twice more using either muslin or kitchen paper. Makes 4 pints of cordial. Pour into sterilized glass jars or plastic jars and freeze. Keep in the fridge and dilute to taste. It tastes good with fizzy water. Serve diluted in glass jugs with slices of lemon and a sprig of mint.

To extract the maximum from your flowers and fruit, pour boiling water over the discarded solids in a bowl to cover and place in the fridge until cold. Strain the contents and drink the now diluted cordial.

Below,  I have used my childhood memory of lemonade but perfected it by adding some of the sun-drenched herbs in my garden and hedgerows.

Rose and lemon balm cordial

5-6 strongly scented roses (I used a mixture of Apothecary’s Rose, William Shakespeare and Gertrude Jekyll)

20 lemon balm stems

4 flowering stems of self-heal

4 lemons

2 lbs of sugar

2 UK pints (20fl oz) of water

Remove the leaves from the lemon balm stems and the leaves and flower stalks from the self-heal and place in a large bowl. Chop into small pieces with scissors. Add all the rose petals and mix. Remove the ends of the lemon and cut into slices. Add these slices to the herbs. Measure the sugar and cold water and place in a saucepan on the heat. Bring to the boil stirring all the time with a long wooden spoon. Pour the sugar syrup carefully into the bowl. Cover with a suitably sized dinner plate so all the plant material is submerged under the syrup. Place the bowl in a cool larder or fridge overnight. You will see that the syrup has turned pink by the following morning. Remove the dinner plate and strain the syrup into a jug. Squeeze the plant material well to remove as much syrup as possible. If you want to maximise your syrup, return the squeezed plant matter to the bowl and cover with cold water. Mix well then strain again and drink. (This should provide your first taste of the cordial at a strength ready for imbibing.)

Pour your rose syrup either into sterilized glass bottles or clean plastic bottles and immediately freeze. The glass bottles should be sealed, labelled and dated and kept in the fridge once open. Dilute to taste with still or sparkling water.

One of my garden beds is overrun with Swiss mint. The flavour is too strong and metallic for mint sauce but it makes a wonderful mint vinegar and mint and lemon honey which can be combined for an oxymel. I thought I would experiment to see what a Swiss mint cordial would taste like. It was a great success!

Mint and lemon balm cordial

20-30 long stems of mint picked before flowering

10 stems of lemon balm

4 lemons

2lbs sugar

2 UK pints (20fl oz) of water

Remove leaves from mint and lemon balm, place in a large bowl and chop into small pieces with scissors. Remove the ends of the lemon and cut into slices. Add these slices to the herbs. Measure the sugar and cold water and place in a saucepan on the heat. Bring to the boil stirring all the time with a long wooden spoon. Pour the sugar syrup carefully into the bowl. Cover with a suitably sized dinner plate so all the plant material is submerged under the syrup. Place the bowl in a cool larder or fridge overnight. Remove the dinner plate and strain the syrup into a jug. Squeeze the plant material well to remove as much syrup as possible. If you want to maximise your syrup, return the squeezed plant matter to the bowl and cover with cold water. Mix well then strain again and drink. (This should provide your first taste of the cordial at a strength ready for imbibing.)


Pour your mint syrup either into sterilized glass bottles or clean plastic bottles and immediately freeze. The glass bottles should be sealed, labelled and dated and kept in the fridge once open. Dilute to taste with still or sparkling water.

Don't forget that mint oxymel (2tsps infused mint cider vinegar with 2tsps infused mint honey diluted with cold water in a glass or mug) has been a summer cooling drink since before the first Crusaders brought the recipe back to Europe. 

One of the strangest summer recipes I came across was for a 1947 cough/throat remedy made from roses and nettles served with milk. I was dubious fresh nettles could be found at the same time roses were blooming but if you keep your nettle patch well harvested, there will be young growth available when you pick your roses.

The syrup can also be made from dried nettles and rose petals if you need a fix in the dead of winter.

If you want to maximise the mineral content of your syrup, macerate the nettles in cold water overnight maybe adding red clover and/or sweet violet leaves or heartsease aerial parts. If you’re looking for a soothing cough remedy, then try adding marshmallow leaves to the maceration. If you want to enhance the nervine/spirit lifting effect of the roses, add Ashwaganda roots to the maceration. (Basically, the possibilities are endless!)

Nettle rose milkshake syrup

A large bowlful of young nettles/nettle tops

Other medicinal herbs suitable for cold maceration (see above)

Cold water

7 deeply scented red roses

2lbs sugar

Place the nettles in a bowl (and other herbs) and cover with cold water. Cover and leave overnight in a cool place. The next morning tip the entire contents of the bowl into a large saucepan. Cover and bring to the boil. Simmer for twenty minutes then strain the liquid into a jug, discard the herbal matter and wash the saucepan thoroughly. Measure the liquid, return it to the saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer uncovered on a low heat until the liquid measures 2 UK pints (20 fl.ozs). Add the sugar and all the rose petals. Bring back to the boil simmering and stirring for approximately 15 minutes until the sugar has dissolved and the rose petals have given up their colour to the syrup. Strain off the rose petals and pour the hot syrup into hot, sterilized bottles. Seal, label and date. Allow to cool. Add to a glass of cold milk an amount to give your desired level of sweetness. (The original recipe says 1 tsp per glass but I like 1 tblsp!) Store opened bottles of syrup in the fridge. Unopened bottles should be ok in the larder or a cool cupboard.

When you have a garden or open space full of herbs, there is nothing better than wandering around with your gathering basket and a pair of scissors in the cool of the evening collecting flowers from different plants to create a unique elixir.

Uplifting elixir

Rose petals

St Johns wort flowers

Borage flowers

Evening primrose flowers

Ox-eye daisy flowers

2 lavender flower heads

Self-heal flower stalks and leaves

Lemon balm leaves

Alpine strawberry leaves

Runny honey


Strip all leaves from stems and place inside a jam jar. Chop leaves into small pieces with scissors. Add flowers to the jam jar. The amount of uncut leaves and flowers should loosely fill the jar. Carefully pour in runny honey until the jar is half full. Stop pouring several times and stir mixture with a chopstick to remove any air bubbles. Fill jar to the top with brandy, mixing everything together with a chopstick. Seal the jar, label and date. Leave in a cool, dark place for 4-6 weeks. Strain and use as required. Dosage is 1 dropperful at a time up to 4 times a day. (Not suitable for children under 12 but you could make a soothing cordial using the same plants maybe increasing the lemon balm, adding chamomile and omitting the roses and SJW)

So many herbs offer us a myriad of wonderful combinations to enhance our lives not only in summer but all year round.

Monday 16 January 2023

A New Year and New Apprentices

 At the last festival in September, my arm was twisted to re-start the Springfield Sanctuary Apprenticeship. Eight people applied and we had our first workshop in my kitchen last Saturday. As always, it was great fun and the participants learned about five different barks, then went out into the garden, tasted chickweed and bittercress and dug up two mullein florets to make their own tinctures for straightening spines.

The wonderful thing about herbwifery is its intense practicality. There are books to read and issues to discuss, but it is all about getting out, digging and making herbal preparations from whatever it is you have harvested.

Mullein florets are a perfect example. Their leaves are so soft and beautifully coloured. It’s no wonder they were used as toilet paper in ancient times. They also absorb a lot of moisture, so several tea towels were used to dry them off.

The roots were scrubbed and chopped before being divided into five parts so everyone could make a mixed root and leaf tincture. It will be interesting to see what happens because, ordinarily, the leaves precipitate too much mucilage when alcohol is added, but I suspect these will be fine because of the amount of water they held which will dilute the vodka to a suitable level.

I thought I would share one of the tasks I set new apprentices each month. In January, they are asked to walk around their local area looking for certain trees/bushes to map – hawthorn, elder, wild cherry and dog rose.

The aim of the exercise is to become aware of your surroundings. Even in the middle of a city, there will still be plants and trees growing on the roadside or in the pavement cracks. When I had to walk through central Sheffield on a regular basis, I found an elder tree growing out of a derelict building and would monitor its growth cycles for six years.

If you look hard enough there will be fragments of field hedges and the odd ditch where hazel catkins are starting to wave in the breeze.

Maybe some of you reading this blog might like to map your locality along with the apprentices. Take pictures of what you find and make sure you know where the useful plants and trees can be found.

I have put the dates for all the monthly workshops on the relevant page and if anyone would like to join us, you'd be most welcome.


Thursday 27 October 2022

What helps bruises?

Many years ago, I was talking to a family member about herbs which help with bruising when my husband’s nephew interjected, “Why do you bother, the body deals with bruising all by itself.”

Our nephew is a doctor and not interested in herbs. I’d forgotten he was nearby when I began the conversation but his question made me stop and think. Why would we intervene in a situation which will resolve itself given enough time?

Bruises happen. When we knock against something, fall over, damage to our skin or underlying tissue results in two major actions within the body. The damaged cells are removed and new cells are created to take their place. We can see this as the damaged area changes colour, becomes inflamed, maybe hot to the touch and/or swollen and we feel pain if we try to touch the damaged area.

Sometimes the trauma causes damage to underlying structures, not just soft tissue. Cartilage may be torn, ligaments damaged, bones broken or fractured or blood vessels severed. In such cases, trips to A&E are always advised to diagnose through x-ray, CT scan or MRI exactly what has occurred. Similarly, if there is any hint of abuse, professional help must be sought so accurate records and evidence can be acquired and the victim offered safety.

Head, neck and back injuries, especially those where spinal damage is suspected are other areas where expert advice must be sought since the first hour post event is the most crucial in preventing life-changing effects. The patient must not be moved except by experts.

Having said all this, bruises remain and there are several plants which can provide help and support to the body to assist in the healing process.

There are two herbs which stay at the top of my first aid provisions. Yarrow (achillea millefolium), because of its anti-inflammatory properties and, as Jim Macdonald said, “yarrow knows what to do with blood.” My other go-to is plantain, both narrow leaf and greater (plantago lanceolata and p. major). It’s drawing properties help to ensure the damaged area doesn’t have any foreign objects, it helps with cell production and has the ability to retain moisture in dry tissues.

These two herbs are usually given as a poultice or salve and also internally as part of a tincture or tea, depending on whether the patient can tolerate alcohol.

The third herb I use externally is comfrey. It’s speedy cell-rejuvenation means this is not one to be applied within the first 24-36 hours, as it can regrow skin cells over dirt or fuse bone before it has been correctly set. After that time, it is really useful.

These three herbs form my “old wound” salve because they will also deal with bruises which refuse to heal or leave unwelcomed scars. Their power has also been proved on the energetic level as one of my apprentices uses them as a tea and a smudge to help resolve/come to terms with emotional scars left from childhood abuse, especially when the abuser is no longer alive. She has also used them as a tea with hawthorn and linden when setting up or strengthening boundaries.

If the bruise is involved with connective tissue, Solomon seal (polygonatum multiflorum) is another herb to add to the mix. American herbalists David Winston, Matthew Wood and Jim MacDonald have written at length how helpful Solomon Seal can be with rejuvenating joints, cartilage, connective tissue and tendons in conjunction with agrimony. Agrimony (agrimonia eupatorium) is there not only because it has styptic qualities like yarrow, but also helps with pain due to constriction.

Dylan Warren-Davies, writing as “A Welsh Herbal” on Facebook says “Solomons Seal is traditionally ruled by Saturn, which like comfrey, makes the herb valuable in treating musculoskeletal injuries. In combination with other Saturnine herbs like horsetail and mullein root as an infusion it can speed recovery of sprains, strains and broken bones. It also has been used to apply topically to remove bruising.”

I thought this use of Solomon seal was relatively recent, so it came as quite a shock to read J Arthur Gibbs describing a visit to an old gentleman in his “A Cotswold Village” who reeled off a list of herbs for different ailments including “Solomon seal for bruising”. The book was published in 1898, it’s thirty year old author dying the next year following an unsuccessful hernia operation complicated by an undiagnosed heart condition.

Given that Solomon seal is a North American native, it made me wonder whether its properties were introduced to the UK along with other Thomsonian doctrines, but the UK usage was well-known to both Culpepper and Parkinson so would have been embedded in village herbal lore. Bruton-Seal also notes Gerard’s misogynistic comment that it was useful for bruising “from fals or women’s wilfulness in stumbling on their hastie husband’s fists”!

The other herb well-known for bruises is elder leaves (Sambucus niger) but I have been using the infused bark oil for the same purpose with very good results. This came about because I needed something for bruising in the middle of winter when no leaves of any plant were visible. It worked for me, so I added it to the apprentice tasks and they all reported how quickly the bark oil reduced bruising.

One of the forgotten herbs which I have been adding to my bruise and joint tinctures is bugle (Ajuga reptens). In Culpepper’s day it was well known for falls and inward bruises for dissolving congealed blood. Parkinson recommended it for broken bones and dislocated joints but by the late 19th century it had fallen out of favour.

My knowledge and use came from Julie Bruton Seal and Mathew Seal in their book, “Wayside Herbs”. I happened to be walking into the Birmingham Botanical Gardens for a Herbal History Society seminar some years ago and met Julie in the car park. She was telling me enthusiastically about bugle when we met up with one of the speakers, Christina Stapley.

Christina was in such pain from her shoulder that she didn’t think she would be able to deliver her presentation. Julie had a bottle of bugle tincture in her handbag and persuaded Christina to let her rub it on the affected area. Twenty minutes later, the pain was gone and Christina’s session was by far the best one of the whole day!

I made my first tincture that year from bugle harvested from Buckland churchyard, next to the manor house where my great-grandmother was brought up. The plant then emerged at the Sanctuary and has grown there energetically ever since. Julie notes its use for realigning joints, especially the spine and releasing trapped nerves. I’ve been adding it to all my joint tinctures and have noticed it has very positive effects in reducing “bile dumps”, which is an added digestive bonus.

When bruising is extensive and long-lasting, it is time to consider other plants to throw into the mix. Chilli, cayenne (capsicum sp.) gets blood moving at all levels. It can be very effective where bruising is deep down and can act to transport the active ingredients of other bruise herbs to help resolve the issue.

A chilli tincture is easy to make, but care must be taken to have the room well ventilated and wear gloves if possible. I made my tincture from Scotch Bonnets, chopping them in the processor before adding the vodka. When the top of the processor was removed, the airborne particle affected my eyes so badly, I had to open the kitchen window and then lie down for half an hour before I could carry on!

When I was treating my husband for extensive bruising and a swollen knee after an altercation with a ball during Walking Football, I only had chili in tincture form, so that went into his thrice daily medicine and ginger oil was added to his bruise salve.

A very effective herb for use with children and vulnerable elders is daisy. The flowers and leaves combine to make a double infused oil which can be made into a salve on its own or mixed with self-heal (prunella vulgaris) or mugwort (artemisia vulgaris).

Many people rely on homeopathic arnica for bruising. It is very effective and easily available from all chemists. You can make your own tincture if you have access to the arnica plant but remember it is poisonous and should only be applied externally in drop doses rubbed into the skin.

In conclusion, the body will heal any bruises it sustains but there are a number of plants which can help support and speed up the process.


Bruton-Seal, J and Seal, M The Herbalist’s Bible Merlin Unwin Books 2014

Bruton-Seal, J and Seal, M Wayside Medicine Merlin Unwin Books 2017

Gibbs, J. A  A Cotswold Village Nonsuch Publishing 2005

Warren-Davis, D ‘Reflections on Solomon Seal’ from A Welsh Herbal | Facebook







Friday 21 October 2022

Planning for the future

My blog has been quiet for a long time. With everything going on in my life it was hard to find the energy and enthusiasm to create new articles of interest to both me and my readership.

The pandemic affected everyone. Lockdown should have meant less responsibilities, less travelling around the country but it didn’t. We survived 2020 with all our families intact and new friendships forged through building our local community. 2021 was a different matter. We lost seven people dear to us, including my oldest friend, who spent her life fighting for the rights of asylum seekers.

My father-in-law also left us at the age of 94 after a short illness in January 2021. His death meant we had to clear his home in Surrey after a lifetime of living and travelling around the world. We sold the house in October but still have a number of items filling our house and a lock-up waiting for attention.

My father was slowly deteriorating over the two years and needed more care, mostly provided by my sister and myself plus three local carers. Staying at the farm for three days out of every fortnight plus extra visits during hospital appointments or emergencies ate into our time and energies.

My 88-year-old uncle left us in February this year and my father, now 93, followed him in July as the hay was being harvested in the fields around him. The world has changed forever and currently we are stuck in limbo until probate has been completed.

As if that weren’t enough, we also suffered a serious burglary at our house whilst we were away on holiday in Cornwall, four days after my father’s funeral. The added stress has not helped anything.

However, on the bright side, we envisage the Sanctuary staying with us for the foreseeable future. This year’s festival was small but enjoyable and my arm was twisted to begin the apprenticeship again next January. More details can be found on the apprenticeship page of this blog

Herbs have continued to be my lifeline. Without their support and calming effects, I doubt I could manage to achieve everything I do. We take a daily tonic, tweaked to address any current difficulties. Chris has hawthorn, dandelion, nettle root and willowherb/saw palmetto, while mine is vervain, lemon balm, SJW, motherwort, Solomon seal, agrimony, plantain and I’ve just added black cohosh to try and deal with solid hip muscles. Skullcap is my saviour when times are very hard.

Chris managed to fall onto the ball during walking football at the beginning of July resulting in a seriously swollen knee with bruising which reached first the top of his leg and then went down to his ankle. Luckily, nothing was torn or broken.

The swelling dissipated along with the bruising thanks to an arsenal of bruise and anti-inflammatory herbs (initially plantain, yarrow, comfrey, Solomon seal and agrimony, followed by chilli to address the deep internal bruising) delivered in tincture form three times a day and a salve rubbed on when needed. He lost no mobility, for which we were very grateful.

Thanks to help from friends over the summer, we were able to bring the Sanctuary back to life, planting calendula and ashwagandha beds and bringing in new respiratory herbs and nervines.

The autumn has been filled with harvesting and processing. All our apple, pear and quince trees produced bumper crops this year, resulting in many hours spent making jams, jellies, cordials, stewed fruits, puddings and liquors.

Pear cordial

An amount of pears, peeled and sliced

Spices (cinnamon, ginger, 3-6 cloves, star anise)

Zested lemon peel

Place the pears, spices and zest of the lemon in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil with the lid on and simmer until soft. Put all the contents of the pan through a sieve and measure the result. Clean the saucepan and return the seievd remains. For every pint(litre) of “stewed pear”, add 1lb(1kg) of sugar. Add heat and stir gently until the sugar is fully dissolved and the cordial has just come to the boil. Pour into sterilised bottles. Seal, label and date. Keep in the fridge once opened.

This cordial can be used as a hot drink with boiling water. I find all cordials too sweet so like to add the juice of half a lemon to the mixture. It can also be poured over ice cream or other desserts or used as a sweetener for porridge.

The hedgerows have also been offering abundant haws, sloes, conkers and enormous rosehips. The haws are steeping in brandy, sloes I left for the birds this year as my shelves are still full of sloe gin! I still have to make a double infused horse chestnut oil and the rosehips are sitting in the dehydrator waiting to be tested for moisture after several days drying.

Horse chestnut double infused oil

An amount of conkers

Sunflower oil

Double boiler.

Place the conkers inside a robust bag and bash them with a large hammer on a suitable surface until smashed into small pieces. Divide your pieces into two piles. Place the first pile in the top of a double boiler and cover with sunflower oil. Fill the bottom saucepan with hot water and heat on your lowest heat for two hours after bringing the water to a boil. Make sure the saucepan doesn’t boil dry at any time.

After two hours, strain the oil and retain it. Compost the spent conkers. Place the second pile of conker pieces in the top of the double boiler and pour over the single infused oil. Heat for another two hours. Strain the oil into a container and leave it to sit for a while or overnight. Compost the spent conkers. Pour the double infused horse chestnut oil into a sterilised, wide mouthed jam jar, seal, label and date. Keep in a cool, dark place. It should keep for at least two years, if not longer. If you pour it into a bottle it will go off sooner.

Next week will see the root harvest. Solomon seal needs weeding and probably a few roots harvested for tincture and oil. Dandelions are definitely on my agenda as my stock of dried roots has diminished and some tincture is due. I’ll search for burdock but have already made some leaf tincture which should be sufficient this year. The weather has continued mild, so the ashwagandha may be left for another month and the first frost.

Life goes on. I’m still teaching piano to my ten pupils. The oldest have been passed to my daughter for the higher grades and new “tinys” have appeared to fill the gaps, with all the enthusiasm and exuberance five year olds bring to a new adventure!

Novel writing also continues. I’m now working on the third story about children in Roelswick set in 2007.

We continue to travel hopefully and look forward to meeting new herb lovers along the way. 

Tuesday 11 October 2022

More quince recipes

Back in 2008, I wrote about my new quince tree and its first harvest of five large quinces. The tree is now established and after several lean years, it has gone back to its former munificence, providing us with two large pickings of fruit which weigh at least 1lb each. A mature tree can produce nearly one hundred fruit.

It’s hard to know what to make with such quantities, so I have been scouring the modern and ancient recipe books to discover new ways of preserving the delicious flavour.

 (I’m not American, so I don’t finish any of my jams or jellies in a water bath. There’s no need. The sugar acts as a preservative. If you reduce the amount of sugar, then you may need to use a different method to ensure the jelly will keep safely.)

Quince Chips (from the receipt book of Lady Anne Blencowe interpreted by Christina Stapley)


Golden castor sugar

Large ovenproof dish

Pan of boiling water

Place whole quinces into a saucepan, cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Boil for one minute then remove. Peel, core and slice the quinces thinly. Scatter them with golden castor sugar one at a time so they don’t become discoloured as they are exposed to the air. Lay the quince slices onto a large, ovenproof dish, turn them and scatter with sugar again. Place the dish over a pan of boiling water until the sugar has melted. Spoon all the melted sugar and the quince slices into the centre of the dish and heat until the sugar forms thick, white foam. Having made sure the quince slices are covered with syrup, set them one at a time at the edge of the dish to dry a little, before dipping them again. When the slices have taken up all the syrup, remove the dish from the heat and set the quince chips in a warm place to dry before packing in boxes.


Quince jelly



Spices (Ginger, 3-6 cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon) optional

Muslin and either somewhere to hang it from or a large frame

Small, sterilised jam jars and lids

Remove any brown sections from the quinces and chop into small pieces. If you are just making jelly, you don’t need to peel and core the fruit. If you want the flesh to make membrillo, then do this first. Place the chopped fruit in a large stainless steel pan.

Cover the fruit with cold water, bring to the boil and simmer on the lowest heat for up to five hours. Place the muslin over a separate basin or large saucepan, making sure you can retrieve the four corners of the muslin. Lift up the muslin and either attach to a frame or suspend from a hook (I use the handle of the extractor fan above the hob). Tie the ends of the muslin securely and leave to drip overnight.

The next morning, either compost the spent quince flesh or set it aside to make the membrillo.

Measure the amount of liquid and return it to a suitably large saucepan. Add either one pound of sugar per pint of liquid or 1kg of sugar per litre of liquid. Bring to a rolling boil stirring continuously for at least ten minutes then test for a setting point every five minutes. Quince jelly can be cantankerous. Don’t be surprised if it takes at least half an hour to reach a set. Don’t walk away in despair and leave it on a high heat. It will boil over. (Ask me how I know this!) Once a set is reached, pour the jelly into small, sterilised jam jars and seal the lids.

Quince cheese from ‘The Complete Book of Vegetables, Herbs and Fruit’ by Biggs, McVicar and Flowerdew

2lbs quince

2 lbs sugar

1 small unwaxed orange

1 or 2 drops orange flower or rose petal water (optional)

Roughly chop the quinces into pieces. Finely chop the orange and simmer both together with just enough water to cover them until they are a pulp. Strain the pulp and add its own weight in sugar. Bring to the boil and cook gently for approximately 1 ½ hrs. Add the orange or rose water if desired. Then pot into warm, oiled pots, seal and store for three months or more before using. Turn the cheese out of the bowl and slice for serving with cooked meats or savoury dishes.

Two recipes from the New Edition of Mrs Beeton’s Every Day Cookery given to my great-aunt for Christmas in 1931

Quince Blancmange

1lb ripe quinces

6 ozs castor sugar

¾ oz gelatine

¼ pt double cream

1pt water

Peel and core the quinces, simmer them in the water until quite soft and broken but not reduced to a pulp. Strain through a jelly bag. Replace the liquor in the pan, add the sugar and the gelatine previously soaked in a little cold water. Stir and boil gently until the gelatine is dissolved. When cool, add the cream, mix well and turn into a mould, rinsed with cold water. Serves 4-5.

Quince Marmalade

To each lb of quince pulp allow ¾ lb loaf sugar or preserving sugar. If making apple and quince marmalade, use equal parts of quince and apple puree.

Pare the fruit then place in a preserving pan with as much water as will just cover the bottom of the pan and stew gently until reduced to a pulp. Pass through a sieve. Weigh the pulp, put it back into the cleaned pan, add the sugar and cook very gently until the marmalade sets quickly when tested on a cold plate. Place in sterilised jam jars, seal and date.

When I made this, I failed to read the instructions correctly (always a good start!). I simmered the quince for one and a half hours until it was well stewed but didn’t pass it through a sieve. I added a heaped pint measure of quince to the same amount of apple, then brought it to a rolling boil for ten minutes and didn’t turn the heat off during the five minutes it took to cool and set like concrete on a cold saucer. It was beginning to catch on the bottom of the pan but didn’t ruin the marmalade. It tastes great!

Quince Vodka



Spices (optional)


Large clean glass jam jars with lids

Peel and core the quinces and chop or slice into small pieces suitable to fill the jam jar. Pour in some sugar depending how sweet you like your liqueur. Add spices. (I usually just add ginger and a few cloves so the flavour of the quince isn’t hidden.) Add vodka, removing any air bubbles and dissolving the sugar by podging with a chopstick. Seal, label and date. Keep in a cool dark place for three months or longer. This recipe can be made with layers of quince and pear or quince and apple.

Several family members and friends much prefer gin to vodka and several have diabetes so this year I have put up some Quince Gin without any sweetening.

Quince Gin

Peel, core and chop enough quinces to fill a large jam jar. Add chopped root ginger and a star anise plus 3-5 cloves. Fill the jar with gin, stirring well to remove air bubbles. Seal, label and date and leave in a cool, dark place until Christmas. Decant and serve.

Quince Ratafia (recipe provided by Jane Birkett)

1 large quince

1 large jam jar

Brown sugar

1/4tsp each cinnamon, ginger and mace

Vodka or brandy

Wash quince to remove fur. Grate quince without peeling or coring into a jar. Fill one third of the way up the jar with brown sugar. Add spices and spirit. Stir to remove air bubbles and dissolve sugar. Seal, label and date. Leave in a dark place for at least a month. 2-3 months is best.



Saturday 27 November 2021

A week in the life of a Herbwife

Winter stores are hard to quantify. I know in my head what lies on each larder shelf. There are two for oils, one for infused honeys, four for dried herbs, two for vinegars, half a shelf for flower essences, and the rest are tinctures, elixirs and liqueurs. Once upon a time, everything was in alphabetical order but that disappeared when space was at a premium or others helpfully returned jars to gaps rather than their homes. Most bottles and jars are labelled with a date of production but there are still a couple I have yet to either identify or throw out.

Some herbalists were talking recently about using the quiet time of winter to catch up on their herbal inventories. This has been one of my goals for many years but I doubt if it will be crossed off the list any time soon. My larder is full. The only way a new jar finds a place on a shelf is if another is removed. Any new preparation takes twice as long because something else must either be emptied, amalgamated or thrown away.

Saturday and Sunday were spent digging more roots. My long-suffering husband volunteered to do battle with nettle roots, which seemed only right as the prostate support medicine is for him. I attacked the first year angelica plants, removing six and leaving others to grow for another season. Then I tackled Solomon seal, quite a feat when the whole neglected bed is covered with nettles, hogweed and other unmentionables. I unearthed six roots, leaving the rest for another year.

One thing you notice when harvesting roots is the condition of the soil. The angelica was covered in a sticky, wet, dark brown, not surprising when the bed is below the spring line where clay meets limestone. The horseradish was in a completely different medium, the dry, light brown particles falling away from the stones as I dug down beside the wall.

Two hours spent removing four kinds of roots followed by another two on Monday scrubbing horseradish, Solomon seal and angelica before leaving it to air dry overnight.

The plan was to make tinctures with angelica, Solomon seal and nettle and a new batch of fire cider vinegar with the horseradish. I’d forgotten angelica needs overproof rum for its menstruum but luckily two bottles arrived back with the Monday shopping alongside more vodka. Anyone who didn’t know me would think I had a problem…!

Tuesday morning began with decanting two jars of hawthorn berry brandy and last year’s angelica root harvest. One of the  hawthorn jars contained quite a lot of gelatinous precipitate which I wasn’t expecting as the haws had been harvested before any whiff of frost. After discussion, it appears that hawthorn contains more pectin than either apples or lemons. So much so, the scientists are preparing to use it in developing new food preparations and drugs. (Take a look at the article here.)

To alleviate the problem, I washed the haws with extra brandy and added it to the tincture, which seems to have settled into liquid form. Hawthorn jelly is now on my list to make.

Every decanted tincture needs to be tasted. When you first start making medicines, this really helps to identify new tastes but it’s also helpful in deciding whether the season is a good one for that plant. This was my first ever batch of angelica root. It was possibly the worst tincture I’d ever tasted, probably not helped by leaving the roots in alcohol for a year. (We weren’t ill last year so I didn’t need it.) It was bitter, incredibly strong and tasted “black” with no discernible sweetness from the rum and not a great deal of the expected angelica scent. Interestingly, half an hour after swallowing the disgusting liquid, I realised my mouth was no longer burning and I really felt quite well!

A spare half-hour between piano lessons found me desperately scrubbing nettle roots in failing light wishing I could see better! Nevertheless, the amount I laid out to air dry on the kitchen table overnight was just enough to fill two large jars the following morning.

The final preparation from the weekend haul on Wednesday was a nasturtium leaf tincture, from a chance visit to my aunt and uncle the previous Friday. Nasturtiums have been very late growing this year and I only had one plant self-seed, which wasn’t enough to do anything with. Nasturtiums not only provide colour in a garden, peppery leaves for salads and seeds for false capers, they are a powerful anti-viral and have a special affinity for respiratory issues. My aunt had two plants curling their way along her beech hedge. She had no objections to my harvesting the hand-sized leaves which yielded enough to make a small jar of tincture.

Next on the list were ashwagandha roots from the garden. The forecast for the end of the week was very cold with the possibility of snow as well as frosts. Thursday sunshine dried the washing and threats of overnight rain decided me to grab a thick coat and wellingtons as light faded. The ashwagandha plants were happy to be removed. Those planted late into the middle raised bed were already leafless with small roots. They never grow as well in this cooler environment but even an inch of root provides a useful yield from thirty plants.

Most leaves of the plants in the large pots on the patio were still vibrantly green with secondary leaves already growing. Their roots were at least two inches long with a frenzy of rootlets. The cherry shells were nowhere near ripe, so those stems were cut to live in the kitchen window sill until they transform. Friends came to play with the model trains in the loft on Friday and they were more than happy to take part of the root harvest home with them.

A busy week beginning with roots and ending with spices when I prepared two curries from scratch for our Friday night meal. They all provide harvests to sustain us through the winter and hope to see us through the long, cold months ahead.