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.