Monday, 21 April 2008

Being passionate in public

I was going to write about actually spending a week without doing anything herbal, but I realised that wasn't the case - it was just my memory failing me!

I had two evenings to myself last week while Chris went down to the farm to do more work on our ancient caravan. It's a 1957 Paladin Buccaneer which his parents bought from new. They towed it all round Scotland and half of Europe. We took it over in 1987 with the proviso there might be "a little bit of damp rot in the one corner". When Chris and my father started taking it apart, the whole framework crumbled to dust and had to be completely rebuilt. Inside we also put a large fridge, eye-level (if you're very small) grill and a three burner hob which has enabled to me to provide several 3-course meals for 11 people. It's the only one of its kind still on the road.

Two years after rebuilding, we then had one of the wheels sheer off on the motorway, so that was another building project, with a new shassy and floor, but still our wonderful caravan. It has returned to Scotland, when 6 of us slept inside during one night at Loch Lomand (Kathryn was in her carrycot on the sink!) and spent twenty years trundling down to Cornwall and various other amazing places. The kids soon graduated to beds in the awning and then tents of their own, but now we have it all to ourselves which enables us to keep the double bed set up and still have a table to sit at and admire the view.

Two years ago the skylight started to leak into the sink and we noticed that when there was torrential rain there would be a slight damp patch on our jumpers in the top of the wardrobee. Chris decided this winter would be a restorative one, so once again the roof has been removed, new insulation laid and everything re-sealed within an inch of it's life! He's now at the rubbing down stage prior to starting painting this week, so it will be ready to take to Exmouth at the end of May.

So, while he was busy re-sealing the caravan roof in the Cotswolds, I took advantage of his absence to make another mess on the kitchen table. On Wednsday night, there was very little debris as I merely heated up the dandelion flower and leaf oil I'd made on Sunday with beeswax to make a wonderful yellow salve. It even smells faintly of dandelion flowers!

On Thursday night, after teaching my piano pupils, it was nettle tincture and the nettle/apricot/orange peel iron tonic I was decanting. The tincture was poured into an old malt whiskey bottle with a label to discourage people from thinking there might still be something aromatic inside! The iron tonic was a beautiful red colour from the mixture of red wine and madiera. (I can never write or say madiera without thinking of Michael Flander's wonderful inebriated rake in the song "Have some madiera, m'dear!". I knew the song before the wine!) The tonic dregs tasted good and so did the infused apricot pieces.

I made the iron tonic for my niece, Jennifer, who suffered really badly with anaemia last year. I was expecting to be able to give it to her during the family party in Surrey to celebrate her mother's 50th birthday, but she was busy playing corfball in Cardiff and didn't attend, so I don't know when she'll get it. Her grandmother also muttered darkly that her anaemia was "not the usual kind", so I don't know if it will be useful or not. The family all treat my herbal exploits with grave suspicion, so I doubt it will be viewed with any degree of seriousness, which is a shame, because it's Christopher Hedley's recipe so I know it would be efficacious.

During the party, I happened to mention something about nettle soup, which drew the attention of a group of my sister-iin-law's friends, who asked what it tasted like. I made my usual suggestions (i.e. it depends what other vegetables and herbs you cook it with) and then began to tell them all about nettles and how the different parts can be used for different things in different forms. One of them commented on my passion for my subject and I realised it was true. I only have to be given the opportunity to wax lyrical about herbs and I can bore people for hours!

One of the friends asked for suggestions for irritable bowel, so I mentioned marshmallow and slippery elm. None of them had heard of the latter and thought I was talking about a new breed of owl! Interestingly, when I got home, Henriette's email list was discussing management of this painful and debilitating condition and there were many really useful suggestions. I may put it all together and send it to him.

One woman found that a few drops of her bramble root vinegar really dealt with the pain she was suffering from. My first batch of this vinegar is now awaiting straining, which may actually happen this weekend as Sunday is amazingly free of commitments! I'm really looking forward to seeing if it can help my difficult times when my stomach decides it doesn't love me any more!

I do hope the warmer weather arrives soon. I did go out on Thursday evening when I got home from work to look at the new herbs I planted last Sunday evening, but they showed little change and I could only see one of the two black cohosh - which was a little worrying! I am determined not to put slug pellets down this year as the frogs are already in the garden and I don't want to risk hurting them. I shall be very upset if the slugs eat everything!

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