Friday 31 October 2008

Song for Samhain

Remembering the dead

“They will always be there, it is our sight that grows weaker”

Drummer beat the measure slow
Soft the pipes let horns sound low
Then rise to greet all those who come
Drawn now towards us by the drum.

All around they wait for those
Whose sight has faded with their woe
Who cannot hear the loved one’s call
Who weep for those who went before

We bear their love, their pride, their joy
Upon ourselves until that day
When, as the sparks, we too will rise
To join our loved ones in the skies

Then beat the drum and blow the horn
Remember we are always one
With those before and those to come
A universe of light and love.

SJH 1995

At this time of year, when the earth is preparing for the long sleep of winter, I find it helpful to spend time thinking of endings and beginnings. All change is scary, but it is the one constant factor of our lives. Nothing stays the same, no matter how much we wish it to do so.

So many times I find myself paralyzed considering what may happen or what needs to be done, only bringing myself back to normality by realising I don’t have to worry about that particular event or issue at this moment in time. What is important now is what is happening now or what needs to happen to enable me to do the next small thing which has to be completed in the immediate future.

Herbs are great allies in helping me focus. Not just medicinally when I’m feeling emotionally fragile or stressed, but reading or thinking about them helps to calm me down after dealing with a difficult situation.

Last Tuesday night I decided to pamper myself with a long, hot bath after a draining four hour car journey following a workshop where I’d been on my feet for most of the day. My brain decided to target a particularly frustrating argument I wouldn’t be able to engage in and I found myself becoming increasingly agitated rather than relaxed!

Then, out of the blue, I suddenly realised I did have the ingredients to make a nettle and rose petal cordial I’ve been wanting to try for two years. I was so happy, all the negative emotions completely disappeared and I felt sufficiently content and relaxed to fall asleep once I got into bed.

For the second year running, I have no special celebrations to attend this weekend, but I know many family members will be dropping by. There are two large bags of nettle and horseradish roots waiting to be scrubbed clean and processed along with five huge, yellow quinces – the first harvest from my quince tree.

I wish you all a peaceful and contemplative Celtic New Year as we travel together into another new season.

Wednesday 8 October 2008

Blackberry cordial

Debs asked for a blackberry cordial recipe. Here's what I've come up with.

I’ve been looking at Kings Dispensary on Henriette’s site and come up with this recipe as something fairly easy to make as a blackberry cordial.

1lb blackberries
1oz cinnamon (in sticks or powdered)
1oz cloves (whole or powdered)
1 inch root ginger (grated)
1lb honey/sugar
¼ pt alcohol

Cover blackberries with smallest amount of water. Add prepared spices and simmer for 20 minutes. Mash blackberries, strain and measure liquid (should be around 1pint). Clean saucepan, pour liquid back into saucepan together with 1lb honey or sugar per pint of liquid. Heat gently, stirring until honey is dissolved. Add 1/4pint of alcohol of choice. Pour into hot, sterile bottles, seal. Label and date.

Alternative method
The original King’s recipe called for the spices to be percolated in alcohol separately and blackberry juice to be added to syrup together with purified talcum! It might be fun to try making the syrup a different way.

Prepare separate tinctures of ginger, cloves and cinnamon. (i.e. fill small glass jar with single spice, cover with vodka, remove air bubbles, refill with alcohol, cover with screw top lid, place in dark, cool, cupboard for three weeks shaking occasionally, then strain and bottle, label and date.)
Pick large bowl of blackberries (2-3lbs). Squeeze fruit until 1 pint of juice is obtained.
Prepare 1 pint of syrup by dissolving 1lb sugar or honey in 1 pint water. Cool.
Add syrup to blackberry juice then add 1 fluid oz of each of three spice tinctures. Stir well. Bottle in sterilised containers, label and date.

Dose (1/2 -1 fluid oz)

Wednesday 1 October 2008

Sing the Song of Harvest

A Song for Mabon

Summer glories are past
Autumn fruits here at last
Here's a health to the land and the flocks
As the evenings draw in
Let us gather our kin
Singing praises for harvest and crops
Singing praises for harvest and crops

Now the apples shine bright
And the nuts are all ripe
Here's a health to the trees and the briars
As the light equals dark
Let us all strike a spark
Singing praises for wood, copse and hedge
Singing praises for wood, copse and hedge

Mother Elder stands firm
Berries black on her stems
Here's a health to the herbs and the flowers
As the sun looses heat
So we gather to meet
Singing praises for plants, wild and free
Singing praises for plants, wild and free

Now the leaves are on fire
As we gather in byres
Here's a health for the harvest and crops
As we all eat our fill
Please recall if you will
To sing praises and thanks for the year
To sing praises and thanks for the year

Sarah J Head , September 2004

The theme of this month’s Herbwifery Forum blog party hosted by Darcey on is harvest.

Growing up on a small arable farm in the heart of English countryside, harvest conjures up furiously-busy August days, golden severed stubble, dust laden cereals and barley hales sticking to everything. September and October herald a very different kind of gathering with splashes of colour emblazoning hedgerows.

In past years I gathered bright red haws and black elderberries during the August Bank Holiday and the first weekend in September, but this year, whilst haws were ripe both in field and garden; elderberries were still green and hard. I had to be content with putting up hawthorn brandy and vinegar and trust my parents would find time to gather elderberries for me whilst I was half way across the world enjoying myself.

Ever since I started working with herbs, elderberries have been one of my most important harvests. For two years I spent the first weekend in September at the Bristol Kite Festival. When not watching amazing kite teams like The Decorators with their eight revolution kites, I was sitting by the caravan stripping berries from their stalks and then squeezing juice into a plastic bowl by twisting them around inside a length of old cotton sheet ready to make Non Shaw’s elderberry rob. I always wondered what other festival goers made of my purple stained cloth and fingers!

Elderberries are a wonderful way to introduce people to making their own herbal medicine. At my September workshop last year, a new participant was greeted by having a bowl of elderberries thrust into her arms together with a fork and she spent the next half hour happily stripping berries ready to make Kiva Rose’s elderberry elixir. She was also given a handout with several recipes for different cordials to take home with her.

She emailed me the following week saying she had gone out and picked her own supply of elderberries from trees nearby and made a cordial which she had taken into work to treat her colleagues’ dreadful colds. She said everyone had been very grateful and impressed by how well the elderberry worked to make them feel better.

The elixir prepared in September’s sunshine was distributed to women who came to my first home workshop in November. Everyone loved the taste so much; there were grumbles about the dosage being only one dropperful at a time!

Elderberry Rob 1
from ‘The Countryside Cook Book’ by Gail Duff.
1.8kg (4lbs) elderberries, weighed on stemtwo 5cm (2inch) pieces cinnamon stick1 piece ginger root bruised2 chips nutmeg5ml (1 teaspoon) allspice berries5ml (1teaspoon) cloves275ml (1 ½ pint water)350g (12 oz) honey to each 375-ml (1 pint) liquid150ml (1/4 pint) brandyTake the elderberries from the stalks. Put them into a saucepan with the spices and water. Bring them gently to the boil and simmer them until the pan is full of juice, about 20 minutes. Put a piece of muslin or an old linen tea towel over a large bowl. Pour the elderberries through it. Gather the sides together and squeeze out as much juice as you can. Measure it and return to the cleaned saucepan. Bring the juice to the boil and add the honey. Stir for it to dissolve and then boil the syrup for 10 minutes. Take the pan from the heat and wait until the syrup stops bubbling. Pour in the brandy. Pour the hot cordial into hot sterilised bottles and cork it tightly. Fills about 1 ½ wine bottles.

Elderberry Rob 2
This elderberry rob recipe is from Non Shaw's book, "Herbalism: An Illustrated Guide". Her method is "Take a quantity of elderberries and strip them off their stalks with a fork. Press out the juice using a wine press or jelly bag" I usually put them into a large piece of clean used cotton sheet and twist one end around until you can't squeeze out any more. This is a very tactile experience and you shouldn't use or wear anything you don't mind getting stained purple from the juice! "Add 1tsp allspice and 1/2 tsp ginger (optional) per 2 pints of liquid in a heavy bottomed pan" (preferably stainless steel or glass)"Reduce over a low heat until the juice is the consistency of molasses. Bottle and store in a cool place. Dose: Take 1tsp in a cup of hot water daily." I like this recipe because it doesn't use any sugar or honey and therefore is suitable for people with diabetes either type 1 or 2.

Elderberry Syrup
From Roger Phillips’ Wild Food Simmers the berries for 30 minutes and then add 1lb sugar and 10 cloves to each pint of juice. Boil for 10 minutes and allow to cool. Freeze in small quantites or pack in small, screw-top sterilized bottles.

Elderberry Cordial
Barbara Grigson, in her book "The Greenwitch: A Modern Woman's Herbal" gives a very simple recipe for spiced elderberry cordial which I like. "Wash and destalk the berries. Put 2lbs of them in a pan with a cupful of water and simmer until they have given up most of their juice. Crush and strain the berries through a seive. Put the juice back in a saucepan with five cloves, an inch or so of fresh root ginger, grated and 1/2 lb of sugar. Simmer for another hour and then store in tightly sealed jars."I strain my cordial before bottling. I either add it to a "cold tea" or my cough syrup or have it by itself if I remember!

Last year I made jars and jars of elderberry tincture and cordial which are still waiting to be used in the larder. For some reason we weren’t afflicted with the usual winter diseases! I know I have two boxes of elderberries waiting for me in my parents’ freezer so I shall be trying Kiva Rose’s new recipe for elderberry elixir at the workshop in November or before.

My other hopes for late harvest include blackberry syrup and nettle root tincture. All I need now is the time to forage amongst the hedgerows and dig deep into the earth, ever grateful for her miraculous bounty.