Tuesday 7 April 2009

More weeds and a spring cold

I’ve been intending to post a new blog article for the past week or so, but events always conspire against me. At first I was shattered from travelling all over the country for work, then we spent almost two weekends at the farm digging and introducing new people to the delights of nettles and bramble root vinegar in the freezing cold. (You can read all about it and see pictures on the Springfield Sanctuary Diary page.)

Last weekend we dug more of our garden and Chris mowed the lawn for the first time, then Sunday we went to Calke Abbey where Sky Symphony put on two six-kite displays as part of the Midland Kite Flyers public fly-in.

Today I succumbed to the cold which has been threatening for the past four days, so I thought I would share some simple cold remedies which help me.

You would think that eating as many nettles as I have over the past few weeks, I’d be able to laugh in the face of normal viruses, but no such luck. Lack of sleep and the exposure to a myriad of bugs thanks to our air-conditioned office has finally worn down my resistance.

Saturday was a total nettle day. I guess I should mention garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) as well. This was a totally new plant to me when I first moved to Solihull as we don’t have any growing wild on the farm. I would go through phases of digging it up or ignoring up until Debs made me eat a leaf last year when she came to visit and we wandered around the garden just before she left. Since then I’ve been thinking I really should do something with it.

Inspiration came last Friday, when I read Loba’s post on the Anima Centre blog about nettle yoghurt dip. It seemed to tie in beautifully with making a nettle pesto – something else I’ve been wanting to make for a while. I searched the net for suitable recipes and gathered together quite a variety, including one made from brown bread. (I’ve not tried that one yet!)

Saturday morning was spent at a public healing session, so I wasn’t able to get outside until 12.15pm. After mulching the nineteen strawberry plants we now have growing from the ten plants I bought from the garden centre last year, I decided it was time to pick nettles. Despite further digging in the bean patch by Chris, there were still plenty of young nettle tops to harvest from the bottom garden bed, even though I’ve already picked them hard for a previous soup. My basket was soon full.

It must have taken over an hour and a half to make all the nettle items. Poor Chris kept asking when lunch would be ready, but he had to wait!

Nettle pesto
1 large garlic mustard plant (about 2 large handful of leaves, discard the thickest stems)
2 large handfuls of nettle tops (use gloves)
2oz almond pieces (I didn’t have any pine nuts)
4oz grated parmesan
4 fl oz extra virgin olive oil
Blanch the nettles and garlic mustard leaves in boiling water then strain into a colander and run cold water over it. Place the blanched nettles and garlic mustard in a liquidiser with the grated parmesan and sliced almonds. Add enough olive oil to enable the liquidiser to work. When everything is a paste, drizzle in the rest of the olive oil and spoon into clean glass jars and store in the fridge.

I was amazed how easy it was to make and the bright green colour was stunning. It tasted wonderful on home made granary bread – something I’d not thought of doing with pesto until I saw other people’s blogs.

Loba’s nettle yoghurt dip
2 handfuls of nettle tops
2 heaped tblsps natural yoghurt
1 tblsp chopped chives
6 sprigs applemint from the garden.
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Cook the nettle tops until soft (I cooked them in the water strained from the blanched nettles for the pesto, then used this water for the nettle soup I made next.) Liquidise the nettles. I used some of the strained cooking water to ensure a smooth paste, but next time I’ll just put the yoghurt into the liquidiser instead. Chop up the chives with a pair of scissors and the mint in a coffee grinder. Mix everything together and use as a dipping sauce for bread, vegetables etc. It has a wonderfully fresh flavour and is very moreish!

Then I made a nettle soup with onion, marjoram, sweet potatoes, potatoes, carrots and parsnip. We took it with us to the fly-in the following day to eat with ham and sorrel sandwiches.

Cold remedies
As soon as I feel a cold coming on, I reach for the elderberry. Usually it is Kiva Rose’s elderberry elixir, but this time it was the elderberry tincture.

Elderberry Elixir (based on Kiva Rose’s recipe)
2 Pint Jar
1/2 ounce of dried Elderberries (2oz fresh approx to fill half the jar)
1 cinnamon stick,
1oz root ginger peeled, sliced and chopped
Large handful or fresh or dried rosehips
Chopped peel of half a large orange
appr. 1 pint Brandy
½-1lb Honey
Place the herbs in the jar, cover with honey and mix well. Add brandy until the jar is full and mix well again. Leave to macerate for 4-6 weeks.

The nice thing about elderberry elixir is you can take a dropperful every half hour and it tastes wonderful!

Elderberry Tincture
Pick elderberries in autumn and remove from their stalks with a fork. You can freeze them in plastic boxes and they will keep until you need them. Fill a screw-top glass jar of any size with fresh or frozen elderberries. Pour vodka over the berries until the jar is full and “podge” it with a chopstick to get all the air bubbles out, top up the vodka again and screw the lid on firmly.

Leave the jar to stand in a cool, dark place for at least three weeks. Shake the bottle every day. When you decide that it has had long enough, decant the tincture through a plastic sieve into a jug and then pour the liquid into a glass bottle. Squash the elderberries with a potato masher to remove as much of the juice as you can and add this to the tincture. Make sure the bottle top fits securely.

Date and label the bottle so that you know what it is and who made it and when it was made. Tinctures should keep for at least 2 years in a cool dark place, as long as you don't leave the top off and let all the alcohol evaporate.

My throat usually gets treated with cider vinegar and honey, but with all the myriad of cider vinegars in the larder, I can actually choose which herbs to take.

At work I have a combination of sage, motherwort and nettle vinegars, which is really for warding off chest infections from the air vents and mineral content. At home, I’ve been using the fire cider vinegar I made last October and some horseradish honey.

Horseradish Honey
Grate up two roots of horseradish and add to 3/4lb runny honey. Place in glass jar with screw top lid and leave to infuse for several weeks.
Another wonderful liquid to make with horseradish is Fire Cider Vinegar. Apparently the recipe came originally from American Herbalist, Rosemary Gladstar. I first saw it in Lesley Tierra's book, “ Herbs for Children” as a recipe for young herb lovers to make. This is my version:

Fire Cider Vinegar
Equal portions of horseradish and ginger root – grate or whizz in a coffee grinder. (It is your choice whether you peel the roots or not. I didn't)
1 head of garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 good handful of rosehips (fresh or dried)
6 cloves
2 tsps paprika
2tsps turmeric
2 tsps cayenne pepper
(If you have access to fresh chilli peppers, you can add these as well, leaving the seeds in to give extra “fire”!)
Mix all dry ingredients together in a large glass jar so it is filled about half full, then add cider vinegar stirring well to remove air bubbles until the jar is full. Place cling film over the top of the jar before sealing with screw top lid. Label and date. Place jar in warm, dark place for 6-8 weeks. Strain and use.

Fire cider vinegar can be drunk with honey and boiling water (about 2tsps of each to a mug of boiling water) or on its own in a little water. It can also be used in salad dressings. Like elderberry elixir, the advice is to take this potion at the first sign of any viral infection.

My friend Margaret was talking about her recent cold at the public healing session on Saturday morning. She’d attended the vinegar workshop last November and made her own fire cider to take home with her. She said she started “swigging it down” the minute she knew she was getting the cold and offered it to her husband who refused to even taste it. Needless to say her subsequent cold and cough were only half as bad as his!

If my cough gets too bad, I shall resort to some sage, thyme, lemon and honey with ginger. If I’m out of fresh root ginger, I still have a whole load of ginger tincture we made at the January workshop.

Ginger and Lemon Tea
Grate or finely chop 1inch root ginger without peeling. Place in a cafatiere or teapot and fill with just boiling water. Infuse for ten minutes. Squeeze the juice from half a lemon and place in a cup or mug. Pour the strained ginger tea over the lemon juice and add honey to taste. For an anti-viral chesty tea, add 1tsp dried thyme and 1tsp dried sage to the grated ginger root. Infuse together and pour over lemon juice and honey.

After using all these remedies, I shall have to see how long my cold lasts!