Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Herbwifery - a continuing journey

I don't know what it was I ate yesterday (although I have my suspicions!) but a chronic stomach ache during the evening followed by a sleepless night made me decide I was in need of rest and recuperation. So today has been spent pottering, gazing out of the window amazed at the further blanket of snow on the garden and lying on the sofa watching mindless TV.

While Chris and I were having lunch (homemade hearty vegetable soup and a sandwich)there was an advert on TV extolling the virtues of various bits of furniture.

"Ah," said Chris, "any furniture we buy has to withstand the effects of herbs!"

It made me chuckle at the time, but it's very true.

Any extra scrap of time I have is spent pottering with herbs. At the moment, I'm concentrating on digestive bitters. Last Saturday we made a digestive elixir with ground fennel seeds, grated ginger and diced orange peel. It smelled and tasted wonderful and I look forward to the time when it's fully matured.

I've been anxious to try Julie Brueton-Seal's recipe for Seville orange bitter ever since I read her article on the Herb Society website. I know the season for Seville oranges is short and it's this month, so last week I tottered through the ice and snow down to Birmingham market and asked hopefully at the fruit stalls if they had any.

"You're too early," they told me. "Come back next Tuesday."

Yesterday, conditions underfoot were a little better, but the wind was unforgiving. When I reached the stalls, the first trader looked at me with disbelief, "Nothing like that here," he said, "people don't want them any more!"

I wondered if they'd been having me on the previous week, but tried my luck a little further down. Hidden at the back of a stall was a box of Seville oranges. I bought 6 oranges and 6 lemons for the grand total of £2.40, thinking to myself, "You have no idea what I'm intending to make" as I handed over my money.

I thought my bitter foray would have to wait until Saturday afternoon, but this morning found me in a deserted kitchen (Chris had gone to hire an RAF pilot's uniform for a fancy dress evening on Thursday) armed with my camara taking artful snaps of various citrus fruits.

One of the things I love about herbal medicine is that once you understand the principles of a recipe, you can substitute whatever you fancy to give a similar effect.

I found this quote on Henriette's website from Chris Hedley, "Bitter tonics in one form or another will be benificial to most people. The only common proviso is to add a little spice, for warmth, for cold people and conditions."

So, while Juliette adds fennel and cardamoms for her warming spices, I added some chopped ginger to one of mine. You can see the outcome on the heading picture of the blog. I thought the juxtaposition of the snow and the new tincture said everything. Just because the weather is challenging doesn't mean you can't make something seasonal and fresh!


Comfrey Cottages said...

i love that picture sarah:) i agree, it so satisfying to have the weather outside be blustery, and cold and be able to putter in the kitchen with herbs and perform alchemy:) so happy for you that your quest for the seville oranges turned out well. i would so love to have access to your herb societies recipes and articles, but must save a bit to be able to join:)
bitters are something that i believe is lacking sorely in the normal american's diet. we are a nation addicted to sweets and salty and our general populations health issues reflect that! i really look forward to your groups various posts about bitters:)
i loved the fact you pointed out about once one understands the principles of a herbal recipe, that substitutions of a similarly
propertied herb is acceptable.
herbal and honey hugs being sent your way
thank you for sharing:)

Sarah Head said...

Thought you would like to know that when Henriette Kress gave her keynote address to the National Institute of Medical Herbalists last October, the theme of her talk was substitutions. "If you haven't got x, but you've got y, use that instead or use any of x's family, they all work the same." It makes such sense and also gives you permission to use what you have in your cupboard or what's available locally. It makes me very cross when I read in herbal text books or notes prepared specially for herbal students that "if you have condition a) you can only use herb q," or, worse still, "you can only use this certain part of herb q)". Ok, so you might need a bit more of the aerial parts rather than the root, but you don't have to feel you can't use the aerial parts at all! It's all about knowing your plants and how they work, rather than learning formulas by rote! (Excuse my rant!)

Comfrey Cottages said...

that is so cool henrietta her address on that subject sarah! oh and rant away dear. i will be on the same soapbox:)

Debs said...

Inspirational as always darling and I loooooove the photo. A week of snow all over my herbs and did I take the camera outside... Duh!
The 'Opal fruits' tincture I made was devoured at Xmas by a friend thinking it was a liqueur, I was rather 'bitter' about her guzzling the whole thing off the shelf lol!

She came in the front room with this amber nectar in a glass she'd drowned in lemonade and then had the cheek to tell me their was no strawberries in it, so it wasn't proper opal fruits grrrrrrrrrrr! She polished the lot off during her visit, oh well I'll just have to make somemore :)