Monday 29 March 2010

Celebrating a Herbal Springtime

This post is part of the Herbwifery Forum April blog party hosted by Cory Su on her blog Aquarian Bath

Spring evaded us for longer this year. Now the waiting is over as suddenly my garden is swathed in yellow. Forsythia blossoms hang from the naked cherry tree like a sunshine waterfall. Daffodils, primroses and cowslips offer yellow beacons amidst the dark brown earth, while a solitary primula promises red flowers in the near future.

Gooseberry and blackcurrant bushes have already unfurled their vibrant green leaves. Red currants and raspberry canes will not be far behind. I can see leaf buds swelling on the hawthorn hedge like a grey/green mist as I check the new plum trees for signs of contentment with their new home.

Spring brings bursts of new energy. Friday night saw me collecting nettles, garlic mustard, spinach and sorrel from the garden for my workshop soup. Already their different shades of green are painting a new palate together with the stalwarts of winter – holly, ivy, laurel, rosemary and yew.

Early fronds of St John’s wort have been growing for several months now, their lemony tang a burst of flavour on my tongue. Sea holly shoots are blue/green compared with their shiny green golden rod neighbours. A touch of red nearby reveals new rhubarb stalks, their green curled leaves waiting to explode against the hedge.

In the shade of the laurel hedge, violet flowers offer a swathe of colour amidst the green. Early rosettes of other herbs are beginning to make their mark – lemon balm, mint, vervain, valerian, while yarrow fronds wave at me as I step outside the back door. Their roots run deep beneath the paving slabs, but they grow straight and tall if left alone.

Underneath the bench a tiny elder tree hides, grown from an escaped berry two or three years ago. It cannot stay where it is, but neither can I move it without re-arranging the terrace. It may be safe for one more year, but then, who knows!

Spring can also bring sacrifices. This year it was angelica. Last year it grew happily behind the Mexican orange bush, but that has gone to make way for summer vegetables. If the angelica stayed, it would shade smaller plants and make the bed more difficult to manage.

It was a sturdy plant, defying the frosts and snow of winter, returning to full strength as temperatures rose and daylight lengthened. We tasted her leaves, bathing ourselves in her fragrance. She was photographed before being dug, then carefully washed and taken indoors to be swathed in honey and vinegar; her essence transferring to different mediums to nourish others.

Over the weekend, a single buff-tailed bumblebee buzzed her way around the garden. I watched her resting on the white patio door while I washed newly dug dandelions on the patio table, noting their difference from Cotswold cousins. The leaves were immersed in vinegar. Half the roots were chopped and roasted in the oven before joining their fresh counterparts, together with grated ginger root, dried orange peel and a pinch of ground black cardamom to be covered with vodka for a bitter tonic.

These are my first medicines of spring. Tonight they will be shared with another group, opening their hearts and minds to the endless possibilities of nature – food and medicines close at hand in their own gardens.


Rick and Robin said...

You have a lot happening! Want to know more. Thanks for sharing.

Oya's Daughter said...

What a lovely blog - I studied herbwork in the US but now I'm here and I find I almost have to learn all over again, as the usual plants I've worked with aren't used here - it's sort of exciting to be back at square one, but daunting as well!

Sarah Head said...

Thanks for your comments, Rick& Robin and Hathor's Bath. Any questions or any way I can help in any way, let me know. I've got lots of spare goats rue and motherwort if anyone wants them and can collect.

Amber Pixie Shehan said...

Absolutely gorgeous...the imagery is lovely and potent. I can't wait until I know what is in my yard, but it will take time and energy and encouragement to offer forth such a yield as you describe.

There's no violets here, or chickweed, and I feel a little lost. But I've been exploring what is here instead; dandelion wine is working, bittercress and sorrel in my salads.

I wish I were near enough to take you up on goats rue and motherwort cuttings.

Enjoy and be well! :)

Harriet said...

Your spring sounds wonderful and reminds me of the large garden I used to have in southern New Zealand. I now live in Perth and we are preparing to recover from a hot summer where more than half my garden herbs bolted to seed and died, or just died in the weeks of 30 - 42 degree days (85 - 107 in fahrenheit terms).