Sunday 2 January 2011

Clearing the decks

Now the madness of the holiday season is over, it’s a great joy to have a few quiet days on our own before work begins again. May I take this opportunity to wish all my readers a wonderful, herb-filled year!

As much as I love spending time with relatives, the stress of travelling half way across the country during bitter winter weather is very wearing and I’ve been grateful to have these days when we can relax and decide our own activities.
Chris is out with Sky Symphony today, flying kites over Bosworth Battlefield and planning their new routines for this year’s shows. It seemed an ideal time to finally clear my shelves of the remaining jars which still need decanting from last year’s harvest.

The elderberry elixirs I have left in the larder since Kiva Rose suggested she leaves hers intact until use and it’s so much less hassle that way. If I have given the elixir to others outside the family, then it is decanted into recycled bottles or dropper bottles. This year I even sent a sample up to Glasgow in an empty vanilla essence bottle as a surprise Christmas present for a friend. He was suitably impressed by the flavour!

I had not anticipated the variety of medicines I would be decanting. There were two elixirs – dog rose and red clover flowers – both collected from the farm and each surprisingly unique. I love the rose petal. It is not as strong as the red rose petal, but still sweet and enjoyable. The clover is not as sweet and has an almost bitter afternote as if to say, “I am different, notice me.”

I was really pleased with the litre of nettle root tincture which means there is plenty for Chris’ tonic for the rest of this year. It prompted me to make up his daily medicine. He gets a small dose of nettle root, saw palmetto and hawthorn most mornings, while mine is more a blood pressure and nervine mix. We finished the last batch at least a month ago and I’ve not made time to put the new ones together until today.

I love the smell of crampbark tincture and the two year old jar of rue I found hiding at the back of the shelf made me feel very reverential as I handled it. It was so much easier straining the marc through my new large seven inch sieve (a much valued Christmas gift!). This time I used muslin as an additional straining agent, bringing back strong childhood memories of washing the milking bucket, sieve and muslin after pasteurising each day’s milk from our housecow.

In October, I put up three jars of horsechestnut tincture after liquidising conkers with vodka. I don’t think I shall be using James Wong’s method again. I don’t think I squeezed any tincture at all from the largest jar, making the whole process a waste of time and effort. Next year, if I need any more tincture, I will collect the conkers in early August and slice them as before.

There were four vinegars sitting in the hot cupboard, each a wonderful reminder of summer’s final bounty. The colours of vinegars can be so much sharper than tinctures or elixirs. Sage is a glorious pink if the leaves are from my garden or crimson if gathered from my aunt’s plants in Condicote. The fresh motherwort was an earthy brown – probably from being left too long macerating – and both the dandelion leaf and mint were a clear green-tinged gold. The smell of the mint was a true delight!

Medicine making never truly stops during the winter. I still have two jars of fire cider vinegar infusing in the hot cupboard. They were made during the week before Christmas with the last of the fresh horseradish root my son dug for me in October. Chris had been taking last year’s concoction for his cold and I fell into one of my panics about not having enough. Being able to put up more of something makes me feel so much better! Just in case!

I’m looking forward to putting up some Seville orange bitter at the end of the month if I can source some more oranges from the market. They are such an invigorating start to a herbal new year!


Rowan said...

Happy New Year Sarah! I have my lovely Springfield Sanctuary calendar up now and am hoping it will spur me on to making more use of herbs this year.

Sarah Head said...

Good luck with all your endeavours, Rowan. Let us know how you get on. Hope to see you again during the coming year!

FlowerLady Lorraine said...

What an inspiration you are.

Have a wonderful 2011.


Sarah Head said...

Thanks, Flowerlady, I hope you do too.

Jenny said...

Happy New Year, I hope that you had a wonderful Yuletide Break and that 2011 is all you deserve. I wish that I had the skill, and made the time, for such herbal activities. Lovely names of plants alone attract me!