Saturday, 19 March 2011

Inspired by herbs

This post is part of the UK Herbarium blog party entitled "Herbal creativity" hosted by Lucinda at Whispering Earth

Creativity” is one of those words you think you know, but when confronted, as in this month’s blog party, you’re not exactly sure what it means. I looked it up. The dictionary said to be creative is to “make something new which is of value”.

The latter part of the definition is the one I struggle with most. How can you tell if something is valuable or not? To whom do you listen? Individual tastes are so different, what is fashionable and valuable can change almost as quickly as the moon and the tides.

To be creative usually means working with your hands, mind or senses, visualising a concept and then bringing it to life. It can be anything you choose. When you consider herbal creativity, some people might think only of items made from herbs themselves. This could be food, drink, medicines, dyes, clothing, implements or weapons. I’m going to talk about crafts inspired by herbs, where I have used my skills to share something about the herbs I love.

I write stories. All my stories contain herbs in one form or other. Here is an excerpt from “The Bear and the Ivy Lady” published by Loveyoudivine in 2009.

Poetry has always been part of my life. I began writing my own when I was fourteen as a way of making sense of issues which troubled me. I didn’t really start sharing them until I was in my late twenties. Indeed, my mother in law, after reading poems describing two exceptionally difficult events at work, told me I should never show my poems to anyone because they wouldn’t like them!

Luckily, I had the confidence not to take her advice and my first book of poetry was published in 2008, with the audiobook coming out last year. This was a review I received which warmed the cockles of my heart!

From Cherokee for Coffee Time Romance Reviews
Sarah J. Head does an incredible job of painting a picture with every poem she sketches inside At Home and Away. The descriptions are so clear-cut that I could picture and imagine not only the sights and sounds, but the smell and taste, even to the cherries. I found it like walking into a magical garden that opens up for the reader to enjoy all the sights and sounds, allowing a tranquil peace of mind. The assortment blankets the reader in warm thoughts while leaving a joyful sensation inside the heart.

The poems are split between by my gardens and Cornwall. Here is a spring poem

Spring Colours
I came searching for yellow
You showed me daffodils wafting in soft spring breeze
Primroses dancing by the well
A single celandine nestling in grass
It’s star of sunlight pulsing gold amidst green.
Catkins blowing from treetop height over the pond
Their pollen shed, no longer yellow but brown.

I came searching for white
You showed me dazzling bells of snowdrops edged in green
Furred backs of small burdock leaves
Twin plants hiding at the willow’s foot.

I came searching for red
You showed me thin slivers of marshmallow overshadowed by aquilegia
Bright spears of Echinacea pushing upwards towards the sun
Each new shoot the colour of blood, of life.

I came searching for green
You showed me grass, long and damp
Vibrant woad shining proudly above brown soil
Curled cuckoo pint thrusting their way through every surface
Their heart-shaped leaves unfolding with new promise.
Tiny elder leaves bursting from each twig,
Narrow edges thrusting their way into the light
Young nettles, their velvet crimps so enticing
Stinging unwary fingers
Yielding their green to a boiling brew
A toast to freshness, Springtime, new strength!

Poems can be visual, thoughtful or descriptive. Their rhythm can also be used for incantation. Here’s one I wrote several years ago which accompanied tinctures sent to a friend to support them during an especially difficult time.

Distant healing
By the power of the sun I send thee strength
By the power of earth I ground thee
By the power of the moon I send thee peace
By the power of air I send thee love

By the power of oak I send the fortitude
By the power of rowan I protect thee
By the power of elder to watch over thee
By the power of hawthorn I give thee heart

With my hands I picked the herbs
With my hands I steeped them
With my hands I strained the marc
With my hands I poured it

Through my hands flow healing
Through my heart flows love
Through my head I send thee wisdom
Through my mouth I speak the words
To make it so!
Be well, be safe, be at peace!
So mote it be.

The rhythm of words flows naturally into music. All my family are musicians, from my maternal grandmother and her sisters who played their local church organs across three counties, my great-grandfather who took his piano on a wheelbarrow through the streets of Willenhall in the Black Country to earn a few extra pennies during the Great Depression and my Great Aunt who sang professionally in Birmingham and Stratford on Avon at the turn of the 20th century. My sister and I both teach piano. All my children learned instruments, two are singer/songwriters and my daughter is now starting out on a professional music career.

Where do herbs come into all this? I thought you might like to share two herbal songs created in 2010 which were sung at the herb festival held at Springfield Sanctuary last September. The first is a tongue in cheek blues number put together by Stephen and Kathryn in half an hour called “The Summerhouse Blues” and the second is mine, “An Acre of Land”.

If you think of herb songs, everyone’s favourite would probably be “Scarborough Faire” because of the line, “Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme”. This ancient song was originally taken from Child’s “The Elfin Lord”, collected in the sixteenth century when an Elf Lord wanted to marry a young woman, who wasn’t keen, so she set him a series of impossible tasks.

One of those tasks was to “Find me an acre of land between the sea and the shore.” This sentence spawned another folk song called “An Acre of Land”, which I first heard sung at the Cheltenham Folk Festival several years ago. It is another “magical song” which talks about sowing with a thimble, harrowing with a bramble bush and reaping with a penknife.

As my father has indeed given me an acre of land, I wanted to write a song of my own and this was the result. There are lots of herbal references and the tune was inspired by “A frog he would a wooing go” – a nursery rhyme I sang as a child. It is nowhere near as professionally crafted as my children’s, but it was fun and everyone joined in the singing.

What other crafts do herbs inspire? Embroidery is one. I have a herbal tarot set made by Michael Tierra and Candis Cantin. I love them and two years ago I made a bag to keep both the cards and book together while we were on holiday in Cornwall.. One side is a wheat corn dolly and the other, a set of fir trees we could see from the caravan window.

I have another embroidery project inspired by herbs. When Anne McIntyre asked me to speak at this year’s Herbfest in July, I wanted to wear something which would signify a kitchen herbwife. My original thought was a cloak, but I have settled on a summer cotton stole decorated with herbs. It will probably take me several years to make and wont’ be ready for my talk, but this article pushed me to buy material and get at least one herb stencil drawn. Which herb? My ally, viola odorata.

Everyone has skills of some description and herbs have inspired cooks, artists, poets and musicians since time began. No matter how large or small, every act of creativity is valuable because of the delight brought by their creation.


Pattypan said...

What a lovely post Sarah - I learn so much by reading your blog. Thank you for sharing.

There is a group called Omnia who have a song, the Elven Lord (Which we know as Scarborough Fair) so I was interested to see your note in relation to this as where the song stemmed from. Thank you.



Jenny said...

Thank you for this post - I didn't know of the Elven Lord and this history of Scarborough Fayre.

And, I didn't know you'd published poetry!

Alettesiriane said...

Thankyou for your blog ! I read your healing words on distant healing.My hands became electric and I sent all I could to more distant places .Thankyou

Sandies' Patch said...

Thank you for a thought provoking post.
I like the Distant Healing words, it has everything you need in it.
Thank you once again,

Sandie xx

Sarah Head said...

Patty, I've listened to some of Omnia's tracks - they're good. What's fascinating is that Paul Simon took his version for Sounds of Silence from Martin Carthy in the 1960s. Martin is one of the elders of British folk music. He married Norma Waterson, who also comes from a long line of family singers & their daughter is Eliza Carthy who sings with them in Blue Muder and Waterson Carthy and has her own group, Eliza Carthy and the Ratcatchers. John Spiers used to play with the ratcatchers (we saw him and Eliza do some demon fiddling during his last gig with them at Bromyard folk festival a few years back) and now fronts Bellowhead, an award winning folk band in which our friend, Sam Sweeney, plays fiddle and bagpipes.

Sarah Head said...

Jenny, I've got some copies of the poetry book if you'd like a signed one!

Alette and Sandi, I don't write incantations very often, but they always feel powerful when I do - glad they touched you both in a positive way.

Jenny said...

I'd love one! What can I give you in return?

karisma said...

Oh I love those healing words. And I enjoyed the song too. I have to admit to writing poems a bit myself and songs often pop into my head. Poetry seems to sing a song of healing on its own.

Hugs and blessings xoxox

Lucinda said...

Hi Sarah,
What beautiful poems! I love the one about the colours of nature, its so evocative. The distant healing poem shall be copied and and put into my book of special things.
I also had no idea you had written a book and must, of course, purchase one! I will email you my address and if you could let me know how much the book is plus postage I'll send you a cheque if that suits.
And I can't wait to see your violet scarf! What a beautiful idea, I'm sure it will look wonderful.
Off now to read the excerpt from your story.
Thanks for such an inspired post. x

Herbaholic said...

I love the 'Spring Colours' poem Sarah, I read it and remembered that first Spring day I came to visit you at the Sanctuary, the warm summer sunshine and the smell of mother earth and lots of herbal love!

Just like to add that I'm the proud owner of one of the handmade herb aprons in Sarah's photos, twas my Yule gift which has brought much joy and makes me feel like a green herbwife whenever I wear it :) Will email you soon flower...

Much love and many herby hugs - D xxx

Anonymous said...

Hi Sarah,
I am sitting here feeling absolutely bewitched after reading your poetry and hearing your angelic voice! I just finished the excerpt from your book as well and am on the edge of my seat wanting to know what will happen next with Clara and the mysterious Artur!

You have a truly beautiful way with words! I think that story telling and poetry are also medicinal and healing in their own right, especially when woven in with the plants! I am so inspired by your idea of including a healing poem with your tincture. So lovely!

Thank you for sharing a taste of your talents, I have so much enjoyed and been blessed by it! I loved your last line so much - every creative act is valuable because of the delight brought by the creation - that I have written it out and taped it on my wall :)


Sarah Head said...

Danielle, thank you so much for your kind comments! If you want to know what happens with Clara and Artur, you can buy the ebook for $2 at You may be surprised by what happens next!

TitusL said...

Great Post.
I thought you might enjoy machinima film about the folk song Scarborough Fair
along with my speculative conjecture that this may have arisen from Spencer's poem The Faerie Queene
Best Wishes.