Monday 21 November 2011

Last chance to apply for a Springfield Sanctuary Apprenticeship 2012

The opportunity to apply to become a 2012 Springfield Sanctuary Apprentice will close on Wednesday, 14 December 2011.

The twelve month herbal apprenticeship starts in January 2012. You are offered the opportunity to learn more about growing, harvesting and working with herbs to improve personal and family health and wellbeing.

Outcomes: Year 1

By the end of 2011, the apprentice will have:

*improved knowledge and understanding of twenty personally chosen herbs.
*grown herbs from seeds, cuttings or divisions and taken note of their development using drawings or photography.
*shared in practical tasks to manage the Sanctuary herb beds.
*harvested flowers, aerial parts, berries and roots
*made teas, decoctions, macerations, syrups, infused oils, salves, tinctures, vinegars, flower essences and elixirs
*familiarised themselves with a variety of body processes such as respiration, digestion, circulation etc and looked at several herbs which can help to balance these processes.
*participated in an online email action learning group.
*completed tasks set by the mentor and fed back the results to the other apprentices
*begun to share knowledge, enthusiasm and herbal extractions with family and friends

Outcomes: Year 2 (for apprentices who began their apprenticeship in 2011 and wish to continue)

By the end of 2011, the apprentice will have:

*studied a further ten herbs or looked at the original herbs chosen in more depth
*considered further anatomical or emotional processes e.g. fertility, aging, grief
*considered constitutional elements/energetics from a western herbal medicine perspective
*consolidated and continued all the experiences engaged in during Year 1


Each apprentice is expected to:

*choose up to twenty herbs to study during the year
*attend at least six workshops throughout the year and to attend the Herb Festival held in September.
*complete the tasks set by the mentor within given timescales
*work within the Sanctuary herb beds – digging, weeding, planting, harvesting etc.
*keep a herbal diary and/or online blog detailing activities and learning
*evaluate their personal progress at the end of twelve months

Costs: There is no overall charge for the apprenticeship. Apprentices are expected to make a financial donation when attending workshops or the Herb Festival and to offer practical physical help at the Sanctuary. Anyone considering an apprenticeship should factor in personal costs such as time, transport, access to growing space and internet plus a degree of commitment to their studies and to the Sanctuary.

Note: This apprenticeship is for personal development only. Apprentices study at their own pace. The amount and depth of work is self directed. Guidance will be given on sources of information, but handouts covering all topics may not be available. There is no accreditation from an academic body, certificate of attendance or examination process. The apprenticeship will NOT enable anyone to set up in private practice as a medical herbalist.

Thursday 10 November 2011

Working with wood

As trees finally release their leaves and the sap rests underground, the time comes when we can think about working more closely with them. Making your own energetic or meditative tools is perhaps one of the most relaxing tasks to carry out over the winter period. The article below first appeared in the Fall edition of Circle Magazine back in 2007.

Working with Wood : A Beginner’s Guide to Wand and Staff Making.

I dropped into woodworking by accident. I am not a practical person, preferring to leave anything like that to the various men around me, but I have always loved wood. When I began following the Pagan path, it became evident that if I wanted any “tools for my trade”, I would have to make them. What I discovered was, creating my own wands and staves was not an arduous task, but one which brought great peace and joy. In this article I should like to share with you what I have learned so you can begin your own way of communicating with those trees and bushes you find around you.

My first wand was a short piece of “Glastonbury thorn” –a tree which flowers and fruits at the same time, collected from a pile of prunings in Glastonbury Abbey in 1996. The same year, I began making ogham sticks, or fews, from the 20 sacred woods of the Druids, using Glennie Kindred’s book, “Tree Ogham”.

Later, I became interested in larger “sticks” and started to sandpaper them to see what difference it made. I found the more you sandpaper, the smoother the wood becomes until it has a wonderful silky feel when you touch it. This can best be achieved by beginning with coarse-grained sandpaper and finishing with a fine grained one. If you then coat the sanded wood with sunflower oil, this polishes the wood and gives it an even better finish.

This polishing technique came about quite by chance when I found a jar of home made calendula salve (double infused oil thickened with beeswax) nearby when I was sanding. I rubbed some salve into the wood to see what would happen. You would not believe how it changes the colour of the finished wand!

Gorse is a wonderful wood to work with, the dead wood turns from light brown to honey-coloured and the live wood, if you’ve sanded it with the bark on goes gorgeous shades of green, white and brown which resemble snake skin. Birch wands rubbed with salve after sanding with the bark present glows with a red tinge.

Each wood has a different spiritual property and a different affinity for the time of year. I love yew, not only for it’s soft orange colour, but because it is the gateway between this world and the spirit world. As a healer and counsellor, I often work with people who are dying or bereaved, so yew is a very special wood for me.

When my friend lost his parents, I made him two fews (ogham sticks), one of live gorse for hope and one of yew finished with comfrey oil, so he could sit and stroke the wood, finding comfort in their touch. Recently, I sent him an elder few, because elder helps with change and moving on. I made myself a necklace of elder beads finished with rosemary infused oil for aiding “life rites”. It is adorned with kestrel feathers to help with farseeing. I wear it during rituals or when I want a focus for meditation or visualisation.

It is best to gather wood from living trees when they are asleep during the winter months or being pruned. You should always discuss your wish to gather wood with the tree itself. Sometimes there will be a dead twig or branch which can be removed without harm or maybe you will find just what you are looking for under the canopy. It may have blown off during a strong wind or storm or left there after animal damage.

Some wood can be gathered and worked fresh (holly and gorse are good for this) but most are better left to dry for at least five weeks before you try scraping or sanding them. The tools I use for woodworking are a pair of secuteurs, a small knife, various grades of sandpaper and vegetable oil or salve of some description. I make a wide variety of infused herbal oils so I always have a wide variety of enhancing energetic properties to choose from. A woodworking apron to protect clothes can also be useful.

You can make wands with both green and dry wood, depending on what you’ve got to hand and whether you want to work with it with the bark on or off. It’s easier to remove the bark when the wood is green rather than when it’s dry. Willow will remain wet for over a year because if you drive a stick into the ground, it will grow. I have a flourishing willow hedge in my herb garden which is made from pollarded branches cut down in November 2005 and left on the ground during the winter. My father trellised the fence for me in April 2006 and they sprouted almost immediately.

A wand can be used to direct energy as in circle casting, or to aid concentration or meditation. If I am making wands in public places, I often refer to them as meditation sticks and show people how to use the property of the wood to help them relax or focus on particular concepts such as ash for connecting with the natural world or holly for experiencing universal love.

The length of a wand is historically the distance from your elbow to your longest finger, but it can be much shorter. Cut your wand roughly to size from a longer branch or twig using secuteurs or pruning shears when you start working on it. A wand does not have to be straight nor from a single branch, it can curve and twist and have Ts or Ys at the end depending on what the piece of wood tells you to do. I use my penknife when I’m working on knots in the wood, or to shape the tip or handpiece. You can also use inexpensive metal files to make whirls or spirals in the wood if this is what you feel called to do.

Sanding does take time and it can be quite hard work. Start with the coarsest grain of sandpaper and work up to the finest sandpaper you have. It’s using more than one grade which really makes the wood smooth. Once you are satisfied with the smoothness, take some plain sunflower oil or herbal infused oil or salve if you have some and smooth it on until the wood stops soaking it up. Put a little on your fingertips and keep rubbing.

When finished, you can decorate your wand however you wish, but I prefer to use fairly natural materials such as seashells, ribbons, crystals, hagstones or other small objects such as acorn cups.

Staff making is a similar process, but slightly different. Your staff should be a thickness which is comfortable to hold in the palm of your hand and a length you feel happy with. It can be shoulder or head height or taller depending on your planned use.

I have a large hazel staff with runes inscribed on it for rituals, a much shorter blackthorn staff with a monkjack deer antler on the top which I use occasionally for stick dancing in Tai Chi and a lighter willow staff which I use most of the time when we are working with sticks. Do remember staves were originally weapons and could seriously injure someone if handled carelessly.

When you have chosen your piece of wood, leave it to dry for several months, then sand it down with the bark still on it. It doesn’t need to be as smooth as a wand, just until you feel happy with the smoothness. Some people prefer to remove all the bark, but I knew someone who did this and then had great trouble identifying the wood afterwards.

If you want to decorate your staff with carving or runes, do this now. Rune carving is much more difficult than you think – take care not to cut yourself. The runes can then be coloured in with a red dye of some description. If you can make a natural dye out of madder or dyers woodruff – both of which yield a bright red colour - all the better.

Once you have decorated your staff to your satisfaction, it then needs to be sealed in some way either with varnish or a clear wood sealant. Leave it to dry somewhere away from dust and particles which may adhere to the sticky surface. It can then be decorated with hag stones, seashells, crystals or whatever you fancy.

If you have made a staff with a Y-shaped top, this can be used as a ‘stang’ or outdoor altar. The stang is placed in the ground and decorated with animal skulls, flowers and ribbons. Again this acts as a focus for personal or group rites or ceremonies.

Although my family sigh a great deal at the number of different “sticks” I have lying around the house or when I bring new ones in to work on, I love my wands and staves. I use them for workshops with my healer development group and people seem to enjoy sensing their energy or meditating with them.

I hope this article will help you to feel confident to try working with wood. It’s a very forgiving medium to work with, offering great fun and freedom from the stresses of everyday life.

Kindred, G The Tree Ogham ISBN 0 9532227 2 1
Paterson, JM Tree Wisdom Thorsons 1996
West, K Real Witches’ Year Element Thorsons 2004

Saturday 5 November 2011

Chasing the toothbrush tree

Thursday morning saw me walking to see the dentist, who practices in the row of shops fifteen minutes away from our house. I have a tooth he filled a little too ambitiously last December. The amount of filling began to kill the root and I suffered nerve pain tooth ache for possibly the first time in my life. At the beginning of the year, the dentist said there was no point in saving the tooth, so if it flared up again, the only recourse was to remove it. I like my teeth. I talked to other herablists online and then made myself some sage tea as a mouth wash. It worked beautifully and the tooth has behaved itself ever since.

The dentist was really pleased with me on Thursday, clean teeth, no pain and no evidence of gum disease. I told him about the sage tea but he didn't really seem to understand except to advise me to continue whatever it was I was doing.

This encounter let me to choose "Chasing the toothbrush tree" as my next article to post. It appeared in the February edition of Herbs magazine in 2005.


In the 2003 Summer edition of Herbs, a reader asked about a tree used by the SAS during the Gulf War for cleaning their teeth. Deni Brown replied that it was probably the "Toothbrush Tree", Salvadora persica, which grew in Oman. This peeked my curiosity as I had just started chatting to someone on the internet who was working in Oman. I asked him if he could find out all he could about the tree and whether it would be possible to send me a sample back so that this could be lodged with The Herb Society for future reference.

This was his report.

"My boss eventually arrived at work and summoned me (as always) I am 'his' Brit. No matter what I am doing part of the 'rules' are that he arrives and I must go take coffee with him. Much to his horror I drink Arabic coffee from large mugs. In their 'language', this is too heavy! I asked him about the toothbrush tree. Oh dear ! It is 'old', they are much more advanced now. I know that, but the mere suggestion that they still have recourse to 'primitive native things' is insulting. After much soothing of ruffled feathers and denigrating us Brits for having an interest in such archaic things, things calm down. Trying to explain aromatherapy and oils etc as 'hobbies' to an Arab is 'hard work'. However he eventually 'simmered down' and we spent the rest of my work day drinking coffee smoking and surfing Omannet on his computer for the appropriate tree.

It turns out that Dhofar (local county is the nearest equivalent) was the main place where it grew but when the agriculture was 'industrialised' for dates & bananas it virtually died out. My boss thinks it unlikely that I'd find one driving around the desert, plus of course there is the added danger that everything belongs to the King and taking without his express permission is theft with the dire consequences that entails (i.e. having one's hand chopped off!). However, he informed me with a happy smile that there is a conservation area, the Oryx Reserve, where they can be seen and I must accompany him and his family (well the male members & possibly small children) on a visit.

He was horrified at the idea I would approach my houseboy for twigs from the toothbrush tree and wonders how I would get it out unless I take it with me, (he would give me written permission! . I really don't understand the rigmarole, as he says it is available in the local market. Also, I have to be careful expressing a desire too strongly as it makes it sort of obligatory that they should make a present of it to me. I almost ended up with set of 'worry beads' worth about £2000 because I said how nice they were!

When I went to Saudi I stopped off at DHL in the airport and asked about sending things to UK. Personal items (like your toothbrush plant). They laughed. You need approval from Interior ministry, Environment Office, Export Licence, a "No Objection Certificate", and permission to collect! There is also a problem with taking photographs of the plant since photographing anything or anyone without permission is illegal.

I did talk to my houseboy about using the toothbrush tree twigs for cleaning teeth. He said that it had a hot, peppery taste and it often gave people mouth ulcers when they first started using it."

So, after that "on-the-spot" research, I turned to the internet and did a websearch. The Oryx Reserve can be found here and more information can be found here.

The toothbrush tree is also being grown in India and Africa, particularly the Nagar Junasagar Srisailam Sanctuary in Andhar Pradesh in India. I also discovered that the Ministry of Health in Abu Dhabi has been researching the antigastric ulcer effects of a combination of P. oleracea (purslane) and Salvadora persica (Aarak/Toothbrush tree) and that roots of the toothbrush tree is currently used, efficaciously, by the Samburu tribesmen in the Masai for expelling the retained afterbirth of camels.

I find it fascinating that so much diverse information has been revealed by one simple question, "What is the toothbrush tree?"


S P Simpkin "Sumburu Camel Management Strategies" 1995
M. W. Islam, M. N. M. Zakaria, R. Radhakrishnan, X. M. Liu, H. B. Chen, K. Chan and A. Al-Attas (Ministry of Health, Abu Dhabi) Research into gastric disorders

Thursday 3 November 2011

Apples and abundance

At the bottom of our garden is an ancient cooking apple tree. It is gnarled and the apples are all shapes and sizes, but there are lots of them. They never store very well as they go rotten very quickly, sometimes while hanging on the tree, but they cook beautifully, providing a tasty filling to some favourite dishes.

The energetic property of apple is cornucopia, an abundance of good things. Our apple tree seems to radiate this property providing us with beautiful pink blossom in springtime followed by the swelling of green apples through the next three months.

I usually start making windfall provisions in August, often leaving the last of the apples for the rooks by the middle of October. This year, autumn has been so mild, I am still picking up windfalls and preparing them while I sit on our patio without the need for coat or even cardigan!

It struck me today that apples bear a secret many people never experience. I must have been in my forties before I saw my first one. If you always core your apples lengthways, you will never see it, but if you cut an apple in half, there it lies – a perfect star. The beauty and simplicity of the star makes you appreciate the sanctity of something so common, something we take for granted.

There are many folklore associations with cutting apple peel in one long thread and then throwing it behind you to discover the name of your one true love. I’ve never done this, mainly because I can’t peel an apple without the thread breaking and I don’t really need anyone or thing to tell me the name of my true love, since we’ve gone to sleep and woken in each other’s arms for the past thirty-three years.

Many of you reading this post will be experienced cooks, but some of you might welcome an opportunity to revisit some simple recipes involving apples.

Apple Sauce
Peel, core and slice a quantity of cooking apples into a saucepan. Shake a reasonable amount of sugar over the apples. Take the saucepan to a cold water tap. Quickly turn on and turn off the tap. This is the amount of water you need to cook the apple. Put the lid on the saucepan and heat the apples slowly, stirring occasionally to ensure they don’t burn. When all the apples have cooked down into a mush (this is how you can tell they’re cooking and not eating apples, the latter don’t lose their shape), turn off the heat and pour the applesauce into a receptacle to cool.

Eat on its own with cream and a biscuit, add to morning cereals or an addition to roast pork. For something a little different, flavour the apples while cooking with cinnamon or a “pumpkin spice” combination (cinnamon, freshly ground nutmeg and powdered cloves) or grated peel and juice of a lemon. Add to natural yoghurt and enjoy.

Since this is the season to remember our beloved dead, I will tell a very short story associated with apple sauce. During my gap year between school and university I lived with my cousin, Mary and her husband, Norman, in the village of Wainfleet, Ontario for three months. Mary would serve our main meal – supper – around 6pm each evening. At 8pm, Norman, who was then in his 80s, would get up from his chair in the sitting room and make his way slowly into the kitchen.

“I’ll just get myself a little lunch,” he would say, his eyes twinkling. Opening the refrigerator, he would reach inside and pull out the large Kilner jar of apple sauce and pour himself a small dish which he would eat with relish at the kitchen table.

“Are you at that apple sauce again?” Mary would call from the other room.

“I’m just having a little lunch.”

“You don’t need any lunch,” Mary would scold as she cleared away his dish and washed it up for him. Norm would just sit with the biggest grin all over his face.

They were a devoted couple and I was so pleased I returned to Canada in September 1976 to celebrate their ruby wedding as he died the following year. Mary was nearly twenty years younger than him and she died three years ago.

Apple and mincemeat pie
Everyone has their own favourite apple pie. This is one my mother used to make which is a little different. Roll out a large circle of short crust pastry twice the diameter of your pie dish. Place the pastry into the dish so the dish in the centre of the circle and spread this smaller inside circle with mincemeat. Fill the remainder of the dish with sliced apples. If you want a very sweet filling you can sprinkle the apples with sugar, but if your mincemeat layer is thick enough, there is no need. The apples cut the sweetness of the mincemeat.

Fold the pastry carefully over the top of the pie so that it forms the crust. If you don’t have enough pastry you can leave a small hole in the centre. Brush the pastry with milk to produce a glaze. Cook in a fairly hot oven (around 200 degrees C) for twenty minutes or until the pastry is golden brown.

Apple crumble
Fill the bottom of your pie dish half full with sliced apples (or any fruit. If you are using frozen fruit, defrost first) and sprinkle with sugar. Make enough crumble topping in a mixing bowl depending on the size of your dish using a basis of 4oz flour to 2 ozs margarine and 2 tblsps of sugar. Mix the flour and margarine together using fingertips and thumbs until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. When you think you’ve finished, tap the mixing bowl on one side to bring up any unincorporated lumps of margarine. Add the sugar and fold in with a metal spoon. Sprinkle the crumble topping over the apples. Shake the pie dish gently with both hands to make sure it is evenly distributed. Place in a medium oven and cook for twenty minutes or so until lightly brown.

You can add spices to the apples – cinnamon, cloves or nutmeg or a combination or grate the rind of a lemon and/or pour the juice of a lemon over the apple slices. Add blackberries to the apple if you want to reduce the amount of sugar, but it might be wise to puree the blackberries first if you are going to serve the crumble to older adults, because the pips invariably get stuck in their teeth!

Eve’s pudding (Apple sponge)
Slice 1lb of cooking apples into a greased ovenproof dish and sprinkle 3oz of Demerara sugar and grated lemon rind over them. Add 1 tblsp water. Cream 3 oz margarine with 3 oz granulated sugar together in a mixing bowl with a wooden spoon until pale and fluffy. Add one beaten egg a little at a time, beating well after each addition. Fold in 5 oz of self-raising flour with a metal spoon to give a dropping consistency and spread the mixture over the apples. If you have a large ovenproof dish you may need to double the quantities of sponge topping. Bake in the oven at 180degrees C for 40-45 minutes until the apples are tender and the sponge mixture cooked.

Apple soul cakes
Cream together 8oz of sugar and 8oz margarine in a mixing bowl with a wooden spoon until pale and fluffy. Add four eggs, one at a time, beating vigorously after each addition. Add one tsp powdered cinnamon and half a grated nutmeg together with wafer thin slices from two cooking apples which have been peeled and cored. Mix these into the mixture with a metal spoon. Fold in 8 oz of self-raising flour, adding a little milk if necessary, until the mixture reaches a dropping consistency. Using a dessertspoon, spoon the mixture into small paper cake cases (fairy cake size). This should make at least two dozen small cakes. If you want to use muffin cases, place two tablespoonfuls of mixture into each case, making around a dozen muffins. Cook in a medium oven at 180 degrees C for 15-20 minutes until you cannot hear the cooked cakes “singing” when you hold them to your ear.

Apple jelly
Gather an amount of small windfall apples. Wash them well and cut into quarters without peeling or coring in your largest saucepan. Cover with water and cook with the lid on until the fruit is completely mushy. (Usually if you are only using apples, you would only need to simmer for 1½ hours, but since I had added quince and rosehips to my apples, I simmered for two hours until the quinces had changed colour from yellow to pink). Strain through a jelly bag or butter muslin tied to something high and leave to drip for several hours or overnight. Discard the contents of the jelly bag (preferably onto your compost heap!) and measure the amount of liquid extract.

Wash the saucepan and return the liquid to the pan with 1lb of sugar for every pint (20 fl oz) of liquid. Heat gently until the sugar has all dissolved, stirring continuously. Bring the jelly to a rolling boil for ten minutes and then test for a setting point. (I usually pour a couple of tablespoons of liquid onto a pyrex saucer and place in the freezer for five –ten minutes. When cold, if a skin forms when you run your finger very slowly through the jelly it is ready.) If setting point isn’t reached after ten minutes, continue to boil and test every five minutes until a setting point is reached. Pour into heated sterilized jars, cover and label.

Apples are such a versatile fruit but we should never forget to be grateful for their abundance.

Wednesday 2 November 2011

Colours of autumn

I'm currently in the process of revising my CV/resume as part of my search for new work opportunities. I'm including all my published articles and thought I would post all the herb ones here.

Colours of Autumn first appeared in the October edition of The Essential Herb Magazine in 2008.

As nights draw in and the sun’s warmth diminishes, colours of harvest flood the land. Amongst hedgerows, reds of rosehip and haw shine brightly with subtle shades from bright red to deep crimson. High above, vermillion rowan berries hang in tantalising bunches. Single crimson leaves from cramp bark branches, thrust colour into fading grass.

I use a lot of hawthorn products during the year, making tinctures from flowers with vodka and haws with brandy. I gather ripe berries wherever I am - from trees along my field edges in the Cotswolds, my garden hedge in Solihull and trees from as far apart as Yorkshire or Bristol, depending on my travels. I’ve also made hawthorn vinegar, so people who don’t like to use alcohol, can have an alternative format to choose from.

I rarely collect rosehips. The problem is the time it takes to process the hips before drying. You should cut them in half with a sharp knife, then thoroughly deseed before putting to dry in a warm, airy place. The seeds are very effective itching powder. My long-suffering husband, when offering to help, soon complains his t-shirt is uncomfortable and his hands itch. I don’t suffer quite as badly, but holding the individual hips make my thumb joints ache, so very few get put to dry. The majority lie abandoned in a bowl to shrivel into hardness in their own time until I can pour them into a glass jar to use in syrups and decoctions throughout the winter.

Another red comes from apples. Usually the wild crabapple goes from green to yellow once it is ripe and falls from the trees. Along one Cotswold wall is a red crabapple tree, its fruit shining above green brambles and speckled stone.

St John’s wort oil is another bright red influence on my life over the summer, sitting on the kitchen window ledge beaming scarlet rays when sun shines. The beginning of October is time to strain the flowers out of the oil and put it all away in a cold larder.

The other major colour of autumn is black – blackberries, elderberries and the deep black/purple lustre of a copious sloe harvest hiding behind the thorns of the blackthorn trees.

We usually think of blackberries as something to put in desserts, either pies or puddings, but blackberries, like rosehips, are a good source of Vitamin C and can also act as an astringent along with cinnamon if you’re suffering with loose bowels that won’t respond to usual treatments. They make a delightful tea with other herbs such as Echinacea and elderberry - a pleasant immune enhancer to ward off any lurking virus.

I continue to wax lyrical about elderberry and its anti-viral properties. My parents help collect large amounts of berries so we can try new recipes. Elderberry Elixir is made with brandy and honey, taking at least two months to mature. I also put up several jars of elderberry tincture and make elderberry syrup using leftover elderberries. There are elderberries waiting in the freezer to be made into more syrup when the need arises.

Sloe gin is not something I make every year, but when juicy, purple, blushing sloes beg to be picked, I acquiesce, buying enough gin to make up a bottle and a half of liqueur to sit in the hot cupboard in my kitchen beside infusing vinegars of motherwort and sage to be ready for Christmas.

We should never forget gold and orange. Calendula flowers are prolific rays of sunshine to cheer everyone up after constant rain. Someone once told me she was convinced calendula was helpful in combating her winter blues and judging by the delight the flowers bring to everyone who sees them, I totally agree with her. The softness of the petals makes them a joy to harvest, while the resin coating your hands afterwards reminds you what you’ve been picking. We have been able to make a fresh flower tincture while sun shone and on less bright days, the golden heads dry by the kitchen stove.

All herb flowers take a long time to dry; the processing itself is an exercise in patience. It can take an entire October weekend to process herbs I’ve dried during the summer. This includes taking petals off all calendula flowers, spending up to two hours sitting at the kitchen table balancing a bowl on my lap before pouring them into their glass jars and hiding them from the light in paper bags. The prize is using the dried petals for tea during the darkest days, warding off infections and bringing enjoyment with every sip.

Gold is also found in the most unexpected places – hidden in roots of some of our most helpful plants. Goldenseal, useful for its action supporting mucous membranes is known for its golden roots, but dyers woodruff roots also shine with gold before offering up a red colour to the dye. Nettles, too, have tangled golden roots which, when processed, offer support and treatment to aging prostate glands.

Finally, there is always green. When the marshmallow in my garden starts to seed, I go down with my basket and strip stems of as many soft, green leaves and pale green seeds as I can. These make dark-green, silky oil to use for lubricating dry or diabetic skin and other hidden places. The dried leaves are kept for teas to sooth irritated bowels or dry lungs.

Vervain grows profusely during most of the year. Infused oil can be made with either fresh or dried aerial parts. The oil comes out dark and green with no distinctive smell. This is an anointing oil to help assist an understanding of the passing of the year, allowing us time to rest before growth begins again.

Every season has its own unique array of colours, shapes and scents. As sun sets to bring evening dusk, so brilliant colours of Autumn lead us towards both quiet and chaos of winter.