Saturday 20 October 2012

2013 Apprenticeships and Workshops

The Springfield Sanctuary Apprenticeship 2013 is now open for enquiries and will close on Wednesday 12 December 2012.

You don't have to be an apprentice to attend any of the monthly workshops or triannual workdays at Springfield Sanctuary. You can get in touch via blog comments or by emailing sarah at headology dot co dot uk.

Thursday 18 October 2012

Autumn Recipes

As days become shorter and rain keeps falling during the night, it seems a good time to review some seasonal recipes. I had to smile last week when chef, Nigel Slater, went to his local green grocer to buy blackberries as part of his “Simple Cookery” series.  I don’t understand people who are fit and healthy buying blackberries from a shop when they are freely available from hedgerows. Even in the largest city, no-one is too far away from a canal or other open space where such fruit should abound.

Over the past month we’ve spent many hours picking blackberries and last weekend even the rosehips were finally ripe. I’ve discovered that blackberries cooked with sugar and cinnamon with a little water make the most wonderful sauce to add to natural yoghurt or eaten with other fruit and covered in cream. I’ve also made a hedgerow jelly using mainly blackberries.

Friary Jelly
Put whatever hedgerow fruits you have gathered and washed  into a large saucepan and just cover with water. (I had picked elderberries, blackberries, apples  and sloes. I chopped the apples into quarters/small chunks leaving the peel and pips.) Add a couple of sticks of cinnamon or cassia bark broken up or 2 tsps powdered cinnamon plus half a grated nutmeg.

Bring the fruit to the boil and simmer for half an hour until everything is very soft. Mash everything with a potato masher, then pour everything into a muslin strainer or jelly bag and leave to strain overnight. If you want a really clear jelly, don’t squeeze the bag but if you’re not bothered about having something cloudy (and because the jelly is going to be purple anyway), then squeeze the last drops of juice out and measure the volume.

Wash the saucepan and return the liquid into the pan. For every pint of liquid add 1lb sugar. Heat the mixture slowly until the sugar dissolves then bring it to a rolling boil for ten minutes or until the jelly has set. (Drop a tablespoon of hot jelly onto a pyrex saucer and put it in the freezer. Take another sample after 5 more minutes. If the first sample has a skin on it when you press the back of your forefinger nail through it, it has set. If it hasn’t, keep repeating every five minutes until it does.)

I had 2pints of liquid and it made 6 1/2lb jars of very tasty jelly.

I’ve also been adding blackberries to elderberry syrup and was interested to learn that one of the US Herb suppliers adds fresh blackberries to their St John’s wort tinctures macerated in grain alcohol and water to improve flavour and increase anti-oxidant levels.

One of my apprentices recently sent me some autumn recipes which I shall be trying out soon. I may use some of the elderberries frozen from last year to make this recipe for Elderberry Balsamic Vinegar from Eat Weeds. If you don’t already know the Eat Weeds website, it has some very interesting recipes including one for hawthorn jelly. I also like the sound of the BoxingDay chutney recipe which is available on Kirstie’s Homemade Christmas site from Chanel 4.

After our busy weekend at the farm, the last four days have been spent processing all the herbs I picked or dug. Solomons Seal Root is macerating in a jar of Overproof Rum (£24 from Tesco’s, ouch!). Dandelion roots are either tincturing or making Jim Macdonald’s bitter with cardamom and orange peel while the remainder dry in the cupboard.  Photos from the weekend can be found on Facebook 

All the aerial plant parts (marshmallow, ashwagandha, white horehound, New England Aster, chamomile and Calendula) are drying, along with some rosehips. The wild bergamot went into a tincture. This morning it was the turn of the ashwagandha roots to be vigorously scrubbed and are now air drying on the patio table in the warm wind and sunshine. The large bag of nettle roots, horseradish and the single Himalayan poke root are still waiting their turn which will probably come tomorrow.

I’ve also discovered another favourite soup recipe I thought I would share – very simple, hearty and frugal. es, it can take 2 days to cook, but it costs very little and tastes wonderful!

Pea and Ham Soup (for vegetarian and vegans, omit the ham)
1 pkt of green or yellow split peas
2 bay leaves
2 onions
2 carrots
2 sticks of celery
(Or 1 carrot, 2 parsnips and half a celeriac root)
4 ozs of chopped ham
Tip the packet of split peas into a large bowl and cover with lots of water.  (I usually fill a mixing bowl to the brim.) Leave to soak overnight. The next day, peel and chop the onions and sauté in a large saucepan (at least 5 pints) until soft. Peel and chop all the vegetables and add to the onions along with the bay leaves and strained split peas. Cover with around 3-4 pints of cold water. Season. Bring to the boil and either simmer for about 1hr until the split peas are soft or pour contents of saucepan into a cookpot and cook on high for one hour or so then on low for several hours until peas are soft. (Don’t remove lid from cookpot/slow cooker during cooking or you will increase the time by an hour or so.) Remove bay leaves. Return soup to the large saucepan and whizz using your favourite utensil until smooth. Add your diced ham and bring back to the boil. Serve with fresh bread. (Feeds 8-10 people).

The original recipe for this soup comes from the Good Housekeeping Cookbook. They use a smoked ham bone to make stock before you add the vegetables, but I haven’t been able to obtain a ham bone yet and if you did this, you couldn’t offer it to any non-carnivores.

Autumn is a busy time, but I’m looking forward to snuggling up with my many potions when winter comes.

Monday 8 October 2012

Autumn Root Harvest

Next weekend I shall be running a roots workshop at the Sanctuary to dig up Himalayan pokeweed, nettle, dandelion, elecampane, solomon’s seal and ashwagandha roots. I may send someone off to search for a first year burdock root, but I’m not entirely hopeful.

I would never have thought three years have passed since I last wrote about working with roots. It seems such a natural thing to do and I still feel you don’t know the entirety of a plant until you have worked with its roots as well as its aerial parts. Even yarrow roots have medicinal properties when I’ve always considered the parts above ground to be the most useful.

It has to be said that some roots are more difficult to work with. US herbalists talk of taking their axes and other heavy equipment to dig up plants such as Oregon Grape root (which apparently must be worked before it dries out otherwise you will destroy whatever grinder you are trying to use!). I’ve also seen pictures of poke root which seem to wind at least three times the length of the person holding it.

Pokeweed (Phytolacca Americana) is one of the indigenous east coast North American plants about which people argue.  The seeds are poisonous so the whole plant is often listed that way. The ripe seeds are used to dye the most beautiful purple colour and the root is tinctured and used in drop doses to help move the lymphatic system or anything which needs “poking”.

I’ve been fascinated by the plant for several years. It was one of the first herbs I bought but it soon disappeared from my parents’ garden. Last autumn we saw it growing wild in the Native American village at Plimouth Plantation and marvelled at the subtle colours it produced on headdresses and matting.

I ordered some pokeweed seeds from Poyntzfield Herb nursery last year but what came was Himalayan poke, (Phytolacca acinosa). According to the literature they are medicinally interchangeable, being used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for various ailments and in Japan as a diuretic. The roots of the Himalayan poke appear to be nowhere near as thick and long as the p.americana, but it may be the growing conditions are not exactly what they would be used to in a tropical climate!

The seeds germinated well last spring and the majority were planted at the Sanctuary. I thought I’d lost them all as there was no sign of any plants when Jo and I dug over the new bed in March. Much later in the year I noticed several plants coming up amongst the prolific strawberries and they have continued to thrive during the year. We shall discover what size the roots have got to next weekend.

I have three plants which overwintered in the summer house last year but only one has survived the horrendous summer producing the most beautiful dark purple flower stalk. Debs Cook is growing American pokeweed in her greenhouse, so we are talking about trading seeds next spring.

Nettle root tincture is a staple in my medicinal arsenal. Many herbalists in the UK prefer it for prostate health and management to the more publicised saw palmetto. The latter can only be found in North America and the tincture is one of the casualties from the European debacle which means you can’t buy it any more. I have made my own from dried seeds purchased from Baldwins, but I’ve always made Chris’s tonic with a mixture of both herbs. I’ve also made some willowherb tincture from weeds in the garden this year, so shall be adding that to his daily dose.

Back in the spring, I talked about making a dandelion bed. I think the plants in the Sanctuary heard me. I have never seen such strong and energetic specimens as those which have grown this year. I am excited to see what their roots are like and am looking forward to tincturing, drying them and making Jim MacDonald’s dandelion bitter. It is always a surprising favourite when people taste it for the first time. (Surprising as in, “Goodness, that doesn’t taste as bad as I was expecting!”)

I love elecampane root. It is so spicy and makes a really delicious infused honey. I usually slice the root into thin segments after washing thoroughly and then put half into runny honey and dry the other half. You can then make the dried root into a useful child’s cough syrup when the need arises. We made one at a workshop last winter using thyme and marshmallow leaves. You could also add some dried Echinacea seed heads if you want to add an immune stimulating effect.

General syrup recipe from Non Shaw and Christopher Hedley's Herbal Remedies
1 l (2 pints) water
40 g (1 1/2 oz) dried herb or 100g (4oz) fresh chopped herb (I’d use equal amounts of elecampane root, thyme and marshmallow leaves)
450 g (1 lb) sugar
Put herb in water, bring to a boil, let simmer 20-30 minutes, strain.
Clean out pan, pour liquid back into it, let sit on minimum heat until you only have 2 dl (7 fl.oz) left. Add sugar, simmer until sugar has dissolved, pour into jars, label. (This takes time. 1 fluid ounce evaporates about every hour.) If making a syrup with more liquid, the general rule of thumb is add 1lb sugar or honey to every 1pint of liquid.

Solomon’s seal root is going to be infused in strong rum this year to see what difference it makes extracting in a higher alcohol content.

The Ashwagandha plants have struggled with this year’s weather. Most of the tiny plants have disappeared, probably succumbing to an invasion of slugs, but there are still some large plants which have flourished next to the calendula patch. They will be harvested for both roots and leaves, the latter being used to make a double infused oil.

The roots are normally ground into a powder once they are dried, but I have kept all mine whole. During a tonic workshop, we experimented with a rose/ashwagandha milk by doing a cold water overnight extraction first before heating the roots in milk with rose petals.

The cold maceration produced a really viscous liquid and this was added to the pint of milk along with the roots and a handful of dried apothecary’s rose petals. The mixture was then brought to the boil and simmered gently for 15-30 minutes before straining and drinking. It produced a flavourful nourishing drink which everyone enjoyed.

I’m looking forward to the weekend when we can celebrate another harvest with a wide variety of herbs.