Saturday 31 October 2020

Exciting times in November!

 In an uncertain world, I am holding on to a spark of light, the publication of my first novel. 

As you can imagine, there are herbs and holy wells and drama and uncertainty but also positive steps and hope for the future.

The following tells you a little about the story and some very kind words from some who have read it prior to publication.

My debut novel, A Necessary Blessing, releases on 19 November this year and my publisher, Heretic Publications, has just put out a call for book bloggers who may be interested. It is available on request on NetGalley at the moment.

This is the blurb and some recent reviews.

“A novel of family secrets, ancient magic and healing, perfect for fans of Barbara Erskine and Christina Courtenay.”

Ruth Turner has a unique ability. She can walk through time, seeing the village, religious community and inhabitants as they used to be. Abandoned by her philandering husband, she makes new friends amongst village leaders, Greg Iles, the village blacksmith, Granny Compson, a retired farmer’s wife and Lord Peter Brazington, the prickly Earl of Haverliegh, owner of Roelswick Estate. 

As Ruth learns more about village history, she uncovers many secrets, which change her life and affect her closest friends, putting her at the centre of ghostly retribution. Can she use her new knowledge to unravel the cause of all the trouble before her community is torn apart again? 

A Necessary Blessing is the first book in the Roeslwick Chronicles by Sarah Head. Set deep in the heart of the Cotswolds, it charts the story of a rural village where modern and ancient practice work side by side.

Where past beliefs inform present customs, promoting future action, we understand how water is a necessary blessing to us all.

Praise for A Necessary Blessing

“A Necessary Blessing is a lovely, gentle story, unusual and intriguing, and steeped in folklore, druidic practices and supernatural abilities. The village setting is engaging and almost timeless. Although the heroine is downtrodden and abused at first, her fellow villagers unexpectedly come to her rescue and she begins to turn her life around. I very much enjoyed watching her find her place in the world and grow in confidence, and I willed her on to defeat evil in all its guises.”  Christina Courtenay

"A gem of a book"

“Well rounded, memorable characters make this book come to life, put together with a fast changing plot, the past and the present meet with an outcome well worth the read.”

It is an amazing and exciting process from holding a place and its characters in your imagination to seeing them appear in words and pictures, then to be cast out into the real world for others to experience. The beautiful cover and other illustrations have been provided by the wonderful, Charlie Farrow. There are plans to produce an audiobook to complement the Kindle and paperback editions currently available to pre-order.

If you are wondering what I'm working on next, a sequel has been started but that has been put on hold while I discover the stories of more villagers whose lives enrich the Chronicles of Roelswick.

Saturday 18 April 2020

Making your own: Green Powder

Several years ago, we were sitting in the summerhouse at the Sanctuary eating our lunch and one of my apprentices started talking about green powder. I’d never heard the term before but apparently it was something sold in health food shops for large sums of money. The shop variety contained spirulina and other green “superfoods” and the idea was to add it to your daily smoothie along with other nutritious fruits or vegetables.

Later the same year, my friend and herbalist, Lynne Tynan-Cashmore presented me with a jar of homemade green powder which she added to soups, stocks and stews during the winter to boost the immune system and keep everyone as well as possible. I began to do the same. Every time I made spaghetti bolognaise sauce, fish stew, sausage stew or impossible quiche, I sprinkled in a scoop of green powder. I also added it to bones when making stock.

The powder disappeared into the food but definitely added a richness and flavour. I was completely sold on the idea that green powder enhances whatever you are cooking and helps stave off winter lurgies.

There was no way I was going to spend money in a shop when this was something I could easily make at home. What plants would be suitable?

The first thing to do when making something for the first time is to wander around your harvesting area and decide what is there. Whether this is your garden or a local park, canal side or woodland, you need to be certain you can identify the plant correctly to ensure it is edible before you pick it. If you’re in a public space you also need to have permission of the landowner (if you’re on farmland) and make sure the plants aren’t contaminated by dogs, cats, foxes, rats or pesticides.

My basic ingredients for green powder are ground elder and nettles. Ground elder is a major invasive weed introduced to the UK by the Romans to provide a green vegetable during the hunger gap in springtime. You must only pick the young shoots as older plant parts will give you the “runs”. It is chock full of vitamin C and minerals.

Nettles also have to be picked early before they produce their strings of flowers in late May (earlier if the weather is hot). I tend to pick the top four leaves to eat in spring, then do a major harvest of vibrant green leaves to dry in early May. These get stored in jars for nettle chai and other drinks or for adding to soups and stews.

The more you pick nettles, the more new growth you will produce and the longer you will be able to harvest. Nettles are also packed full of minerals and vitamins and are invaluable both as food and medicine.

Other useful green leaves which grow in my garden are sweet violets (plants introduced from the farm) and sea holly (a plant bought specially because the young leaves can be eaten in salad in the spring). You could add fresh hawthorn leaves as those have been eaten as they emerge throughout history. Later in the year, I will dry nasturtium leaves as these, too are packed with minerals and have anti-viral properties. You could add herb Robert leaves, since those also boost the immune system, but not too many as the scent could be overpowering and they are quite difficult to dry.

My favourite herbs to add to the mix are marjoram (because I have loads growing in the garden and it spreads like a weed!) and lovage because I love the flavour. If I had enough parsley, that would go in the mix and small amounts of rosemary. Sage would be good too, but I tend to use all my purple sage in cough elixir and I don’t like it in cooking. Similarly, I prefer to use mint and lemon balm fresh in egg mayonnaise rather than stews. You could add it to tagines, but I find my homemade harissa mix enough.

If you like aniseed flavours or wanted to make an aniseed dominated green powder to use for fish or chicken, then adding fennel, tarragon, sweet Cecily and dill to the background of other green leaves would work.

If you have plants like chard, kale, sorrel, spinach, they can be dried too, but be mindful of only using small amounts if you or someone you feed is prone to producing bladder or kidney stones.

How to make green powder

Gather a basketful of green leaves and herbs. Make sure they are clean and wash in cold water if necessary, drying on a tea towel or air drying outside if the weather is warm, covering with a muslin cloth to stop them blowing away. 

Place in a dehydrator at 40 degrees C for one or two days until completely dry. If you don’t have a dehydrator, place in a paper bag and dry in a warm place for several weeks until brittle to touch. Remove any obvious stalks from nettle leaves.

Pound the dried plant material into a powder using a coffee or spice grinder or a pestle and mortar. Pour the powder into a glass jar with a lid. Label and date. 

Store in a cool dark place. Should keep for at least one year. If the powder loses colour and scent, you know it will no longer be any good and should be consigned to the compost heap. Add one heaped tablespoon to any meal during cooking.

Thursday 19 March 2020

Surviving This Virus : Some Herbal Approaches.

We are living in very strange times; very scary times. How do we manage something we can’t control? I have put together a few ideas you may wish to consider.
Sleep well: When you are worried, a good night’s sleep is often elusive. Think about the activities which help you sleep. Don’t eat at least two hours before bedtime. Prepare for sleep by turning off electronic devices an hour before bed. Practice “pottering” before bedtime. Don’t stay in bed if you can’t sleep but get up and do something boring, then return.  
Herbs which can help sleep are chamomile (tea), lemon balm (tea), lemon balm and lime flower (tea) , skullcap (tincture) for “stopping the mice running around inside your head”
Eat well: Try to consume a nutritionally balanced diet full of good protein, fruit and vegetables
Make soup: Whenever I’m worried, I make soup. There are lots of recipes on this blog.
Discover what makes you laugh: Whether it is Fawlty Towers or a thirty second video on Facebook, cherish the incidents which make you smile and preferably laugh out loud. Laughter lifts your mood and helps you feel better. Playing board games or computer games with others online will help you feel connected and less isolated and take your mind off anything worrying.
Embrace fresh air and movement Getting outside and moving about stops your body feeling stiff and also helps your mood.
Discover what you have available already in your home. E.g. Sanitisers, spices, fruits, herbs, homemade medicines. You may be surprised what is hiding in your cupboards which may be helpful now.
Plan what you are going to do when someone is ill Make a list of all your medicines and fruit and vegetables. Which ones will you use when?
Information: What is a virus? How does it spread. How does it replicate and infect/overwhelm? This is a useful website. 
                        What is special about Covid-19? It likes cold and damp. It is destroyed by heat. It is stopped by barriers.
Why use herbs?
Lots of them have anti-viral properties. They can help support your body do what your body knows how to do to fight the invader.
How does your body fight?       
It raises your internal temperature to kill off the virus. The raised temperature will often give you headaches, make you feel either hot or very cold, make your body ache (this may be from the shed, dead virus tissue which has to be removed) and other, difficult symptoms.
It makes you cough to get rid of invader or by products – either a dry, unproductive cough or a cough with mucous/phlegm (be aware of the colour – clear = ok, yellow= infection present, green = nasty infection) The greater the amount of mucous, the deeper it is probably being drawn from in the lungs. You need to aim to enable the mucous to move easily.        
What can you do to help?
Use hand washing protocols and diluted bleach to wipe down appropriate surfaces (but not anywhere there is food)
Keep warm and rest.
Rest, rest and more rest.
Starve during the fever stage (don’t ask the body to waste energy trying to digest food)
Drink lots of hot/warm drinks to coat the throat and keep hydrating (every 15 minutes, new drink every hour)
Gargle with cider vinegar or sage tea with salt or just salt and water to move the virus out of the throat. Preferably have the water as hot as you can tolerate but don’t burn yourself!
If the fever is too high, use sponge baths to reduce body temperature using tepid, not cold, water.
Easily digestible food (broth/soups) once the fever stage is past.
Rest, fresh air, sunshine.
Support your major organs
Lungs – hawthorn (tincture, tea, leaf/blossom/haws, eat the new leaves emerging now) Deep breaths moving from chest to stomach and back again, mindful breathing, relaxation breathing.
Heart – hawthorn (unless you are a thin, elderly male with low blood pressure, when hawthorn tincture is not recommended). If you suffer with palpitations from anxiety or menopausal symptoms, mix equal parts of hawthorn berry and motherwort tinctures and take 1tsp during an event or 1 dropperful (half a teaspoon/30 drops) three times a day whilst feeling anxious. Hawthorn berries infused in cider vinegar (1 or 2 tsps in water with honey once a day) can be a gentle alternative to the tincture.
Liver – dandelion, burdock and milk thistle seeds(1tblsp a day ground fresh over cereal or salads).
Kidneys – dandelion, nettle seed tincture, fresh nettles
Herbs for supporting the various stages of viral infection
NB Do not use echinacea if you have any auto-immune conditions.
Immune system
Elderberry (tea -1 cup, tincture, elixir – 1tsp a day prophylactically) and
Astralagus root
Burdock root
Shitake and reishi mushrooms
Bone or mushroom broth,
Drink these several times a day and other immune enhancers beforehand
Vitamins C and D
Turn off the news and social media
Talk to people, play games
Find something that makes you laugh and makes you feel happy
Do something outside (preferably in sunshine!)
Engage in “escape” activities e.g. read a book, play an instrument, craftwork (knitting, spinning, crotchet, sewing, colouring, woodworking, etc.) watch non-stressful TV, play online games.
Use lemon balm, chamomile or IDGAS tea (equal parts of chamomile, lemon balm and vervain)
Flower essences e.g. agrimony and vervain.

During the illness
Stop taking the immune enhancers
Don’t take ibuprofen or neurophen for pain (try to do without aspirin and paracetamol as well if you can) This is now WHO guidance.  
Day 1 Elderberry every 2-3hrs. Gargle with cider vinegar or sage tea with salt or hot water and salt to remove virus from your throat. Have the gargle mixture warm. Take 2tsp of fire cider vinegar with honey to taste as a drink at least three times a day. Increase Vitamin C intake
Day 2 onwards  Use the heating febrifuges and anti-inflammatories - elderflower, ginger, turmeric, yarrow plus demulcents for the throat - marshmallow, plantain plus the usual sage and thyme.
Make elderflower tea and serve hot. Elderflower is a diaphoretic which will make you sweat and kill the virus. This is especially useful for children.
If you have a fever which won’t break, give vervain tincture – half a tsp or 30 drops.
Elderflower and Yarrow is a good combination for fever and anti-inflammatory

Fever pain remedies
Boneset tea or 1 tsp boneset tincture is also useful remedy for bone-aching fevers.
Crampbark tincture – 1tsp 3x a day or every 2-3 hours if very bad. Works with kidney pain and any cramping pain
Chamomile tea – relaxes all smooth muscles. Drink half an hour before bed or when sleep is required.
Wood betony for headaches, especially headaches caused by inflammation of brain tissue e.g acquired brain injury or meningitis. 1tsp tincture in a shot glass of water. Sip.

Before deciding what herb to use, you must be sure what kind of cough you are dealing with.

Dry, irritable coughs: cherry bark, ginger

Cold, hacking coughs: angelica, fennel seed, fenugreek seed, New England Aster

Wet, green, mucous laden coughs: elecampane root (especially good for children and people who suffer with asthma) This can be made into a tea, added to syrup or use a tincture. Very good for bringing up mucous

Deep seated infected chest infections: mullein (make sure to strain tea or decoction thoroughly so tiny hairs from leaf don’t irritate throat tissue)

Ordinary coughs: sage & thyme, white horehound/hyssop/marshmallow leaf or root.

Unproductive coughs: put yourself inside a steam “tent”. Put boiling water in a bowl with aromatic herbs (sage, thyme, white cedar or juniper twigs) or a tsp of Vicks vapour rub (don’t use this if you are asthmatic!). Place a towel over your head to keep the steam in and inhale the steam for at least ten minutes. Do this four times a day if possible. Take great care if doing this with children.

To sooth lung tissue irritated by coughing add plantain leaves and/or marshmallow leaves or roots to a tea. Flax seeds or chia seeds, soaked in water and simmered with cinnamon and orange juice can be used as an alternative.

Onions can be really helpful in warming and expelling mucous. See this article by Kiva Rosethorn Hardin.

Starve during the fever phase but make sure there are lots of hot drinks since this helps get rid of the virus. Don’t allow dehydration as this can bring on kidney issues.
Once the fever has broken
Drink warm, nourishing broths and soups. Continue with the cough herbs and spices e.g. sage, thyme, hyssop, white horehound, golden rod plus soothing herbs and seeds adding in elecampane in whatever form you prefer for any deep seated mucus plus mullein if things are really bad. 
If at any time you can't breathe, then dial 111 and let others take over.
During recovery phase
Don’t try to resume normal activities too soon or you may relapse. Rest, rest and more rest. Continue with the herbal teas and soups you have found helpful.
There is lots of other information available online. My thanks to Coventry Earth Spirit and Lucinda Warner of Whispering Earth blog for prompting this blog post. Other herbalists you may wish to consult include Jim Macdonald, Henriette Kress, Matthew Wood, Margi Flint, Stephen Buhner, Paul Bergner, Nikki Darrell and Pip Waller.