Saturday 27 November 2021

A week in the life of a Herbwife

Winter stores are hard to quantify. I know in my head what lies on each larder shelf. There are two for oils, one for infused honeys, four for dried herbs, two for vinegars, half a shelf for flower essences, and the rest are tinctures, elixirs and liqueurs. Once upon a time, everything was in alphabetical order but that disappeared when space was at a premium or others helpfully returned jars to gaps rather than their homes. Most bottles and jars are labelled with a date of production but there are still a couple I have yet to either identify or throw out.

Some herbalists were talking recently about using the quiet time of winter to catch up on their herbal inventories. This has been one of my goals for many years but I doubt if it will be crossed off the list any time soon. My larder is full. The only way a new jar finds a place on a shelf is if another is removed. Any new preparation takes twice as long because something else must either be emptied, amalgamated or thrown away.

Saturday and Sunday were spent digging more roots. My long-suffering husband volunteered to do battle with nettle roots, which seemed only right as the prostate support medicine is for him. I attacked the first year angelica plants, removing six and leaving others to grow for another season. Then I tackled Solomon seal, quite a feat when the whole neglected bed is covered with nettles, hogweed and other unmentionables. I unearthed six roots, leaving the rest for another year.

One thing you notice when harvesting roots is the condition of the soil. The angelica was covered in a sticky, wet, dark brown, not surprising when the bed is below the spring line where clay meets limestone. The horseradish was in a completely different medium, the dry, light brown particles falling away from the stones as I dug down beside the wall.

Two hours spent removing four kinds of roots followed by another two on Monday scrubbing horseradish, Solomon seal and angelica before leaving it to air dry overnight.

The plan was to make tinctures with angelica, Solomon seal and nettle and a new batch of fire cider vinegar with the horseradish. I’d forgotten angelica needs overproof rum for its menstruum but luckily two bottles arrived back with the Monday shopping alongside more vodka. Anyone who didn’t know me would think I had a problem…!

Tuesday morning began with decanting two jars of hawthorn berry brandy and last year’s angelica root harvest. One of the  hawthorn jars contained quite a lot of gelatinous precipitate which I wasn’t expecting as the haws had been harvested before any whiff of frost. After discussion, it appears that hawthorn contains more pectin than either apples or lemons. So much so, the scientists are preparing to use it in developing new food preparations and drugs. (Take a look at the article here.)

To alleviate the problem, I washed the haws with extra brandy and added it to the tincture, which seems to have settled into liquid form. Hawthorn jelly is now on my list to make.

Every decanted tincture needs to be tasted. When you first start making medicines, this really helps to identify new tastes but it’s also helpful in deciding whether the season is a good one for that plant. This was my first ever batch of angelica root. It was possibly the worst tincture I’d ever tasted, probably not helped by leaving the roots in alcohol for a year. (We weren’t ill last year so I didn’t need it.) It was bitter, incredibly strong and tasted “black” with no discernible sweetness from the rum and not a great deal of the expected angelica scent. Interestingly, half an hour after swallowing the disgusting liquid, I realised my mouth was no longer burning and I really felt quite well!

A spare half-hour between piano lessons found me desperately scrubbing nettle roots in failing light wishing I could see better! Nevertheless, the amount I laid out to air dry on the kitchen table overnight was just enough to fill two large jars the following morning.

The final preparation from the weekend haul on Wednesday was a nasturtium leaf tincture, from a chance visit to my aunt and uncle the previous Friday. Nasturtiums have been very late growing this year and I only had one plant self-seed, which wasn’t enough to do anything with. Nasturtiums not only provide colour in a garden, peppery leaves for salads and seeds for false capers, they are a powerful anti-viral and have a special affinity for respiratory issues. My aunt had two plants curling their way along her beech hedge. She had no objections to my harvesting the hand-sized leaves which yielded enough to make a small jar of tincture.

Next on the list were ashwagandha roots from the garden. The forecast for the end of the week was very cold with the possibility of snow as well as frosts. Thursday sunshine dried the washing and threats of overnight rain decided me to grab a thick coat and wellingtons as light faded. The ashwagandha plants were happy to be removed. Those planted late into the middle raised bed were already leafless with small roots. They never grow as well in this cooler environment but even an inch of root provides a useful yield from thirty plants.

Most leaves of the plants in the large pots on the patio were still vibrantly green with secondary leaves already growing. Their roots were at least two inches long with a frenzy of rootlets. The cherry shells were nowhere near ripe, so those stems were cut to live in the kitchen window sill until they transform. Friends came to play with the model trains in the loft on Friday and they were more than happy to take part of the root harvest home with them.

A busy week beginning with roots and ending with spices when I prepared two curries from scratch for our Friday night meal. They all provide harvests to sustain us through the winter and hope to see us through the long, cold months ahead.


Monday 8 November 2021

Digging for winter health

“What can I forage now?” someone asked recently.

My response was all about roots. This time of year, dandelions tubers swell from seasonal photosynthesis, summer sweetness locked within their fibres. First year burdock, mullein and angelica can be harvested for drying or tincturing. It’s too late if you gather the remains of plants which have already flowered, the roots have sent up all their “goodness/virtue” into flowers and seeds.

Seeds can be gathered as long as they are black and ripe. Mullein seeds are tiny. It’s best to put the whole flowering stalk inside a paper bag and shake vigorously if you want to keep them or maybe spread them on the ground to encourage another harvest in two years’ time.

Burdock seeds are an investment. The seed pods are guarded by sharp thorns. They are best approached with heavy gloves and when you’ve gathered enough, find a sheltered place out of the wind, a sharp stick or chopstick to poke inside the large pod and a bowl to pour the seeds into. The seeds are both nutritional and medicinal. They are best ground daily if you’re intending to eat them or used whole  in a decoction which can be divided in three parts and drunk during the day.

Burdock, like nettles, is a blood cleanser. It can be used for eczema, psoriasis, gout, liver and kidney support etc. The root is the only part not bitter, but it is diuretic. If you chew a piece of root, be prepared to find a toilet within twenty minutes. The root is also helpful in exciting a lethargic appetite, especially one dulled by a long-lasting virus. Chop the clean root into small pieces, possibly inside a muslin bag and cook it as part of a stock, soup or stew. Remove before serving.

My next planned harvest will be nettle roots. I don’t gather the golden goodness very often, but searching the larder shelves this week for another bottle of tincture to add to my husband’s daily tonic proved fruitless, so this month I shall be attacking several clumps with a garden fork. The roots are stunning. I would never have guessed their colour. It glows in autumn sunlight, providing another aspect to nettle’s cornucopia.

I learned from a former apprentice about nettle root as a powder providing extra nutritional oomph to a diet. I’ve always used it to support the prostate gland. There have been studies undertaken which show that nettle root can keep the prostate stable for many years. It seems a useful ally for all men, especially those in middle age.

Prostate cancer is as widespread as lung and breast, so every man and women who care for them need to be alert for any danger signals and seek medical advice as soon as possible.

My other root harvests are from my garden rather than the field or hedgerow. Elecampane flowers are long gone, their long stalks brown and brittle, the huge green leaves mere husks of their former green profusion. I removed all the aerial parts yesterday to fill my green bin but their roots are safe for the moment. I still have large amounts of infused honey and tincture from last year and I suspect, if I search, there will be another full jar of dried root slices to add to cough elixirs or syrups.

The honey can be given to children over two years as a prophylactic to prevent constant winter coughing. The root smells and tastes of commercial scent but it is one of the most effective cough remedy. Like mullein leaf, it drags up debris from the depths, resolving deep rooted lung infections.

Although the frost whispered on the fringes of the lawn last week, there has been nothing to prompt me to dig up the ashwagandha roots. I’m still holding on to a vain hope there may be ripe cherries in the future but I’m not holding my breath.

Roots mean hard work scrubbing with lots of water changes. I never powder them until the time that powder is needed. Powders go off quicker than anything else but properly dried and sliced roots will last for more than two years if stored in a dark place.

Although I grow marshmallow, I don’t harvest the root. The leaves are sufficient for my needs and I value my plants. The downy stems are almost bare now so I may cut them down before the solstice, rather than afterwards.

There is one root I buy. Astralagus (astralagus membranaceous) has been on my list of immune-enhancing herbs for a very long time but I’ve only been working with it for the past five or so years. It’s a native of Mongolia and China and has been used in Chinese Traditional Medicine for centuries. I’ve never seen a plant growing so I guess it may be on my list to try one of these years.

The commercial packs are full of tiny discs with an earthy smell which is not endearing but the taste doesn’t adversely affect anything to which it is added. The roots are well known immune enhancers, antiviral and antibacterial. They can be used prophylactically against colds and upper respiratory infections.

For the past few winters, I have been adding a tablespoon of it to all my stocks, soups and stews along with homemade green powder to bring our immune systems to the maximum efficiency. Along with other herbal roots, astralagus roots need to be removed before serving as they don’t break down and can’t be chewed as part of the meal. I usually place them inside a large muslin teabag which is easy take out of the liquid.

My friend, Lynne Tynan Cashmore gave me a recipe for immune-enhancing tea which is very pleasant.

1tsp dried haws

1tsp dried hips

1-2tsps dried astralagus root

Infuse for 15-20 minutes then drink.

Lynne recommends drinking a mugful of tea every day during the winter to ward off the lurgies. If you were using fresh hips and haws then you would need 1 tablespoons of each, so it is probably more efficient to dry them before use as tea, depending on how much you have been able to forage and store. 

Monday 25 October 2021

Combing the hedgerows


My favourite place to forage in autumn is amongst the hedgerows. Whilst horse chestnuts and some of the elders are already losing leaves, other trees are turning beautiful shades of red, yellow, and purple. Garlands of crimson woody nightshade berries adorn their branches but must never be picked or tasted.

Rowan/Mountain Ash and crampbark/Guelder Rose are still holding on to their glorious red berries alongside the pink and orange clusters of the spindle tree. The first two can be made into jellies with crab-apples. Both berries are nontoxic if cooked before eating.

Rowan jelly is sometimes offered as an accompaniment to game. I have only tried the jelly once. It was too bitter for me. One of my apprentices experimented with a crampbark and crabapple jelly which was declared delicious by everyone who tasted it. It is on my list of future experiments.

Never pick spindle berries. They are poisonous.

Rowan is known for its protective properties. Crosses made from the wood are fixed with red ribbons and hung on cradles to stop the fairies from stealing or exchanging babies. The berries can also be threaded into necklaces or onto pieces of wire to strengthen the cross. They need to be dried once threaded for preservation. Strings of dried berries can also be hung on cradles, out of reach of tiny, enquiring fingers and mouths!

I have been wanting to make a rowan berry string for the past ten years, ever since Charlie Farrow first showed us how to make the rowan cross during a festival workshop. There were no berries available that year, so we made do with haws. When I finally foraged some late hanging rowan berries this weekend, I was delighted to find how easy it was to push a sharp needle through the berry and draw the thread through. My string is now hanging against a hot water tank to dry over the next few weeks.

Each autumn, I harvest rosehips, haws and purple sloes. The rosehips are full of vitamin C, their bright, scarlet clusters shine in a tantalizing glow amidst the briars. Like blackberry brambles, you forage carefully. If you don’t pay great attention, the backward thorns will extract their drop of blood or threads of fabric when you least expect it. Once caught, you cannot wrench yourself free, but must work backwards to remove the thorns before they claim a larger price.

Some of the rosehip harvest will be dried for use throughout the year. I’m not making rosehip honey this year as I haven’t started the honey I made two years ago. I am going to make some rosehip syrup and maybe add sloes to the mixture.

This is a good year for sloes. Some people like to harvest after the first frost, but you can easily mimic the cold by placing your harvest in the freezer before processing, ensuring the skins are split. Like rosehips, sloes are full of vitamin C. Their astringent nature can also help with loose stools.

Haws have become increasingly important to me over the years. Dried, they make a pleasant tea, boosting the immune system if a handful of astralagus root and rosehips are added.

Hawthorn vinegar is one of the easiest products to make, stuffing a jam jar full of haws, covering it with cider vinegar and watching the berries turn white while the vinegar takes on the soft, rose-tinged hue. It’s one of the tastier vinegars, ideal for salad dressings or as an unusual starter with crusty bread.

One of my most well-used preparations is haw brandy. I use it daily with motherwort tincture to strengthen my heart and prevent palpitations. It can also be added to tinctures made from hawthorn leaves and flowers to produce a full-spectrum medicine.

Hawthorn is all about the heart, managing fluid levels, helping the raise or lower the heart rate depending on what is needed. It can be given by a qualified herbalist to those who already take allopathic medicine for their heart condition. Offering hawthorn to lean, tall, elderly men with low blood pressure may not be a good idea. (Don’t ask them to do breathing exercises as part of relaxation techniques either – ask me how I know!)

Hawthorn has been part of our landscape for centuries. Its name comes from the Anglo-Saxon word meaning “hedge thorn.” The thorns are not as long and dangerous as the blackthorn, but trees have the ability to grow close to one another to provide both a barrier and shelter from strong winds.

On an energetic level, hawthorn opens the heart to the possibility of spiritual development. Its most powerful gift is the opportunity for forgiveness, both of self and others. This is especially useful during a time of grieving, where the bereaved is completely immersed in a cycle of “if only…” Spending time with a hawthorn tree can be useful but if something material is needed, then regular doses of hawthorn flower essence (4 drops under the tongue or in water three times a day or when needed) or drop doses of hawthorn flower tincture can be helpful.

An alternative point of comfort might be to offer a piece of hawthorn twig, sanded smooth and finished with a smear of salve or sunflower oil for the grieving person to use as a “meditation aid” or “worry stick.” The precise term is immaterial, whatever enables the individual to accept the gift or maybe make one for themselves.

Berries are not the only harvest from the hedgerows. On my way out of a nearby stand of trees, I noticed dogwood and crampbark leaves colouring the grass alongside two rowan trees. The leaves found their way into my basket, together with several bunches of rowan berries. These have been used to create two colourful plates for Samhain. It feels good to be inspired after such a long absence!

Monday 18 October 2021

October and nettle seeds

The south facing branch of the sycamore tree across the road from my suburban home has turned from green to yellow, showing autumn is finally here. The warm days of the past few weeks have brought both respite and a lengthening to the late growing season, but it is good to be reminded the wheel of the year is turning and change will follow soon.

September always fills me with panic. Have I grown enough? Has the harvest been enough? Have I foraged everything I need. Enough is such a strange concept. How many people do I need to treat? How many people will I need to feed over winter?

In previous years I could plan and estimate but these strange times make things more uncertain. Winter is coming and all I want to do is find my sheltered place, line my nest and hibernate for the duration. I know it won’t be possible but I can hope.

October is the time of roots and seeds, preferably gathered after the first frost, whenever that is. My ashwagandha plants are still vibrantly green. They were so late germinating and then growing back in July that they have hardly put out their flowers and the seed pods are still green. I will wait to see if any of them turn to orange in the next few weeks. Otherwise everything will be dug and dried or tinctured. There is no rush.

What I did find whilst I was pulling up the dead broad and climbing beans was a hidden last harvest of nettle seed. I remember finding some last seeds this time of year in local parks in the first year I gathered. I’d forgotten the time of gathering was quite so long.

Reading through foraging posts on social media, it seems everyone has finally discovered nettles make more than leaves for soup and fibre for fishing lines. The seeds carry a rich nutritive density. As with any medicinal plant, you do need to harvest and consume with caution.

The fresh seeds when eaten can send some people “high”. The American herbalist, Kiva Rose Hardin first pointed out that if you have a “dry” constitution then nettle seed will dry you out further. She lives in New Mexico, so she is very conscious of moisture and the lack of it. Another issue we have discovered is that if you have misused “recreational drugs” somewhere in your past, nettle seed will cause you difficulties.

We tincture fresh nettle seed  to support kidney failure, as first highlighted by David Winston. It is especially helpful in dealing with kidney pain when you haven’t drunk enough fluid. The dry seeds support exhausted adrenal glands. The usual dose is one teaspoonful taken in yoghurt or porridge or as a seed topping to salads.

We usually recommend they are consumed for at least three months or until the “patient” can’t stand the taste of them anymore. I have one friend with an incredibly stressful job who is still happily consuming her nettle seed two years after they were first given to her.

Dried nettle seeds can also be an aid to reducing dietary salt. They can be ground with salt crystals in a ratio of two: one to produce a useful condiment. If you want something a little hotter, add chilli flakes to the mix.

It worried me when nettle seeds at the farm were turning black and dropping off back in July, thinking I had not found enough for fresh seed tincture. The following month I found another stand of vibrant green, enough to put up nearly 5 litres of tincture. After our herb festival in September, huge nettle plants now covering all the Sanctuary like rampant triffids, dangled their seeds so seductively I was forced to pick them, even though I was there to harvest my damson tree and time, as always, was very short.

I did manage to pick my usual five pounds of damsons and these are now sitting on my jam shelves ready to eat. The quince harvest is very sparse but luckily my friend has a tree and shares her largesse with me. Two bottles of spiced quince gin and three of vodka are now infusing in the larder until Christmas and twenty small jars of quince jelly were made over two days this week.

Now, there are more nettle seeds from the garden drying in a paper bag over the kitchen radiator. I should have added another batch from underneath our hawthorn tree but I was too tired and now it is raining.

What I did pick was an orange flourish of calendula, waving from underneath the runner beans. I’ve lamented the lack of a dedicated calendula bed for the past two years, but collecting a few flowers here and there, self-seeded in the vegetable beds have given me a few to dry for anti-viral tea and enough to turn into oil for skin salves when next needed. There was even a rogue chamomile plant this year, providing enough to fill a tiny jar for emergency use in the future.

This gentle week at home has given me the time to decant this summer’s St John’s wort oil. Only two jars this years, but still plenty in the larder from previous summers. The dried vervain, yarrow and sage have also been poured into glass jars, labelled and put away. The vervain will be mixed with chamomile and lemon balm for IDGAS tea, yarrow for colds and conditions which require an anti-inflammatory and sage for mouth/tooth infections.

There are still bags of St Johns wort flowers, plantain leaves, red clover blossoms and other mysteries to emerge from the “hot cupboard” and put away but not today. I still have tomorrow. 

Thursday 7 October 2021

Plantain and Stings

Anyone would think from the paucity of posts on this blog in the past couple of years that I have given up on herbs. Nothing could be further from the truth. Admittedly, most of my energy now goes into creating new fiction since the pandemic restrictions made it impossible to continue holding workshops and taking on new apprentices. Herbs are still part of my life and help me cope with the myriad of challenges we have faced this year.

Plantain continues to sustain me. Both the greater and narrow-leaved varieties have set themselves up in my garden. I was very surprised to see them edging the flower beds and snuggling up to the lovage in the middle of the largest raised bed underneath the laurel hedge, but I have been so grateful they are there. Every time my husband bruises himself or strains a muscle, the plantain is there, either to chew up for a spit poultice or to gather for another batch of double infused oil for salves. It never disappoints.

This past month has brought several wasp and bee stings. It was interesting to see how my sister’s leg swelled and produced a crimson patch bigger than a hand when she was bitten by two wasps at the same time. I’d made sure she knew what plantain was but the pain was too much for her to move and her husband had recently strimmed the whole garden, thus removing all the easily accessible plants. She finally succumbed to anti-histamines three days after the stings but the angry, crimson swelling took at least two weeks to disappear.

My first bee sting happened at our festival, over a month ago. The poor bee must have mistaken my green sleeve for a plant and didn’t appreciate being squashed when I moved my arm. I managed to poultice it straight away but didn’t renew it until the following day, so there was a red, angry patch for about a week, but no swelling or heat.

You would think I might learn from experience but no. My father’s house has been plagued by wasps these past few weeks. One decided to crawl up inside my trouser leg whilst I was interviewed a lady to become part of my father’s care team as he is now very frail and has difficulty eating.

Of course, the wasp stung me when I touched it to see what was tickling my leg. I’ve done a lot of interviewing in my lifetime, but this was the first times I’d ever had to say, "Excuse me for a moment while I go outside into the pouring rain and find some plantain to chew for a spit poultice." 

The poultice was duly fixed, but I was too busy to change it until the following day, which wasn’t enough so again I had a nasty red patch. This time I treated it on the evening of Day 2 with a salve made from fresh plantain and yarrow. I’d made it for my father, gathering the plantain from the field and the yarrow from an overlooked patch behind a stone wall.

Those double infused oils took up one day, then the following morning I melted some gifted raw beeswax, poured it through one of my late mother’s stockings and then left it to set. It produced 12oz of wax, admittedly still attached to some honey, but it will all get used.

The salve was made especially for my father’s itchy legs but after one application he complained it made them worse so I took it home. I was very grateful it was there to address my wasp sting. Five days later of applying it night and morning there is just one tiny, raised spot when the venom was injected. The red area which must have measure 2-3 inches has disappeared.

I love herbs!

Many years ago when I was trying out some stories about herbs for children, I adapted an English translation of Plantain’s portion of the Anglo-Saxon Nine Herb Charm.

Plantain growing on the floor,

Rib-shot leaves you grow so small

See how we dance over you

See how bulls prance over you

Carts rumble over you

Ladies ride horses over you

Small you may be

But strong your leaves

You draw out poisons

And stings from bees

Special plantain, mother of herbs

You help us heal, all over the world.


Friday 8 January 2021

January reflections

January is a time of reflection, as signified in this month’s header picture. Sunlight is low and when seen casts a golden glow across the land. The shortest day has passed along with the celebrations of light to ward off the darkness.

Now we face the beginning of a new year, the challenges of snow, frost and continuing cold. The need to stay indoors, to isolate ourselves from those we love and care for whilst worrying about our own health and wellbeing in the increasing web of concern for our wider communities.

How do we cope when the world is plagued by uncertainty and change? By concentrating on the shortest time, the simplest thing, each one building a jigsaw to take us forward into a more positive future.

What are we doing to help ourselves stay safe and well?

Every morning we take a shot glass of herbal tonic. We use tinctures/elixirs because it’s easy to administer.

Mine contains: Solomon seal, agrimony (joint pain) bugle (joint & digestive), St John’s wort and lemon balm (nervine plus SAD), hawthorn and motherwort (heart), dandelion bitter (liver) plus elderberry elixir. This may sound a lot, but when mixed together, it’s only a couple of tsps. topped up with water.

Chris has: dandelion (liver), hawthorn (heart) saw palmetto (prostate) plus elderberry elixir.

Chris spends most winters lurching from one cold to another. This year the elderberry has reduced most infections to one or two days of incessant sneezing and nose blowing with only the odd day feeling under the weather. Once he starts sneezing he takes fire cider vinegar and honey. If you have never made any, this is my version of the recipe.

Fire Cider Vinegar

Equal portions of horseradish and ginger root – grate or whizz in a coffee grinder. (It is your choice whether you peel the roots or not.)

1 head of garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped

1 good handful of rosehips (fresh or dried)

6 cloves

2 tsps paprika

2 tsps turmeric

2 tsps cayenne pepper

(If you have access to fresh chilli peppers, you can add these as well, leaving the seeds in to give extra “fire”!)

Mix all dry ingredients together in a large glass jar so it is filled about half full, then add cider vinegar stirring well to remove air bubbles until the jar is full. Place cling film over the top of the jar before sealing with screw top lid. Label and date. Place jar in warm, dark place for 3 weeks. Strain and use.

The drink we make with fire cider is 2tsps infused vinegar with 2tsps runny honey in a mugful of boiling water, stir and sip. Usual dose is 3 mugs a day. If you want to add potency, then you can use an infused honey, such as sage, elecampane or horseradish but the drink is less pleasant using the latter.

When I don’t drink enough, my kidney complains and I end up with back pain. This is dealt with using fresh nettle seed and cramp bark tinctures (1tsp each 3x day) and extra fluids. Yesterday I resorted to a nettle chai which is an easy warm, comforting drink.

Nettle Chai

2 handfuls of dried nettle leaves

1 inch of chopped root ginger

Spices (cinnamon/nutmeg/1 clove)

Orange or lemon peel

Place all the ingredients in a 2mug/4cup cafatiere (French coffee press) and cover with just boiled water. Infuse for ten minutes, strain and drink.

Another warming drink which helps the immune system is made from astralagus root.

Immune support tea

1tblsp chopped dried astralagus root

1inch root ginger

Small handful of dried rosehips and haws

Warming spices (cinnamon/nutmeg/clove/cardamom)

Citrus juice and peel (orange/lemon/lime/grapefruit)

You could make this as a decoction in a covered saucepan (Cover with 1pint water, bring to the boil and simmer for 15 mins, then strain and drink) but it works just as well as a tea made in a cafetière.

 We’re also spending a lot of time in front of computer screens which often means my eyes become either sore or puffy. Putting a square of material or kitchen towel soaked in an infusion of eyebright and goldenrod tea (1tsp of each of the dried herbs) over my eyes for ten minutes during my afternoon nap (yes I am that old!) works wonders.

 There is no escaping the fact that life is currently very stressful for most people.

 Here are some soothing teas to help

 IDGAS tea

1tsp each of dried chamomile, lemon balm and vervain in a single mug cafetière. Add just boiled water and steep for ten minutes strain and drink.

 Ashwagandha evening soother

2 tsps dried ashwagandha roots

1tsp dried rose petals

1/2 pint milk (dairy or nut)

Heat the roots and petals in the milk in a covered saucepan. Simmer for 15 minutes. Strain and drink. Add honey if required.

Keep a dropper bottle of rose elixir and skullcap tincture within easy reach throughout the day and night. Rose will lift your spirits when everything seems too much or when you’ve had bad news about something. Skullcap stops the mice running around in your head when you can’t sleep.

Skullcap is safe for older children and very young children can be sent to bed after a bath to which a strong tea of lavender, lemon balm and catnip has been added. (Bath, bed, story, sleep in strict order, no play fights or running around in between!).

We know these are difficult times. To experience difficult times in winter when energy levels are naturally low is even more challenging but the wheel of the year is always turning and things will change.