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Recently I came up with the mad idea to make a tree in a pot for my home, using found or easily available materials.  It went so well, and the finished tree looks so good, that I thought I’d post the instructions here for anyone else who fancied having a go!

The Completed Enchanted Tree!

The Completed Enchanted Tree!

You will need:

One medium sized pottery plant pot

Small pea gravel – enough to fill the pot with.

A small piece of cardboard to block the hole in the bottom of the pot.

Moss – either the florists sort, or some gathered from the wild.

A branch – preferably fallen and partly dried out.   This is because a fresh branch will shrink as it dries and potentially make the leaves work loose.

Thin wire – 0.6mm jewellery wire is good, and cheap!

Silk leaves with a short stem on.  You can use standard silk leaves on a larger branch if you want to, just cut the leaves off with enough stem left on them to wire them onto the branches.

Charms, gemstome beads, sparkly things to decorate the tree with.

 

How to make the tree:

Put the cardboard in the bottom of the pottery plant pot, covering the hole, then fill three quarters full with the pea gravel.

Fill the top of the pot with moss.  I added an artifical mushroom as well, because... well... mushroom! :D

Fill the top of the pot with moss. I added an artifical mushroom as well, because… well… mushroom! :D

Carefully wiggle the branch base into the pot, until it is very securely placed, then fill the pot up with more gravel until about an inch below the very top of the pot.   Make sure your branch is well anchored! If it still wobbles precariously, you may need a bigger pot.

Wire wrap each leaf onto the twigs thoroughly.

Wire wrap each leaf onto the twigs thoroughly.

Cut pieces of wire at least three inches long and begin to wire the leaves onto the small branch tips.   I basically line the base of the leaf up with the tip of the branch, and then wire wrap along the length of the leaf stem to make sure its really secure.

Fill around the base of the branch with moss so you can’t see the gravel.

Sparkly!!

Sparkly!!

Wire more sparkly things into the tree branches – in this case I used small, shimmery glass crystals and gemstone beads which catch the light.

Stand back and admire your handiwork!

The whole thing took about two hours to make from start to finish, and cost about £25 for all the materials – which included enough wire and gravel to make another tree easily, plus some leaves left over!   I hope you have fun making your own tree! :D

Recently I’ve been doing a lot more work on learning the plants I have growing in my garden, predominantly wild, in the hopes of building a much better dispensary from wild native plants.  The first one on my ‘list’ is one that basically  jumped up and down and yelled ‘pick me!!’ about six weeks ago, growing busily all over the garden.  I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for this little beauty anyway, so I was delighted to discover so many uses for it!  There are now ten bunches of it drying in the kitchen, with more to follow in the near future.

This is part one of my introduction to Herb Robert – the next part will include tastings, recipes, intuitive stuff and lots more information.

So, without further ado – allow me to introduce…

Herb Robert!

Herb Robert!

Latin – Geranium robertianum

Family – Geraniaceae

AKA – Saint Robert’s Herb, Cranesbill, Bloodwort, Felonwort, Red Robin, Stinking Robert, Death-Come-Quickly, Cuckoo’s Eye, Fox Geranium, Dragon’s Blood, Storkbill, Herb Robertianum, St Robert, Stinky Bob

Description – Classic geranium family deeply cut leaves grow on stems that form a basal rosette.   The plant itself becomes more leggy as it grows, and features lovely mauve flowers from April throughout the summer.   More description and observation to follow in Part Two!

Folklore – There are three different bits of lore surround the name. Possibly named after a monk called Robert who used it to heal a lot of different disorders and complaints. Another legend reckons it is named after Puck, or Robin Goodfellow – derived from Old English Pucelas, or ‘Wild Men of the Woods’. Plants named Robin have a traditional association with devils, death and the fae folk, and since I have a soft spot for all this sort of folklore, I much prefer this association myself!

Constituents – Germanium, apparently responsible for anti cancer effects. Flavonoids inc rutin, minerals including calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium plus germanium, already mentioned. Tannins. Vitamins including A, B & C, volatile oils.

Properties: antiviral, antibiotic, antioxidant, blood purifier, tonic, oxygenator, adaptogen, immune system booster, adrenal tonic, anti microbial, anti rheumatic, antiseptic, astringent, digestive tonic, diuretic, sedative, styptic, tonic and vulnerary.

Herb Robert growing in the shade, leaning companionably against a linden tree trunk.

Herb Robert growing in the shade, leaning companionably against a linden tree trunk.

Medicinal Uses:  Has been used internally for improving the immune system and also to treat cancer – apparently it promotes oxygen availability to cells (germanium is the main constituent that does this), which reduces the amount of suitable environments for cancer to flourish in. Especially associated with cancer that causes tumours and nodules – possible internal and external uses here?

Energy giver – has a reputation as an adaptogen as well, boosts immune, therapeutic tonic and all round preventative.

Bladder, kidney tonic – astringent and anti inflammatory.

Reduces swelling and improves function of the liver and gallbladder and works to prevent stones in gallbladder, kidneys and bladder.

Relieve simple diarrhoea esp. due to functional lack of tone.

Can be used to relieve arthritis and rheumatism and improve circulation.

Blood sugar regulator – use in the treatment of diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

Fairly classic signature on those leaves for blood related issues!   It doesn't always have this colouring - the stuff in my garden has it pretty easy so has no red leaf colouring at all.

Fairly classic signature on those leaves for blood related issues! It doesn’t always have this colouring – the stuff in my garden has it pretty easy so has no red leaf colouring at all.

Long used traditionally for blood problems – colour of stem could indicate old, stagnant blood / varicose veins / vein congestion

Has been used to increase lactation.

Internally to encourage boils, lumps and abscesses to come to a head, drain and then heal cleanly.

Externally – for wounds, herpes and skin eruptions. Use as a mouthwash or gargle for sore throat and bleeding gums. Poultice for abscesses, also treat shingles, sun spots etc.

Rub on the skin to repel biting insects – though given its name of ‘Stinky Bob’, this might repel people as well…

As a poultice for swollen, hardened breasts.

As a balm for bruises.

As a foot bath to help remove toxins, radiation and heavy metals from the system. Can be used for the hands as well. Can draw toxins from swollen lymph glands. 2 handfuls of leaves added to a basin, cover with boiling water and steep til water is lukewarm.

As a poultice it can encourage boils and abscesses to come to a head, then promote healing.

Apparently it grows particularly abundantly in areas with high concentrations of radiation. The herb absorbs the radiation from the soil, breaks it down and disperses it. The whole plant repels deer and rabbits, perhaps why I have seen so few of either of these critters in my garden – just the odd hare, who is always welcome.

Dosage – 4.5mls of the tincture per day but no strength of the tincture is mentioned.

As a tea, apparently best as a cold infusion.

AKA The Joy of Simples

Plantain (Plantago lanceolata)

Plantain (Plantago lanceolata)

While I was training at University for my degree in herbal medicine a few years ago, I found myself getting into the habit of using blends of herbs, ranging from 5 up to about 8 or 9 of them, which is absolutely fine, I hasten to add – I’ve made up a number of medicines with quite a few ingredients in, and 9 times out of 10 they do the job admirably, but recently I’ve noticed myself moving back towards using a much smaller number of herbs in larger quantities.

Recently it has been just one herb in doses varying from drops up to huge doses to shift short term infections, and I’ve rather favoured using blends of just three plants. I’ve been relearning my plants, one plant at a time, going right back to basics with them and delving into their botany, phytochemistry (something I was dreadful at while studying), their folklore, myths, legends, folk names, where they grow, when they flower, when they go to seed, and finally, their myriad medicinal uses. It really is absolutely fascinating, and the more I read and research and learn and get to know the plants in my garden, the more I realise just how huge an arsenal of plant medicines I have in just 20 or so plants.

The prime example of this recently was when, after giving a client complicated blends of herbs to clear up some horribly entrenched sinusitis, I finally, in desperation, suggested 10mls of Plantain (Plantago lanceolata) three to four times a day. Two days later I got a call to say the sinusitis had cleared up. So all my fancy, complicated blends of Goldenrod and Eyebright, Mullein leaf and Elderflower had done very little. It was the humble but beautiful Plantain leaf that did the yeoman’s work of clearing up an infection that has a reputation for being a bit of a pig to treat. It just goes to show that complicated is not always better – one plant is quite complicated enough, being a huge morass of chemical constituents always engaged in an elegant and intricate dance. Often blending more than one plant is like trying to put together at least two separate and complicated court dances, and hoping that noses would not be bloodied in the process!

As my reward for doing two busy events in a row this month, the Viking and I paid a visit to London yesterday, visiting the Vikings exhibition at the British Museum in the morning and then trekking across London (through the mayhem of the Chelsea Flower Show visitors) to visit the Chelsea Physic Garden, a place I’ve wanted to rummage around for years now!

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They’ve recently been building the new garden of medicinal plants, which is nearing completion, needing only a year or two of settling in now to become a really beautiful herb garden.  There are interesting wooden units dotted about, with pictures, pressed herbs and jars of pills inside, featuring snippets of information about the herbs used for various departments – skin, oncology, rheumatology, nerves, and so on and so forth.

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The rest of the garden varies quite widely in display – strips of beds filled with plants from different families, other sections full of selections of plants discovered by various explorers, including our local botanical explorer, Sir Joseph Banks.   Glass houses are full of tropical and heat loving plants from all corners of the globe, just starting to come into bloom.  It really is a stunning place, totally astonishing to find in the middle of London’s hustle and bustle!

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Bee hives, gardens full of edible and useful plants, woven fences, huge trees… I really could go on!  That having been said, I had expected I would be running around like a bee in a clover field, but here’s where one or two little criticisms come to light.   I found that the labels and tags only detailed Latin names – I’d have loved it if they put the common names as well, and more details about the folklore.   It would also have been lovely if they had done more specific beds for each country – British herbs, Mediterranean herbs, North and Central American herbs, that sort of thing.   Lastly, I would have loved more folklore – that, and plants’ mythic uses, are some of my favourite subjects.   But those are just my little niggles about the place – if you are near there, do drop by and have a look.  The gardens are stunning, the gift shop is really cute and full of really lovely stuff, and the cafe supplies very good food indeed.   All in all, a lovely place to spend an afternoon!

One other thing I discovered about myself is that I it would seem that I am a bit of a plant snob!  Or rather, my interests in herbs seems to be particularly geared towards local plants – the ones I have grown or can grow in my own garden, or which grow locally to me, wild in the hedgerows.  Even the foreign ones that can and will gladly grow in English soil I’d be very happy and excited to learn about.  For some reason I just can’t get as excited over herbs from the tropics, perhaps because I don’t feel as though I can really make friends with them.  They are fish out of water to me, metaphorically speaking – not in their home climes, with different shapes and leaves and colours to our more native plants.  I can’t get a proper ‘read’ on them as a result, I suppose!  In a way its a good thing.  There are so many more plants that live over here that I have yet to learn about, after all – time enough in the future to learn more foreign plants, when I can go to their shores and climes and meet them on their own terms.

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I’ve always loved having a beautiful home, dating from my first proper bedroom as a child – which was all in shades of blue and full of unicorns – right up to my current cottage, shared with a partner who is a red headed, Viking blacksmith. I sometimes see herbal clients here, at my home, in my kitchen, sat up to the kitchen table with a cup of tea, and one of the things that really puts a smile on my face is the expressions of delight as folk cross our threshold for the first time. Our home has been described as an alchemist and apothecary’s home, a witch’s cottage and a faery house at one time or another, and this is before I even get started painting trees everywhere! Mulling this over, earlier this evening, it struck me that I do this sort of decorating not only because it delights me but because if I have friends and clients stepping through my front door who greet my home with that indrawn breath, that sense of wonder, then half the job is already done. The indrawn breath, the shoulders that relax, speak of someone who is already opening to the herbs, ready to receive whatever the plant allies can give.

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Come in and sit down at my table with a cup of herbal tea and tell me your woes – the battle is already half won. Tell me what troubles you, with the herbs hanging over head, drying for new batches of medicine. Your gaze is darting all round the room, taking in all the nooks and crannies, the books and bottles and jars and potions that fill all the corners – and that’s ok. Because you have relaxed, you are able to open fully and talk to me about what troubles you. The brown bottle full of herbs you will take away at the end of the consultation is only part of the medicine – coming here, sitting down in a safe space and returning to your childhood, that is part of the medicine as well. Even if your childhood was dreadful, going anywhere that makes you realise what childhood should be, that brings your inner child out from hiding, is always going to be a good thing.

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Here also is solace for me. For all of my life, ever since I was a small child, I have loved tales of witches in their homes – herbs hanging from the rafters, pots and pans and jars and bottles littering every surface. Hoary tomes in jewel coloured bindings crammed onto overstuffed bookshelves. Candles and arcane words and spider webs in the corners. Here, now, I have created safe space for me and mine, a sanctuary at the end of the long day, a haven of calm and potent mystery that sustains me and allows me to care so much, so very deeply for every person who comes to me for help and support. Without this space, these oddities, these odds and ends and peculiarities littering every surface, I would not be able to give as I do. Above my head hangs twine hanging rails full of herbs – at the moment Herb Robert and Cranesbill, but later on in the season there will be Meadowsweet, Mint, Hyssop, Rosemary and many others. Baskets of flowers will gradually accumulate on the surfaces over the coming months – Daisies and Calendulas, Elder and St John’s Wort. Bottles of colourful oils will fill the cupboards, and pots and jars of salves and balms will stack the shelves. All tools of my medicine, my healing, both for me and for others. All made possible by this mythic home of mine.

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Some folk may say I am living in a fairy tale. Perhaps I am. But it is a fairy tale of my own making, that I dwell in fully and joyfully, hands in the mud, heart soaring above the tree tops. You are always welcome to join me here!

Typically enough, life has rather run away with me again here in Lincolnshire, with large amounts of time being taken up with planting up my new herb garden (yippee!) and with planning for the Hatfield House Living Crafts event, next week.  I have, however, found the time to come up with a few new recipes,  one of which I tried out with some lovely students this week.  The result was so tasty I thought I’d share it with the rest of you – its basically a pesto recipe with a few foraged ingredients added instead of the basil.  The idea for the recipe came from the lovely Kay from Kay and Pete’s Preserves, who I ran into on the market circuit a few years ago.  The original recipe she gave me has long since gone the way of most random paperwork in my house, so this is my version of it instead.

Jack by the Hedge (Alliaria petiolata) which is just beginning to flower here in the Wolds.

Jack by the Hedge (Alliaria petiolata) which is just beginning to flower here in the Wolds.

Jack by the Hedge & Dandelion Flower Pesto

 

Ingredients:

At least one pint of loosely packed fresh Jack by the Hedge leaves

At least ½ pint dandelion flowers

1 small pot of grated Italian hard cheese

Olive oil

One medium pack of pine nuts

2 large cloves of garlic

 Instructions:

Rinse and pick over the Jack by the Hedge leaves, discarding any with additional seasoning of bird poo or insect residue on.   Pick the dandelion flower petals away from the green parts, then pile them and the leaves into a blender.   Add the pine nuts, peeled garlic cloves and at least half the pack of Italian cheese (or use grated fresh parmesan – I used what I could find in the shops at the time!)   Add a good slosh of olive oil and then put the lid on the blender. Blitz the whole lot on high for three or four one minute bursts – take care not to burn out the motor on the blender.   Taste a little. Add more olive oil and cheese if preferred – we ended up adding the whole pot to really give it that pesto kick.   Blend until it reaches a lovely consistency.

This pesto is delicious on home made bread or stirred in freshly cooked pasta with some pan grilled vegetables – it works particularly well with spelt pasta, cooked tomato, button mushroom and red pepper plus some slices on mozzarella cheese, mixed in and stirred before stirring.   A lovely late spring meal, high in vitamin C!

Dandelion flowers ready for preparing.

Dandelion flowers ready for preparing.

In other news, the preparing of the new herb gardens is going beautifully – further over excited sounding posts about this in the near future!   I’ve now got three herb beds, full of a variety of predominantly native herbs and wild flowers, and am constantly adding new bits and pieces here and there.   Drying lines have been put up in the kitchen, and my alcohol license has been applied for, so hopefully the next few months will see an increasing level of producing my own tinctures.  Exciting stuff!!

It being February, there really isn’t much to be done out in the garden apart from marking out the beds to be dug and making endless hopeful lists of seeds and plants to be bought, but that doesn’t mean that a great deal of fun can’t be had experimenting in the kitchen!  Recently I’ve been having a lot of fun creating recipes for infused wine vinegars, and this morning I made up a batch of two of the most recent ones, one sweet and one savoury.

Rosemary and Garlic Vinegar

Ingredients:

At least two large cloves of fresh garlic

A generous dessert spoon of dried or fresh rosemary

A few peppercorns

Red wine vinegar

Rosemary and Garlic Vinegar

Rosemary and Garlic Vinegar

This is really simple to make!  Just peel and chop the garlic cloves – bash them with a knife if you want to, first – and pop them into a jar or wide necked bottle.   Give the rosemary a good bashing in a mortar and pestle and then pile that in as well, then add a few peppercorns – I used white ones this time as I happened to have whole ones in the cupboard.  I didn’t bash them first for this recipe as I don’t want too much of a punchy pepper kick in the vinegar, though I may crush them next time just to see if it makes any difference!   Lastly, pour some red wine vinegar over the mangled herbs and put the lid on.  This lot will be left to steep for at least a week, more like two, and in fact there is a strong chance that I will just leave it all in the bottle and pour off the vinegar as and when needed.  I suspect this blend will be delicious stirred into cous cous or quinoa.

Sweet Rose Geranium & Vanilla Vinegar

Ingredients:

Fresh rose geranium leaves – a good handful.

1 Clove

1 small piece of vanilla and a good two heaped spoonfuls of vanilla sugar if you have it.  If not, try vanilla essence and raw cane sugar instead.

Ingredients!

Ingredients!

Chop the rose geranium leaves and pile into the bottle, along with the single clove and the sugar and piece of vanilla pod.

Chop the rose geranium leaves and pile into the bottle, along with the single clove and the sugar and piece of vanilla pod.

Pour on the red wine vinegar! Pop the stopper in, swirl around to disperse the sugar a little, then leave for at least two weeks.

Pour on the red wine vinegar! Pop the stopper in, swirl around to disperse the sugar a little, then leave for at least two weeks.

I’m going to use white wine vinegar for this recipe next time, but for this time at least, I am working on the theory that rose geranium is such a punchy flavour that it should work with the red wine flavour rather well.   It may be that I will want to add more sugar to this after it has finished steeping, though.   This one could be added to fruit salad, trickled over ice cream or used as a dipping vinegar for fresh bread.

I also started a batch of garlic oil this morning – I’m happy to post a recipe for that if folks want one!

I’ll report back in a week or two about the final flavour of these two recipes!  Next up will be various chai experiments! :)

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