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hypericum perforatum 3

St John’s Wort flowers (Hypericum perforatum)

Late July brings quite a glut of herbs to harvest, including many of the more sun loving plants that make superb infused oils.  In this particular case, a warm July morning saw me out rummaging in the garden, gathering in handfuls of the sunny yellow flowers of St John’s Wort, with its characteristic pollen that stained my fingers red after a short while.  I already have a jar of infused oil on the sunny windowsill in the front porch, slowly starting to take on the distinctive red tinge of a good John’s Wort oil, and the handfuls that got gathered this morning will simply speed the process.

I have a particular soft spot for St John’s Wort, not just because the seemingly alchemical process that turns a combination of pale yellow oil and bright yellow flowers into a deep garnet coloured potion utterly enchants me.   St John’s Wort oil topically is fantastically useful and a vital addition to my dispensary.  I’ve used it for all kinds of nerve pains and neuralgias, tense muscles, sore joints, any kind of inflammation and also, most dramatically, for shingles pain (where the plant’s anti viral properties also play a key role) and pain from any kind of nerve damage.   It makes a gorgeous salve, with the addition of some beeswax (I tend to say about 12g of beeswax to 100mls of oil works quite nicely and makes a fairly soft salve) and provided you don’t allow water to get into the oil, it keeps for a good long time, though I haven’t managed to find the outer limits of its keeping time yet as it always gets used up!

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Picking St John’s Wort flowers in the main herb garden. St John’s Wort self seeds readily, so I have clusters of this cheery plant dotted all round the garden as well as several tubs in sunny corners. Good for me as it means lots of plant medicine!

St John’s Wort sun infused oil is very easy to make, and it is one of the few oils that I do prefer to make using the sun infusing method, partly because the plant itself is so cheery and warming in both flavour and look, and partly because the plant has a long affiliation with the sun and Solar deities in general.   Sun infusing the flowers feels like part of an ancient ritual that has been used for many hundreds of years!   All you need is a decent sized jar with a rubber sealed top – Kilner or something like that works well.  The one I used was a cheap second hand one found in a charity shop!  A wide necked jar works better and makes for less spillage of flowers.   Pick the flowers on a warm, sunny day (I was lucky I got mine in this morning as it is raining as I type this!)   If you give the stems a good shake first, you’ll knock off a load of the little black bugs that smother any bright coloured flowers at this time of year.

Pinch each flower firmly between thumb and forefinger, around the stamen of the flower, then give a quick tug.  If you pick this way, you’ll leave behind many more of the unopened flower buds for next time!  Pack the dry flowers into the jar and pour over any organic vegetable seed oil.  I’ve used organic rapeseed for this lot, which I find works fairly well – its lighter than olive oil and absorbs more easily, but is still cheap enough that a spoiled batch isn’t a huge loss.   Seal the top of your jar, shake it up so the oil covers the flowers, then put it on a sunny windowsill.

This infused oil has been steeping for about four days.  I've just added a load more flowers, which should start making the colour of it darken down towards garnet instead of lightly colouring it.  I estimate maybe two days of full on sunshine to do the job, longer if the month carries on being as rainy as it has been!

This infused oil has been steeping for about four days. I’ve just added a load more flowers, which should start making the colour of it darken down towards garnet instead of lightly colouring it. I estimate maybe two days of full on sunshine to do the job, longer if the month carries on being as rainy as it has been!

Bear in mind that the more flowers you add, the darker garnet the final colour and the stronger the overall oil will be – so keep popping out and checking those plants!  St John’s Wort flowers plentifully throughout July and the larger part of August, so with the load in my garden I should get at least three of these jars full of oil and flowers before the season finishes.  The last few flowers and seeds will be cut with the rest of the green plant matter to make a tincture filled with the richness of summer sunshine.  More on this in a later blog post, though!  Happy picking!

Plenty more unopened buds on this beauty!

Plenty more unopened buds on this beauty!

Gorgeous display of herbs at the Herb Garret

Gorgeous display of herbs at the Herb Garret

This summer has finally seen the resurgence of the Enchanted Herbal, with a half dozen new stories written for it, but more importantly, two good friends have agreed to collaborate with me on this with art and the editing of the book! That’s the second hurdle out of the way. The next hurdle will be finding a publisher, or sorting out how to publish it ourselves – more on this as I do some research and rummaging. Being a relatively unknown author I’m rather anticipating that we will have to fund a small publishing run ourselves, though I dread to think how much this will cost. It is, however, a dream of mine to get this into print, so something will come up to make it a reality, I am sure! I’m hoping eventually to have copies of the book available for sale.

I’ve also got a second book in the pipelines on forgotten plants of Europe, which I think I may have already mentioned a couple of posts ago, and which I am now finally getting time to sit down and write, due to the continued rate of cancellations of workshops and consultations. Not good news for the bank balance, but very good news in terms of having time to create and write and start off some new ventures!

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This month saw time spent with the Viking’s family and visits to the Chelsea Physic Garden again (loads better the second time as I knew what to expect) and a trip to the Herb Garret and Old Operating Theatre. Loads of food for thought, and inspiration for stencils, potionaries and house decorating hints and tips! The Herb Garret is an astonishing place packed full of bottles and jars and bundles of herbs – my ideal place, and pretty much what I would love my house to look like, though visitors tell me its probably not far off already, especially at this time of the year with bunches and baskets of herbs festooning all available surfaces!

 

Speaking of house decorating, I’ve done a fair load more of that over the last month as well, and the bedroom is now a gorgeous deep teal with loads of stencilled details. This gave me the idea of having collections of crafted items that will be completed and listed for sale, all themed around specific ideas. The current one is, of course, Midsummer Night, and will hopefully be available in the shop by mid August. I had hoped to have it ready for purchase by the end of July, but with the two weeks spent being ill, I suspect that’s a rather vain wish. So far I plan to make a throw, a shawl, a bag with leatherwork details, jewellery, a couple of shrooms in glass boxes, and a potionary, having finally found a suitable cabinet. I haven’t made a new potionary in a long while, so I’m rather enjoying having another one to work on!

Typically enough, the garden now resembles a jungle and there’s a glut of herbs ready for picking and drying, but it keeps raining! Pretty sure those who live on the south coast will glare at this post for grumbling about it as they’ve had rather a lot of dry weather there, but I must admit I wish we could have a couple of dry days now so I can get caught up before it all goes to seed! Summer blessings to you all – consider this a ‘filler’ post while I get back to work and produce something worth writing about in more detail!

medflora

This week’s post is a book review of a rather superb book that has been gracing my shelf since I started university, about eight years ago (a scary amount of time, that, which has gone past entirely too quickly for my liking!) The book in question is entitled ‘The Medicinal Flora of Britain and Northwestern Europe’, by Julian Barker, and is an absolute must have for anyone fascinated, as I am, with all the lesser known and used plants that we have growing around us. It has always amazed me, as a herbalist, that we use so few plants when we have so many growing wild in our hedgerows, many of which have medicinal uses of their own but which have rather fallen out of fashion over recent years. Julian Barker’s book is a fantastic first point of contact for anyone wanting to re-engage with our forgotten plants, to begin identifying a few more of our local allies which have perfectly useful medicinal properties going for them which have been rather forgotten about over time, or thrown over for the latest fashionable plant from North America or China. The book is quite a hefty tome, at over 600 pages long, and is frankly probably heavy enough to break a window with if thrown with enough oomph, but its 600+ pages of fascinating information, covering herbs and plants ranging from the more commonly used Plantain (Plantago lanceolata) through to plants such as Yellow Loosestrife (Lysimachia vulgaris), Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis) and Bears Breeches (Acanthus mollis) – and these are just the random pages I happened to open the book to! Illustrated with a plethora of beautiful pen and ink drawings, the book is written in a fairly approachable fashion, with snippets of information and boxes of current medicinal uses and dosages in pale grey, making it easier to find the information that you may be looking for. It also lists constituents where known, and any contraindications, plus descriptions and plant names. Each section of the book covers a different family and genus, with information about its general appearance, similarities between members of the same family, and where you may find it growing.

Lovely line drawings of dodgy umbelliferae...

Lovely line drawings of dodgy umbelliferae…

The only quibble I have with this book – and its a very minor one – is that it can be difficult to make head or tail of the index and find the plant you are trying to look up. So for example if you were to look up Borage, it gives number 289, which you might be forgiven for thinking is the page number. It is not, it is the number associated with the plant itself, so in this case, Borage is number 289 and is found in plant family 64. Not a problem at all once you get your head around this way of doing things, but something to be aware of when you are trying to look something up!

All in all, this is a thorough, beautifully written and researched gem of a book that deserves to be on the bookshelves of any herbalist or plant lover who is fascinated and very much in love with our native flora, here in the UK. I highly recommend it, and it is one that I dip into regularly, even if I have nothing specifically to look up, due to its huge volume of information.

Five stars.

Hello, Summer!

Here in the Wolds, summer has been rather slow arriving, with the Hawthorn flower very late indeed flowering.  I gathered mine only last week for tincturing, and there is still a plentiful amount of it on the hedgerows hereabouts.  In the kitchen the tincturing is proceeding apace, with violet leaf and flower, ground elder, nettle, hawthorn flower and cleavers tinctures ready for pressing and bottling in the next day or so, then I’ll need to collect up my basket and my gathering bags and go foraging for the next load of goodies – this time will be ground ivy, silverweed and wood avens, and perhaps some white archangel for the tincturing jars.

Hard to believe the garden we put in in January is now such a thriving gallimaufry of herbs!  I'm delighted :D

Hard to believe the garden we put in in January is now such a thriving gallimaufry of herbs! I’m delighted :D

The garden is growing like a wild thing, and we finally relented and cut the grass this morning before it took over the whole garden and turned it into a jungle – as it was, the herb garden I put in back in January was fast becoming lost amidst waving stands of grass and plantain flower heads!   In the kitchen I have bunches of ground elder, herb robert and wood avens drying along the rafters and baskets of plantain leaf dehydrating in baskets, and the first loads of dried herbs have been put away.  I both love and hate this time of year – everything is so green and lush but the frantic panic to keep on top of the herb gathering and drying does get a little wearing sometimes!

Part of the garden - weeding the gravel is proving fun as trying to decide what to allow to grow is getting more and more difficult - so many plants are useful!

Part of the garden – weeding the gravel is proving fun as trying to decide what to allow to grow is getting more and more difficult – so many plants are useful!

This year has brought the additional challenge of the almost complete collapse of my herbal practice last month, which I have had to concede is probably permanent.  Too many herbalists in these parts, it would seem!   The teaching, however, is going really well and is getting lots of delighted reviews from those who attend. Now that I’ve had time to adjust to the notion, a period of time to catch up on my reading, writing, learning and herbal experiments is much needed and long overdue – I never actually wanted to practice as a herbalist when I first graduated from university, as my first love and fascination was always with the plants, and it is to those that I very gratefully turn my attention once more. So now I am spending more time in the garden with my plants, more time roaming the hedgerows and gathering herbs in for drying and medicine making, and lots more time reading and writing – the most recent delight has been Plant Healer magazine, which, despite being mostly American in influence, is still a rich source of inspiration and much needed nourishment. I highly recommend it to any who are interested in herbs!

The rest of this year will see much more regular updates, which will include book reviews, herbal gossip and ponderings, hedgerow ramblings and musings, and many more recipes. I’ve been very lax about this in the past, but now that one side of things has died back somewhat, I have more time to get organised!

Wishing you all a warm, happy and successful summer!

Spring seems to have finally sprung, here in the hills, and in the garden flowers are beginning to pop up. The new fruit canes weP1150621 planted last month have some lovely new buds appearing on them, and the herbs are starting to come back up, quite a relief since their rather hasty transplanting in November! The new spiral herb bed is still in its beginning stages but should look good once I finally get around to picking up some more stepping stones for the spiral path to the centre. The workshop teaching is proceeding apace, much to my delight, and has been very well received, to my even greater delight. I’ve met some really lovely people during these teaching sessions, and I learn as much from the attendees as I hope they do from me!

This month we visited a wonderful theme park called the Efteling, while we were in Holland visiting my sister and her husband. The place is huge – I suspect we only saw about half of it – and is filled with fairytale themed rides, exhibits and shows. My favourites were the Dreamflight – a gorgeous fairy filled ride through enchanted forests, sky palaces balanced precariously on planets, and mossy grottoes filled with trolls – and the Fata Morgana ride, a 1001 Arabian Nights themed ride through sultry rainforests (not sure how many of those there really are in that neck of the woods, but who cares, they were gorgeous!) Wizards, genies, tigers, markets filled with all sorts of characters and fripperies… the whole ride was gorgeous, and conveyed the essence of the fairy tale cycle beautifully. Then we traipsed off to the fairy tale wood, where buildings tell the stories of Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood, the Little Match Girl, Rapunzel and so many others. This whole section was absolutely glorious, and with the pictures I took, its hard to tell sometimes that these are small scale buildings for a theme park, and not enchanted castles! If you get the chance to go there yourselves, then do – its well worth it!

In the fairytale woods...

In the fairytale woods…

The entrance to the Dreamflight

The entrance to the Dreamflight

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I’ve begun working on a distance course called Singing Over the Bones recently, as I reached the conclusion that I have not written any stories or poetry in such a very long time. I’m hoping that the course will help me to uncover the tales in the landP1150502scape around our new home – these hills speak to me, and I want to unstop my ears so I can hear more clearly. First, of course, I need to slow down and stop running around all the time…. easier said than done!

Hope you all have a wonderful Easter!

Phew!  It feels like an age since I lasted posted on here, but life does tend to go on I’m afraid.  In this case it saw a rather hasty house move at the very end of last year, escaping an unpleasant atmosphere from the previous landlords who insisted on spraying weedkillers on the drive despite my requests not to.   Instead, we have ended up in a gorgeous house up in the Wolds, with a stream at the bottom of the garden and a huge space for me to grow herbs, vegetables and all kinds of wild and garden flowers, so all is well that ends well!   There are stories here, in the stream overhung with trees adorned with bracket fungus, in the light as it slips over the hills in the morning and evening, far more stories than there were further down on the flatlands.  I’m looking forward to learning them, and perhaps telling them.

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Sunset retreating behind the hills, not long after we moved in.

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Once, many moons ago, Elves passed through here, journeying to far distant shores.

This year brings a huge shift in levels of busy-ness for me, as I am now teaching a LOT more ( up to 8 workshops a month at the moment, alongside seeing clients and trying to find time to do all the creative stuff that feeds my soul).  I’ve got two books on the go, now, when I get a spare few minutes to write them – the Enchanted Herbal, which is full of retellings of fairy tales that feature herbs, plus a few original pieces based around folklore, and a new project which sprang into my  mind fully fledged last week – Northern Europe’s Forgotten Herbs, which will focus on some of the more unusual wildflowers that we don’t seem to use or engage with any more.

Two days ago the Viking and I were out digging over a new corner bed for wildflowers and herbs, and found we were being serenaded very lovingly by a robin, perched in the hornbeam next to the hedge and watching every lift and movement of the trowel.   So we stopped and watched him. “Help yourself, if you want.   We’ll stop for a few minutes so you can dig in.”  It was the sort of joking conversation I often find myself having with birds and animals, and I am constantly astonished by how much they seem to understand.  In this case, the robin cocked its head on one side and looked at us, then promptly flew down into the bed and began pecking up bugs.  He was barely a metre away from us at this point.   We got a quiet tweet of enquiry after a minute or two.   “Carry on – we’ll give you another minute or two, then we have to carry on working.”  So the robin stuffed his beak for another minute or two, then we got serenaded again with another song before he flew off, just ahead of us returning to work.  Pure magic.

It never ceases to amaze me how much of a conversation we can have with wild nature if we are just willing to slow down and take the time to listen.   A lesson I have to relearn regularly as I make the mistake of getting so wrapped up in work that I forget to slow down.

Spring is on its way over here – I wish you all a beautiful and flower filled one, with lengthening days and cool nights, and lots of seedlings and sun!

It never ceases to amaze me just how much of a profound effect emotions can have on physical health, in particular anger. Recently I’ve had quite a few clients who have had some difficulties with unexpressed anger following unfair, cruel or abusive treatment, some of whom would only admit to being angry after quite a long discussion. Anger that has been suppressed can manifest in a variety of ways, some of which are quite serious – diabetes, psoriasis, arthritis, anxiety, insomnia, depression, PCOS, the list goes on. Odd really, because I’d previously thought of anger as being part of a ‘hot’ pattern of symptoms, whereas some of the illnesses I’ve seen recently seem to follow a much colder pattern of behaviour. But then I began thinking about it, and it actually makes a lot of sense, especially if you look at health in terms of using the vital force, Qi, Prana, Chi, whatever you would like to call it. That force drives us, pushes us forward, gives us the energy and impetus to get through the day, to get things done, to defend ourselves. It is, quite literally, the spark of life. Sometimes that spark can flare into anger, in defence of the body, the mind, the sense of self respect.

Life has the bad habit of stomping all over us at one time or another, and, for many of the people I have seen recently, that has resulted in anger being turned inwards, pushed downwards, trapped in the body, perhaps specifically the liver. Ever heard the saying ‘to vent one’s spleen’? Yeah. Liver patterns, again. We are constantly told that to be angry, to express anger, is not polite, bad manners, not ladylike, is uncouth, uncivilized, that we are supposed to be ‘better’ than that. The big problem with this attitude is that it fosters a ‘put up and shut up’ attitude that is profoundly unhealthy, both for ourselves and our health but also for society at a whole. Now, believe me, I’m not advocating going out there and vocalising anger constantly – what I am advocating is a mindful expression of anger when it is appropriate and safe to do so. Even if that means you go home and kick a cushion or write ten pages of expletives. We all have the right to say ‘NO’ when we are unhappy with something. Don’t push it down and deny it – give it a voice and you’ll be surprised how much it can change your world, and change it for the better. Imagine all that energy, directed outwards towards making positive change, instead of repressed, shut down and denied, and you’ll begin to see how much more powerful you can be if you allow yourself a voice, allow yourself the right to stand up and say ‘NO, that is not acceptable’. You may be startled by the results!

Dandelion, a wonder at helping to release trapped anger!

Dandelion, a wonder at helping to release trapped anger!

There are many herbs that can help with unexpressed, justified anger – bitter liver herbs, for the most part, with Dandelion root being a particularly good one to use – more on this in a future post. I like to back it up with a little Calamus root, to help people to find their voice and feel they have a right to talk, to express how they are feeling. I also recommend journalling, writing down all the things you dont feel you can say in polite conversation (expletives included!), writing letters to anyone you feel has wronged you severely (not to send, just to express the thoughts and get them out of the head). Take up martial arts. Run. Get a punch bag and beat hell out of it. Beat up a cushion. Listen to loud and angry music and sing along at the top of your lungs. Cry. Have a healthy ranting session with someone you can trust. The trick is to not let it turn inwards, because once turned inwards, anger will turn into depression, which will then turn into ill health as that fire, that force, that spark, finds other ways to express itself. This is one time I would not recommend taking herbs unless you have back up plans to help you express the fury you are stirring up. Start gentle. Go carefully. Be kind to yourself.   Realise that sometimes calming herbs are not the way to go – sometimes it is better to get angry.  And that’s ok.

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