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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.

Welcome, October

October has arrived here in the Wolds, and the geese are honking and clamouring their way across the skies in their formations, many hundreds of them, stopping at the lakes before they head south. They wade through clouds that part before them, and meet again, before being torn asunder by the winds that worry their way through the tree tops, scattering falling leaves in their wake. The lime trees are shedding their hearts again, golden brown silky things that drift and pile up in great warm heaps across the courtyard. In the herb garden, plants nestle down, energy seeking the soil again as they prepare to weather another winter. The leaf harvest is about done, only a few solitary flowers left now – mullein and chicory blooming in fierce defiance of the windy, rainy weather. Puddles grow underfoot as the rain, long missing over the last couple of months, finally comes down in wild abandon. Set foot outside and the rain soaks you in seconds!

Fungi in the Norwegian woodlands recently - our holiday destination last month.

Fungi in the Norwegian woodlands recently – our holiday destination last month.

In the veg patch, chard and kale are growing well, and we have two glorious orange pumpkins that are ripening up a treat. Tomorrow I’ll bring them in, sun permitting, and put them on the windowsill to finish ripening up. Then there will be caramelised red onion marmalade to make, huge pans of vegetable soup for the freezer, and apples, endless piles of apples to prepare. Stewed fruit, chutney, wine, cider, the kitchen will be redolent of it for weeks. After that, it will be the turn of the hawthorn – gallons of ketchup will be the order of the day, the house left strongly scented with vinegar and spices afterwards. At long last, after the first frost has landed, it will be time to make up the bottles and batches of spiced rosehip syrup to add to the store cupboards, already groaning with elderberry and star anise syrup for warding off the winter colds. Between last October and now, I have caught five colds, one of which turned into flu. I am determined to ply all of my arts to avoid catching any this winter!

Inside the house, work has begun on reclaiming my old clothes making skills, long neglected, as I am determined to bring to fruition my clothing range, the Modern Medieval, which has been a long held dream of mine. There will be plenty of trial and error needed, and the first prototypes are being made to fit me, as they are not good enough to sell – but each one is getting closer and closer to being something I would be happy for someone else to wear. The stencilling continues apace as well, though there have been no new designs recently – the summer has been so busy that I am looking forward to some peace and quiet this winter to develop some new designs and play with more luscious fabrics and glowing, shimmering colours. I foresee a range of Viking, Celtic and Anglo Saxon inspired designs to be developed, along with more faerytale creatures.

First few items from the Modern Medieval collection - dress, overdress and tunic all made by me.

First few items from the Modern Medieval collection – dress, overdress and tunic all made by me.

I’ve also begun experimenting with leather work, and things are proceeding apace there. Lastly, I have resurrected and dusted off the Enchanted Herbal, a project begun some time ago now and abandoned in favour of outdoor activities over the summer, though I suspect part of the reason for its abandonment was a lack of confidence on my part, something which I continue to strive to master. To summarise, then, I think the word of the moment is ‘enchantment’ – clothing, interior designs and writing that strives to evoke that sense of wonder and magic that is so often lacking in life, though I am delighted to see it making somewhat of a resurgence these days – about time, too! The following months will hopefully see blog posts themed around herbalism (of course) plus poetry, short stories, photographs and commentaries about my dress making exploits and of course more updates about my stencilling designs. Wishing you all a delightful and abundant October!

Hand made leather oak leaf pendant

Hand made leather oak leaf pendant

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

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