Saturday, 31 May 2008

Elderflower cordial

It's elderflower mania for me today! :-) I've just started off some elderflower cordial using the recipe on - it should be ready in 5 days. I made a different version last year which included oranges and was tasty. I'm planning to put in a preservative as I won't get through all of this before it goes off. Again last year I used Campden tablets which are commonly used in wine making and preserve the cordial for about a year. If anyone has any better suggestions for a preservative ingredient then I'd love to hear.
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Lemon balm

I've got a new friend on my windowsill which I brought back from Wisley yesterday - it's a lemon balm (melissa officinalis) plant, the "All Gold" variety with it's vibrant yellow-green leaves. Sitting on my window sill it look and feels like a cheerful guardian, and the light through it's leaves catches my eye as I'm at my desk working. The International Herb Association voted it Herb of the Year for 2007!

It is said to have a variety of medicinal uses including migraines, insomnia, indigestion, and nervous excitability. So far I've used the dried herb in a tea with vervain and chamomile for calm and sleep. Here are some quotes and links for other uses... I'll add more as I find them.
"Balm is sovereign for the brain. It strengthens the memory and powerfully chases away melancholy" ~ John Evelyn
"Cultivated in the Mediterranean region for the past 2,000 years, this perennial herb was prized for its catchall curative properties. During the Middle Ages, King Charles V of France was said to drink lemon balm tea daily for his health. Paracelsus, a Swiss Renaissance physician, called lemon balm the 'elixir of life'. And in the 17th century, the French Carmelite nuns made their famous Carmelite Water with lemon balm and other herbs to treat nervous headaches and neuralgia. Today, lemon balm is gaining acceptance as a useful herb for modern stress-related maladies" ~ Stephanie Bloyd
As a remedy:
In cosmetics, home and garden:
In cooking:

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Drying elderflowers

I'm having  a go at drying some elderflowers as they're in full bloom and very abundant where I live. As I don't have a particular warm place (unless the heating is on) I've just spread them out on a large plate on some kitchen towel and sat them on the table. They're nice and dry so I'm just moving them round every so often.

As it happened I had a couple of sprigs spare. I made a nice strong infusion with these then strained it off, added some honey and a couple of slices of lemon. Chilled overnight in the fridge, this is a really refreshing drink for an (almost) sunny day! :-) I'm planning to make some cordial this week as well.

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The gift of beauty - a visit to RHS Wisley

Yesterday I visited RHS Wisley gardens with my father, Robert. What a wonderful privilege to be surrounded by so much beauty throughout the gardens - colours, scents, and the texture of so many different leaves abound! We went, primarily, to visit the herb garden and "put faces to names" as it were for the various herbs we've been studying and starting to use in a dry or tinctured form. 

After some of the grand plants and vibrant colours - like the rhodedendrons or the tropical plants of the Glasshouse - the herb garden is a humble looking space. But with so many hidden secrets and qualities! The experience of being able to touch, smell and in many cases, see for the first time the herbs was very inspiring. I find myself starting to remember their uses and names, not so much through linear study but through reading up on them as I use them.

I forgot to take my camera, but here's the one shot I did take using my mobile phone. It's the chaste tree (agnus castus) which I'm currently researching as one of the key herbs for the female cycle:

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Sunday, 25 May 2008

Rose and lemon hand cream

I've been cream cooking! :-) This is an Aromantic recipe for hand cream which we learnt on the course. Among the ingredients are the oils of jojoba, olive, avocado and thistle - a protective and nourishing formula. As the scent I added rose and lemon essential oils, a combination that I find refreshing and lovely.

I was a bit disappointed with the consistency and had to use a thickener towards the end. I'm not sure exactly why but I will confess to talking on the phone at the same time as weighing the ingredients (blush!). Even if it was about elderflower picking, there's no excuse. LOL!

The final consistency is acceptable, but I will need to try it again at some point. Despite the consistency, this is a really lovely hand cream to use. I've been in need of one for a while, so my hands are happy. :-)

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Herbs for painful periods

I lay in bed a couple of nights ago, unable to sleep - my mind seeking and successfully finding things to worry about. After a while I decided to get up and make a cup of tea - a relaxing blend of chamomile, vervain and lemon balm - and sit up in bed for a while. It was then I realised that the first dull ache of period pain was what had kept me from sleep.

The pattern for me, for quite some years, has been that the first 24 hours of my period can be quite painful - such that I'll take paracetemol solidly through this period in order to sleep and deal with whatever demands of modern life are happening at that moment. I'd decided in the last month that I wanted to start to try some herbal remedies to help treat this naturally. 

I've read that cramp bark (viburnum opulus) tincture can be helpful with the cramping pain, and also read in a book a recommendation for a tea of black haw bark (viburnum prunifolium), cramp bark and pasque flower (anemone pulsatilla)  - 2:2:1 parts. I tried these yesterday and, it's hard to say after just one day trying them, but I think they helped a bit. I only took one paracetemol. The tea is a bit of an awkward recipe though, in my view, as the black haw and cramp bark need to be made up as a decoction, whilst the pasque flower I just added at the end as for a tea. Not ideal if one's busy or on the move. All three of these herbs are antispasmodic and nervine, and particularly recommended for dysmenorrhia (painful periods). Other herbs that are particularly recommended are: agnus castus, black cohosh and helonias.

While alleviating the symptoms - ideally by natural means, but if necessary by a modern medicine like paracetemol - I also want to get a deeper understanding. In this way, an illness or physical condition rather being a "problem" to be solved, is rather an opportunity to dig deeper, and learn about myself. Sitting in bed the other night sipping tea I got to thinking about the process of menstruation within the female cycle - it is like a time of release, breaking down the old, and preparing for the new. Why should it be painful to release, to let go of the old? It is a natural part of being female. 

So as well as trying out herbal remedies, I'm looking at what I find hard to let go of, and particularly in relation to my femininity. In the meantime, if anyone has any herbal recommendations, they would be much appreciated! I'm thinking it would be nice to drink a regular tea that is balancing for the female cycle.

Picture of Viburnum Opulus with thanks to Yarrow Corner.

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Sunday, 11 May 2008

More free salad!

I'm working towards a salad made wholly of leaves picked from the hedgerow. Last week I found that I had Jack-by-the-hedge (or garlic mustard) growing in the garden, and I've also seen it in many places. I added a few tasty leaves to a salad. It's not until their bruised that the leaves give off their garlic aroma.

Here are some other edible hedgerow plants that are on my list to add to my existing salad repertoire of dandelion leaves and garlic mustard!
I'll add to this list as I find more...

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Saturday, 10 May 2008

Elderflower and Yarrow tea

This is another herbal tea that isn't going to make the taste buds jump for joy. Yes, another acquired taste I'm afraid (or one aided by honey)! LOL 

I've added this one to my repertoire with the advent of the hayfever season, although I'm happy to report that I've only had the lightest, weeniest bit of hayfever so far. (Is that all the nettle tea I've been drinking the last 4-5 months?) Anyhow, elderflower and yarrow tea is reported to strengthen resistance to hayfever, and it should be drunk ahead of the season.

Yarrow (achillea millefolium) has a wide range of uses including temperature reduction in the early stages of fevers, flu and colds. It's a mildy bitter herb that can help with digestion. I've seen the suggestion of mixing it with elderflower and peppermint for colds and feverish conditions. Historically, it was used as a vulnerary (meaning it helps in the cleansing and healing of wounds, cuts and ulcers) and was known as "soldier's wound wort".

Elderflower (sambucus nigra) as a tea is recommended for sinusitis, colds, running nose, hayfever and flu. It is also said that eating the fresh flowers can relieve the symptoms of hayfever. It is advised that the tea should be drunk 3 times a day, starting 2 months before the hayfever season.

A good addition to this tea would be eyebright (euphrasia) - which is on my shopping list! :-) All of these herbs can be purchased on the internet, I usually use Baldwins and I've been recommended Grey's Herbal Supplies. And to make it... I just recently got a lovely glass teapot with an internal filter for loose herbs (it was reduced to £10) from BHS.

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Thursday, 1 May 2008

More laundry powder research

I'm still on the quest for a homemade laundry powder that works, but I must admit my chemistry knowledge is lagging far behind the chemicals used! LOL

From what I've learned so far looking at some of the eco-laundry powders out there, these are the bare essential components that I need in my laundry powder:
  • Surfactants (soap and detergents)
  • Water softeners (e.g. - zeolite, sodium carbonate)
  • Bleaching agent (e.g. - sodium perborate)
  • Perfume (e.g. - linalool)
Most of the commercial products also include a "filler" but I can't see much point in this - leave out the filler and just use less powder in the wash, no?

Hmm - for the soap and softener I can try using castile soap and washing soda. I'm not too sure about the detergent though, or about the right amounts of each component.

I'm now waiting for a flash of inspiration, a very good chemist, or (more likely) the next batch of research! Out of my depth? We'll see... ;-)

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