Sunday 18 March 2012

A harvest of spring herbs

An apparently rather bleak morning in March, but hiding behind its damp and decidedly grey cloak were a panoply of spring herbs - nature providing all that we need to shake of the winter and feel the rising energy of spring. Today I've been walking and picking and making remedies with a good friend. There's nothing quite so therapeutic (well, apart from eating an drinking them of course!).

Top of our foraging list were nettles and we brought back fresh young nettle tops aplenty:

We also harvested cleavers (Galium aparine), burdock (Arctium spp.) leaf and root, common sorrel (Rumex Acetosa), and some young dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) leaf and root.

Everything was very young and fresh, greener than green. With a steaming cup of nettle tea inside of us to warm up we made several recipes. The first was the 'Garden Weed Tincture' from 'Hedgerow Medicine' (Julie Bruton-Seal & Matthew Seal) where it is described as 'a whole-body tonic to improve your health generally'. Sounds good to me! It includes (almost) the full medley of our pickings: cleavers, dandelion leaves and root, nettle tops, and burdock roots. It's now tucked away in a dark cupboard for a month while the vodka works its magic (with the help of a daily shake). The colours of the leaves and chopped roots are so vibrant:

Second, was a Nettle and Apricot Iron tonic which I've written about before. I've been making the Iron tonic through the winter with dried nettle, but it was great to get a batch going with lovely fresh nettle. I've been using the tonic on an almost daily basis recently to help with iron deficiency anaemia. I no longer need it so regularly now but it's a herbal essential for my medicine shelf that I will continue to take from time-to-time.

Thirdly, we made a straightforward Nettle Vinegar for the store cupboard. And the full line up:

By the time we'd picked and washed and bottled up all these herbs we were pretty hungry. So for lunch I made Chinese spicy buckwheat noodles with fresh... yes you guessed it English spring herbs. Delicious!

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Saturday 12 February 2011

4 things to do with chickweed (except composting it)

I was up at Canalside Community Food earlier today for a work morning (a beautiful, coming out of hibernation for spring kind of morning!). As well as coming home with a good dose of fresh air and exercise, I also brought back a bundle of chickweed which grows up in abundance (unwanted) in the polytunnels. To gardeners it's a weed generally known as a prolific nuisance, but to herb lovers both ancient and modern it's known for it's potent healing powers.

I know chickweed (Stellaria Media) best for it's soothing and cooling properties for the skin. I use it with chamomile in a soothing salve for itchy skin that I make for Amiya. As well as being useful for skin complaints, it has, according to the book 'Hedgerow Medicine', an affinity for the eyes, lungs and chest. I also love some of the alternative names the book mentions: chick wittles and clucken wort especially.

The chickweed has been flying in the kitchen the last couple of hours, resulting in:
  • Chickweed vinegar - suggested in the above book and recommended to add to the bath to help relieve itchy skin and restore it's natural pH balance. Other herbal vinegars I've made involve leaving the herb to infuse for 2-3 weeks in the vinegar - but in this case the recipe suggested just putting the herb and vinegar in the blending and then straining.
  • Chickweed pesto - I made dandelion pesto a few years ago (hmm, a bit dubious that was!) and will be trying chickweed pesto on my pasta tonight. The leaves can also be eaten as salad.
  • Chickweed oil - this is now infusing on my window sill, so let's hope for some more sunny days! I will use this in salve. [Update - see post comments. Next time I will hot macerate].
  • Chickweed tincture - and this is infusing in a cupboard for a couple of weeks, again I will use this in salve.
Apparently it's also a good emergency remedy for itches, bites and stings - you just bruise it and use it! (If you're not sure what it looks like there are some pictures on Flickr. It feels good to have some potions brewing about the house again after the winter months, now I just have to remember to give them a daily shake!

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Sunday 9 January 2011

Holly and winter sunshine

I took this picture on a beautiful snowy walk on Christmas Day.

Holly (Ilex aquifolium) is much loved this time of year for Christmas wreaths and decorations. Apparently before it was taken up as part of the Christian festival, it was associated with a December merrymaking festival called "Roman Saturnalia". (Source: Hatfield's Herbal).
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Thursday 16 September 2010

Making herbal beauty gifts for Christmas

You may have guessed I like making things. :-) Not just the potion making but also the craft aspect of decorating and packaging the potions, both for myself and for friends and family. It is something I find very relaxing and rewarding, and I suppose is part of a very Cancerian love of the home and homemaking. In also contributes to my enjoyment of making products that I sell through Amiya Natural Beauty - the opportunity to share quality products beautifully packaged.

Ok, so you've also guessed that this is a bit of a plug for Amiya... what I'm so excited about is a herbal beauty gift making workshop that I'm planning to run in October for Amiya. It will be here in my home, in Leamington Spa, and participants will get to make two herbal beauty products which they can then package in some lovely dark red glass containers. I'm going to provide wrapping, ribbons, decorations and labels so that people can put the finishing touches on these really personal gifts.

I think this is going to be a really fun event. If you're interested, or know someone else who might be, you can find out more on the Amiya website.

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Wednesday 15 September 2010

Making an elderberry elixir

I love that moment when I've just made some new potions. I get to watch over them for the weeks it takes for them to be ready, and then have the anticipation of straining them off and trying them. I share this because I've just made two elderberry potions in readiness for the winter months. The first is simply an elderberry tincture - elderberries in vodka. I've made this for the last couple of years and taken it throughout the winter to help ward off sniffs and snivels, particularly nice in this warming winter tea.

The second is an Elderberry Elixir, which I haven't made before. I went gathering on a early morning walk yesterday (isn't it wicked how the biggest, juiciest elderberries are always at the top of the tree!) Just hearing the list of ingredients gets the taste buds tingling: elderberries, cinnamon, ginger, rosehips, orange peel, brandy and honey. Yum! I've followed a recipe from Sarah Head, which she in turn has based on a recipe from Kiva Rose. You can read the full recipe on Sarah's blog.

I can't wait to taste this as apparently its scrumptious. In terms of how to take it, Sarah writes:
Take 1/4 - 1/2 dropperfull of Elixir every two to three hours at the first sign of illness. You MUST take the Elixir frequently rather than having a bigger dose further apart, it just won't work that way. Use the same dosage if you are actively ill. For a general preventative dose, I suggest 1/3 dropperful every four hours or so.
I wonder why it needs to be taken so frequently to work? I'm making this mainly for my mum as she isn't so keen on tinctures. I like the idea of having this in a dropper bottle as it will make it easy to carry around and take frequently.

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Sunday 12 September 2010

A spicy and energising chai tea

There was dew on the grass and a certain chill in the air as I went for a walk this morning. Autumn's a-coming and as the days start to draw in a little I've been thinking again about herbs to energise and protect in the coming months. I've been drawn to the recipes in Rosemary Gladstar's book Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health, and in particular those for "longevity and radiant well-being". I recently made her Brain Tonic Tincture.

I'm trying to drink a bit less coffee so I decided to make the "Longevity Chai", about which Rosemary writes:
"A robust, spicy herbal blend originating in India, Nepal and Tibet, chai comes in literally thousands of varieties. The following chai blend is especially formulated for longevity. Serve it hot or chilled with frothy steamed milk."

I didn't have all the ingredients so I adapted it slightly and made up my own quantities as I went along. My version contains: black ceylon tea, ginger, cinnamon flakes, sliced licorice root, broken up ginseng root, some crushed cardamon pods, some rose petals, cloves, a few crushed black peppercorns, and a little nutmeg. As I was making this as a gift I also had fun decorating the jar:

I tried the tea this morning and its absolutely delicious, very tasty and a nice alternative to a morning coffee. I gently heated about a tablespoon of the mixture in a large-ish mug of water, with the lid on, for about 10-15 minutes. I don't have a milk "frother" so I just added some milk and a little honey to taste. Mmmm! This could become another winter favourite methinks. :-)

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Sunday 8 August 2010

Rose hip face mask

Its been a very busy few months over at Amiya Natural Beauty, bringing to fruition some new natural hair and skin care products that have been in development for quite a while! It has been especially exciting to launch, and see the positive response to, my herbal face creams and toner. They have some really exquisite ingredients including rose and orange blossom waters, palma rosa, aloe vera, rosewood, macadamia and more! I also enjoyed choosing the names for these products, which are based on old English words.

And now I've had a chance to breath, say hello to the herbs in the garden, and try out a new recipe for Apotheblogary! I'm starting to think of the autumn harvest ahead of us, and in particular the rose hips which will be ripe for picking in October.

We're very familiar with rose (Rosa Canina) as a classic ingredient in beauty treatments, but this usually relates to the use of rose petals. Rose hips remain rather forgotten for their use in beauty products, although Rose hip oil is becoming increasingly popular in the repair of damaged skin, reduction of large pores, and rebalancing of oily or acne prone skin. The oil is extracted from the seeds and although Rosa Canina can be used, it is usually the seeds of Rosa Rubiginosa that are used in skin care. The recipe I've tried today is for a rose hip face mask.

  • 1 tablespoon white clay
  • 3 teaspoons of strong rose hip infusion
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey
  • 4 drops rose geranium
Make a strong infusion of rose hips - I used a couple of tablespoons of dried rose hips and poured over a mug of boiling water. Leave this to cool before making the mask (I left it overnight so that it was really strong). Mix together all the ingredients.

Apply to the skin and leave on for 10-15 minutes and rinse away with warm water. While you are waiting, enjoy drinking the refreshing rose hip infusion you have left over! Rose hip tea is an excellent source of Vitamin C, and also helps the body to maintain healthy collagen (ref. Bartram's Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine).

This makes enough to share with a friend, or use again with a week if kept in the fridge.

I found this to be a gently drawing face mask which would be ideal if you have sensitive skin. Here are some suggestions on how you could vary the recipe:
  • Replace either the honey or some of the water content with a small amount of rose hip oil (perhaps 1/2 a teaspoon)
  • You could use a different essential oil: frankinscense, rosewood, lavender, rose, palmarosa would all be good alternatives
  • Use green or yellow clay for more oily skin
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