Thursday, 25 June 2015

Midsummer, season of light and flowers

We are just past the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year.  I celebrated the Solstice sunrise at the Rollright Stones in Oxfordshire.  My husband Barry played the bagpipes as we circled 3 times sunwise around the stone circle to honour this special time, as depicted in the video and photographs at

Solstice sunrise at the Rollright Stones

Nature has responded to the light and warmth of this time through the burgeoning of leaves and flowers all around us, in our gardens and wild places.  

 Wild flower meadow and woods at Summer Solstice

Wildflowers on Hearsall Common

Bramble in flower

 Hedge Woundwort coming into flower

Over the past couple of weeks I have been foraging 3 types of flowers which are in full bloom at the moment, Elderflowers, Honeysuckle and Wild Rose.  These have been used to make a wide variety of things to eat & drink and medicinal remedies as detailed below.


 Elderflower in bloom

Elderflower close-up

Elder is known as a fairy tree, associated with the crone aspect of the Goddess.  Elder is a powerful healing tree that should be treated with respect.  As a spirit medicine elder brings powers of healing & protection.  Elder can help us connect with ancestral wisdom and spirit realms.  The leaves can be infused in oil to make an anointing oil for protection and to bring visions of the Elder Mother and the Otherworld.  In the past Elder blossoms were a traditional decoration at weddings to bring good luck.  

Elder is widely used in herbal medicine.  The flowers help remove mucus from the body and are a traditional remedy for feverish colds and flu.  A hot infusion stimulates circulation and promotes sweating which helps eliminate toxins through the skin and to resolve fever and infections.  Elderflower combined with Peppermint & Yarrow is a classic remedy for colds & flu and other upper respiratory tract catarrhal infections such as sinusitis.  Elderflower combined with Nettle tops is an excellent remedy for hay fever and other allergic conditions.  Cold Elderflower tea can help with menopausal hot flashes and night sweats. Used externally the flowers are anti-inflammatory and can be used in skin creams or ointments. Elderflowers can help cool sunburn and heal chillblains.   Cold strained infusions of the flowers can be useful as an eyewash for sore eyes and combined with Sage as a mouthwash for mouth ulcers, sore throat and tonsillitis.   

I foraged for Elderflowers on my local common to make a whole range of remedies:  I filled a jar with flowers, then half-filled it with honey and filled the other half with brandy to make Elderflower elixir.  I filled a jar with flowers and then filled it with honey to make Elderflower honey.  I filled a jar with flowers and then with vodka to make Elderflower tincture.  I filled a jar with flowers then with cider vinegar to make Elderflower vinegar which can be used in salad dressings or mixed with honey as a cordial remedy for colds & sore throats.  I made a double-infused oil with Elderflowers to use as an oil or basis for creams & lotions for a moisturising skin oil or ointment for dry eczema and psoriasis.  I dried the remaining Elderflowers on the lowest setting in my dehydrator to keep to use for infusions, 1 teaspoon to a cupful of boiling water.  I also made Elderflower water by putting several Elderflower heads in a pan of cold water, bringing it to the boil and simmering for 20 minutes.  This was left overnight with a lid on then strained into a bottle and 1/3 of the volume of water added as vodka.  This can be used on a clean piece of cloth to cool hot inflamed skin.  I also made an Anti-viral Elder glycerite, see recipe below.  

 Bag of foraged Elderflower heads

 Elderflower remedies

Anti-viral Elder glycerite recipe

An alcohol free tincture, that can help prevent viral infections or help recovery.

6-8 heads fresh Elderflowers
500ml vegetable glycerine
Juice of 2 lemons
6-8 heads fresh Elderberries when ripe

Pick the Elderflowers off their stalks, put in a bowl.
Cover the flowers with the glycerine, ensure they are completely covered. 
Add the lemon juice.
Put into a jar and leave for at least a month, shaking at least once a day.
When the Elderberries are ripe remove the berries from the stems and put them in a jar.
Strain the Elderflower mixture through a sieve and pour onto the Elderberries, ensuring they are all covered, stir well and mash the mixture.
Leave for at least one more month, shaking every day.
Strain through muslin and bottle.
The mixture should keep for a year.

Take 1 teaspoon as required either neat or diluted in your favourite drink for sore throats & viral infections.  For a clear complexion & smooth skin mix half and half with rosewater and use a face lotion.

Recipe from 'the Domestic Alchemist' by Pip Waller. 

 Anti-viral Elder glycerite
Elderflowers also have culinary uses to make fritters, cordial, wine & champagne - see recipes below.  

Elderflower fritters recipe

6 heads freshly picked Elderflowers
100g chickpea (gram) flour mixed with water to make a thick batter
Sunflower oil for frying
Caster sugar

Leave the Elderflowers in a bag for an hour to allow insects to leave, shake them gently when removing from the bag.
Dip the flower heads in the batter, holding them by the stalks.
Fry in a small pan with about an inch of hot sunflower oil.  You can fit about 3 heads in at once.
Fry for 2-5 minutes until golden brown.
Remove from the oil and leave to drain on kitchen roll.
Sprinkle with caster sugar.
Serve hot or cold.  They will keep for 2 days in the fridge.

Recipe from 'The Domestic Alchemist' by Pip Waller. 

Elderflower fritters

Elderflower Cordial recipe

500g sugar
750ml boiling water
20 heads fresh Elderflowers, shaken to remove insects
4 lemons, the zest grated and the fruit sliced
25g citric acid powder (optional preservative)

Make a syrup with the sugar and water, boil for 3-5 minutes.
Add the Elderflowers, lemon zest & slices and citric acid if using and stir.
Leave to steep with lid on for 2 days in a cool place.
Strain through muslin & bottle.
Dilute to make delicious drinks with still or sparkling water.  It can be made with hot water to encourage sweating in colds & fevers.

Keep in the fridge once opened, use within 3 months.

Recipe from 'The Domestic Alchemist' by Pip Waller
Making Elderflower cordial

 Elderflower cordial in bottles

Elderflower champagne recipe

10 large Elderflower heads
1 lemon
750g golden sugar
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
4.5 litres water

Trim the Elderflowers from their stems and shake to dislodge any insects.  
Zest the lemon and squeeze the juice. 
Put the Elderflowers, lemon zest & juice, sugar & vinegar in earthenware or plastic container such as a brewing barrel, don't use a metal container.
Cover with a cloth and leave to steep for 48 hours.
Strain into strong sterilised screw-top bottles or swing-top bottles.  Don't use corks or plastic bottles as they may explode.
Keep bottles in a cool dark place for up to 3 weeks.  Open bottles won't keep and will lose their fizz so drink them up quickly once open.

Recipe adapted from 'A year with James Wong' by James Wong.

 Elderflower champagne

Elderflower wine recipe

Large plastic bucket or ceramic casserole dish
Demijohn, bung & airlock which have been sterilised
Plastic funnel
Cotton muslin or tea-towel big enough to cover the bucket/dish with an overlap
String to go round bucket/dish to tie cloth on
Siphon tube

4.5 litres water
2 litres Elderflowers
juice of 3 lemons
900g granulated sugar
1 rounded teaspoon wine yeast

Put the Elderflowers in the bucket/dish.
Boil half the water and pour it over the flowers.
Add the lemon juice.
Cover the bucket with muslin or tea-towel tied with string.
Leave for 3 days shaking or stirring several times a day.
Boil the remaining water with the sugar.
Add to the infused flowers and stir.
Leave to cool till lukewarm/hand-hot then add the yeast.
Leave for 1 hour.
Stir and strain the mixture through muslin into the demijohn using a funnel.
Fit the bung and airlock with some water with 1/2 a dissolved Campden tablet in it.
Leave in a warm place.
It should start fermenting within 24 hours, if it doesn't give it a shake.  If it still doesn't start add another teaspoon of yeast.
Once it has stopped fermenting for a couple of weeks siphon into a clean demijohn or bottles.
Leave for at least 3 months before drinking.

Recipe from 'The Domestic Alchemist' by Pip Waller.

Making Elderflower wine 
Wild Rose

Wild Rose in the woods

Wild Rose close-up

The Rose is associated with Venus, the Moon and the Goddess.  Energetically Rose has the quality of unconditional love and opening the heart.  In herbal medicine Rose is healing and supportive for emotional pain, grief, anxiety & depression.  Rose is uplifting and calming for the nervous system and can help to relieve insomnia and heart palpitations.  Rose can help with anger and frustration and give courage to defend your boundaries.  Rose combines well with Hawthorn when the heart needs physical strengthening.  Rose has an affinity for the female reproductive system.  It can be useful for heavy or irregular periods, painful periods, uterine fibroids & infertility.  Rose can enhance sexual desire.  It has a balancing action which is helpful for premenstrual tension and menopausal anxiety.  

Rose is cooling and astringent and can help reduce heat in the body, clear toxins and bring down fevers.  Rose is mildly diuretic so can help eliminate toxins through the urinary systems.  An infusion can help relieve cold & flu symptoms, sore throat & runny nose.  The astringency of Rose can help diarrhoea, colitis and gastritis.  An infusion of Rose petals can be used to bathe sore eyes, as a rinse for mouth ulcers and sore gums.  Rose in a lotion or cream can be helpful for radiation burns such as after radiotherapy treatment.  Rosewater is helpful for skin generally, especially dry & sensitive skin.

I gathered Rose petals and leaves from Wild Rose bushes on the local common and in the woods, leaving the centres of the flowers to form Rosehips for foraging in the Autumn.  Back home I have used the petals to make several remedies: I made Rose petal glycerite by filling a jar with petals then pouring on vegetable glycerine.  I made Rose petal elixir by filling a jar with petals then half-filling the jar with honey and filling the rest with brandy, giving the contents a good podge with a chopstick to release air bubbles and mix everything together. This will be steeped for 2-4 weeks then strained into bottles and used when relaxation, love or courage are needed.  I made Rose petal and leaf vinegar by putting leaves & petals in a jar and filling it with Cider Vinegar.   This will be left in the dark for 2 weeks then strained and bottled.  This can be used to calm sunburned or irritated skin, heal small wounds and stop excessive sweating.  I made Rose petal tincture by filling a jar with petals then filling it to the top with vodka.  This can be used in the same way as Rose elixir.  These will all be kept for a few weeks to steep and topped up and stirred as needed, then decanted into bottles for use.

 Rose petal remedies

Honeysuckle in flower

Honeysuckle close-up

Honeysuckle keeps on blooming throughout the summer.  It has an intoxicating scent that is particularly strong after dark.  It twines round other plants and can create permanent twists to create natural spirals in the wood which make beautiful wands and walking sticks.  The old name for Honeysuckle was Woodbine, which reflects the twining habit.  It is associated with lovers due to this intertwining habit.

Honeysuckle contains salicylic acid.  In a tea or syrup it can help to cool & soothe headaches, fevers, bronchial complaints and some tumours.  It is used to help cool menopausal hot flashes, sunburn and other heat sensitive skin issues.  It is helpful for cramps, spasms and paralysis especially in the respiratory system for asthma, croup and bronchitis.  It is highly rated for sore -throat relief.  It has strong antiseptic qualities and is effective against many micro-organisms.  It is helpful for urinary tract infections.

I picked parts of the flowers which came loose when lightly tugged.  These were put in a jar which was filled with clear runny honey to make Honeysuckle honey.  The jar needs to be checked every few days and the flowers pushed down into the honey to keep them covered or they will go brown.  After about 2 weeks strain & bottle.  Take 1 teaspoon as needed for sore throats, 3 times a day. 

Honeysuckle honey

'Hedgerow Medicine' Julie Bruton-Seal & Matthew Seal.
'Letting in the Wild Edges' Glennie Kindred. 
'Practical Herbs' Henriette Kress.
'Sacred Plant Initiations' Carole Guyett. 
'The Herbalist's Bible' Julie Bruton-Seal & Matthew Seal.
'Wild Drugs' Zoe Hawes

Monday, 8 June 2015

Planting, picking & processing

I am getting into the rhythm of the herbwife role through growing, harvesting and making things from herbs to store and use for common health conditions for myself, family and friends.

A couple of weeks ago I made a trip to the National Herb Centre near Banbury to buy herb plants to add to the herbs already growing in pots in the patio outside my house and in our allotment.  This is a wonderful specialist garden centre for all kinds of herbs, far more varieties than normal garden centres.  The weekend after they were all planted out in the allotment, I filled up the existing herb bed and started a new herb bed in a previously unused patch of soil as well as putting some of the new plants in odd corners where there was a bit of space.  I look forward to seeing them grow as the year progresses.   The plants that are already there are going strong, many are coming into flower as the spring reaches its peak.  

Allotment table covered in plants to find room for

 New herb bed

 Raspberry plants setting fruit




I picked some Greater Plantain leaves to go with some Ribwort Plantain I had picked previously.  The leaves and flower heads were blended with a hand blender and some vodka to make a tincture, to use for coughs, bronchitis, earache, tinnitus, sinusitis, toothache, irritable bowel & haemorrhoids in doses of half to one teaspoon three times a day.  I used the Plantain double-infused oil made at last month's Springfield Herb Sanctuary workshop to make a salve with beeswax, the oil was measured in millilitres, then the beeswax was weighed out in grams to 1/8 of the amount in millilitres.  The oil & wax was heated in a small pan in a larger pan of gently simmering water then poured into jars and left to set.  The salve can be used for cuts, scrapes, bruises & insect bites. 

Ribwort Plantain & Greater Plantain

Measuring oil & beeswax for making a salve

 Plantain salve

I also made Hawthorn leaf double-infused oil and then made up a salve of Lesser Celandine double-infused oil with a little Hawthorn leaf oil, to use for haemorrhoids.  I used soya wax to make up the salve as I had run out of beeswax, I had to add more soya wax to a total of 1/4 proportion of grams to millilitres of oil as the salve did not set at 1/8 proportion.  Lesser Celandine, also known as Pilewort, is traditionally used for haemorrhoids.  I added some Hawthorn leaf oil for its astringency which should help stop bleeding from haemorrhoids, this is an experimental use based on the properties of the plant, it is not a traditional use. 

 Lesser Celandine oil & salve

I also strained and bottled lots of tinctures & vinegars that had been macerating for a few weeks in a dark cupboard, using a sieve, a jelly bag, a large measuring jug, a funnel and some clean bottles.  I poured the fluid out and squeezed out as much as I could from the left over plant material through the jelly bag.  I picked bottles to decant the strained tinctures & vinegars into depending on the volume produced after straining.   The tinctures & vinegars I decanted were: 

- Immune-boosting vinegar containing chopped fresh Turmeric root, chopped Garlic cloves, chopped root Ginger, chopped Chilli peppers & some Rosehips, 1 teaspoon to be taken in hot water whenever feeling that an infection is starting.

- Dock root tincture for sluggish bowels, constipation, anaemia & poor absorption of nutrients, skin problems, liver congestion & general tiredness to use in doses of half a teaspoon once or twice daily.

- Dandelion root & leaf tincture to be taken as half a teaspoon twice daily for general health maintenance, half to one teaspoon in water three times daily for digestive problems, recuperation from illness, sluggish liver, arthritis, gout, eczema & psoriasis, 10 drops in water frequently for acute skin conditions, 10 drops in water every hour until feeling better from overindulgence in food or drink.

- Ground Ivy tincture 1-15 drops to be taken 1-3 times a day for sore throats, earache, ear congestion, tinnitus, sinusitis, diarrhoea, kidney problems, urinary tract infections & heavy metal poisoning.

- Cleavers tincture for lymph congestion or swelling such as tonsillitis or glandular fever.

- Hawthorn leaf tincture (see last week's post).

Straining & bottling Immune-boosting Vinegar
 Bottled tinctures & vinegars

I also picked some Horsetail tips and have been using these in infusions with hot water with some dried Couch Grass roots for a urine infection, which both these plants are traditionally helpful for.  There are various plants that can be used for these but these were the ones I had on hand fresh or dried.  This is as it would have been for the herbwives of the past who used what they had growing and what they had preserved from the plants in their gardens and foraged from the wild. 

'Hedgerow Medicine' Julie Bruton-Seal & Matthew Seal.
'Practical Herbs 2' Henriette Kress.
'Wild Drugs' Zoe Hawes.