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

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