Today we have the honour of introducing you to the queen of herbalism herself Lucy of The Myrobalan clinic in Castle Cary. I met Lucy when I first moved to Dorset about 10 years ago and she has been supporting my health ever since.
What I love most is Lucy’s close relationships and intimate knowledge of the plants themselves which she has nurtured through foraging and growing them herself. Unlike a lot of herbalists, she creates her own powerful tinctures.
I was often told that the herbs that grow around us are the ones we most need and those grown in hotter countries are the most powerful just as plant dyes grown in hotter countries provide brighter colours. Is there any truth in this?
In general, I love the idea that our local environment offers us everything we need to be healthy. It’s true that the plants which grow around us are very often the ones that are best suited to our constitution but then there’s also the situation where a herb suddenly appears when we need it. Let me give you a few examples:
One of my patients was establishing a new garden and found that a huge amount of Shepherd’s Purse sprung up where the soil had been cultivated. A few months later she realised that she needed fresh Shepherd’s Purse to help resolve heavy menstrual bleeding. Shepherds Purse is amazing at treating excessive bleeding, whether that’s post partum or heavy menstrual bleeding but to be most effective it must be prepared with fresh plant. This person was able to gather fresh Shepherd’s Purse for teas and it really helped her.
An elderly patient found Eyebright in her field after many years of it not growing there. That same season she developed quite irritated sore eyes and was able to make an Eyebright eye wash which she described as a ‘life saver’.
One last example, a patient of mine was a very keen gardener who liked to grow vegetables, herbs and fruit. He never used chemicals but always kept everything weed free and tidy. One evening, I was just packing up to go home from my clinic and he rang me complaining of a sudden painful urinary tract infection. He wanted to avoid antibiotics so I suggested that the best thing to help him was Couch grass, however I realised it was unlikely that he would have any growing in his garden. He said: “On the contrary, I do actually have a patch of Couch which has sprung up this year and I decided to leave it”. He harvested some rhizomes and made a tea straight away. Within two days he was absolutely fine.
There are lots of stories like this. I love that they illustrate the value of noticing and having a relationship with the plants around us.
Having said all of this, I also feel that having some herbal influences from further afield can be very helpful when needed. As someone who’s also trained in Tibetan Medicine, I like to prescribe spicy medicines such as Cardamom, Cloves, Chilli and Ginger alongside locally grown medicines.
It's very interesting that you say plant dyes grown in hotter countries are brighter. I hadn’t really thought about that before but yes of course that really makes sense. There’s a stronger element of ‘fire’ in plants grown in hot climates and one of the qualities of the fire element is having or resulting in a stronger colour.
There are lots of herbalists out there and thankfully it is growing in interest.
What makes your herbalism unique?
Goodness, that’s quite a question! I think that in general, herbal medicine is very much about the relationship between practitioner, patient and the herbs. There’s a very special alchemy that happens when these three things come together. For that reason, you can say that all herbal practitioners offer a unique approach. We all share the objective of treating people with herbal medicine but within that there’s a lovely range of therapeutic approaches. This is wonderful because it means that patients can choose a practitioner that really resonates with them and helps them to feel comfortable in their health journey.
Re my herbalism being unique, I suppose you could say that my own way of working is unusual because the majority of the herbs that I prescribe have been grown or gathered by me, and all of the herbs I prescribe have been processed by hand into medicines. There’s a lot of care and mindfulness which goes into the process from seed to medicine and it’s an absolute joy to work in this way.
Another unique point is that, although I’m a western herbal practitioner based in the west, my approach is also very strongly influenced by Tibetan medicine. Tibetan medicine is a beautiful and sophisticated system based on a deep appreciation of interconnectedness and respect for the Earth and the medicines which come from it. In Tibetan Medicine it’s actually considered unethical to prescribe medicines to patients if lifestyle and dietary factors haven’t been addressed first. I think that this is very wise since it helps patients to truly understand how to stay well. In my clinic, herbal treatment is most often a temporary support whilst a patient makes the required lifestyle changes. This approach means that patients don’t become dependent on a herbalist or their medicines. It also means that the herbs are at less risk of being over exploited. When I say ‘over exploited’, I’m thinking about when people take a scarce herb daily to prop up an unsustainable lifestyle. If someone is taking a scarce herb like Slippery Elm or Goldenseal every day because it allows them to continue to live a lifestyle which basically makes them ill, this exploits their body as well as the ecology of our planet. A small change in lifestyle or diet could make all the difference to their health and it could reduce their need to contribute to over harvesting of scarce or protected species.
Your second book: ‘A Working Herbal Dispensary – Respecting Herbs as Individuals’ is due out in May. It’s about the virtues of herbs themselves and you talk about getting people to know herbs as individuals rather than lists of 'what they do'.
Clearly you have a strong relationship with each of the herbs you gather and prescribe. How do you build and deepen the relationship you have with the plants you work with?
I think it’s inevitable that, when we grow, gather and process our own herbal medicines, we can’t help but to build a deep connection with them. It’s not even a conscious thing, it just happens as though the herb has seeped into our very being. For example, if you’ve spent many hours picking Calendula flowers in the right weather conditions, carefully laying them onto drying trays, tending them to make sure that they’re dried properly and then storing them in a way that ensures their medicinal constituents are preserved, you inevitably really care about them making a difference and not being wasted.
Also, when we work with herbs regularly, we’re constantly blown away by how amazingly positive their influence can be. These plant beings really change people’s lives. Once we start to see that, we have to respect them as beings in their own right, as opposed to objects which can be ‘used’ to treat certain health conditions.
I do sometimes sit with my herbs and I keep a contemplative herbal journal. I do feel that this deepens my relationship with them and it often brings new insights but honestly the majority of my herbal relationship building activities are just through working with herbs day in and day out. We’ve formed quite a team over the years.
What is your favourite plant or herbal combination and why?
I don’t have favourites as I love all of my herbs but I will tell you about one wonderful combination that I prescribe quite often. That is Rose and Hawthorn. These are both members of the Rose family and share a calming and uplifting quality which can be very helpful for patients who are in the process of working through a bereavement or digesting a past trauma. In these cases, the pressure to try and put on a brave face or to carry on with normal life responsibilities can lead to the grief or trauma being held in their bodies rather than being processed gradually. Sometimes this situation of holding grief can last for many years and people may be unaware of how much is still ‘stuck’.
Rose petals have a longstanding association with gladdening the heart as well as gently supporting the liver. Hawthorn is well known as a herb which helps to support the physical heart but in doing so it also helps the heart area to release emotional trauma and grief. When prescribing this combination, I choose Rose petals and Hawthorn blossom either as a tea or in capsule form. It’s quite extraordinary to see how they gently support people in navigating this difficult and challenging emotional terrain. The change is gradual and steady, it doesn’t suppress our feelings but it I holds our hands while we face them. I’ve lost count of the times that, after taking a course of this pair of herbs, patients have told me “I’d forgotten what it was like to feel spontaneously happy and now I sing to myself whilst I’m walking the dog or working in the garden.”
For the people out there who feel empowered to start their own herbal first aid cabinet at home what is your advice? Where can they start?
Ooooh this is a great question! There’s so much scope to make herbs a central part of a home first aid cabinet. I would suggest that the best thing to do is to be curious about the herbs which grow in your area and find out which virtues they have. There are plenty of resources online and lots of herbal books to choose from.
For example, if you have Plantain leaves (Plantago lanceolata or Plantago major) growing in your garden, you have a fabulous first aid plant right there. It’s perfect for insect bites and stings, blisters, burns and cuts. It can be applied as a poultice or you can make it into an ointment or salve. You can also drink it as a tea to help soothe inflammation in the gut, urinary tract or to help calm an irritated cough.
To start with the herbs that are growing in your area means that you can properly get to know them, see them growing and observe them at different growth stages. You can easily research their properties and see how they can fit into your home first aid cabinet. It’s about understanding their many virtues not just categorising them as ‘this herb is used for that situation’.
As well as being curious about the herbs growing in your locality, I would also suggest learning about the medicinal virtues of common kitchen spices. These are a great resource as they are readily available and a handy first aid option if you are away from your home apothecary. So, Caraway seed is a great option to calm diarrhoea and to relieve griping. Garlic is a powerful natural antibiotic and Nutmeg can be helpful to encourage better sleep.
I’m so passionate about encouraging people to build up their own home herbal apothecary that I’ve included lots of ‘recipes for the home apothecary’ in my new book.
What are your favourite books on herbalism?
I absolutely love Matthew Wood’s “The Book of Herbal Wisdom”. I think I’ve read it from cover to cover more than a dozen times and every time I read it, I learn something new. Writing this answer has made me want to pick it up again!
I also love the old herbals and I often refer to Culpeper for example. There are loads of wonderful more modern herbal books too. I have far too many of them. If you’re confused as to which book to choose I recommend having a look at the Aeon Books catalogue for inspiration as they have a great selection and good descriptions to help you decide.
You have a training in forestry and agriculture. How has this knowledge helped you as a herbalist?
It does seem an odd career move to go from large scale plant production to being a small scale herbal practitioner but looking back on it I can see how much my agricultural and forestry training has influenced me and helped me as a herbalist. I feel very fortunate in that I’ve been taught about soils and ecosystems so I find it easy to ‘read’ the landscape and predict where certain medicinal plants are likely to be found. I was also taught about hay making. The knowledge I gained from understanding how to dry and produce good quality hay, really influenced my understanding about how best to dry herbs. I realised early on that many of the commercially available dried herbs are not well dried and have lost much of their potency. I understood what had contributed to these problems and I was confident that I could produce vibrant well dried and potent herbs. I got my first dehydrator and started the process of learning how best to achieve that. Producing good quality vibrant herbs was one of the main drivers of me starting to be more self-sufficient in the herbs that I prescribed.
Before you go.
How important do you feel it is for us to reconnect to our herbal heritage on a global level?
I think that this is incredibly important. Three quarters of people in the world rely on herbal medicine for their primary health care. For herbs to support these people in perpetuity we need to safeguard both traditional herbal knowledge and the habitats that support plants being gathered for medicine. Even in so called ‘developed countries’ there’s a great need to be more sustainable in our health choices. A culture of preventive medicine and home herbal apothecaries will help to keep people healthier and will take some pressure off our healthcare systems. Imagine if more families were able to turn to herbal medicine for some of the common health conditions that crop up. This would reduce pressure on GP’s and lessen the cost and environmental impact associated with our over reliance on allopathic medicines.
I want to make it clear that I’m not suggesting that we should completely replace the allopathic healthcare model though. Not at all! I’m very glad to live in a country where we have access to amazing high tech healthcare when we need it. Wouldn’t it be lovely though if more people felt empowered and able to stay healthier through their daily lifestyle and dietary choices and by knowing which herbs to take when they need support? Connecting with our herbal heritage could help us to keep episodes of ill health as just temporary ‘blips’ rather than them evolving into more serious and debilitating chronic diseases.
Herbal medicine is natural medicine and traditional medicine. When we connect with it and take care of it we are taking care of our precious planet.
You can find Lucy at www.myrobalanclinic.com
Oh how we love Autumn.
From blackberries, whortle berries and now to sloes and hawthorn. They all have a healing quality to share along with their natural colour.
Sloe was traditionally planted near the house for protection because it was a common belief that evil faeries could not pass through the thorny shrub and that it would keep harm at bay. For anyone who has tried to pick sloe berries, it is easy to understand where this came from.
There is more to sloes that just sloe gin. It is one of the best berries to use as a laxative due to its astringent glucosides. The flowers have the same affect but being gentler are good to use with children, either nibbling or infusing in some milk.
We love sloe for its mesmerising scarlet dye. Although it fades with each wash. Whilst it lasts it is truly stunning and should definitely be experimented with.
Simply fill a pan half full with sloe berries gathered after the first frost.
Cover with water and bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer for 30 mins. It creates a rich sloe juice that is almost immediately ready for dyeing with.
Pre mordant your cotton fabric. Then add the fabric to the dye bath, submerge and circulate for even colour, then leave for an hour before removing.
Hawthorn equally is one of the most sacred trees in Celtic tradition. Symbolising love and protection.
Like the rest of the plant the hawthorn berries are one of the best heart tonic remedies we have. Strengthening and toning and opening us up with the courage we might need to love.
Its colour is subtler, salmon pink but still very beautiful.
When not dyeing with the berries you can:
Infuse them in olive oil for 4 weeks and use this vitamin C rich oil to nourish your skin.
Infuse them in hot water and drink as a homemade Love Tea, sharing it with those you love.
Share the Love x
Our passion for natural plant dyes was inspired by Ayurvastra, an ancient branch of Ayurveda, the 5,000-year-old system of healthcare.
“Ayur” is Sanskrit for health and “vastra” clothing so Ayurvastra is loosely translated to “life cloth”
It uses herb-infused and herb-dyed organic fabrics as healing agents, especially for skin, joint and respiratory conditions.
Ayurvastra functions through the principle of touch: as the skin comes into contact with the herb-infused fabric the body develops increased metabolism and rids itself of toxins. Studies have proven the effectiveness of this*
Turmeric is a wonderful spice to use for creating life cloth at home as it is a spice we hopefully all have in our kitchen cupboard. Utilising its anti-inflammatory and immune boosting qualities to wrap around you at will.
Try it yourself using our recipe, bearing in mind it is not a very colourfast or lightfast dye. If you leave in the sunlight the colour will fade as it will after frequent washes.
Turmeric powder – 3 tablespoons for every 500g of fabric
Scoured Cotton fabric
A large pan full of water.
Fill a pan with water and warm to a simmer on the hob.
Add the turmeric and stir until it is well dispersed.
Wet your fabric. Because of its fugitive colour in sunlight we don’t recommend using mordant when dyeing with turmeric.
Add your fabric to the pan and make sure it is submerged. Move around with your hands to make sure every inch is covered and allow the pot to simmer for 2 hours and then cool stirring and moving the fabric every hour to make sure you get an even coverage. Add a splash of vinegar if you want to brighten the colour.
When you are happy with the colour rinse it in water and hang to dry inside ( not in sunlight)
You can cut out pieces of the cotton to make homemade bandages for cuts or sores, use the sheets to lie on during a massage or meditation or use the material to create eye masks.
As a Naturopath I love to take a holistic approach to health. Why not combine the healing power of turmeric with its friend ginger.
Ginger has many uses in the home remedies department and can be used to help arthritis, diarrhea, flu, headache, heart and menstrual problems, diabetes, stomach upset and motion sickness.
Here are our top home uses for the spice ginger.
Muscle Strains - Apply warm ginger paste with turmeric to the affected area twice a day.
Sore throat - Boil some water and add a dash of cinnamon, a little piece of ginger, 1 tsp honey and drink.
For a persistent cough - Take a half teaspoonful of ginger powder, a pinch of clove with a pinch of cinnamon powder and honey in a cup of boiled water and drink it as tea.
Asthma - A teaspoon of fresh ginger juice mixed with a cup of fenugreek decoction and honey to taste acts as a excellent expectorant in the treatment of asthma.
Headaches - Dilute a paste of ginger powder, about 1/2 a teaspoon, with water and apply to you forehead.
Colds - Boil a teaspoonful of ginger powder in one quart of water and inhale the steam - helps alleviate colds.
Ginger Compress - This method stimulates blood and body fluid circulation, helps loosen and dissolve toxic matter eg. cysts, tumors. Place about a handful of coarsely grated ginger in a cloth and squeeze out the ginger juice into a pot containing 4 liters of hot water (do not boil the water). Dip a towel into the ginger water and wring it out. Apply very hot to the affected area.
Diabetes - Some doctors recommend some drinking ginger in water first thing in the morning to help regulate your glucose level.
Ginger Tea - Make with fresh ginger root. Grate a small piece of ginger, about the size of a nickel, into a mug. Add the juice of a half a lemon. Fill the mug with boiling water. Stir in a teaspoon of organic honey.
For relief of nausea - Ginger is generally taken in doses of 200 mg every 4 hours.
For relief of flatulence - Ginger is generally taken in doses of 250 to 500 mg 2 to 3 times a day.
* In 2006, a trial by the Government Ayurveda College in Thiruvanathapuram in southern India found Ayurvastra cloth to be effective in treating 40 patients with allergies, rheumatism, hypertension, psoriasis and other skin ailments. Despite the history of this practice, Western medicine has not yet recognized the benefits of ayurvastra clothing and products.
Preparing for a healthy winter
As a naturopath I get asked a lot at this time of year what we can do or take to keep ourselves in abundant health through the winter.
As the saying goes “by failing to prepare you are preparing to fail”. Preparing your body for the winter will help you sail through those dark days and cold nights with a vital force that is hopefully able to throw off any germs it comes into contact with.
These are my basic top tips:
Fresh air and exercise
Whilst it might feel less tempting to go for a walk or head to the gym, the importance of having some time out to clear your head, breath in some fresh air and get the blood moving is imperative to keep our immunity strong. Take at least 30 minutes of the day to walk preferably with an incline to really get the blood moving.
Whilst this isn’t one for the vegetarians, the benefits of chicken soup should not be forgotten. It has been a wellness tonic for centuries and for good reason. It contains important minerals that are easily absorbable such as magnesium and calcium and phosphorus. It also contains the amino acid cysteine which can thin the mucus in the lining of the lungs so it can be expectorated more easily. As always supporting our gut improves our immunity which this is good for too.
Try and eat at least once a week.
During the winter months it can be harder to notice when you are dehydrated as you don’t sweat as much. Good hydration flushes out toxins from the body, maintains efficient bodily functions and keeps the body energized. Drink herbal teas containing turmeric, ginger, rosemary and cinnamon as these are warming and help keep the natural fire of your stomach burning and invigorated.
My preference is always to try and get your essential vitamins and minerals from a balanced diet but this can be harder to do these days due to poor soil quality, synthetic inputs and long air miles. Finding a local organic grower for your vegetables is ideal and helps you eat more seasonally, supporting your body with the food it should be eating at that time of year.
When that isn’t available you can incorporate the following supplements:
We are often told to eat lots of garlic during the winter to keep us healthy. By eating garlic all the time its effectiveness at combating colds and flus is reduced.
Ideally you want to be eating it just as you start to feel a little run down and eat a lot of it! Using a raw garlic clove as a suppository is also a quick way to help your body fight back as well as knocking on the head any lingering urinary infections.
You can of course supplement with garlic capsules if you don’t like the garlic breath!
You only have to take a walk in a park or along a country lane and you can see the abundance of berries presenting themselves in September. This year seems like a bumper year indeed.
These are natures immunity larder. Each one is packed with antioxidants that pack a punch against colds and flus.
Pick blackberries and whortleberries for freezing or eat straight away topped on cereal and smoothies. In last week’s blog I shared a recipe for elderberry syrup.
You can of course supplement Vitamin C and my all-time favourite brand is A Vogel chewable tablets made with food source sea buckthorn berries, acerola berries and passion fruit for a complete vitamin. Unlike most Vitamin C on the market which is made with ascorbic acid (a synthesized version) this is food based so more recognizable by your body.
Vitamin C helps our iron absorption which is a bonus too.
That bright circle in a sky, our friend the sun shines less frequently over the winter so we cannot make as much Vitamin D. Vitamin D maintains healthy bones and muscles as well as supporting positive mental health.
If you supplement with about 600iu per day it helps our body maintain the summer levels we are used to.
Zinc has been shown to help reduce viruses replicating so taking it within 24 hours of starting to feel ill can reduce the duration of the cold or flu. About 75mg per day is recommended.
I suggest you use like garlic.
Stay tuned for more health and wellbeing tips and ideas over the next few months.
Stay well x
As the holiday season nears an end and we approach the start of a new school year, it is an excellent time to consider boosting our immunity ahead of the winter months.
In nature’s wisdom, plants grow at the time of year when we need them.
Sharing their virtues for our health and wellbeing in order to support our body through the challenges different seasons bring.
Along the hedgerows you can’t help but notice the bulging bunches of elderberries hanging from the tree, ripening from green to purple.
As natural dye fanatics we loved to discover that the Romans used these berries as a natural hair dye, boiled in wine to make the hair black.
Certainly, it provides an initial bright purple dye on fabrics although being fugitive the colour won’t stay bright for long so enjoy the beauty while it lasts!
Like the bark of the elder tree the berries can have a purging effect on the bowels but their most common use is for our immune system.
These magic clusters our full of Vitamin C and antioxidants something we need most to fend off infection and secure optimum iron absorption. One cup of elderberries contains about 50 mg of Vitamin C with the recommended daily amount being 75mg for women and 90g for men.
There are numerous ways to enjoy elderberries such a drying the berries to make a tea, wine, making them into a jam with other hedgerow favourites like blackberry and hawthorn or adding them to a crumble.
Our favourite is as a syrup which is made from simmering berries and a sugar until it gets to a thick consistency. Whilst you can make it with sugar I prefer to make it with honey so you get the added anti-bacterial immune boosting properties of local honey. If you have a sore throat the consistency means it coats the throat nicely too. Make sure not to boil the honey and render it less potent.
500g of juicy plump destalked elderberries
400g of sugar or honey
1 lemon juiced
You might like to add 3cm of freshly sliced ginger, a cinnamon stick or a star anise if you prefer a depth of flavour.
Place the berries into a saucepan and cover with about 1cm water. Add any spices you desire.
Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer gently for 15-20 mins until the berries have softened into a liquid.
Strain the mixture through a fine sieve
Measure the liquid and for every 500ml of liquid add 400g of sweetener.
Tip the sweetener and the liquid back into a pan and simmer for 5-10 minutes.
Leave to cool and bottle in sterilised jars.
This will keep for about 12 weeks in the fridge or freeze cubes in trays and use as you need until next season!
Supporting health and wellbeing is one of the reasons Bedstraw + Madder was born. Replacing toxic chemical dyes, with healing anti-inflammatory plant colour.
It doesn’t stop there though. We love to share all the things we have learnt and continue to learn along the way about supporting our health. As when our bodies thrive, we can flourish.
We all have bacteria that live in our gut. The right foods can nourish our gut bacteria for the better and help them proliferate, we call these probiotics. Excess junk food, chemicals and sugar can cause the opposite and encourage fungal overgrowth like candida which impacts our ability to be able to fight of disease. Our good bacteria play an integral role in almost every aspect of our health and immunity, even our mental health.
The link between our gut and our brain was an unknown in the mainstream for years but recent studies show conclusive evidence between the health of our colon and the state of our mind as well as the health of our skin.
So how can we support the good bacteria in our gut to prosper?
One way the Bedstraw team enjoy is with water kefir, especially in the Summer months.
Dairy free, it is a beverage with benefits and one to try if you haven’t already.
Water kefir is a fermented carbonated drink made from water kefir grains. Unlike the milk kefir it is made by combining water, grains, sugar and dried fruit together for 48 hours in a kilner jar until fermentation occurs. (don’t worry the grains digest the sugar as part of the fermentation process)
You can buy the grains easily online.
Of course, being passionate about plants and the power they hold for our health we bring them into all our recipes. Throughout the year there are different herbs or flowers that can be a powerful addition to bring anti-oxidant or anti-inflammatory benefits.
It is elderflower season so this combination uses elderflower and fresh ginger.
Elderflower has a host of benefits but has a particular affinity with the respiratory system and sinuses. Isn’t nature clever. Plants appear in the season when they are most needed. Elderflower appears during hay fever season and reduce the symptoms.
Just like every human being on earth, they each have a role to play, a raison d’etre..
Ginger increases blood circulation and our ability to sweat so is energising without the need for sugar or caffeine.
Give it a whirl…
Place your water kefir grains in a 1 litre kilner jar
Add 3 spoonful’s of brown sugar
Add one piece of dried fruit ( fig, apricot, 6 raisins)
Fill the jar up with unchlorinated filtered tap water.
Leave in a sunny spot for 3 days and watch for it to get fizzy.
Drain the contents and place in a bottle in the fridge to stop the fermentation process and consume within 2-3 days.
The secret to a healthy body is a healthy gut…
Drying herbs to support yourself or your family throughout the year is one of the most rewarding things we can do for our health. Nature provides us with herbal solutions and supports for all our ailments, it’s just often we don’t know which ones are for what and how to use them.
As a naturopath I have always cultivated in my garden the herbs or "weeds" I find most healing. Drying is the easiest method of preserving herbs, allowing you to benefit from their magic throughout the year and store them in the years when they are less abundant.
(Although a fresh supply each year is ideal)
Gathering your herbs
It is best to gather your leaves, flowers and stems on a waxing moon. Due to the gravitational pull of the moon the plants vital energies and fluids are flowing upwards into the plant. Roots on the other hand are best gathered on a waning moon when the opposite is the case.
The best time of day to harvest most herbs for the drying process is in the morning after the dew has lifted as you want your herbs as dry as possible before the drying process starts to avoid mould. When choosing flowers, choose the ones that are in the bud stage just before opening.
Harvesting in line with the season it is good to follow the energy of the plant and note that:
Roots are best gathered in the Autumn when the tops of the plants are dying back and the energy of the plant returns to its roots as a store for winter.
Leaves are best picked in early spring before the plant flowers.
Flowers are best picked when they are in bud about to come into full flower and full energy.
How to dry your herbs successfully?
When drying herbs be careful not to bruise or crush the leaves or flowers. Plantain is a good example, if they bruise, they can ferment and turn black when dry. Don’t leave your picked herbs lying in the sun either as they can lose essential oils.
The parts of the plants we often dry are the flowering tops as this is where most of the energy is within the plant. The simplest way of drying is in hanging bundles. The trick is not to make your bundles too big to allow the moisture to escape and avoid them going mouldy. Using string or raffia tie your bundles at the stem and leave to hang upside down in a warm well-ventilated area. You could use a fan if you wanted to speed up the process. Drying can take between 3 - 7days.
You can also use a dehydrator although this uses energy. Set your dehydrator to 35-46 celsius and place the herbs in a single layer on dehydrator trays. Drying times can vary considerably so check regularly. Herbs are dry when they crumble, and stems break when bent.
Storing your herbs
Once dried use your hands to remove the leaves and flowers from any woody stalks depending on the herbs you are drying. It makes them more storable and allows them to be utilised more effectively in making teas, crumbling into food or just to fit into a jar when making tinctures and oxymels.
They are best stored in a tinted glass jar with a good fitting lid away from direct sunlight and heat.
Store herbs separately.
How to use your dried herbs?
The two main ways I use dried herbs is as a tincture or Oxymel (we will share some over the next few months) or simply as a tea infusion.
A lovely tea combination I make regularly is Elderflower, Nettle and peppermint. This can be a real anti-inflammatory support during the hay ever season and a general tonic and digestive support.
Combine equal amounts of dried elderflowers with crumbled nettle and peppermint leaves.
Place a teaspoon full in a tea strainer and infuse for 15 minutes before drinking.
Marigolds are blooming in gardens all over the UK at the moment. Pollinators like bees love them and they have so many uses so make a great addition to our lives.
As natural dye enthusiasts we naturally get drawn to growing our own dye stuffs. One of the easiest of these is marigold. They flower from Spring through to Autumn and can be used fresh or dried.
The best types for dyeing are French marigolds or Tagetes.
Pick enough marigold flowers so they equal to or are double the weight of the fabric (WOF) you are dyeing.
Place in a plan and fill it with water, cover with a lid and bring to a simmer. Then turn off and allow flowers to steep ideally overnight and extract their colour.
Strain the flowers. Add your mordanted fabric and warm the water before leaving to sit until desired colour is achieved.
You can also use dried or fresh marigold petals for bundle dyeing.
We will be sharing our bundle dyeing experiments later in the summer.
Marigolds add colour and powerful antioxidants to your salads and cooking so don’t be afraid to throw them into stews, rice, dahls etc. They are also very decorative for the top of biscuits and cakes.
A cup of marigold tea can be healing for the stomach lining.
French marigold also known as tagetes can be used to make a spray for keeping whitefly, aphids and spider mites at bay as well as some other less welcome visitors to your garden.
Planting them amongst your vegetables can act as a deterrent too!
Combine 2 cups of water with 1 cup of marigold flowers, stems, leaves in a blender.
Leave to ferment for 2 days and bottle. Then spray on your affected plants.
You can also use the above marigold spray on treasured pets like dogs and horses to keep flies away.
Marigold also known as Calendula is one of our greatest healers and was an important medicine in ancient Greece. With its natural antibacterial and anti-fungal properties it prevents infections and heals injuries so is often used in skincare.
For a simple hydrating moisturiser. Fill a jam jar half full of dried calendula petals and pour over an organic base oil that works with your skin such as olive, almond or jojoba. Leave to infuse for 6 weeks to 3 months or until the oil turns a yellow hue. Strain and use.
When growing marigolds in your garden don’t forget to keep the cycle going its important to gather the seeds which are at the bottom of the flower heads. Harvest the seeds when the petals are dry and the base of each bloom is turning brown. Remove each head from the stem and store in a dry place.
They bring a huge amount of joy and their colours are uplifting. I encourage you to try growing some varieties in your garden. Try dwarf, French or Pot as a starting point.
Every plant and herb has something to share with us or to support us with, whether that's on a physical, emotional or spiritual level.
There is an old saying that the plants that grow around you are often the ones that we most need for our own healing.
If we are curious and take time to connect we can learn what they are.
We try and incorporate healing herbs into our lives across the clothes that we wear, the food that we eat and the environment that we place ourselves in.
The lemon balm in my garden is abundant at the moment so I am welcoming its healing energy and benefits into my life. You can do the same.
Adding uplifting herbs like mint and lemon balm to a bouquet of flowers that we have in our home can be a real boost for our body, as just the smell of lemon balm for example can lift mood and improve brain function.
Or why not include it in your cooking?
Here is a lovely simple recipe for incorporating lemon balm into a delicious afternoon snack!
7g finely chopped lemon balm leaves ( choose the youngest freshest leaves)
1 tsp of lemon juice
100g sugar or jaggery
200g white spelt flour
100g fine porrige oats
2 pinches of salt
1. Chop lemon balm in a nutribullet with the lemon juice until fine.
2. Cream butter and sugar in a bowl.
3.Beat the egg into the herb and lemon mixture and add to butter.
4. Add the flour, salt and porridge oats and bring together. It should form a dough. You can add a little flour if it needs.
5. Roll in ball and place in the fridge for an hour to cool.
6. Then roll out and cut with a pastry cutter.
6. Place on a baking sheet in the oven at 180c for 10 minutes or until the edges start to brown.
I leave you with a quote about this magical herb from the great 17th Century Herbalist Culpepper..
"Lemon Balm causes the mind and heart to become merry"
As you walk along country lanes and park hedgerows you will be greeted by the hawthorn blossom. It has finally sprung and it beckons for us to benefit from its feminine healing powers.
Hawthorn has its strongest affinity with the heart. Opening us to giving and receiving Love. It encourages self-love and self-acceptance strengthening our inner courage. In fact the word courage comes from the latin for "cor" which means "heart" suggesting that the vulnerability that comes with opening our heart is what it means to be courageous. We love to wear powerful herbs against our skin.
Your skin is the largest organ of your body, its thin dermal layers absorbing the physical and energetic qualities of the plants, our allies, that we have been connected to for generations.
We have been experimenting with it as a plant dye. Using the flowers and leaves combined it creates a beautiful coral pink.
If you would like to try this at home here are some instructions: Fill a saucepan full with flowers and leaves. Cover with water at least 2cm above the top of the hawthorn. Bring to the boil and simmer for 1 hour then leave in to cool .
Use a pan large enough to allow the fabric some room if you want an even colour.
Place your pan on the hob and bring to the boil before simmering gently for 1 hour.
Keep checking to see how the dye colour is looking and when you are happy strain out the skins and place your material in the dye bath.
Keep on a gentle heat and move fabric around freely. For deeper colours leave the fabric to sit in the dye overnight and cool.
When doing natural dyeing you need to prepare the fabrics. You can do this with a metallic based mordant (instructions here) or alternatively a protein rich mordant like Soya, Cow or Goats milk.
For this fabric we mordanted with goats milk and water in a 1:1 ratio
This involved soaking the silk (you can use cotton or linen too) in goats milk, then putting on a spin cycle to wring out excess milk without leaving streaks before placing on the line to dry. Repeat this process without rinsing 3 times minimum. Once dry leave another 24 hours - 1 week to help the milk adhere.
For this mottled effect I crunched it up the fabric as I moved it about in the dye bath.
I also took it out after an initial soak, dried it then placed it back in the dye bath.
With Love + Knickers...