A Quick Run Round The Dandelion Field

P4110006 - detail“Can I have some of your weeds?” I said to Malcolm as we picked up our weekly veg box from his smallholding.
“How much is it worth?” he laughed. “Yes, of course you can.”
“Do you reckon I can pick 100 dandelion heads in five minutes?” I said.
“No chance,” he replied.

But that is in fact what I did. Or it may have been six minutes. Whilst Charlotte picked up the box and chatted with Malcolm, I moved swiftly round the field picking fresh flowers for the ‘dandelion beer’ recipe I’d found in Hedgerow Medicine.

Got home, shook out the small black beetles, boiled a few litres of water with 100g of sugar, let cool to blood temperature, poured into a large bowl along with a whole finely sliced lemon, covered with a clean dishcloth and that’s it. I’ll give it an occasional stir over the next few days, then on Monday or Tuesday I’ll pour the lot through a sieve into a couple of bottles and it should be ready to drink by Thursday or Friday.

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Hedgerow Medicine is a great book by Julie Bruton Seal and Matthew Seal, full of simple recipes like this, all clearly written, which can be followed by anyone, herbal old timers and novices alike. I’ve written here (and elsewhere!) about the book, which continues to be one of my favourites.

And dandelions are one of my favourite spring tonic plants. A herbal treasure chest, rich in potassium and other nutrients, and a strong but gentle cleanser for the urinary system, the leaves and flowers are also great in salads. Plus goldfinches love the seeds. And they are just plain joyous spring sunshine plants!

And if they can get me moving so quickly around a field, there must be no end to their extraordinary qualities!

Short spring post for small spring wildflowers

I’ve been so busy organising the distribution for the upcoming Spring/Summer issue of the Transition Free Press newpaper recently, I’ve hardly had time to focus on the plants. (Do take a look at the above link if you might be interested in subscribing to the paper or ordering a bundle by the way – order deadline is mid-April).

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So when we went to pick up our weekly veg box on Wednesday from Malcolm at his smallholding and I noticed an area on his land the size of an allotment full of red deadnettle and field speedwell, I threw myself down on the path beside them to watch the bumblebees whilst he and Charlotte talked about how the vegetables were doing. “I left all those deadnettles there for the bees,” Malcolm told me afterwards. “They really like them.” “Look,” I said, “The whole area is glowing.”

I managed to take a quick photo too, though you can’t see any bees in it. Ah well, can’t win them all!

But I’m definitely in the mood now for leading the wellbeing walk with Sustainable Bungay tomorrow (5th April) where we’ll be visiting spring tonic plants and trees in and around town, and making an energising tea with some of them.

More real seeds… coincidentally

I had literally this morning just signed Global2000′s latest appeal for the EU Seed Regulation to be scrapped and begun again from scratch in the EU Parliament’s plenary session vote coming up on 13th March*, when I heard a thud on the doormat. And this is what had arrived:

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My latest order from the Real Seed Catalogue. Lovely open-pollinated (non-hybrid) seeds and none of them genetically modified. And with great names: ‘Lemon Drop’ chili, ‘Special Swiss’ sweetcorn, ‘Dragon Purple’ carrot and my favourite: SUNZILLA ‘very, very BIG SUNFLOWER. Real Seed orders always come with instructions for sowing, harvesting and saving the particular seeds seeds in your order, many of the seeds are heritage and heirloom varieties And the prices are very reasonable.

These are the very types of seeds under threat by the proposed draconian regulation. So do sign the appeal for the EU Seed Regulation to be scrapped and started again from scratch. We need to support seed diversity. And see here to find out more about the proposed law.

* On 11th March the Seed Regulation was voted down by the European Parliament by a majority of 511 to 131 votes. This is great news. However the European Commission has not yet completely withdrawn the proposal, which means that “many small growers, growers’ associations and gardeners at both a professional and amateur level” still stand to be affected by future legislation. Ben Raskin of the Soil Association advises us to be vigilant here.

Related post: Huauzontle – Let’s Grow from Real Seeds

Rediscovering Chia

PB070010 lowresI wrote and published this post originally on 10th May 2011. The Chia seeds and seedlings below grew into enormous plants with late-blooming stunning blue flowers lasting well into November that year! They formed no seeds though and the next year’s plants from the same seeds weren’t so good (chia plants are annuals). Chia seeds are a currently popular ‘superfood’. And they are pretty energising. Having some in my breakfast this morning reminded me of those amazing plants. This post isn’t really about superfoods, though.

I Have Discovered Chia

P5107052This of course is untrue. A statement worthy of Columbus. As if Chia did not exist before I came upon it. Which it clearly did, because it has been growing in the place we call Mexico and all the way down to South America since way before 1492. Despite its given Latin name of Salvia hispanica. There is another Chia, Salvia columbariae, (I think that is to do with doves, by the way, not Christopher) that grows in the Southwestern states. But that’s a different plant.

I don’t know what it is with sages. The lovely Mexican Fiery sage (that’s one of its English common names – another is Red Mountain sage) was known as Salvia oresbia until someone decided in 1991 it needed changing to Salvia darcyi to reflect its modern ‘discoverer’. I’ve been growing it since I collected seeds from a herbalist’s garden in Arizona ten years ago and I keep it going by cuttings. It’s awesome. And now blue Chia has joined its red relative downstairs in the conservatory.

So what’s all this about? Well, last week Charlotte gave me a packet of Chia seeds for my birthday. She told me to close my eyes whilst she placed the packet in my hand. I was so exited when I saw them I didn’t know what to say. This is the endurance food of the Tarahumara, a people famous for their ability to run long distances in hot desert conditions. I put the equivalent of a teaspoon in my mouth. And chewed. They swell up immediately and are crunchy as well as mucilaginous. And quite delicious. Taken as a drink they are a stimulant, but I haven’t tried that yet.

In Aztec times the seeds of Chia (from the Nahuatl chian meaning ‘oily’) – were used as a form of currency to pay taxes. A direct link between food and value and the natural world.

And what about planting some? I checked out an old Horizon Herbs catalogue for sowing instructions. Easy, germination in 4-8 days. TWO days later and the little pots were full of sprouted seedlings. I’ll post an update later in the Summer when they’re in flower. I don’t think seed from plants grown here will be so full of soluble oils and fibre, but it’s been a hot Spring so far. Who knows what the Summer will bring? And whether Chia will be a plant for the future in these changing climes.

And talking of changing climes and why it’s vital to really value the natural world and recognise that all our lives depend on the living earth first, which should not be held hostage to untrustworthy governments, the free market global economy or our own apathy, take a look at this. (May 2011)

Pics: Chia flowers (later that year); Chia seeds, Mexican Fiery Sage, old Horizon Herbs catalogue, Chia seedlings

More Than Just My Cup of Tea – Teapot on Tour 2014

Teapot in Tooting detail2014 is the Year of the Teapot for Mark in Flowers, and I’ll be on my UK travels visiting people and places and demonstrating how to connect to the plants growing locally and the kinds of teas you can prepare from them.

For several years now I’ve been leading talks, walks and workshops introducing people to wild, feral and cultivated plants in all sorts of places: hedgerows, woods, town streets, roadsides, gardens, car parks, wastegrounds and riverbanks.

And with all sorts of groups and individuals: from transition initiatives in Belsize Park, Norwich and the one I’m active in in Bungay, Suffolk, to community beekeepers, neighbours, festival goers, permaculturists, artists, scientists, herbalists, younger people, older people and more. Always the focus is on where we are and what’s growing on around us, on the living systems of the earth right at our feet.


Image243Learning to pay attention to plants reconnects us in a simple and direct way to the places we live in and the planet that sustains us. And anyone can do it. We all eat, drink and dress in plants, and we take them as medicine. We make art and build with them. We garden with them. They condition the very air we breathe.

My sessions provide a space and time for the multi-faceted nature and value of plants and our human connection with them to be considered. They are a modest way of keeping the door open in a time when most people, plants and places are seen just as resources to be exploited, not seen at all, or both.

Walking-with-Weeds-detailThey are a way of touching base with the physical places we are in and being where we are rather than wishing we were somewhere else.

They are also practical, friendly, fun, informative and open to anyone and everyone.

And as a response to a rapidly changing climate and the overuse of fossil fuels, these sessions are a small contribution to relocalisation and a lower carbon way of living, too.

And at some point there is ALWAYS a pot of tea.

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What’s In The Pot?
A pot of tea is a simple thing. An inexpensive thing. Drinking tea in some form or another is something that billions of people do every day. In my sessions we drink tea with conscious awareness of what goes into it!

Image3068 lowresIt’s not just plant material and hot water. It’s not just stuff. It’s what the plants Teapot 4 Febare connected to, what they connect us to. When I add lemon balm and anise hyssop along with ten other herbs to the pot at Bungay Community Bees’ summer open day in the local community library, I mention that bees love both of these plants, so having some around is a good thing for them as they struggle in the face of modern industrial agriculture’s excesses.

I also mention that just brushing past lemon balm and taking a good deep breath at the same time is enough to lift the most flagging of spirits. I might add that the leaves of anise hyssop make an excellent tea for coughs, fresh or dried. And that both these plants are in the mint family. And don’t forget their wilder cousin white deadnettle, which flowers for most of the year. Bumblebees love it and its medicinal properties are legion. Make sure you keep some in your garden. And put some leaves in the pot too!

I’ll get people talking: have you grown or used these plants? What for? Let’s share some of our knowledge with each other. Tea-drinking is really a community thing!

If you’d like to host a teapot session (groups of 8-25) with accompanying Talk, Walk or Workshop, see HERE for info and contact details. And watch this space for updates on the travelling teapot!

A pot of tea will never seem the same again!

Unciv Flower Walk 1

Images: A teapot and a bunch of Suffolk plants and herbs framed by Transition Tooting’s 2013 Foodival; Plant man illustration*; Walking with Weeds April 2012; Keep Circulating with Rosemary in the Common Room Norwich February 2013; Herbs for Resilience winter teapot February 2013; Yarrow, Elderflower and Echinacea winter tea, February 2014; Mark Brown sniffs the wonders of lemon balm at Uncivilisation Festival, Hampshire August 2013

All pics MW except *from Healing Plants P.151, ed. W.A.R. Thomson (MacMillan 1978) artist credit unavailable

Click on images for links to posts

Good Winter Teas – Thyme and Fenugreek

P5274880 Thyme flowers detailThe temperatures this winter continue to be the mildest for several years here in the East of England. There have been lots of storms and strong winds but no real, prolonged cold. This week has been colder with a few hoar frosts but still the days have remained well above freezing. The yarrows I wrote about in my previous post are still in bloom!

At the moment though it’s pretty damp and that can make bones ache and sinuses puff up.

One good winter tea I’ve been making to help combat the damp and the cold is Thyme and Fenugreek. I heat one teaspoon of fenugreek seeds (I slightly crush them first with a pestle and mortar, but it’s not necessary) to two cups of water for 5-10 minutes in a small saucepan at just under boiling (no bubbles). In a separate pot I pour water just off the boil over a small bunch of thyme (I’m using fresh at the moment but dried is fine). I steep this for 5-10 mins, then add the thyme tea to the fenugreek tea. I drink the first cup and keep the rest in the saucepan to reheat later. The key is not to boil it.

Watch this space for more winter teas. And if you’d like me to pay you a visit (groups of 8-25 people) to go for a walk in your neighbourhood followed by a plant tea demonstration, do get in touch.

January Yarrows

Images2014-520 - Yarrow bannerIt may have been the stormiest and windiest winter so far for many years here in East Anglia. But it’s also been one of the warmest, the days alternating between sunny, still and mild, then very windy, rainy and mild.

These yarrows on the vergeside down the road from where I live have been in constant bloom since the end of summer. I took these photos this morning.

Yarrow is one of my favourite herbs for resilience, and although it feels odd to see this classic midsummer plant blooming so profusely in midwinter, still I always greet them gladly (and quite often out loud) as I cycle to and from the town.

2014 is going to be the Year of the Teapot for Mark in Flowers, and I’ll be visting all sorts of people and places teaching how to connect to the plants growing locally and the kinds of teas you can prepare from them. If you’d be interested in hosting a teapot session, see here for my Talks, Walks and Workshops info and contact details. And watch this space for updates on the travelling teapot!

Meanwhile for a resilient winter tea
To warm the system up and help keep the body strong in winter, add equal amounts of dried elderflowers and dried yarrow to a pot with a pinch of peppermint. Infuse for at least five minutes. Drink.

Yarrow detail IMG350 7 Dec 2013

Images: Yarrows in flower, Suffolk, 5 January 2014; Yarrows in flower, Suffolk, 7 December 2013. Text and images by Mark Watson under Creative Commons license with Attribution Non Commercial No Derivatives.


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