Archive for the ‘Events 2012’ Category

2012 Highlights (i) Planting Medicine with Transition Belsize

The summer seems a long way away, perhaps more so because in England this year it was only really in August that the weather was hot and dry. We had a lot of rain. And now as midwinter approaches and the wind is blowing and the rain is still falling here on the Suffolk coast, I’m remembering fondly the rare few days of hot weather in early summer, when I went down to London to visit the new Royal Free Permaculture Garden, recently established by Transition Belsize. I was there to teach a workshop on plants as medicine…

On a hot Friday at the end of May I packed two cardboard boxes with ribwort plantain, vervain, peppermint, hoary willowherb, tobacco, japanese mugwort, valerian, dandelion and forget-me-not in pots along with a posy of cut wildflowers. strapped them onto a trolley and went to London on the bus and train. I was heading for Belsize Park in north London to teach a workshop the following day on Planting Medicine as part of Transition Belsize’s new Royal Free Permaculture Garden project above the carpark of the hospital, part of the Heath Strange garden.

As well as creating an edible forest garden with heritage fruit trees and bushes, the group were keen to include plants used in medicine, especially as the site is in the grounds of the hospital.

This is where I came in. On a weekend visit to us in the spring, Alexis and Sarah of the permaculture garden’s co-ordinating group, invited me down to kick start the medicinal part of the bed and teach a workshop introducing people to some of our wild and cultivated medicine herbs.

I was delighted. One of my favourite activities is inspiring people to connect with the plants and places where they live. Because everyone has access to plants. We’ve been co-habiting the earth with them since the beginning, so it’s kind of natural.

In fact the more you look at it, the more it becomes clear that our lives are inextricably linked with plants. No plants, no life.

How does this relate to Transition? Just connecting with the places we are in and the plants growing there can increase our well-being in really positive ways. And it can open up conversations with others which might not otherwise take place. Growing plants as food forms a fundamental part of Transition. And foraging for wild food is popular too. Less explored are plants as medicine, both wild and cultivated.

Food and medicine are directly linked to our well-being and many plants double up as both. Some of our favourite cooking herbs are also excellent medicines. Thyme tastes great in omelettes and with roast vegetables and thyme tea is an excellent anti-microbial with a salutory effect on the lungs.

Then there are some plants which just don’t serve as food. Digitalin from foxgloves is an unrivalled medicine in certain heart diseases, but foxglove leaves in salads WOULD NEVER be advised. Foxgloves also cheer the heart as one of our most stunning wildflowers.In the beginning my main focus was on wild plants, in particular those termed as ‘weeds’. The more I considered the real value of these dismissed, neglected and even abused plants, the more astonishing they became. You could spend a year or more just working with dandelions and still not get everything about them down.In the past people would look at me uncomprehendingly or even in panic as I extolled the scouring virtues of horsetail or the lymph cleansing nature of cleavers and suggest they leave at least some to grow. “Oh no, no. NOT IN MY GARDEN!” seemed to etch itself across their faces. “Nettles? Nettles?!?”

Ah, but did you know nettles are a primary food source for some of the most beautiful butterflies in this country? And they make great soup. And fertiliser. They fortify and galvanise a sluggish system after the winter. They are used to make cloth. They help purify the liver. They sting of course. But then there’s likely to be some ribwort plantain around, one of our most common wild plants. Squeeze a leaf and apply the juice to the stung area. Many people prefer plantain to the more traditional dock leaves for nettle stings.

And this brings me back to the Planting Medicine workshop at the Royal Free Permaculture Garden the Saturday before last.

On the train I was worried that the site would be too open and bare. It was hot. We couldn’t all walk around in the heat for hours, otherwise we’d end up inside the hospital with heatstroke or sunburn – and I had no infused oil of St. Johns wort with me!

“Well, there are some trees,” said Sarah. “On the green beside the bed.” We walked there the evening before and there they were. Birch trees. We would sit under the shade of the biggest one. That would be the focal point for the workshop.

“I don’t dare look in the plant boxes,” I said. “After all that travel and heat through the hottest part of the day. Plus the underground at rush hour.” When I did look though I found all the plants, from the plantain to the valerian and even the sprigs of white deadnettle, lemon balm and ground ivy, almost as spritely as when I’d packed them six hours previously.

About twenty people came to the workshop, including foragers, gardeners, aromatherapists, permaculturists, horticulturalists and people keen to get more connected with plants. Oh, and my dad.

We sat under the birch in a circle and I jettisoned all six of the possible templates I’d worked out for the workshop, put the ribwort plantain in front of me and we went from there. Beginning with the tree were we sitting under, and introducing ourselves.

Over the coming hours we looked at the plants I’d brought along for the medicinal herb part of the garden and discussed (sic)* their various uses as well as investigating the garden itself. I asked everyone to pay particular attention to any plant they felt drawn to in the bed and on or around the green. Then we visited each plant in turn all together to identify them and talk about their medicinal properties.

One woman chose groundsel (Senecio vulgaris). I had no idea whether this very humble and common composite had ever been used as a herb or if so what for. But later I discovered in Culpeper’s herbal it was at one time used for epilpesy. It is still used nowadays but has contraindications. This is the entry for it in Plants for a Future database.

We were joined at one point by a woman called Joy, who knew a huge amount about medicine plants. About ribwort plantain she said that at the start of any cold sore, the simple poultice of a crushed leaf applied will deal with it.

What I loved about the day was not only being able to speak out some of what I’ve learned in these years of working with plants, but also to learn new things from other people. And also sitting under a birch tree on a warm sunny morning with a whole group of people who really engaged in the subject.

Tomorrow I’ll be closer to home, writing about my recent visit to Jeremy Bartlett, who was responsible for the planting up of Grapes Hill Community Garden in Norwich and is now helping to revamp the garden at the Belvedere Centre. I bet you can’t guess what we were talking about.

*discussive refers in herbal medicine to the action of making something dissolve

Pics: Plants on a trip, Reydon bus stop, May 2012, Suffolk; Planting Medicine workshop poster by Sarah Nicholl and Alexis Rowell of Transition Belsize in local newsagents; Plant Medicine bed in Bungay library community garden, June 2012; Picking Nettles for Soup after the Spring Tonic walk Reydon, April 2009**; Ribwort Plantain in flower outside the back door; Connecting with people, place and medicine plants under the Birch tree in the Heath Strange garden next to the Royal Free (hospital) Permaculture Garden, London, May 2012*** By Mark Watson, **Helen Simpson and ***Sarah Nicholl

First published on the Transition Norwich blog, This Low Carbon Life, on 8 June 2012

Plants for Life #10 – ‘For Medicinal Purposes’ Winemaking Session – Review

For our 10th Plants for Life event last Sunday, Winemaking – For Medicinal Purposes, Nick Watts invited a dozen of us to his house for a practical demonstration of how to make fruit wine, in this case (sic) from raspberries.

Nick’s front room was filled with people,  funnels, demi-john’s with deep red liquid and when you opened the door of any one of the cupboards you would discover a large container filled with a fermenting fluid. One demi-john contains enough for 6 bottles of wine at 750cl per bottle. Nick calculated he had about 80 bottles of wine fermenting at the moment.

First we took a look at some of the medicinal qualities of  raspberries. I’d been aware of the raspberry leaf  as a uterine tonic during pregnancy and childbirth and have used it along with yarrow to make a salve for piles. But for me raspberry fruits were always a delicious sign of high to late summer, picked fresh or bought from a roadside stall, and eaten long before they made it home to be turned into anything else culinary, let alone medicinal.

Raspberries, in fact, are incredibly rich in anti-oxidants and vitamin C. Eating them can help boost a poor appetite and they are useful in arthritis. See Hedgerow Medicine, by Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal,  for an excellent chapter on the many virtues and uses of  the raspberry, both leaf and fruit, with some great herbal recipes.

Penelope Ody in her book 100 great natural remedies has a simple recipe for raspberry vinegar: Soak 500g fresh raspberries in wine vinegar for 2 weeks, strain thick red liquid into a bottle and use in cough syrups, as a throat gargle or add to salad dressings.

Nick took us through the winemaking process in three stages, starting off a new wine and then using ones “I’d prepared a bit earlier.” He was keen to point out he was not an expert, having started about three years ago, but had really got into it and was happy to share what he knows with people.

This was the essence of not only this session but also a main impulse behind the whole Plants for Life project, and indeed Sustainable Bungay as a group and the wider Transition ‘movement’: If Nick could make so much and such decent wine (not to mention his delicious dandelion and burdock beer) from home and allotment-grown and foraged fruit by just doing it and immersing himself in it, then anyone with sufficient interest and initiative could. Watching Nick describe the process and go through it physically with a friendly group of people was absorbing and instructive, as well as good fun. It was a true skill-share.

What follows below is not necessarily the whole story, but what I learnt from Sunday’s session.

In a big bucket with 3lb raspberries (you can choose your own fruit, almost any will do), Nick poured on 5pts of water and added a teaspoonful of pectin enzyme to prevent ‘pectin haze’. He then mashed the raspberries with a wooden spoon and covered the liquid with a tea towel (very important esp. in summer to keep insects out).

This is left for two days.

Add to the bucket between 1kg and 11/4 kg of sugar (preferably fair trade/organic, white) dissolved in 2 pts water off the boil. Add 1 tsp dried yeast with a little sugar all dissolved in some of the fruit liquid in the bucket.

It’s the yeast that turns the sugar into alcohol and the more sugar the sweeter the wine. Nick uses less (1kg) as he likes a drier wine.

This liquid is then stirred 2-3 times a day over the next four days, and the process is called ‘fermenting on the must’.

This is the messy bit, where you strain all the liquid through a muslin sieve, before funnelling it into the demi-johns and putting an airlock on it. This is then left to ferment for between 3 and 18 months until there are no longer any bubbles to be seen in the airlock. During the fermenting process a stable temperature is important. Nick doesn’t worry too much about whether it’s warm or cool, just that there is as little fluctuation as possible.

Decant into bottles and leave for 1-2 years depending on the fruit. Raspberries need less time than elderberries, for example.

After the demonstration, Nick invited everyone to taste some of the wines he’s made. My favourite was the dry and fragrant Elderflower and Rosehip. I took half a bottle home and tried a glass with a dash of elderflower cordial – for medicinal purposes only, of course. And it was the perfect antidote to the recent gloomy days of continual rain and lessening light.

Photos: Raspberry wine fermenting in demi-johns; Nick instructing; Mashing the raspberries; Straining the liquid; Cheers on a rainy day (Mark Watson)

Additional Comments on Original Post:

By Nick: Submitted on 2012/10/25 at 3:47 pm

Soon after we finished I realised the following omissions not mentioned at the time (you will remember that I forgot to add one or two things during the demonstration but at least realised them very quickly)

STEP ONE – the fruit should be crushed with a potato masher or similar implement before adding the water. Even the semi-frozen raspberries I was using could have been defrosted with a little of the boiling water and crushed before adding the remainder.

And a couple of clarifications to your instructions Mark, if I may:

STEP TWO – important to let the liquid cool to room temperature before adding yeast mixture.

STEP FOUR – some wines can be drunk almost as soon as fermentation stops, raspberry being one of them. Others (e.g. damson, sloe) will improve for bottling for a year or more.

It was really good fun, thanks Mark for organising and everyone who came.

By markinflowers: Submitted on 2012/10/25 at 4:08 pm

Thanks for clarifying here Nick. I really enjoyed the session. Let’s do some more!

Hedgerow Medicine in Bungay with Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal

The upper room at Bungay Library was packed with almost 40 people last Sunday for this month’s Plants for Life talk on Hedgerow Medicine with Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal.  Julie is a practising medical herbalist and Matthew an editor and writer and their book, Hedgerow Medicine, is a treasure store of herbal remedies and recipes you can make at home from wild plants you gather yourself.

The talk took the form of a demonstration and discussion of the different ways of preparing wild plants for medicines, including syrups, ointments, teas, tinctures and floral waters. The first plant was Forget-Me-Not and we looked at the freshly-picked flowers under magnifying glasses so we could see closer to the beauty of these cheerful blue plants. I’d been wondering about forget-me-not’s medicinal qualities (it is not in common use nowadays), because of the profusion of them in the plant medicine bed in the library garden this year. And now here they were introducing the session. The forget-me-not syrup Julie and Matthew passed around to taste was specifically for dry coughs.

They moved gently and unhurriedly through a range of hedgerow herbs, talking about the styptic qualities of yarrow (some of the men present decided we would try it on shaving cuts), the historical uses of St. John’s Wort as a protective plant and  how ribwort plantain can assist with certain allergies.

We also learnt how dandelion can nourish the liver, help with old coughs and even cheer you up. And you can make tasty fritters from the flower heads. We got to taste a ten year old dandelion syrup, which was absolutely delicious. Vintage! And I learned a new word: amphoteric. Applied to herbs such as dandelion, this means that in the body it normalises the function of a system or an organ.

Julie and Matthew work with simples primarily, making tinctures and syrups and teas from one particular plant. For tea this afternoon, they had brought along some ground ivy or alehoof. This clears the sinuses as once it clarified beer. Charlotte found a pot to make the tea – which was astonishingly green.

After tea we looked at some live plants and were invited to guess what they were. One had leaves that recalled spinach, but not quite, and no one guessed it was mandrake, that oldest of medicine plants, steeped in folklore, and related to deadly nightshade and tomatoes. In the old days the story went that if you pulled it up by its roots (which resemble the human body), it screamed and someone would die. So when people wanted it for medicine they would tie their dog to it and the poor dog would have to bear the consequences.

The other plant was Epimedium, a member of the berberis family, also called Horny Goat Weed and used as an aphrodisiac. I thought that was great as long as it didn’t actually turn you into a goat!

Out of all that herbal wealth and floral richness the piece de resistance must have been the elderflower water. I can’t begin to find an adequate description for the amazing scent of this home-distilled floral water. If anyone else can and they were there please write it in the comments. ‘Wow!’ will have to do for now.

The talk was so relaxed and absorbing it didn’t feel as if a lot was happening, or as if two hours had suddenly gone by. It was only when I was jotting down notes at home later that I realised just how much ground Julie and Matthew had covered in the afternoon and how much knowledge they had shared.

Afterwards I showed Julie and Matthew the library garden and the plant medicine bed and they loved it. It made me feel very proud of Sustainable Bungay and what we’ve brought into being here.

So warm thanks once again to Julie and Matthew for such an engaging Plants for Life session and for answering everyone’s questions.

To order Hedgerow Medicine or other books by Julie-Bruton Seal and Matthew Seal, or to find out more about Julie’s practice as a medical herbalist, visit their website HERE. They also run practical herbal classes and are based in Norfolk, about a 40 minute drive from Bungay.

Walking With Weeds

Walking with Weeds

WWW1.jpgIt was the perfect sunny day for the first Sustainable Bungay Plants for Life walk of the year after a successful winter season of medicinal talks and workshops.

Perfect that is until five minutes before we set out when it started raining. Thank goodness for bumping into Paul whilst I was doing a last minute reccy of all the dandelions, cleavers, mallows, nettles, celandines and yarrows we would be stopping at in the town’s rich and varied spaces.

Clouds were appearing. He would bring me an umbrella.

Meanwhile Charlotte put Sustainable Bungay’s brilliant new A board that Roger had made by hand (including the amazing handpainted lettering which so closely resembles the font on all SB’s literature) outside the library. And wrote out the event in chalk in her own elegant hand.

The weather didn’t seem to bother anyone and at 2.30 over twenty of us put up brollies and pulled over hoods and set off around Bungay to see the wild plants pushing through everywhere from cracks in the pavement to churchyards to car park edges and hidden alleyways behind the town centre. And it wasn’t just the adults who wanted to come along. The children were fascinated by the plants and often knew them by name.


The intent behind the walk was to consider these uncultivated plants beyond their usual description as ‘weeds’ and look at their medicinal qualities and uses. In line with the spring season we focused on the energy-moving, tonic, galvanising properties of the plants as well as how they clear and cleanse the system after the sluggishness of winter.

And there they all were in abundant supply: nourishing energisers and diuretics, dandelions and nettles. Lymphatic booster, cleanser and energiser, cleavers. Even mega Chinese herbal tonic and superfood Gojiberry, (known more commonly here in England as  Duke of Argyll’s tea tree or Wolfberry), was growing in abundance on Castle Meadow.

Goji Jack banner

After the walk we returned to the library where Charlotte prepared everyone a Wild Green and great tasting spring tonic tea made from the leaves we’d collected. It included dandelion, nettles and cleavers with a sprig of peppermint and thyme from the library garden. Bungay Community Bees’ honey was an optional extra.

Meanwhile Nick had brought gobo roots. That’s Japanese burdock and whilst Nick’s was cultivated at his allotment, we do have a wild version here. Indeed one has found its way into the plant medicine bed this year with no help from me. And it’s a mega-medicine plant – a detoxing blood purifier, skin healer and alterative, which means it gradually helps restore health and proper functioning to the body.

Oh, and thanks too for the dandelion roots, Nick. They are drying in the cupboard as I write. Maybe we’ll brew up a dandelion and burdock drink! Know where we can get some local sarsaparilla?!?



Next month we welcome Norfolk-based medical herbalist Julie Bruton-Seal and her husband Matthew Seal, co-authors of the best DIY handbook on making home remedies from wild plants I know, Hedgerow Medecine. Come along to Bungay Library at 3pm on Sunday 13th May, where Julie and Matthew will talk both about the book and the practice of Hedgerow Medicine. Don’t forget to visit the Garden Street Market beforehand and make it a day with plants.

APR 2012 - Walking With Weeds - Pouring and Drinking

This is a write-up of the fourth Plants for Life event with Sustainable Bungay, a series of twelve monthly talks, walks and workshops I organised in 2012 in conjunction with a showcase bed focusing on plants as medicine at Bungay Library Community Garden. The latter is also a Sustainable Bungay project.

Photos: pre-walk reccy checking out the dandelions and daisies (Charlotte Du Cann); Sustainable Bungay’s great new A board made by Roger proudly presents Walking with Weeds (Mark Watson); Walking up the road (me) and along the wall (Tristram); Grasping the nettle in Trinity churchyard; Wolfberry aka Goji (l) and Jack-by-the-Hedge aka Garlic Mustard (MW & Elinor McDowell); Preparing a Very Green and Delicious Tea (MW); Pouring and Drinking and Getting Galvanised for the spring season (EM)

Growing Biodynamic and Organic Herbs – A Conversation with Dave Wrenn

This is the second of our monthly (medicine) Plants for Life series of talks, walks and workshops in 2012 in conjunction with the Plant Medicine Bed at Bungay Library. This month we’ll be in conversation with David Wrenn of Orchard End Organics – everything you ever wanted to know about growing and tending Organic herbs that we can fit into an hour’s conversation!

And we’d also love your company at the placing of the commemorative plaque in the Library Community Garden beforehand – at 2.30pm.

Looking forward to seeing you there.
Mark Watson

Plant Medicine Bed 2012 at Bungay Library plus Talks, Walks and Workshops beginning Sunday 15th January

Each year the central flowerbed at Bungay library community garden takes a different theme. In 2011 it was Wild Plants for Bees and Butterflies, this year it will be Plants as Medicine. The intent behind the Plant Medicine Bed is to rekindle our relationship with the plants we share the earth with and to learn about making simple kitchen and garden remedies. As well as using plants physically to help maintain our health and wellbeing, having a relationship with flowers and trees is a tonic in itself.

So in addition to the flowerbed as a display for all kinds of wild weeds and healing herbs, there will be a series of vibrant plants for life talks, walks, conversations and practical workshops with fellow ‘plant people’, taking place monthly throughout the year in the library and around the town. They will follow the seasons and are open to anyone who wants to deepen their connection with and knowledge of plants.

We start on 15 January with a creative look at Medicine Roots with SB’s Charlotte Du Cann (author of the forthcoming 52 Flowers That Shook My World). On 19 February, in conversation with David Wrenn of Orchard End Organics, we’ll focus on practical tips for planting and growing herbs. And on 18 March Medical herbalist, Dan Wheals (Transition Ipswich) will introduce Adopt a Herb (part of the Norfolk and Norwich festival), and show us how to find out about one chosen plant and explore the different stories that emerge. We look forward to seeing you there!

Where: Bungay Library

When: Sundays 15 January, 19 February, 18 March at 3PM

Look out in the Spring and Summer for the Spring Tonic plant walk, making teas and tinctures and the Midsummer walk and wild plant oils workshop.

For all enquiries contact Mark Watson: 01502 722419 or or check Sustainable Bungay’s website where I’ll be posting regular announcements and write-ups for both the plant medicine bed and the events.

Bungay Library Community Garden was inspired by permaculture and transition principles and designed and constructed by members of SB’s library courtyard working party. It blossomed and burgeoned throughout 2011 thanks to the attention of many people, in particular Richard Vinton, who keeps a daily eye on the plants and trees (and the watering can, trowel and compost close by). Do pay us a visit during regular library times. The plants will love the company and you’re sure to love theirs!

Photo: Talking plants and bees at the Library Community Garden, Bungay Beehive Day, July 2011