A Mead of Fruits, Flowers and Herbs

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This morning I got my first mead of the summer on the go – red roses, strawberries, wild honey, spring water and a bunch of fresh herbs, most from the garden, and everything apart from the honey from no further than two miles away.

The fresh herbs include anise hyssop, apple mint, lemon balm, spearmint, yerba buena (what would we do without the mint family?), along with some sunflower fellows: alecost leaves and mugwort flowerbuds.

Over the next ten to fourteen days there will be vigorous stirrings and smellings and bubblings and fizzings, followed by very merry drinkings!

See this post for how to give it a go yourself: How to Make a Herbal Mead Elixir


Retro Blackbird Goes 2 Tone

This year’s resident blackbird has been particularly vocal with a bold and complex song, which has been a joy to hear throughout the spring and early summer.
The thing that has struck me most about it though is a line he’s repeated frequently, which really reminds me of the first few notes of The Selecter‘s On My Radio from 1979. We’ve never had a 2 Tone retro blackbird as a neighbour before!
He’s toned it down in the past few days now that the young have fledged, but I managed to catch a bit of his song the other day in this 4 second video from somewhere behind the mock orange…


Grassroots Directory now crowdfunding!

GD 400x400 no borderThe Grassroots Directory is an A-Z guide aiming to showcase more than 200 of the most exciting community-led projects in grassroots Britain, taking you from Allotments to Zero waste and everywhere in-between.

As we join the dots between Repair cafes, Local currencies and Urban farms, you can find out how they work, what makes them tick and even how to set one up in your own hometown.

We are now crowdfunding this new publication with the fabulous Unbound Books, and we’d love your help to make it happen.


If you’d like to support us by making a pledge and circulating this email to your own networks, that would be great. You can read all about the project, watch our (3 min) video (filmed at Grow-Our-Own in Bluebell Allotments in Norwich), and make your pledge here:


GD SeedsThe Directory was inspired by many years documenting community projects, including in the national grassroots newspaper Transition Free Press. But given the short-lived nature of most online and printed media, we felt that producing the Directory as a ‘bumper annual’ would give these stories a longer – and hopefully well-thumbed – ‘shelf life’!

We look forward to including your name in the back of The Grassroots Directory!

web grassrootsdirectory.org/
twitter @grassrootsmap
facebook Grassroots Directory


As I write this from near the east coast of England at 2pm on 17th December 2015, the weather outside is mostly overcast with pale gold light streaking through the clouds to the south. It is also extremely mild, probably 14 degrees Celsius.

Not such a different temperature in fact to that of the early October day when I took this picture of a flock of goldfinches which had landed in the elder tree at the bottom of the garden.

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It’s not a particularly sharp or fine picture and I don’t have a very good camera; but something about the flashes of dandelion gold on the goldfinches’ wings, as if the colour came directly from the sunny flower of that plant itself, whose seeds they love to eat, made me want to post it…

How to make a Herbal Mead Elixir

This month the 8th issue of Dark Mountain (and first themed book and paperback) was published. Titled Technê, it is a wide-ranging collection of essays, reflections and maker guides on all aspects of technology and tools. At its launch at the /i’klectik/ art lab and cafe in Lambeth, I demonstrated in six intense minutes how to make a wild autumn mead, whilst Charlotte gave a slideshow of some of the artworks and photographs in this densely illustrated volume. I also joined the crew for this issue as proofreader and Charlotte co-edited the book and wrote two of its pieces. This is the first, a short practical one about making mead, which also appears on her own blog:

How to make a Herbal Mead Elixir – by Charlotte Du Cann

This is a mead made for a talk about Dark Mountain at the 2 Degrees Festival at Toynbee Studios, Whitechapel, last June. My fellow editor Steve Wheeler and I had been invited to present our talk without any technology or power, as part of a ‘de-industrialising‘ workshop called ‘Breakdown breakdown’, organised by the artist and activist Brett Bloom.

I took a jar of mead along as part of the performance.

Honey and water infused by botanicals make the simplest, most off-grid, hands-on, archaic, indigenous drink you can find anywhere. You can conjure mead elixirs from any fruit or leaves or roots, depending on your intent or sense of adventure. Fragrant elderflowers, bitter dandelion roots, birch bark, hawthorn berries; the mead circles of rural Tennessee, according to master fermenter Sandor Ellix Katz, make them with just about with anything. Ours had a fruity theme: conference pear, lemon balm, apple mint, lime blossom honey. The key ingredient in mead is raw honey. The honey has to be non-pasteurised, so it contains the wild yeasts that make fermentation happen.

Midway through the presentation, just after Steve had whirled about the circle of people, reading from his Dark Mountain piece, Ragnanok, about modern warrior training in Sweden, I passed the mead around to see if anyone could guess what it was. No one did, although a girl from Finland did say it reminded her of something her people made with raisins.

‘Well, if you know your Nordic mythology,’ I said, ‘you’ll know that when Odin and his sky warriors weren’t preparing for the Last Battle, they were drinking mead!’

The first time I encountered mead, I was investigating plant medicine in Oxford. One night, I dreamed my head was covered in bees. It was intense. The second time was at an editorial meeting in London. Six of us had been running a newspaper against the odds and were closing shop after three years. We sat in a circle, feeling The End drawing nigh, when the managing editor exclaimed, ‘Let’s have some mead!’ and brandished a Kilner jar containing an elixir of rose petals, redcurrants and windfallen cherry plums. Five minutes later we were all falling about laughing. I thought I was going to burst with happiness.

‘It might be the end of the world as we know it,’ I declared to the audience. ‘but at least we can have a good time!


1 handful each of mint and
lemon balm leaves
1 ½ litres of pure spring or
boiled water
1 pear (organic), chopped (or
any unsprayed seasonal fruit)
½ jar of raw honey (small
local producers rarely process their honey)
1 ½ litre Kilner jar

Pick a good handful of lemon balm and mint leaves from a garden or unpolluted location, and make them into a strong tea with some of the water (just off the boil). The water needs to be pure non-carbonated spring water. If you use tap water make sure it is well boiled, or left open overnight, to rid it of chlorine (although it may still contain chloramines depending where you live). Let it cool.

Dissolve the honey with some of the cooled tea in the Kilner jar, then add all the rest of the ingredients, plus several fresh lemon balm leaves and some rose petals if you have roses. Give it a good shake/stir. Important: don’t add hot water/tea to raw honey – it will destroy the vital microorganisms. The liquid should be no more than tepid!

Leave the jar somewhere warmish and visible. Every day take up a wooden spoon and swirl the mixture briskly anti-clockwise and then clockwise.

It doesn’t matter if you keep the jar open or closed, but if you close it you need to ‘burp’ the jar every day. It will make a satisfying hiss as the CO2 escapes, and froth vigorously. Each day the mead will look different. The colour and fragrance will change. Transformation is happening!

After 10 days or so it is ready to drink – though you can bottle and keep it for years. It is particularly delicious mixed with wine, fruit cordial, apple juice and/or sparkling spring water. Keep refrigerated at this point, but don’t forget to keep burping the jar!

All the ingredients in this mead are traditional herbs for relaxing and cheering you up. Contrary to expectation, facing the end of the world as we know it can be a cheerful thing, as every attempt to deny the situation, or to keep things going against the odds, disappears. It opens up a space you didn’t think was there. Suddenly you can see what or who was around you all the time, but you were too fraught to notice. 

The alchemical mead jar at the centre of the talk was a kind of metaphor for the Dark Mountain Project. I wanted to show hown if you gather some creative uncivilised ingredients (people) together, they can made a heady, healing and joyful brew. What is happening in that Kilner jar is the magic and medicine of fermentation – communities of microorganisms working together, exchanging material, creating new forms, making life happen. All the active ingredients in honey are dormant until you mix them with water, and then everything wakes up. The yeasts that live on the surface of leaves and the skins of fruit add to the live action and flavour. The sweet nectar of flowers gathered and processed by millions of bees feeds them, and then us. Rewilding in a jar.

Sip, share and enjoy!

Images: front cover of Dark Mountain 8 designed by Andy Garside; a late summer mead with cherry plums, rowan berries and mallow (Mark Watson); Mark in action at recent Raw Food and Drink demo at Giddens & Thompon’s Bungay (photo by Josiah Meldrum)

Sunflowers and Tree Spinach to Brighten up the Back of the Library

A couple of years back I suggested to Charlotte and Lynne at the local library that it might be nice to brighten up the back border behind the building with some summer flowers. They thought that was a good idea, and this year I got round to it.

I felt it should be kept simple, with some tall plants to reach the top of the fence – so I started off some sunflowers and tree spinach at home, dug, sieved and prepared the soil in spring and popped the young plants in at the end of May.

Here is a collage of the border, starting in May and going up to the end of August. Unfortunately there are no pictures of the moment when most of the sunflowers were blooming – including a very large one which decided it wanted to face the house over the fence and not the libary! – because I forgot to take them.

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But as you can see, it did make a difference to that bare edge… and as of today, 8th September, the ‘China cats’ are still putting out blooms, the tree spinach has flowered, and the one here has outgrown the sunflowers:

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Hello and thanks for visiting Mark in Flowers

A few words about plants and me.

I usually call myself a ‘plant person’, which is what people who are really into plants and spend a lot of time working with them call each other in the United States. I spent a lot of time getting to know the plants in south-eastern Arizona and I’ve always loved how inclusive and open this description is. Anyone can connect with plants, we’ve been co-existing with them for ever on the planet. It’s a question of attention.

I’ve been a community activist for many years and live near the east coast of Suffolk in the UK, where plants continue to inform and occupy a huge part of my life. Throughout 2012 as part of Sustainable Bungay in Suffolk, I curated a Plant Medicine bed in the local Community Library garden, drawing attention to just how much plants actually do and how multi-faceted they are. In conjunction with the bed I organised and hosted a whole series of monthly ‘Plants for Life’ talks, walks and workshops with guest speakers on everything from hedgerow medicine to growing organic and biodynamic herbs, from book readings on the dreaming of plants to ‘medicinal’ winemaking and ‘walking with weeds’. Anyone and everyone is welcome to come to any of the events I organise.

These days I also refer to myself as a plant activist, as a lot of what I do and teach is about connecting people, plants and places. I’m particularly, though not exclusively, drawn to native, medicinal wild plants and I have a fondness for members of the mint and sunflower families and plants from Mexico, where I have lived. I work a LOT with Ribwort Plantain, and Lemon Balm and Rosemary always feature strongly. Recently I’ve been drawn to the powerful-smelling and enigmatic Epazote. And then there is always Anise Hyssop.

PFTeapot1-5And I love making (and teaching people how to make) plant teas and drinks, appearing in many places with my teapot, from Dark Mountain’s final Uncivilisation festival where I led a medicine plant walk, to Transition Town Tooting’s previous two Foodivals, where I gave herbal tea demos. I continue to travel with my teapot, making fresh delicious teas from whatever herbal edibles and drinkables are within reach. Next stop is the Two Degrees Festival on 6th June at 6-7pm where I’ll be brewing up a freshly foraged and locally gathered convivial floral summer tea alongside Playing for Time author and friend Lucy Neal.

Recently I have expanded my plant activities to include fermentation and passing on what I’ve learnt to others through demonstrations and workshops. Herbal meads are on the cards for 2015.

I am available for talks, walks, workshops and travelling teapots and charge according to a sliding scale – I charge more if you’ve got more, less if you have less.

A note about photos and text on Mark in Flowers blogposts: All text, photos and artwork are by me unless otherwise credited. I’m happy for you to use them so long as you credit them to me (Creative Commons with Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives)