Posts Tagged ‘wild plants/foraging’

Recalling the flowers and fruits of the summer as it races by…

The summer races by, and with different plants flowering (and fruiting) at different times, it’s easy to forget that the woad was blooming for weeks early on, and the Jacob’s ladder, the garden sage and the knapweeds, all these flowers now over and replaced by marigolds, cosmos, marshmallows, wild carrot. Blackcurrants followed raspberries followed strawberries. I’ve kept a (somewhat desultory) photo record this year, and here are some (though by no means all) of the plants which have been flowering and fruiting – in the garden, in the woods, and down by the sea. Beginning from today and going backwards!

9.CqNa0-tUEAApX3r

Squash, as yet unidentified, climbing up through the hawthorn tree, at 7 feet already and showing no sign of stopping – spot the growing green gourd through the leaves (Photo: today, 19th August 2016).

8.CpamDbKWgAEFljh

An Alberto’s Locoto chilli (Capsicum pubescens) in its second year. No flowers or fruits last year, but both plants overwintered in the conservatory, and have burgeoned this summer. There are over 20 juicy fruits on this one to date, and more flowers appearing as I write. Seeds originally from The Real Seed Catalogue.

7.CpMP0AHWYAAYjGL

4 o’ clock plant fully out by 5.30pm (6th August) with lovely yellow flowers and marvellous scent. Native to the Americas and in the Nyctaginaceae family (Mirabilis jalapa). Still blooming away two weeks later.

8.CpFtlyiWIAEilKS

As of 6th August, a small number of butterflies had appeared on the buddleia and elsewhere in the garden. Over the past few hot and sunny days, the numbers have increased slightly, mostly peacocks and scarlet admirals, along with one or two painted ladies and meadow browns.

7.CneywfPWIAANZLX

Into the woods to discover slender St. John’s wort, enchanters nightshade and scullcap.

6.Cnelg7LXEAAW_X9

Marshmallow in the first week of July. This plant, which has been with us since 2012, has really come into its own this year.

12.CnJ4WxbXEAAOGon

Out of the garden and into the wild dunes. Ancestor sea peas were in abundance throughout June and July, as was fellow legume restharrow.

3.Cm2ugBEWAAAHjHz

Back in the garden, a meadow brown butterfly visits the knapweed. And (below) I rescue several valerians whose leaves have been decimated by an unknown decimator!

4.valerian-in-flower-july-2016.jp4.g

5.20160715_192259-2-lowres

 

1. mead-4-july-banner-low-res

Red roses, strawberries, wild honey and a bunch of fresh and fragrant herbs for the first wild yeast mead of the summer. We drank it fresh and delicious at only a couple of weeks old.

13.ClACQW9XEAAKGVO

Sage (Salvia officinalis), moon daisies and Jacob’s Ladder doing their glorious things in June.

Rehabilitating Valerian

Valerian rehabilitatedThe poor old valerians in our garden have been ravaged by goodness knows what this year (and last). I’ve not yet seen the culprit responsible, but the news is not all bad.

Valerian (I mean the native, wild, medicinal Valeriana officinalis here, and not the commonly grown and escaped Red Valerian (Centranthus ruber), which can be seen in red and white versions in gardens and on walls in the summer) easily restores itself from the strongly aromatic roots.

20160715_192259-2 lowresSo I just dug them up and put them in pots (using homegrown peatfree compost topped with a layer of bought peatfree to suppress the weeds) and they’ll be sprouting new leaves within a week or so.

Valerian is one of my (many) favourite plants, and has been used through the ages as a herbal sedative, and for insomnia. I sometimes drink the tea to help me relax, and find it does the trick.

Mostly though I love the plant for itself… and I’m determined to discover who else does next year and see if I can stop the great stripping!

Pics: Valerian repotted; Valerian reviving a week later (15th July 2016); Valerian flowers (all by Mark In Flowers)

Valerian in flower July 2016

A Mead of Fruits, Flowers and Herbs

Mead 4 JULY banner low res

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

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.

P4110013 - detail

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!

Postscript 29th April
Made two delicious, refreshing litres from this first batch. It’s really good value too, the cost of one organic lemon, 100g sugar and the heat to boil the water. Batch no. 2 is now on the go.

Walking With Weeds

Walking with Weeds

It 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.

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.

This is a slightly amended version of my write-up of last Sunday’s Plants for Life event with Sustainable Bungay, the fourth in a series of twelve monthly talks, walks and workshops I’ve organised this year 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)

Sometimes Known as Lughnasa

The alarm went off at 4.30 this morning and I stumbled out of bed.
“It’s cloudy over the sea”, said Charlotte as we looked east from the window to the horizon.
“Is it worth going?” I said.
“We could go up the lane to the oak instead.”

But we always go down to the sea to greet the sun at the beginning of August for the station of the year sometimes known as lughnasa.

So we found ourselves getting dressed and going to the shed for the bikes. The sun would rise at around 5.15 and it’s a good 20 minutes’ cycle to get to the sea.

My sturdy old town bike doesn’t go very fast even along straight roads, and this morning I was struggling through the empty streets against the breeze. Charlotte zoomed ahead.

Forgot the bike locks so we propped them against the railings and headed over the dunes. There was a tent on the beach but no sign of anyone apart from ourselves. I collapsed amongst the marram grass and almost immediately the sun appeared – straight out of the sea, red and glowing in a less dramatic, gentler sunrise than last year’s. The whole morning was warmer too. Before I knew it Charlotte had stripped naked (a rare event in Southwold) and raced into the water. Meanwhile I went to visit some nearby wild fennel.

We have some grand fennels in the garden, but for aromatic intensity they are no match for these wild ones. You know how when you rub peppermint and smell it you can feel it in your mouth even without eating it (if you haven’t done that before give it a try). Well, that’s what these fennels are like; just the lightest brush against them with your hand permeates your taste buds somehow. And it feels like it’s cleansing your whole mouth. I never realised I was so permeable before I encountered mint and fennel! So if you ever come across me brushing lightly against these plants in the wild rest assured I am perfectly sane – come and join me!

Cycling back home we saw a flock of white doves on the common and stopped to collect some fallen wild cherry plums in the lane. The light in the garden was limpid and another sunflower had just emerged. I have a feeling that ALL of the sunflowers I planted this year are going to be the new form I wrote about the week before last. Not that I’m complaining…

Pics: wild fennel sunrise; sea sunrise; me, (new) sunflower, rose – all Aug 2011

Post originally published on This Low Carbon Life 2 Aug 2011

White Deadnettle, Bumblebees and Making Plant Support Sticks

We have several stands of White Deadnettle (Lamium album) in the garden, and the bumblebees just can’t get enough of them. I’m paying attention to these common wildflowers these days as I become more bee-aware, and they really are handsome.

In the weeks up until Bungay Community Bees’ Bee Day in July, when I’ll be leading a couple of groups on a bee and flower walk as part of the Plants for Bees project, I’ll be posting (probably sporadically) here on the flowers and bees I come across, as well as other subjects…

Such as whittling my own plant support sticks down from the vast number of branches which came from pruning our Buddleia last month. I’m trying to reduce the pile you see here in the picture – but talk about task of Sisyphus. I seem to spend hours on it and the pile still looks the same size. I’ve got quite a few good sticks though…