The Magical Birch Tree

After the glaciers of the last Ice Age receded, birch was one of the first trees to re-colonise the land. Though it is a slender and graceful tree, it is amazingly resilient, and rarely has one species of tree been so important to so many different peoples. Our ancestors used it to make shelters, canoes and coracles, fibre, medicine, ‘paper’, magic and even brewed wine and beer from it.

As it is one of the first trees to come into leaf in the spring, it is associated with regeneration and new beginnings. In Scandinavia the appearance of leaves marked the beginning of the agricultural year and the farmers took it as a sign to sow their spring wheat. In the Northern tradition the birch (Beorc, Byarka, or Berkana) is a symbol of Mother Earth and represents the feminine powers of growth, healing and the natural world. May poles were made of birch, associating the birch with the May Day revels of sympathetic fertility magic.

The white bark of the birch also connects it with purification. The Anglo-Saxon name for the tree was beorc means ‘white’ or ‘shining’. Birch rods are used in country ritual for the driving out of the old year. Another possible derivation is the Latin ‘batuere‘ meaning ‘to strike’, referring to the birch rods use for flogging.

Birch is considered a protective tree, believed to guard those who carried a piece of it, and to keep livestock safe when attached to their barn or shelter. In some parts of England a birch was hung with red and white rags and leant against stable doors at Beltane (May Day) to prevent horses being ‘hag-ridden’, i.e. being taken out by spirits or witches and ridden.

The leaves, bark, twigs are all used medicinally.

Birch contains the natural pain reliever and anti-inflammatory salicylate, the same compound found in aspirin. This is especially useful for arthritic conditions and muscle pain. You can prepare a poultice of fresh bark and apply it directly (the inner bark against the skin) to the affected areas, or make macerated oils of the leaves or bark to apply externally. This will help to relieve both the pain and inflammation of arthritis. These same salycilates in the bark make an effective wart treatment.

As birch is a blood purifier, a decoction of the twigs or bark can be helpful when used as a wash for boils and sores. Make a tincture of birch buds for the treatment of small wounds and cuts. This has antibacterial, antiviral and cell regenerative qualities.  A decoction or macerated oil made from the bark or leaves is antibacterial and anti-inflammatory and useful for skin conditions such as eczema. Use as a skin wash or add to the bath.

Birch bark and leaves are diuretic, with the added benefit of being anti-bacterial. Taken as a decoction they help to eliminate excess fluid and toxins from the body which can help with arthritic conditions, urinary tract infections, cystitis and help to dissolve kidney stones.

The young shoots and leaves are used as a laxative, but the bark is useful in the treatment of diarrhoea.

The betulin compound found in birch bark is under investigation as a treatment for the herpes viruses, AIDS, and cancer.

An essential oil of birch bark is available. This pale yellow oil has a balsamic scent, and is extracted from the leaf-buds by steam distillation. Birch oil is good for dermatitis, dull skin, eczema and psoriasis, and also eases the pain of arthritis, rheumatism and sore muscles.  Birch oil blends well with benzoin, sandalwood and rosemary. However, it should be used with caution and highly diluted, and never when pregnant.

In magic birch is used for protection, purification, against negativity, love, new beginnings, changes, Ostara and Beltane.  It is associated with Aphrodite, Freya, Brigantia, Brighid, the Earth Mother, Thor, Frigga, Idunna, Nethus, Persephone, Sif and Venus.  It is ruled by the planet Venus, the element of water and the sign of Cancer.

Birch represents the power of cleansing and purification in preparation for the new beginnings. When the tree is opened to extract the sweet sap the essence of the tree is released to give its power to the waxing year and the strengthening sun at the vernal equinox, when the light begins to gain on the dark. This can form part of the ritual of Ostara. Honour the sun god with birch sap wine the following year.

Birch Sap Wine

8 pints birch sap (Betula spp.)

½ lb. raisins

2 lb. sugar

Juice of 3 lemons

Yeast

Boil the sap and add the sugar. Simmer for 10 minutes. Pour the liquid over the raisins and lemon juice. Cool the mixture to 20oC and add the started yeast. Ferment in a brewing bucket for 3 days, then strain into a demijohn and fit an airlock.

To obtain the sap, bore a small hole into the tree, just inside the bark, and insert a narrow tube, sloping downwards. Sap should start running from the tree (if it doesn’t, it is the wrong time of year). Put the free end of the tube into your container (eg a plastic soda bottle), which you can tie onto the tree.  Don’t take too much from one tree. When you have what you need, remove the tube, put a piece of cork into the borehole, and the birch tree will seal itself after a short while. In very early spring (late February or early March here in the UK, depending on the weather) you should be able to draw off enough sap for a gallon of wine in a day.

 I also came across this old English recipe for birch beer, though I haven’t tried it yet:

“To every Gallon of Birch-water put a quart of Honey, well stirr’d together; then boil it almost an hour with a few Cloves, and a little Limon-peel, keeping it well scumm’d. When it is sufficiently boil’d, and become cold, add to it three or four Spoonfuls of good Ale to make it work…and when the Test begins to settle, bottle it up . . . it is gentle, and very harmless in operation within the body, and exceedingly sharpens the Appetite, being drunk ante pastum.”

 

QUINCE (and quince jelly)

I’ve been given some quinces (Cydonia oblonga). Once very popular, quinces have fallen out of favour and few people grow them, perhaps because the fruits, which look like small, irregular golden apples, are virtually inedible when raw – however, they are deliciously sweet and fragrant when cooked, and well worth the effort.

Native to Southwest Asia, Turkey and Iran, the quince tree spread to Greece and later to Europe and America. It is found in the lore of ancient Greece, Roman cookery, mediaeval English recipes and is still popular in Spain, France, and Portugal.

Quince was also used in medicine, with the fruits made into syrup and taken for diarrhoea, or the mucilaginous seeds taken internally treat diarrhoea and inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract.

In ancient Greece the quince was sacred to Aphrodite, goddess of love. The Greeks associated the fruit with fertility, and included it in wedding feasts. It’s possible that when ‘golden apples’ are referred to in Greek mythology, it is actually the quince which is meant.   Remember the ‘golden apple’ inscribed with ‘for the fairest’ that Eris, goddess of discord, rolled into a gathering of the Gods that led to a dispute between the goddesses Hera, Aphrodite and Athena, who all tried to claim it?  The mortal man Paris was chosen to judge the contest and the three goddesses all tried to gain his favour, but Aphrodite promised him Helen of Sparta for his wife, thus winning the apple and leading to the events which sparked the Trojan War.

JAPANESE QUINCE

And then there is the Japanese quince, also called ‘the flowering quince’ (Chaenomeles spp.), which I do grow, and which is commonly found in gardens as an ornamental bush covered in red blossoms that emerge before the leaves and last into May. This is related to the tree quince (Cydonia oblonga) and produces similar looking yellow fruits. Did you know these are also edible? Most people don’t. They make the most delicious jelly, just like the tree quince. Furthermore, they also have herbal uses as an analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, astringent and digestive.

QUINCE JELLY

Quinces (either true quince or Japanese quince)

Water

Sugar

Take the stalks from the quinces and chop them up roughly. Put them, pips skins and all, into a large pan. Just cover them with water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently until they break down into pulp. This may take up to around 45 minutes.  Add more water if necessary.

Next you need to strain this – it is just the juice you want to make your jelly. You can suspend a jelly bag from a hook or beneath a chair and put the pulp in, and allow the liquid to strain into a large jug or bowl.  This will take quite a while (you can leave it overnight) but do not squeeze the bag as this will force through fibres that will cloud the jelly.

When you have your juice, measure it into a large pan. For every pint (20 fl. oz.) of juice, add 1 lb. of sugar.  Bring to the boil and continue boiling until the setting point is reached (see my previous post on plum jam).

Remove the pan from the heat and allow it to stand for a few minutes removing any scum that has formed on the surface. Pour the jelly into warmed, sterilised jars.  Cover the surface of the jelly with a waxed disc and put on a lid or cellophane cover, held in place with an elastic band.

© Anna Franklin, August 2020

Easy Non-emulsified Cream

Most home-made creams can be very greasy and take a long time to be absorbed into the skin. Also, usually when you make a cream it is an emulsified i.e. a mixture of oils and liquids that have to be brought together at the same temperature with an emulsifying agent, such as beeswax or emulsifying wax. Some people find this very tricky.

For the following cream, you don’t need to worry about any of that. Aloe vera gel (available from pharmacies or online) is used as the base of the cream and whisked vigorously. This makes a light, fluffy, non-greasy cream that is easily absorbed into the skin. You can still use your home-made herbal oils and tinctures in it, but it comes without all the heating and fuss of an emulsified cream.

You will need:

70 ml aloe vera gel

30 ml herbal infused oil

5 ml herbal tincture

20 drops essential oil

Depending on what oils and tinctures you choose, you can make this as a healing cream or a beauty cream.

Put the aloe gel in a bowl and gradually whisk in the herbal infused oil, a teaspoon at a time. Whisk in the tincture and essential oil until combined. Spoon into sterilised jars, label and date.

It is that easy!

© Anna Franklin August 2020

MUGWORT AND MAGIC

Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) is starting to flower in the hedgerows, as well growing as opportunistically all over my herb garden, so I’ll be able to gather plenty.

I was introduced to mugwort by my first Craft teacher many years ago, and after that, I noticed it grew everywhere in the hedgerows. Julia called it ‘the witch herb’ and told me it was sacred to the goddess of the moon, so we should use it in rituals dedicated to her, and because she is the protectress of women, for ‘female complaints’. We added it to incense we used when seeking visions or working on exercises of astral projection, Julia told me to put a leaf beneath my pillow when I was seeking clarity of some issue, and I would dream the answer and she further advised that I should put a sprig in my shoe to prevent tiredness on long journeys and hang some up to protect my house from lightening.  This was the old cunning woman knowledge of the herb.

Though generally thought of as a fast spreading tall weed by most people in Britain and America today, the plant has been known and valued from China to the Americas, mentioned in Chinese poems as far back as 3 BCE, by the ancient Greek physician Galen as a remedy for amenorrhea (absent menstruation), and used by Roman soldiers in a salve to keep their feet from getting tired.   It has been used as a food, a medicine, a spice, for flavouring beer (hence the name ‘mug’ wort), as an insect repellent, a yellow dye, as an incense, for moxibustion and of course, in magic.  Once you identify mugwort, you’ll wonder why you never came across it before.

It was certainly an important plant in the British magical tradition, known as the Mother of All Herbs, and called ‘the oldest of plants…mighty against evil’ in the tenth century Anglo Saxon Lacnunga or Nine Herbs Prayer.[1] In the Middle Ages in Europe, it was considered a protective herb particularly utilised on St John’s Eve and St John’s Day, (i.e. Midsummer, the approximation of the summer solstice) when fairies and spirits of bane were thought to be especially active.  Mugwort gathered on St. John’s Eve was said to give protection against diseases and misfortunes of all kinds, and to save them from evil spirits, people wore garlands of mugwort on St John’s Day. The herb was even called cingulum Sancti Johannis (‘the girdle of St John’) or ‘St. John’s plant’, from a myth that St John wore a girdle of it while in the wilderness.

In Japan too, in Japan, there is an ancient custom of hanging mugwort and iris leaves together outside homes in order to keep evil spirits away. It is said that evil spirits dislike their smell.

Burning the herb to release both its fragrance and its virtues is an interesting facet of its properties. The herb is quite complex with over 75 unique chemicals that have been identified. It contains volatile oils, giving it a strong bitter aroma with mint undertones. I learned to use it in incense when I was a teenager, without knowing that in Korean, Japanese and Chinese medicine mugwort (Artemisia argyi) is used for moxibustion, burned to release its heat and scent in combination with acupuncture, either attached to acupuncture needles or rolled into bundles and lit to use in a similar manner to a smudge stick.  Studies have shown this to be effective for joint pain and arthritis.

MUGWORT INCENSE BUNDLE

  • Mugwort stems and leaves, fresh
  • Cotton string (it is important you do not use synthetic materials)

Gather your herbs and loosely bunch them. Begin wrapping fairly loosely (this allow drying and also burns better when you come to use your bundle) with the string.  Tie it off and trim any loose edges. Hang up to dry out for around 8 weeks.

CAUTION: Mugwort may cause an allergic reaction in individuals who are allergic to the Asteraceae/Compositae plant family.

 

© Anna Franklin, August 2020

[1] Lacnunga British Library MS. Harley 585, online at http://www.wyrtig.com/GardenFolklore/NineHerbsPrayer.htm, accessed 29.11.19

Using Your Lavender Flower Bounty

I’m harvesting lavender (Lavendula spp.) flowers.  The flowers should be collected just before they open. They should be dried gently, flat on a tray or hung upside down in small bunches.

Did you know you can cook with lavender? Lavender can be used in cooking, cakes, biscuits and ice creams, but the secret if to be very, very sparing with it.

Lavender Biscuits

2 eggs

115 gm butter

200 gm sugar

½ tsp lavender flowers, ground

200 gm plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 190C (375F). Cream the butter and sugar. Gradually add the eggs. Fold in the lavender, flour and baking powder and salt. Drop a teaspoonful at a time onto a baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes.

The genus name lavendula comes from the Latin lavare and means ‘to wash’. The Greeks, Romans and Carthaginians used lavender in bath water for both its scent and its therapeutic properties. Used as a bathing herb since Roman times, lavender is used in perfumes, cosmetics and soaps. Lavender helps skin to heal and renew itself, fights wrinkles and helps prevent acne. It is a natural deodorant.  Make a lavender bath bag by putting lavender flowers into a muslin bag and drop into the water. Or add your own infused lavender oil:

Infused Lavender Oil

This is simply made by placing lavender flowers in a jar, topping up with oil, and leaving for a couple of weeks in a dark place, shaking daily. Strain the oil onto fresh flowers and repeat. You can do this several times until the strength is as strong as you would like it, then strain into a clean bottle and keep in a dark place.

Lavender Hydrosol

To make a home-made distilled lavender flower hydrosol, take a large pan and put a trivet on the bottom of it. Pack your rose petals around it and add just enough distilled water to cover them. Put a small heat proof bowl on top of the trivet. Bring the water to the boil. Now place a large heat proof bowl on top of the big saucepan and fill it with icy cold water and ice cubes. This will cause the rising steam to condense back into water droplets and drop back down onto the plate. (Add more ice if it starts to warm up.) Simmer for a while before carefully removing the pan from the heat, and taking out the small bowl – there will be some condensed liquid in it. Allow it to cool. The condensed water is lavender hydrosol (lavender water).

Lavender Salve

Once you have made some oil, you can turn it into a salve by adding beeswax. In a double boiler, warm the oil. Add beeswax and melt. The more wax you add, the firmer the set will be. Pour into warm glass jars. Alternatively, if you don’t have any infused lavender oil, or prefer a vegan option, put some coconut oil and lavender flowers into a double boiler and simmer very gently for an hour. (I use a chocolate melter, which works equally well, or you can use a slow cooker.)

During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries it was grown extensively in monastery gardens for its medicinal properties. The glove makers of Grasse used liberal amounts of lavender oil to scent leather and it was said that they seldom caught the plague, so people began to carry posies of lavender to ward off the disease. It was also strewn on the floors of churches to avert the plague. Throughout the Middle Ages it was a popular strewing herb. It was also placed in linen cupboards to deter moths and keep away flies. It was distilled and had wide use for disguising household smells and the stink from the streets. Today we still use the dried flowers in potpourri, in sachets to freshen stored linen and deter moths and insects, or as a general air freshener.

Lavender Bags for Linen

Simply take some dried lavender flowers and sew into small squares of cloth. You can place these amongst your linen stores, or even place one beneath your pillow to help you sleep.

Lavender has been used in folk medicine for many years as a remedy for various complaints, and has been recognised in the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia for over two hundred years. Many country homes would keep a bottle of lavender oil (see above for instructions on how to make this) for aches and pains, bruises and burns. Lavender flowers soaked in gin or brandy was a popular farmhouse remedy.

Lavender Gin

500 ml gin

3 sprigs lavender

Pour gin into a bottle and add the fresh lavender. Seal and leave at room temperature for 2-4 days depending on how strong you would like the lavender flavour. Strain the bottle contents, discarding the lavender.

Lavender Tincture

The above is, of course, a recipe for a tipple, preferably enjoyed with tonic water and ice. Country people would have made a far stronger infusion, i.e. a tincture, used to treat their ills. You can make a lavender tincture for treating ailments by packing a jar with lavender flowers, covering with vodka or brandy for 2-3 weeks, and straining off.

Today, an infusion of the flowers is effective in the treatment of headaches, depression, nervous debility, exhaustion, insomnia, indigestion, stress, dizziness, halitosis, nausea, flatulence and colic. It can also be used as a general tonic and to help with respiratory problems, tonsillitis, colds, flu and high temperatures. It can be used as a mouthwash for oral thrush. Take the tea or tincture for a soothing effect on the central nervous system, mild pain relief, to sooth nervous tension or to act as a mild sedative in cases of insomnia.  Make a gentle antiseptic salve for cuts, bruises, to help minimise scarring and relieve skin irritations.

Lavender Infusion (Tea)

½ cup boiling water

4 tsp. of fresh lavender buds

Put in a teapot (or covered cup) and leave to infuse for 10 minutes.

Strain and drink.

Magically, lavender is a potent magical plant which purifies, cleanses and brings inner stillness and peace during meditation. Burn to bring about harmony during meetings and rituals as well as within the home. It may be used as an incense to explore the element of air, to develop the intellect and powers of logical thought. It can be thrown onto the solstice fire as a sacrifice to the Old Gods, as it is one of the sacred, aromatic herbs of Midsummer. Lavender also has underworld connections and may be used to honour underworld Cernunnos and crone aspects of the Goddess, including Hecate, Circe and Medea. It may be added to love incense, oils, sachets and charm bags, or used in love spells.

 CAUTION: Lavender is considered safe for most adults in food amounts, and probably safe when taken orally, applied to the skin, or inhaled in medicinal amounts, though it can cause irritation in some individuals. Do not use medicinally or use the oil if you are pregnant or breast feeding, for two weeks before surgery or if you are taking barbiturates. Do not use lavender oil on pre-pubescent boys.

 

© Anna Franklin, August 2020

Making Rose Oil – Essential and Infused

Bought rose essential oil is incredibly expensive because of the amount of roses it takes – 10,000 roses to fill a single 5ml (one teaspoon) bottle. There are two different kinds of rose essential oil, rose ottos, which are extracted through steam distillation, and rose absolutes obtained through solvent extraction.

Distilled rose oil (rose otto) is made in giant stills filled with rose petals and water, which are then heated and the steam collected. When the steam condenses it separates into rose essential oil and rosewater (rose hydrosol).

Making rose absolute essential oil is a complicated chemical process, but owing to the low temperatures the scent is more faithful to the original than rose otto. The petals are put into a solvent such as hexane (one of the constituent of gasoline) to draw out the aroma compounds, then vacuum processed to remove the solvent. What is left, a waxy mass, is mixed with alcohol to draw off the aromatic compounds, and then the alcohol is pressure evaporated to leave behind the absolute.

You can try making rose essential oil at home, either by steam distillation or alcohol extraction, and this can be fun to try, but remember that you may not get a very strong scent and will need at least 10,000 roses to get a teaspoon of rose essential oil! You will also need to use very strongly scented rose varieties.

To make a home-made distilled (rose otto) oil, you use the method of home-made flower hydrosol. Take a large pan and put a trivet on the bottom of it. Pack your rose petals around it and add just enough distilled water to cover them. Put a small heat proof bowl on top of the trivet. Bring the water to the boil. Now place a large heat proof bowl on top of the big saucepan and fill it with icy cold water and ice cubes. This will cause the rising steam to condense back into water droplets and drop back down onto the plate. (Add more ice if it starts to warm up.) Simmer for a while before carefully removing the pan from the heat, and taking out the small bowl – there will be some condensed liquid in it. Allow it to cool. As you tilt the bowl you might be lucky enough to find a few drops of rose oil amongst the condensed rose water. You might need a syringe to get these away from the rosewater, and you won’t have very much at all. At least you will have some rose hydrosol, the condensed water which is very useful. It may or may not smell very strongly. (This works much better with lavender flowers to make lavender hydrosol.)

For an alcohol (rose absolute) extraction, take as many roses as you can, and allow them to wilt and lose their water content.  Fill a jar with the petals and cover them with the highest proof vodka you can find (at least 120 proof). Keep in a dark place for a week, shaking daily. Strain off the vodka. Add more dried roses to it and repeat. You can repeat this whole process several times and you will have to to get a strong scent. Eventually, strain off the final batch and leave the sealed jar to stand for a day or two and you will see some separation of the vodka and plant oils. Place the jar upright in the freezer very carefully without agitating it and so mixing them up again. Leave overnight.  Vodka doesn’t freeze, but the plant materials will.  Remove the bottle from the freezer and quickly skim off the plant material onto some cheesecloth stretched over a bowl.  Pick off the frozen bits before they melt, and place them in a dark glass bottle. This is your essential oil. It may not smell very strong, or be very pure, and you won’t get much at all, but you will have made some! You can drink the rose vodka though.

If you want to make a rose oil, by far the simplest method is to make an infused rose oil.  Simply pack a clean glass jar with strongly scented, lightly crushed, rose petals. Cover with a light oil, such as grapeseed or sunflower, and put in a dark place for a week, shaking daily. Strain the oil from the petals onto fresh petals, and repeat. Keep repeating this process until the oil takes on the strength of scent you would like. Alternatively, you can place the jar of roses and oil in a pan of hot water (taken off the heat), and leave it there until it cools. This will help the petals release their scent.

What do I use my infused rose oil for? It is very good to use in massage, very soothing for nervous conditions, makes a comforting tummy rub for painful periods, and is marvellous for the skin, moisturizing and hydrating. It is especially good for dry, mature and irritated skin, broken capillaries, redness and eczema. And once I have my infused oil I can incorporate it into salves, creams, soaps etc.

© Anna Franklin, August 2020

Horsetail Tincture – How to Make and Use

I wrote a few weeks ago about horsetail, an invasive ‘weed’ that is all over my garden, but which is also a beautiful plant ally. I described using horsetail in tea and baths in my previous article, as well as some of its practical uses, but today I have been making horsetail tincture.

Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) has been used in medicine for thousands of years, both in Europe and in the Americas for wound healing and as a diuretic and kidney tonic.

The interesting thing about horsetail though is the amount of silica it contains  -which is also the reason weed-killers don’t affect it, for those of you who have tried – which the body uses to build and maintain healthy collagen, bones, connective tissue, cartilage, muscle, skin and  tendons. It also contains smaller amounts of bioavailable calcium and other minerals, such as potassium, manganese, sulphur and magnesium. Together these make it a lovely supportive herb which helps rebuild connective tissues and stimulates the production of bone cells, making it helpful for treating broken bones, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.   It stimulates hair growth, boosts collagen and skin elasticity, and has even been shown to improve hair’s shine!  Horsetail also has some pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects, which make it doubly useful in the treatment of arthritis.

I like to have some horsetail tincture in my arsenal, and using the folk method our ancestors would have used, it is easy to make.

HOW TO MAKE HORSETAIL TINCTURE

  • Pick your summer horsetail stems when they are upright and dry, on a sunny day.
  • I put them in a blender and cover them with vodka (you can also use brandy) and whizz them up.
  • Pour into a clean glass jar, label and place somewhere cool and dark for 4-5 weeks, shaking daily.
  • Strain into clean dropper bottles. Label.
  • Store in a cool dark place for 2-4 years.

 

HOW TO USE YOUR HORSETAIL TINCTURE

For arthritis take 30 drops of Horsetail tincture, three times daily for no longer than a month.

You can also use your tincture to promote hair growth and shine. Simply massage a little onto the scalp, or add 3-4 drops of horsetail tincture to 2 tablespoons of coconut oil and massage into the scalp and hair. This will keep for up to a year.

CAUTIONS

Do not take for longer than a month. As with any herb, do not use if you are pregnant pregnant or breastfeeding. Horsetail should not be taken by anyone under 18; it may contain nicotine, which could potentially cause side effects in children. Do not use if you are an alcoholic or have a thiamin deficiency. Horsetail can lower blood sugar, so treat with caution if you are on diabetic medication. Horsetail increases urination, so anyone with kidney problems or on diuretics or laxatives should consult a healthcare professional before using. Do not take if you are on antiretroviral drugs.

 

© Anna Franklin 2020

Tarragon Vinegar – how to make and use it

My tarragon is looking really good at the moment, so I am making tarragon vinegar. By just placing a few springs of herbs in vinegar, you can make herbal vinegar which is not only pleasant tasting when used with food, but also therapeutic. You can also use basil, marjoram, mint, sage, thyme, lavender flowers etc.

Bruise the herbs (you can do this with a rolling pin) and put them in a clean glass jar. Top up the jar with white wine vinegar or cider vinegar (here I am using my home-made cider vinegar). Store for 4-6 weeks, shaking now and then. Strain and rebottle the resulting liquid.

So what will I be using my tarragon vinegar for?

  • Use it in French dressing
  • Goes really well with potato salads whisked into mayo
  • Use it sprinkled over fresh tomatoes or cucumber
  • Add a little to soups
  • Sprinkle over roasted vegetables
  • Use it for added flavour in any recipe that calls for white wine or rice vinegar
  • It also has some practical uses. It is antibacterial so you can use it as a wipe on kitchen surfaces, or even wash your veggies with it.
  • Tarragon has some important medicinal qualities in higher doses, but even by using tarragon vinegar, especially if it is made with raw cider vinegar, it may benefit your digestion, and help with the pain of osteoarthritis.

 

© Anna Franklin 2020

Love Your Lawn Weeds!

I’m making a plea on behalf of lawn weeds. My lawn is full of what most gardeners would consider to be weeds, and immediately run to the shed to get the weed-killer out and spray them out of existence. Weed-killers are toxic chemicals that do untold damage to the environment, affecting not only plants but also insects, animals and humans.  One of my pet hates is a bowling green lawn of pure grass kept under control by weed-killers – it is dead, deeply unhappy space to me. My lawn has daisies, clover, buttercups, plantains, dandelions, shepherd’s purse and many other ‘weeds’ that provide a rich environment for the insects, birds and other animals that visit it, as well as providing quite a few benefits for me too.

The bees love the white clover (trifolium repens) which covers my lawn in high summer.  White clover was once added to grass seed mixes as it is high in nutrients for grazing animals. It also enriches the soil itself by fixes nitrogen from the air into it.

I am very fond of those hated weeds, dandelions; they cover the grassy areas of my orchard in spring. Not only do the flowers make one of the best country wines, but the young spring leaves can be eaten (they are packed with vitamins and minerals), the roots roasted and made into coffee, and the plant used medicinally for a variety of problems, including  arthritis and liver disorders.

Plantains (Plantago lanceolate and Plantago major) are useful little herbs too. Bruised or crushed the leaves can be applied to the skin to treat insect bites and stings, eczema and small wounds or cuts. The leaves and seeds can also be eaten.

Shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) can be applied directly to the skin for nosebleeds, superficial burns and small bleeding wounds. The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked.

No lawn is complete without daisies (Bellis perennis) in my humble opinion. Did you know you can eat them? Put the leaves into salads, pop the flowers into soups, stews and salads. In the past, daisies were important medicinal plants, used for migraines, heavy menstrual, as a spring ‘blood cleansing’ tonic and a digestive aid.  I make a salve from them to treat bruises and small wounds.

So please, think twice before you get that weed-killer out!

© Anna Franklin 2020

 

False Balm Of Gilead (Cedronella canariensis)

My False Balm Of Gilead (Cedronella canariensis) is doing well in the polytunnel, where I have to grow it since it is a native of the Canary Islands and wouldn’t survive the winter here in England.

It is one of several plants called ‘Balm of Gilead’, a rare aromatic mentioned in the Bible, which was used medicinally. Scholars have identified the true Balm of Gilead as Commiphora gileadensis.

Sadly, while my False Balm of Gilead is intensely fragrant, it has no known medicinal properties supported by research, though it is used in folk medicine in Madeira as a digestive herb  in the form of a fragrant tea called Thé de Canaries’, reputedly anti-spasmodic  and calming. [1]

However, the musky cedar-like scent is so beautiful I grow it to add to potpourris, and make an oil from it that I add to skin care preparations, purely for the perfume. I have noticed that it acts as an insect repellent, so hanging aromatic bunches of it in the house may serve a dual purpose.

© Anna Franklin 2020

[1] SEQUEIRA, M. Menezes, Fontinha, S., FREITAS, F.; RAMOS, L.; MATEUS G. Maria. (2006). Plantas e Usos  Tradicionais NAS Memórias de Hoje. Freguesia da Ilha. Santana: Casa do Povo da Ilha / Parque Natural da  Madeira.