autumnal herbs

When I wake in the morning I can no longer hear the dawn chorus, when I sit outside in the evening even I need a jumper and we lit the stove for the first time last night.  I can no longer pretend that summer isn’t coming towards its end.  I had never really thought of myself as a summer girl, but as I have got older I have become aware that summer is the time that I truly come alive.  I am more productive and my creativity ups several notches.  Getting dressed in the morning takes seconds and I live in my Birkenstocks all day and every day.  The garden is full to bursting and we have fresh flowers in every room of the house.

However the is a reason for every season and as autumn begins to take the upper hand I can start to gather in.  Our vegetable garden, along with much of the house, was being rebuilt this year so we didn’t have as big a harvest this year.  However, the winter veg are in, the greenhouse has brought forth a bumper offering and the herbs have been as abundant as ever.

I do have a dehydrator, but I prefer to use that for roots and fruits.  For leaves I leave them to hang in the boiler house.

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Parsley, lavender and marjaram.

The mint, lemon balm and sage have been hanging for a few weeks and are now ready to put away in jars.

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We have also made our own bacon, salt beef and lox.  Today I shall be picking the rosehips for syrup, shrub (sweet vinegar), jelly, ketchup and elderberry and reship tonic.

What are you drying and preserving this autumn?

love Gillie x

 

Wear the Wild

Regular readers will know I am huge fans of Chris and Rose Bax of Taste the Wild.  I have been on plenty of their courses from Herbal Medicine (where my recently macerated knee provided a live demonstration of how to make a poultice)  two and a half days foraging in Staithes.  We have also been mushroom foraging with them and Stuart learned how to butcher a deer.  So you can imagine my glee on my birthday when I discovered I had a morning with Rose making cosmetics.

I make a lot of my own cosmetics and potions etc, but there is nothing more fun than doing it with other people and there is always more to learn.  So last Tuesday I got up early, scraped the ice off the car and headed down to North Yorkshire.  Boy was it cold so the cup of tea on arrival was most welcome.

Cop a look at this.

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Infused oils and dried herbs and flowers all ready to be played with.  First we made shampoo.  Rose gave us comprehensive tables with the properties of the various herbs and flowers. She had already made a birch decoction which we would all include in our shampoo as birch is a wonderful all rounder for hair, then we chose three other ingredients.

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We steeped our additional ingredients in the hot decoction and added it to pure castile soap.

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And there you go.  I don’t even use conditioner now, though do be careful not to get castile soap in your eyes!

Next up was a healing balm.

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Melt pure beeswax into the infused oils of your choice.  Note the clever homemade bain marie.  When slightly cool add an essential oil of your choice.

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Pour into clean pots and leave to set.  Wait until it is almost set before putting on the lid so avoid contamination with condensation.

 

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Next was lip balm, made in much the same way but this time with peppermint essential oil.  We finished up with a bath bomb and some wonderful herbal bath salts which I used when I got home that evening and there were just the ticket.

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Finally, as I was in the area I popped into Ripon for lunch on the way home!

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Love Gillie x

 

Rosehips

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We have a huge Rugosa hedge and at this time of year it is bursting with hips, more than enough for me to pick my fill and still leave plenty for the birds.  They are one of the richest sources of vitamin C (rosehip syrup was a popular means to keep vitamin C levels up, especially in children, during the winter months).  We use it for rosehip jelly, rosehip syrup and also rosehip oil.

Rosehip oil is wonderful for the skin.  Packed with anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory properties it is a permanent resident in  my bathroom cupboard.

True rosehip oil is made by cold pressing the seeds. Despite the fact I have succeeded in distilling my own rosewater (and broke a sink with the brick afterwards) I have yet to build a cold press in my kitchen.  However, I have found an alternative.  First of course  you need to pick your rosehips.

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750g of fresh rosehips

Remove the stalks and tails and any of the hairy seeds (great for itching powder).  I harvest with a pair of kitchen scissors and cut the debris away as I pick.  Next chop finely, I put mine in a food processor.

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Finally you place the macerated rosehips in a heavy bottomed pan with the oil of your choice.  I used 1 litre of Avocado oil this year, but any natural oil will do, avoid olive oil – it has rather a strong smell and can overpower the rosehips.

Bring to the boil and then leave to simmer on the lowest heat possible for about 6-8 hours.  You could also use a slowcooker or yoghurt maker.

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Strain through a jelly bag or cheesecloth and store in sterilised dark bottles.  Store out of sunlight.

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Love Gillie x

 

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Comfrey

When the goldenrod starts to flower then summer is igoin out and autumn is icumen in.  I am sure we will have lots more lovely sunny and warm days like today, in fact my birthday in early October has been a sunny day for as long as I can remember.  However, now is the time to start preserving and drying to ensure the natural medicine cabinet can see us through until next summer. Today I have been out in the garden harvesting comfrey, lavender, rosehips and chamomile

Let’s start with the comfrey.  Comfrey goes by many names Knitbone, Boneset, Bruise wort.  You get the gist, it’s a healer.  There is much discussion about the safety of comfrey due to its very high content of hepatotoxic pyrrolizideine alkaloids (PAs) wh rapich as you can guess from the name can lead to liver disease in high doses and it has been implicated in one death.  Consequently I only use it topically, in a salve, tincture or fresh compress.  See here to see it in action.

First collect your comfrey.  This is remarkably easy around us as the Boss planted it some 10 years ago and it is very hardy!  I collect both leaves and the root, there is a higher level of allantoin, which stimulates cell growth (and thus healing) and reduces inflammation in the root, but also a higher level of PAs.  Again I only use comfrey products externally and would caution anyone who wishes to take it internally to seek the advice of a professional herbalist first.

I made two types of salve and a tincture.

Salve one was  made using the oldest and most traditional  method.  Chop up your leaves and add them melted lard.  I used 125g lard and four handfuls of leaves.  Bring to a simmer, cover and leave to seep for a couple of hours and pour into a sterilised jar (you may need to warm it slightly to melt it sufficiently to pour into the jar.

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Salve two is the process I first learned when making salves.  Instead of using lard I used coconut oil and cold pressed rapeseed oil.  The first stage is the same as making salve one.  125ml of rapeseed oil and three tablespoons of coconut oil, four handfuls of leaves, chopped.  Bring to simmer, leave to seep.  What you have now is comfrey oil and you can leave it like that.  It is a good massage oil for those broken bones that cannot be set (such as toes and shoulders).  If you want to make a m ore solid salve you will need approximately 30g of beeswax (the amount you use will determine the solidity of your salve).  Grate the wax and place with the comfrey oil in a bowl over a pan of boiling water and heat gently until the wax and oil are combined.  Pour into sterilised jars.

Comfrey Tincture is the easiest recipe of all.  Wash and chop 100g of comfrey root and place in a clean jar with 150ml of vodka (the highest proof you can find, I am kicking myself for not buying the 96% vodka I saw on sale in Romania for about £15/litre!)  Leave it for 2-3 weeks and transfer to clean amber dropper bottles.

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Finally I put the leftover root in the dehydrator and will grind it up to make tincture or salve later on in the year if we run out.

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Next up rosehips.

Love Gillie x

 

A bit of a pickle

I made it just in time.  A couple of days ago the nasturtiums were in full bloom, a wave of yellow, orange and red across the courtyard.  Today they are the sorry leftovers of a super slug feast.  Like slimy locusts they have laid the courtyard bed bare.  Fortunately I had been in and harvested the seeds a few days earlier and now have my very own homegrown “capers” pickling away.

Harvesting nasturtium seeds is easy.  They are huge great things (for seeds) up to a centimetre long and look a little like mini brains.  They come away from the plant easily and you can often see them on the ground underneath the flowers.

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First you need to wash them and then soak them in brine (about 50g salt to 500ml water) for 24 hours.

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The following day rinse and pack into sterilised jars and cover with boiling pickling vinegar.  In theory you could use standard vinegar but pickling vinegar gives pickles that slightly rich flavour.  You can buy packs of pickling spices or make up your own mix using, for example, mace, cinnamon, cloves, peppercorns, cardomom, coriander, juniper berries, bay leaves.  Add the spices to the vinegar, bring to the boil then leave to cool for a minimum of a couple of hours, though overnight is better.

Seal with a well fitting lid or use a kilner jar.  They should  be ready to eat in two to three weeks. Pretty much any fruit or vegetable can be pickled, I pulled out shedloads of wild leek earlier in the spring and pickled the bulbs.  I also adore pickled eggs and as we have hens it is a perfect way to use up the inevitable excess!

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aprons and dolmades

Turkey was wonderful.  The weather was hard, clear blue skies every day.  I believe we did see one cloud, but it was small and clearly lost.  One of the things I love about coming back from holiday is digging out old recipes and experimenting with recreating the foods we ate whilst we were away.  One of my absolute favourites are dolmades.

In the interest of minimalist living and using up everything I cast my eye over the grape vines in our garden.  Why on earth had I not thought to use them before?  For somebody who can make a pretty reasonable meal out of foraged or caught food you would have thought I would have spotted that opportunity before.

The dolmades were delicious, even more so I think because they came from my own vines.  Before we went away I was furiously foraging and drying flowers and leaves, soon I shall start canning and preserving.  But now I am freezing vine leaves for the winter.

Like all leaves you only want the young and tender ones.  The rule I found which seems to work for me is count three leaves down from the tip and pick the next three leaves.  Clearly this isn’t hard and fast but it gives you an idea of the size of leaf you are looking for.  In my case it is larger than my palm but smaller than my whole hand.

As our leaves have come from our own vines I know that they haven’t been sprayed but they do need washing.  Then make a pile of leaves.  There are five of us in our family and we eat about three each so I made piles of 15 leaves.

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Then roll them up and secure with string.

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Finally blanch in boiling salted water.

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Leave to cool and freeze.  I’ll let you know how they turn out.

In the meantime every cook needs a good apron.  I made this yesterday with some leftover upholstery fabric.  I feel very cool 🙂

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greenery – drying herbs

Back in the garden the greenery is doing greenery types of things.  Essentially it’s growing.  The Boss goes out with a frown and starts to remove the greenery which is growing where he has plans for other greenery.  I run behind him and rescue his victims.

Then when he has had enough of killing off the greenery I want to keep he goes for a kip and I go and pinch (sorry forage) for more greenery in the fields and woods.

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So far I have collected:

  • Chickweed
  • Cleavers
  • Nettles
  • Elderflowers
  • Plantain
  • Horsetail

From the garden I garnered:

  • Mint
  • Apple mint
  • Raspberry leaves
  • Sage
  • English Mace
  • Bay
  • Tarragon
  • Celery leaves
  • Comfrey

A particularly lovely and refreshing tea is nettle and mint. At this time of year you can use the fresh leaves (don’t forget your gloves!).  But I’m stocking up for the winter months.  You can dry leaves and flowers in a cool (50 centigrade maximum) oven, bottom of the aga or with a dehydrator.  Alternatively  if you want to be completely carbon neutral tie them in bunches and hang in a warm airy room.  If you are drying flowers like elderflower which may drop off then place a paper bag around the  bunch, but make sure to make several holes in the paper to ensure airflow.  Our aga is off for the summer and I like the speed and convenience of the dehydrator.  I dry a lot of plants and it is the easiest way to bulk dry without turning on the oven.

Plenty more to forage and garner but I have had enough for today and am going to settle down with a banana, strawberry, applemint smoothie thinned down with the whey from the cheese.

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