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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the herbal medicine cabinet

Living with less is not just about decluttering, about getting rid of stuff.  It is about changing how we live, about adapting our lifestyles to leave less of a footprint.  I have long wanted to learn more about herbal medicine, to be able to treat ailments from the content of my garden and the surrounding fields rather than by prescription.  Before I am hounded out, I am married to a medic, I fully appreciate that conventional medicine is both essential and lifesaving. But as even the Boss acknowledges  aspirin, digoxin, vinca alkaloids, atropine, l-dopa and many hundreds more drugs upon which we depend are all derived from plants.

I have made some ointments (comfrey, calendula and lavender), I have dried some plants, made oils and decoctions but only using a handful of plants I knew and was confident to use.  So I was so excited to spend a day with Sarah Hughes at the woods owned by Chris and Rose Bax of Taste the Wild.  Sarah is a nutritionist and medical herbalist and not only clearly knows her stuff, she is fun, interesting and makes you want to know more.

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We walked through the woods, identified plants, learned about their therapeutic uses and laughed.

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Laughter is a great medicine.  Take if from me, somebody who has been in some dark and lonely places and has the dubious honour of being the subject of a police helicopter search, if you can laugh you are 99% of the way towards recovery, regardless of your ailment.

So we laughed, foraged and then we met Mr Plantain.  Some of you will know that I had a slight disagreement with the tram line in Edinburgh on Tuesday.  Net result a huge hole in my knee.  By the time I arrived this morning  the wound was frankly gooey and unpleasant.  Not yet infected but it wasn’t looking good.  Ah ha.  We were going to make a plantain poultice, a poultice which is good to draw our dirt and toxins and is best used before the comfrey I was used to using.  Using comfrey on a potentially dirty wound risks healing of the skin over an unclean wound = abscess.

So I was the class practical session.  Poultice applied mid morning.  It is now early evening and the redness has reduced and whilst it is still sore it no longer throbs.  I have replaced the poultice with a fresh one.  Here is the poultice covered knee.  I did think seriously about showing you the lovely clean wound, but I suspect that some of you might never come back again if I did.

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But you don’t have to have a hole in your knee.  Many plants can be taken orally as a tea, a decoction, a syrup.  You can make oils or distillations.  inhalations and powders. Foot soaks and hand soaks (have you tried ginger hand soak for osteo arthritis?)

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You do need to know what you are doing, just as you need to know what you are doing if you are foraging.  Make a mistake and you could kill yourself.  It isn’t a game.  But it is an alternative and one we ought to learn about and understand.  We now finally believe that it is time to teach our children how to code rather than how to use a software programme written by somebody else.  When will be believe that it is time to teach our children how to use the plants around them to cure and to feed, and even more importantly which never to touch?

penny bun

It has been raining, it is now warm and a little muggy.  The time of year when a girl’s thoughts turn to fungi.  After a couple of false starts things looked up a bit when we collected plenty of jelly ear and milk caps.  The former are a bit of an acquired taste and I know some people put them in spicy casseroles and soups.  Personally I like them dried as a snack.  But I do appreciate I am someone of a loner on that front.

Plenty of LBT  (little brown things that nobody can be bothered to identify)  loads of stinkhorn (shame we can’t find a use for it but even if you can overcome the physical appearance the smell would put you off).

 

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Some inidentifiable Agaricus and then, just as we were on our way back we stopped to let some horses past and I spotted this.

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In all my year I have never managed to get a cep as big and as fresh as this.  Not a mark on it, not an insect visible.  A perfect example of why they are called Penny Buns. This is up there with the 18lb salmon I caught on my honeymoon (and has pride of place in the wedding album!).  Now we just have to decide which of our recipes to use, or whether to just have it lightly fried on toast.  I’m hankering after Papadelle with cep, sage and pancetta.  I even have durum flour for the pasta.

all hands on deck

It is that time of year when it’s all hands on deck to pick, pickle, jelly, jam, syrup, or preserve in some other way.

There is so much free food out in the hedgerows and indeed your garden, and I don’t mean the vegetable patch.  In the past I have been overwhelmed, unable to do everything and then become exhausted and slightly resentful that I missed out on something.

There is nothing different this year.  In fact I should be more busy as I am taking my turn to chair The Durham Shopping Extravaganza, I am President of our village WI and this is the first full year that Liz and I have been running Messy Church.  But I’m much more in control.  I think I may have Mother Nature on my side.  The late spring and summer has meant that the harvests are just a little bit later and sit nicely in the school holidays.  Furthermore as I am not going back to work in September I don’t have to panic to get everything in before term starts.

Today I picked the rosehips.  Our front garden (actually probably the side garden, but it’s a bit hard to explain) is surrounded by rugosa and dog roses.  And the rosehips are looking splendid.  I stuck to the rugosa today

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and boiled them up for rosehip jelly.

 

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As they are notoriously low in pectin I boiled up some bramleys which have conveniently ripened at the same time.

 

 

Now they just have to drip away overnight and jelly making tomorrow.

We never really use the rosehip syrup all that much so I may pass on that this year, although I will dry some and whizz them up to make rosehip tea.

Back to my old favourite lavender.  I was going to make plum cobbler last night (not my plums, they are still green, but British ones nonetheless) but nobody was in the mood for something quite so heavy.  Poached plums were requested for tonight and we thought we would experiment with serving them with lavender syrup.

They dehydrator is working overtime (currently filled with past their sell by date raspberries) but I managed to squeeze in a tray of lavender and as I type it is seeping away in sugar syrup.

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I’ll let you know whether poached pears and lavender are divine or disgusting.

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On the no plastic front, my stainless steel atomisers arrived today.  I couldn’t find any without a plastic atomiser head.  Do they exist?  The next job will be to make up the cleaning fluids and fill them up 🙂

 

wonderful weeds

I’m sorry if you are a fast reader,  I am having to type very slowly due to the fact that the Devil himself has taken up residence in my right shoulder and is drilling away with a red hot poker.  He has been there for almost two weeks and I was rather hoping he would be bored by now and have moved on to another victim but it would seem that he has settled in for the duration.  Codeine and hot wheat packs are making a small dent in the pain.  I shall pause briefly for you to say “Ahhh” and share some sympathy before moving on to the subject of the day………..

I promised recipes and those you shall have.  All in good time.  We have had a couple of days of sudden and heavy rain and we were rather hoping that there might be some mushrooms in the woods.  There were not.  Not to be defeated we picked our first rowan berries

 

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and some pineappleweed.

 

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It is still quite early for the rowan berries and I will pick more later in the year when they are a richer red.  In the meantime they are simmering away on the stove ready to be made into rowan jelly.

The pineappleweed you will know, and quite possibly hate.  It grows rampantly on driveways and similar hard stoney ground.  If you crush the little yellow buds you will release a beautiful pineapple fragrance.  You can dry it and make tea, but as the only teas I like are builders and apple I won’t be bothering with that.  Instead I whizzed up a cup of buds with two cups of sugar.  The oil in the buds makes the sugar rather wet so you have to leave it out to dry.  It also makes it rather green.

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But it makes delicious cakes and biscuits.

 

Now the salve recipes

Comfrey

  1. Collect and dry the comfrey leaves (I use the dehydrator)
  2. Crush and weigh leaves.
  3. Mix 1oz of leaves to 1 cup of olive oil
  4. Either leave to infuse for 4-6 weeks or heat gently (do not let boil) and leave to infuse for 24 hours.  No prizes guessing which method I use.
  5. Strain through muslin.
  6. Add 1oz of beeswax (grated or use pellets or granules)  to every cup of oil.
  7. Heat gently until wax fully melted.
  8. Pour into prepared jars to set.

Lavender

Pretty much the same method but using dried lavender flowers.

Moisturiser

I used this recipe from Quirky Cooking  I don’t have the specialist cooker/mixer she uses but it worked just fine with a heavy bottomed pan and a whisk.  I used 6tbsp of rosewater rather than rosewater and water, and I added a couple of drops of pure rose essential oil.  Divine.

food from the foreshore

This is how not to do it.

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This is a mixture of pepper dulse and carrageen.  I was running out of bags and thought I would have no trouble separating them out when I got home.  As Julia Roberts said in Pretty Woman “Big mistake”.  Fortunately PM was on the radio and Eddie Mair kept me going.  Thank you Eddie

Finally I had this.

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Carrageen on the left and pepper dulse on the right.  Both will be dried and stored.  Carrageen is an excellent alternative to gelatin and has the advantage that it can be used warm or cold.  Pepper dulse lives up to its name and has a strong pepper flavour and dried is a delicious condiment.

Sea spaghetti will be kept in a plastic bag in the fridge.  I like it just as it is, like samphire, but we had it with a soy sauce dressing on Saturday evening and that was delicious too.

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Gutweed and Sea lettuce are drying in the oven and will be fried to make genuine chinese seaweed (rather than the cabbage or lettuce many restaurants substitute)

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Finally the kelp drying on the line!

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This will be chopped up and fried to make delicious crisps.

In other news the dehydrator has been working overtime and I’m hoping to get going on some salves.  Lime vodka and lemon vodka are on the shelf with their friends and I have a huge bowl of freshly dried lavender for bread and biscuits.

from vodka to seaweed

I’m not the world’s greatest vodka fan.  I would be hard pressed to tell the difference between Grey Goose and Aldi.  On the other hand it is a wonderful preservative for things like chillis (which are dripping off the plants in my greenhouse) and even I quite like a vodka and tonic when the vodka has had a little help.

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From left to right, lavender vodka, raspberry brandy (the interloper) and raspberry vodka.  It is harvest time and if I don’t get down to making cordials, jellies and infusing spirits soon there will be little left.  There are plenty of recipes for fruit spirits I don’t follow any of them.  I take the flower or fruit and add them to the spirit.  My personal choices are brandy and vodka although when the brambles come out later in the year I will make bramble whisky, the strong flavour of the brambles complements the whisky, it goes well with brandy as well but is pointless to waste vodka on them.  Vodka is best for the subtler flavours such as flowers and raspberries.  I don’t add any sugar.  If you want to make a liqueur then I prefer to add sugar syrup to taste once the infusion is complete.  Personally I prefer to leave it as pure spirit, if somebody wants a liqueur I can always add the sugar syrup later.

The rosehips need to mature a little more before they are ready but the meadowsweet

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is everywhere and I want to get plenty of syrup made before it fades.

There is so much in the garden, and not just that which I planted which needs to be harvested.  Today I will collect and dry comfrey and lavender.   Comfrey is no longer considered safe to eat due to its high levels of alkaloids   but it is a great healer.  You can use the leaves direct on a wound during the summer months and I shall make a salve for the winter.  It also makes a terrific fertiliser.

I like to have a good store of culinary quality lavender and what better way than to grow your own?  It’s great in baking, and its soothing properties makes it good in salves as well.

Finally I must dry out the seaweed we collected at the weekend.  The lavender smells better but needs must!

food for free part 1

I promise not to bore you to death with endless posts about foraging but if you really are seeking to downshift, to get away from packaging, to eat truly fresh food then learning to forage is essential.  It is also great fun, what is not to like about going for a walk and coming back with supper?

If you are in the UK (or even not, one of our fellow foragers and his wife are regular’s on Chris and Rose’s courses and they live in Isreal!) then you really cannot do much better than have a look at Taste the Wild.  Chris and Rose and immensely knowledgeable and very good company.  We have now been on two of their courses and I am eyeing up a few more.  I have been on other courses, but I can say hand on heart, their’s were the best.

These were some of the things we found on our hilltop walk on Saturday morning.

Hogweed

 

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This is everywhere and not hard to find.  The buds make a delicious green vegetable and the dried seeds are wonderful in baking.  It is a member of the notorious carrot family  (which includes several severely poisonous plants including hemlock and hemlock water dropwort) Notice the leaves.  If you are unsure then avoid any of the umberliferous plants with small fern like leaves.   Hogweed has larger fully formed leaves.

Chickweed

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You will have this in your garden.  I guarantee it.  If you are a keen gardener you will be intimately familiar with it, well help is at hand, you can pull it up and eat it.  It is easily identifiable and only likely to be confused with yellow pimpernel (which is poisonous) however, the clue is in the name.  Chickweed has tiny white flowers whilst those of the pimpernel are yellow.  Also if you crush the leaf of chickweed it will crumple to mush whist the pimpernel will uncurl again.  Finally, if you snap the stem chickweed leaves a small string between the two halves whilst the pimpernel breaks into two separate pieces.  The stem of chickweed also has a row of tiny hairs along one side – pimpernels are bald!

It is an excellent addition to salads, green soups, stir fries and added to anything where you might use something like spinach eg. fritters, omelettes etc.

 

Sorrel

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Another commonly foraged plant.  Always pick in open grassland in full sun and not under hedgerows or trees where you may confuse it with lords and ladies.  L&L is poisonous but the leaves are fundamentally different.  Sorrell has pointed backwards pointing lobes whereas those of L&L are always rounded. The sorrel flowers are small and red and as they often grow alongside buttercups you can sometimes see a red haze above the yellow.

The flavour is quite strong so is best mixed with gentler flavour leaves in a salad and they make a tremendous sauce or stuffing and are wonderful in omelettes.  However if you were to eat vast quantities of sorrel every day you could do yourself some damage due to the high oxalic acid content.

 

Fat Hen

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I love this name, I imagine a huge great hen waddling round the courtyard.  I have no idea where the name comes from though. It grows best on disturbed, nitrogen rich soil it is very salt tolerant and is thus common along the coast.  It is the bane of almost every gardener and  very easy to find.  However they can be mistaken for the nightshade family so stick to the younger plants which have a distinctive mealy surface or to the fully grown plants with their distinctive spikes of tiny whitish flowers.

Use the leaves as a green vegetable including the flower spikes.

 

Yarrow

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Although umberliferous it is easy to distinguish from the poisonous plants  as the groups of florets are much smaller and the  leaves are long featherlike spears.  Can group up to only about 18″ so is also much smaller.  Use the leaves in salad, they are quite peppery and dried they make a good tea.

Coltsfoot

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Anyone remember coltsfoot rock?    It is made exclusively by Stockley’s Sweets in Lancashire using coltsfoot extract.

The underside of the leaf is downy and the plant produces a flower not unlike that of the dandelion, thought the leaves are distinctly different.  The flavour is slightly aniseedy and can be used as a flavouring as well as in salads.  The flowers are also edible.

Apparently the soft underside is easily rubbed off and before the free availability of matches the leaves were wrapped in a cloth dipped in a saltpetre solution and dried in the sun.  They were then used as tinder.

 

Ribwort Plantain

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There are plenty of plantains and you may well have them in your garden, all over your lawn!  We do,though mainly in the meadow rather than the lawn.

The leaves are pretty uninspiring but the tips of the seed head are lovely in salads, pizza etc. with a mushroomy taste