herbal loose ends

At this time of year you can usually find me either grubbing around in the garden and hedgerows collecting herbs or in the kitchen infusing, decocting and generally making remedies for the year ahead.

BE743ACC-EA8C-447E-ACA9-985178134EE1

Today was a catch up day.  I have several tinctures that are ready to be bottled up.  A tincture is a simple method to harvest the medicinal qualities of a herb.  All you need is the herb itself and base solvent.  The most common solvent is alcohol as it has the ability to dissolve almost all the constituents of most plants and acts as a preservative at the same time.  If you prefer not to use alcohol then vinegar or glycerine can be substituted.  Vodka is my preferred tincture solvent, a minimum of 37-40% proof.  I have bought much stronger vodka in Romania and Latvia where is was quite reasonably priced compared to the UK.

The common home method for making a tincture is to fill a small jar with the chopped herb and cover with the solvent liquid.  There are guidelines for different ratios of herb to solvent (see Hoffmann or Bartram for details).  I tend to use the common method but I do make a note of the strength of alcohol used.

6873F15A-687C-4AD6-8557-AAE55FF4BD26

Earlier this summer I had put aside :

  • Turmeric
  • Ginger
  • Chilli
  • Chickweed
  • Lemon balm
  • Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)
  • Hawthorn leaves
  • Motherwort
  • Dandelion leaf and root
  • Lemon balm and basil in witchazel

So  much of this morning was spent bottling up and labelling.  I add the plant (Latin name if there is a risk of confusion), date of bottling, solvent and place the plant was harvested.

The first three (turmeric, ginger and chilli) are part of my personal treatment for muscular strain in my upper arms/shoulders as a result of hypermobility.  I’ve made a very effective salve using these three ingredients and was interested to see if the tincture taken internally was as effective.  I’ll do a post on the salve later this month.

Chickweed and lemon balm are both exceptionally good for skin irritations.  Mugwort is bitter tonic and helps with digestive disorders, stimulating bile production whilst also providing a carminative action reducing gas in the digestive system.  Hawthorn (more commonly the berries but also the leaves, I shall harvest the berries later in the year) and Motherwort are both cardiac tonics and whilst everyone knows dandelion as a diuretic few also know that it is an excellent source of potassium thus negating the need for potassium supplements required when synthetic diuretics are prescribed. (See Bartram or Hoffmann for detailed information on the herbs listed).  Finally some of you will remember the lemon balm and basil witchazel tincture as the basis of my first attempt at home made insect repellent.  I’ll let you know how it works!

The lemon balm infusion was ready to be turned into a salve.

  • 60 ml Lemon balm infused oil
  • 6 mg beeswax granules

Add both ingredients to a bowl over a pan of gently simmering water and stir until the beeswax is melted.  Pour into clean jar and leave with the lid off until the salve is solid.

C064F386-63F0-4C0E-A4AC-E64D29CB76F2

Now, I have to bottle up the rest of the tinctures and get out in the garden and do some more harvesting, the sage and verbascum are vast and the mint needs my attention!

Love Gillie x

 

 

 

lovely left-overs

We have had a busy couple of days.  On Wednesday we were here.

230A7A73-77C1-49E0-9B35-018733F34E19

That is Novak Djokovic serving at the end of the day on Centre Court.

The weather was perfect, the tennis excellent and the Pimms and knitting not bad either.

8016BB65-95D1-4A14-AC7D-B743E3BBCE74

We found a small but perfect airbnb The Pancras Parlour just around the corner from Kings Cross with, and this is very important, quite the most comfortable bed.  There is nothing more irritating than a house/hotel who has scrimped on the bed.  I was once told by a B&B owner in Tintern that when asked what made the perfect B&B (his was pretty darn close) he always replied The Bed and The Breakfast.  He is right it really is that simple, anything else is a pleasant extra but get the bed (and in the case of a B&B the breakfast) wrong, then all the toiletries and fancy gizmos will never make up.

However, the previous day I had been hosting our bi-weekly Ladies in Stitches stitching group.  In fact most of us were knitting this week, only one lady brought her stitching, but only after she completed her first pair of socks, we bring most people over to the knitting side at one point or another!  And alongside all of that I have been suffering from a ghastly throat/chest virus, which a week later is still hanging on.  Net result, by the time we returned home from London last night I was in no mood to cook a proper meal, supper was most definitely going to be a fridge left-over offering.

Sour mint lamb pockets (sounds so much better than left-overs)

  • left-over roast lamb sliced thinly
  • half a small red chilli
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 lemon (in this case rather in need of using up as I had zested it a couple of days a go for a madeira cake and it was looking rather sad)
  • 2-4 tbsp mint sauce (our mint is going ballistic, I have masses of home made, if you use commercial mint sauce you might want to dilute it down or use slightly less
  • Left over gravy, if you don’t have gravy water or a little stock would be fine, you just want something to keep the meat moist.
  • Salad
  • Pitta bread
  • yoghurt

Layer the sliced lamb in a baking dish.  The cake tin was already out so rather than dirty a new dish I used that!

3DE13A7A-6D4B-4493-9377-17A457640543

Sprinkle sliced chilli, minced garlic and mint sauce, squeeze the lemon over the top, repeat until all lamb used up.

Dollop the left over gravy over the top (or dribble a little water or stock over)

D947A84B-4DF9-4755-964C-92A2A1D5CD6A

I appreciate this doesn’t look too appetising.  Stay with me!  Cover tightly with tin foil and pop in a medium oven (180 C) for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile chop a couple of tomatoes and grab a few lettuce leaves.  Warm the pitta breads.

863D1963-422B-4E51-94EB-CE6147929BED

The lamb is ready.  Stuff the pittas with lettuce and tomato, fill to the brim with lamb and top with a good sized tablespoon of thick yoghurt.

91C2AB28-DC0F-46B9-89CF-54ED4EF46A90

This is a messy eat, serve with napkins!

Love Gillie x

 

 

 

 

 

I give you blood orange

First there was Spring Onion, now I give you Blood Orange.

93024CB0-E98F-449E-A41B-67C502A6C12A

It’s a quiet weekend and I thought I was getting over the last of a nasty virus (I was wrong, it came back for a second wave last night) so I thought a quick visit to see Lucy at Woolaballo would perk me up.  It most certainly did – I had turned up in time for an impromptu dying session.

Dying with food dye is easy and offers such a huge potential for colour experiments.  Sadly I had come out without my phone so the photos are from the session I did with Lucy last year (the one that produced Spring Onion).  Lucy offers regular dying sessions,  so if you are in the area give her a call.  If you are a bit further afield, here are the instructions to make your own personal yarn.

You need

  • warm water
  • white distilled vinegar
  • food colouring gels (I used Wiltons) they are stronger than most liquid colour
  • dropper (the ones that come with liquid paracetamol are perfect)
  • Wide paintbrush

The first step is to soak the yarn in a white vinegar and water mix (1 part vinegar to 4 parts water).  Food dyes need an acid environment to fix the colour and prevent it running off in the first wash.  It doesn’t need long,  15-30 minutes is fine.  Remove and squeeze out the excess liquid.

Now comes the fun, and the messy part.  Dissolve your chosen food colouring in warm water.  Add colouring until you get the strength you want, test by dropping on a piece of kitchen paper or an old white cloth.  Then start painting your yarn.

B3DEF13C-E800-4BD8-A9A8-9443633A5097

Both Spring Onion and Blood Orange were dyed in solid blocks, but you can get a lovely  mottled effect by dropping dye on the yarn using the dropper/paracetamol syringe.  If you are going for the block colour look you will need to turn your yarn over and ensure that you have covered it entirely with dye.

Once you are happy with your yarn you will need to set it.  You have two options.  Either roll up and place in a steamer on the oven top for 45-60 minutes.  Or if time is limited you can microwave.  The latter works just as well but you must be careful not to overheat or you will felt your yarn.

If you are going to microwave you will need cling film (personally imho a good reason to go for the stove top method which doesn’t require plastic) but everyone has different needs and in a workshop or perhaps a birthday party, the steamer method might not be practical!  Wrap up your yarn into a long sausage ensuring that there are no gaps or holes where water or steam can escape.

C9F05210-72DF-49BD-A7DD-C78C2827D2D3

Then roll up like a multicoloured Cumberland sausage.

AB83F499-3E01-4637-92ED-3CA172FB6E3A

This is where you need to pay attention.  Place in the microwave slightly below top temperature (about 75% depending on how fancy your microwave is – mine is extremely basic).  Heat for 60 seconds and remove,  let it cool until you can comfortably touch it and pour off any water that has escaped.  Repeat until the water you have poured off runs clear (usually three goes).

Leave to cool, unwrap the cling film and leave to cool again until you can comfortably hold the yarn.  Wash in warm water with a little washing up liquid.  Rinse in warm water (not cold).  Squeeze out the excess liquid and hang up to dry – or give it a go in a salad spinner!

C64A9637-2239-4490-8FE7-7AE73139C654

Bespoke yarn 🙂

Thank you to Lucy for introducing me to dying with food colouring.  Now I am going to take Blood Orange and have a root through Ravelry for the best pattern to show her off.

56047CFC-BDDB-4B72-AD4B-7728C9D3C033

Love Gillie x

mint and roses

At last, we have sun!  I have been itching to harvest the herbs and flowers in the garden and hedgerows but it has been far too wet.  So today I am in overdrive and the house smells divine.

First was the rosewater (recipe here)

A436A3D5-DB49-4E65-8B88-1CBEBC1ECB7A

The roses are heavy with flowers and there are plenty more buds so I picked about 200g and the kitchen is filled with Radio 4 and the smell of rose petals!

Next was the mint.  I have peppermint, spearmint, apple mint and chocolat emint.  First was the peppermint

0878F5E0-D499-4B78-9281-0B1D512D2705

I have already made a large jar of mint sauce and have one jar dried.  But that won’t last the winter so in went another batch and I had a cup of tea as well.

C3D8DF66-15FB-423A-90B4-1FE377B62272

The meadowsweet it out, there are fresh nettles growing around the hen house and the lemon balm is going wild as well …

4189885E-3433-4D9D-83EA-1331C8AD9449

…but there is only so much I can get in the dehydrator.  However lemon balm is a good insect repellent, as is basil, which is also going rampant.    Their insect repelling action is due to the presence of citronellal (in lemon balm) and citronellal, estragole, limonene and nerolidol, all of which affect the pesky little biters’ sensors and their ability to find their target – namely us.

So while I wait for the mint to finish in the dehydrator here is my very simple insect repellent recipe:

  • jar
  • vodka (or witchazel)
  • Lemon balm leaves
  • Basil leaves

This is just a basic tincture recipe, and I would normally used vodka to make tinctures and make separate tinctures (simples) and mix later. However, as this is a predetermined mix which  will be sprayed on the skin and witch hazel has a soothing effect on the skin I have opted to used it instead of vodka and mix the herbs in the jar.

0379992C-AA45-4825-9EDA-D2F57F7C6E66

Pack the herbs into the jar, cover with witch hazel, seal and label and date (you will not remember what it is, I promise you) and leave for two weeks in a cool dark cupboard.  Then strain and keep in a dark jar.  When needed fill a small spray bottle half full with the herb tincture, top up with water, that is it!

Love Gillie x

 

 

 

 

 

 

pudding for main course

I love bread and butter pudding.  If there was no other pudding on earth I would be content.  I can take queen of puddings at a pinch, but find the breadcrumb base a bit namby-pamby compared to the thick crusts of a hearty bread and butter pudding.

So for supper the night before we left for our trip to the deep south of London and Brighton we had this.

Savoury bread and butter pudding, or more honestly fridge bits bread and butter pudding.  It was quite as delicious as it looks.

I don’t like to leave stuff in the fridge to go off whilst we are away.  So armed with:

  • an elderly sour dough loaf
  • butter (homemade no less)
  • tomatoes
  • half a red onion
  • milk
  • an open tin of anchovies
  • an open jar of tomato jam (from the Azores, keep an eye open for it, it’s very good)
  • the heel of an elderly chunk of strong cheddar
  • 3 eggs
  • an open jar of dijon mustard
  • an open jar of olives
  • an open jar of capers

I created a main course from my perfect pudding.  This made a hearty meal for two hungry people (one had been fishing all day).

There is no real recipe, it’s a make do and mend meal, as long as you have the basic ingredients (bread, butter, milk, eggs) it’s not unlike making a pizza, add what you have/like until you are content with the balance.

  1. Slice the bread thickly, I always keep the crusts on.  Spread with butter and tomato jam (you could use chutney or leave plain).
  2. Slice and soften the red onion in olive oil over a low heat for a few minutes.
  3. Beat the eggs into about 400ml of milk.
  4. Add 1-2 tbsp of mustard to the milk mixture and beat in well.
  5. Layer the bread and the rest of the ingredients in a greased oven proof dish.
  6. Pour the milk mixture over the bread and leave to soak in for 10 minutes or so.

 

C1DCFCC6-964E-43CC-9D36-2D469ECC32A5

7.  Grate the cheddar over the top.

8.  Bake in a medium oven (180C) for 30 minutes until the top is golden and crusty.

You could serve with a lovely crisp green salad, or you could be greedy and lazy like us and just eat a great big dollop on its own!

I don’t make any claim to this as  my own invention, there are varieties of bread and butter pudding all over the internet, but this was particularly delicious and cleared out our fridge as well as filling up our tummies!

Love Gillie x

 

 

 

photo quiz

Whilst the girls have been away I have taken to sending them a montage of photos, they have to guess what we have been up to.  This was Thursday’s collection

I was astonished when Bea came back quick as a flash “London” , apparently the seat on the platform at South Ken station gave it away.

Thursday was the beginning of a lovely, albeit somewhat exhausting weekend.  In true British fashion I had been checking the weather on multiple sites and the packing plans were changing on a daily basis.  Fortunately the doom and gloom at the beginning of the week gave way to this.

64846937_429076557957999_807786492570107904_n

and then this

65000878_1165524490297014_1977679685001150464_n

Yes that’s Andy Murray!  We had a fabulous day at Queens, superb tennis.  More match points and tie breaks than I can remember and of course this.

65219932_467912364023041_8619755696692396032_n

All rounded up by an excellent meal and deeply comfortable bed at The Malt House in Fulham.  Fired up by breakfast, any place that offers Eggs Florentine on their breakfast menu is a winner in my book, we headed to Victoria for the next stage in our southern trip.

Love Gillie x

knitting in a not quite summer

Despite purchasing a pair of splendid summer shoes, summer has failed to turn up in our corner of the UK.

A92DDA98-08F4-44F3-A008-4708F15584D2

The upside is that the garden is wild and lush, a northeastern jungle.  Unfortunately it is too wet to actually sit in it and enjoy the smell and sounds.  We have to admire it through the window.

57BA20B1-6DC4-4338-9FA5-95A39AA863E0

 

However, it does make for excellent knitting.  At this time of year I am usually more inclined to sew or embroider, knitting in hot weather can be a little hard work.  But this year the productivity rate is soaring.

These came along with me on our trip to London a couple of weeks ago.  I dyed the yarn using Wilton’s food dye on a wonderful Saturday morning with Lucy at Woolaballoo.  There is definitely a yellow and green theme to my wardrobe this [not quite] summer.

5AB1168F-36E1-42AE-BD3F-B45930EEA779

Unfortunately I forgot the stitch holder and the yarn shop I found only had large ones ,  too big for my socks.  So I had little option but to put them aside and purchase a replacement yarn.  I couldn’t spend the entire weekend without something to knit!

I discovered The Village Haberdashery was only a hop, skip and a jump from our Airbnb and I was persuaded to step back from the yellows and greens so plumped for this gorgeous colour combination, Almond Rocks from Knit the Bed.

356BDB60-B2D4-44DB-9415-D1A0ADD27C75

Meanwhile back at home (too big for a weekend away project) The Boxy by Joji Locatelli is coming along well.  The yarn is The Barber by Uschitita.  I originally read the name as The Berber, which explained why I failed to find any examples of what it looked like knitted up!

816B09DC-8912-4ABA-ADD0-EA30F5B4DD81

However, I am feeling the urge for something a little more challenging.  So I intend to finish the socks this weekend and start on The Roadside Beanie so I am ready for Shetland Wool Week.  I think that will play along nicely with the Boxy, something to think about and something I can knit on autopilot.  Perfect.

582F14DE-BD07-4AEA-82DF-CD45AF860D1C

Love Gillie