Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Blackberries for Viruses

A week after looking at herbs for viruses it seems that I have the chance to test my remedies, I have a sore throat, runny  stuffy nose and lots of aches and pains. I’ve got one dose of elderberry cordial left and I’m making my way through my elderberry elixir as elderberries are antiviral.

As we are approaching the solstice I joined a celebration of Alban Arthan and ended up sitting on a damp log in an open wooden yurt on Cannock Chase and although I was with lovely people I got cold and longed for my cosy bed.  My friends were lovely and suggested cures. I was given a ginger chew (available in Holland & Barrett) which was very warming and helped me to get my voice back. One gentleman recommended blackberries; he said to crush them, put them in the microwave to get the juices to come out and add vodka to the juice. He wasn’t sure how it worked but surmised that if you drank enough you’d forget about your cold anyway! Friendship and good company definately helps you feel better as well.

 Blackberries are one of my herbs to study but I haven’t done anything with berries yet and I decided to look up whether or not they would help a cold and it seems they would. First of all they contain vitamin C which is supposed to help prevent colds and aid us to get over them quicker. Susan Lark points out that blackberries contain bioflavonoids which are powerful antioxidants that help to protect cells against damage by free radicals. Bioflavonoids such as quercetin have antiviral properties that protect us from infections.

These little dears will make good blackberry pickers!
 It’s too late to collect blackberries this year but next year I will include them in my cold remedies. I have come across some free recipes and if anyone has any little helpers to take blackberry picking there are activity sheets to make it more exciting and a certificate to reward their efforts. They are here from the Woodland Trust.
Deer on Cannock Chase

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Nutmeg, How Much Is Safe To Use?

At Sarah’s herb workshop last week we made remedies for coughs and colds and used some warming spices in our mixtures including nutmeg. My first ever memory of nutmeg is in this nursery rhyme:

I had a little nut tree,
Nothing would it bear,
But a silver nutmeg,
And a golden pear.

The King of Spain's daughter
Came to visit me,
And all for the sake
Of my little nut tree.

I skipped over water,
I danced over sea,
And all the birds in the air,
Couldn't catch me.

I had eaten it without any concerns until one day a friend told me that too much nutmeg was hallucinogenic, he could not say what amount induced this state. I’ve since heard lots of tales about nutmeg since; ranging from being an aphrodisiac to deadly, and being a mixture of prize coward and ignorant I’ve limited my intake since. So, when Sarah asked Maria & I to grate a whole nutmeg into our pan of elderberry cordial my yellow streak reared up. Add a whole one? How much is hallucinogenic? How much is deadly?

 According to everything I’ve read on the subject, the dose of nutmeg in usual or generous culinary use is perfectly safe.
Nutmeg (picture from Wikipedia)

Medicinal Uses of Nutmeg

 The nutmeg tree is of the species Myristica fragrans, an evergreen tree indigenous to the Banda Islands in the Spice Islands of Indonesia. Nutmeg is the seed of the fruit and has a red, webbed covering which is the spice mace. Nutmeg was a prized spice in Medieval times and was believed to ward off the plague in Elizabethan times which escalated the price although there is no evidence that it was effective.

 Nutmeg has been used in medicine since at least the seventh century. In the 19th century it was used as an abortifacient, which led to numerous recorded cases of nutmeg poisoning. One study has shown that the compound macelignan isolated from Myristica fragrans (Myristicaceae) may exert antimicrobial activity against Streptococcus mutans which is found in the mouth and contributes to tooth decay. Medicinal properties of nutmeg are found here and include:

·         A brain booster by improving circulation and therefore the blood supply to the brain.

·         Bringing benefits to the cardiovascular system (oil), thus, protecting you from cardiovascular diseases and improving the function of the heart.

·         Detoxifying the liver and kidneys, a regular dose of nutmeg can help in the cleansing process. Nutmeg oil is particularly effective as a liver tonic. Nutmeg also prevents stones from forming in your kidneys.

·         Aiding insomnia, which in turn promotes relaxation. Julie Bruton Seal (2010) has found it effective for the type of insomnia where you wake in the night but are unable to get back to sleep. It takes about 4 hours to start working but will then last another 8 hours. So if you plan to go to bed at 10pm you need to take the remedy at 6pm. A lower dose can be used during the day for anxiety. Myristicin, a constituent of nutmeg, has been shown to increase the levels of serotonin in rats brains (Battaglia, 2003).

·         Because of its antibacterial properties, nutmeg is also beneficial if you are suffering from halitosis or bad breath and can help prevent tooth decay.

·         Helping problems in the digestive system, such as bloating, indigestion, constipation, diarrhoea, problems from nervous indigestion, hiccups and wind. Traditionally it is used in India with coconut water for dehydration caused by vomiting and diarrhoea. It is anti-inflammatory and antiseptic for Chron’s disease, colitis, infections, dysentery, gastroenteritis and vomiting (McIntyre, 2010). Ancient Wisdom say that recent research shows that nutmeg may inhibit the growth of the rota-viruses associated with diarrhoea in children.

·         Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, nutmeg is also known as an effective pain reliever. To help conditions such as chronic pain, rheumatic fever or muscle sprain, then incorporating nutmeg into your diet can help. Nutmeg oil is usually applied to the body to sooth aching joints and muscles, it can be infused into an oil or essential oil can be used. Nutmeg’s anti-inflammatory action is attributed to eugenol, the greatest effect was observed in tests after 4 hours and was comparable to phenylbutazone and indomethacin (Buckle, 2006).

·         Treating male sexual dysfunction. Nutmeg has been highly prized by Chinese women to help seduce their male lovers. In Mace and Nutmeg for Magical Lovemaking it says “The main component that makes this wonder spice, well, such a wonder, is myristicin, the base of the "love drug" MDA, otherwise known as "Ecstasy". It's no wonder why this spice has been used in so many love potions and magic spells! It's one of the ingredients of a magical perfume described in the most famous of all the grimoires, or black books of the sorcerers, The Key of Solomon the King”

·         Helping to prevent coughs and colds and relieve congestion.

Nutmeg Magic

A couple of years ago I was sold a nutmeg as a cure for my husband’s bad back, I can’t say how it worked as Mr Moon Gazing Hare could not be persuaded to carry it around in his pocket. According to Anna Franklin and Susan Lavender carrying the nut wards off rheumatism and increases clairvoyant powers. They also say its planetary ruler is Jupiter and it can be added to Jupiter planetary incense and burned during rituals where divination plays a part.

Psychoactive and Toxic Effects of Nutmeg

 Taking large amounts of nutmeg has unwanted side effects including disorientation, double vision, hallucination and convulsions (Mabey,1988). The first recorded hallucinogenic effect was by Lobelius in 1576. In 1829 the physiologist JE Purkinje ate 3 nutmegs and described the effects as similar to cannabis intoxication (Battaglia, 2003). From searching the internet it seems that some people have taken high doses for the psychoactive effects, there was a fad in the 1960s and it has been known more recently by the curious and people who have had their drug supply limited by being imprisoned. One grated nutmeg gives 2-3 teaspoons of ground spice, it seems that at least a tablespoon is required to be ingested to achieve any sort of high or altered consciousness. Freshly grated nutmeg seems to produce the most profound intoxication. Nutmeg contains myristicin, a monoamine oxidase inhibitor and psychoactive substance. Myristicin poisoning can induce convulsions, palpitations, nausea, eventual dehydration, and generalized body pain. Another constituent, elimicin, is also believed to lead to psychotropic effects. Myristicin and elimicin are metabolised to TMA and MMDA which are both hallucinogenic substances. Battaglia shows that only taking the whole nutmeg gives psychotropic effects so other constituents in nutmeg must be involved.

Psychotropic Effect
Whole nutmeg
Highly active
Whole nutmeg less the essential oil
No activity
Nutmeg oil
Weakly active
Myristicin on its own
No activity

  The amount of nutmeg required to get a high will also induce nausea and appears to take about 4 days for all the effects to disappear. Nutmeg can also be toxic to your pets, one internet site warns “do not share your egg nog with your dog”! Taking high doses of nutmeg can be fatal to both humans and pets.

Nutmeg Essential Oil

The essential oil is produced by steam distillation of dried nutmegs. It can be applied topically (diluted) in a massage, compress, bath or ointment or inhaled. The oil is non-toxic, non-irritating and non-sensitising. Indications are:

·         Digestion – stimulates appetite, can help flatulence, nausea, chronic vomiting and diarrhoea.

·         Musculoskeletal system – warming for aches and pains and rheumatism, suitable for the elderly (Price & Price, 2007).

·         Nervous system – a tonic and stimulant and an aid to general fatigue.

Well it would seem that I am safe to continue with nutmeg on my rice pudding and that sharing a whole nutmeg between a room full of people to take in divided doses will not hurt at all and of course, I do trust my mentor, Sarah, not to send us on an unexpected trip! It seems that the benefits of nutmeg take about four hours to take effect so one needs to plan ahead sometimes, such as in the case of using it for insomnia.


Battaglia, S. (2003) The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy (2nd Edition), The International Centre of Holistic Aromatherapy, Brisbane

Bruton-Seal, J. and Seal, M. (2010) Kitchen Medicine, Merlin Unwin Books, Ludlow

Buckle,J. (2003) Clinical Aromatherapy: Essential Oils in Practice (2nd Edition), Churchill Livingstone, Edinburgh

Mabey,R. (1988) The New Age Herbalist, Gaia, London

McIntyre, Anne (2010) The Complete Herbal Tutor, Gaia, London

Price,S. and Price,L. (2007) Aromatherapy For Health Professionals (3rd Edition), Churchill Livingstone, Edinburgh

Saturday, 10 December 2011

White Horehound and Bitters

This is an article I wrote before I started my apprenticeship, it was for a blog party and as I never had a blog at the time Sarah put it on hers, now I have taken white horehound off my list of herbs for 2012 it was useful to look back and read it again.
White Horehound

 Prior to attending Sarah Head’s workshops last year I had never thought there might be any reason why I should need to eat anything bitter, and as lots of other foods tasted better I didn’t bother to very often, grapefruits and rocket were probably it.

 During the first workshop I attended at The Sanctuary, Sarah gave us dandelion root to try which I didn’t find a pleasant experience. A month later when we strained our dandelion vinegar we discovered that dandelion roots taste better pickled and had some in a forager’s salad, which was quite enjoyable. Since then I’ve learnt bitters are important for our digestive systems and have started to enjoy them more knowing they will do me good.

 I have now started an apprenticeship with Sarah and our next task is about bitters. I was looking at my herb list for something bitter to research and remembered what our white hoarhound cough syrup tasted like. I found Richard Mabey’s bitter definition, which made me realise there might be more to bitters than digestion and I started to understand white hoarhound’s actions.

 Bitters Herbs containing a range of chemicals that have a bitter taste. Some are useful as appetite stimulants, others as anti-inflammatories, still others as relaxants.”

 Mabey identifies hoarhound is one of the 5 bitter herbs to be eaten by Jews at the Passover supper. He says “The plant’s bitter principle, along with its expectorant properties, is responsible in part for the major medical use of white horehound for respiratory disorders.” This surprised me as I had only related bitters to digestion but he does go on to say a cold infusion is a bitter tonic for the digestive system. There is evidence to show that as marrubiin, the plant’s bitter principle, breaks down in the body it strongly stimulates bile production. The plant has been traditionally used as a reliable liver and digestive remedy.

 Matthew Wood says that as a bitter, hoarhound promotes expulsion of thick secretions, allowing new mucous and new immune cells to be secreted. This allows the herb to work not by killing germs but by changing the environment so as to enable the body to kill the germs. This theory makes sense to me and has made me think differently about how herbs work.

 The CU (Champaign-Urbana) herb society says that the bitter principle, marrubiim, does not exist in the living plant, but is formed during the extraction process. They also say that the bitter action of hoarhound stimulates the secretion of bile from the gall bladder, aiding digestion. In large quantities it could act as a laxative and cause an irregular heartbeat. Matthew Wood cautions that large doses of hoarhound are emetic and laxative and can cause arrhythmias.

 I came to the conclusion that white hoarhound stimulates the gall bladder and aids digestion and also relaxes the smooth muscles of the bronchus while stimulating mucous production; this tallies with Richard Mabey’s definition of bitters including relaxants. I then started to worry I had put two and two together and made five but was directed by my mentor, Sarah, to Jim MacDonald’s web site where there is a lot of information explaining how bitters work to aid digestion but he also sees bitters as grounding and says they can release emotional energy from organs particularly anger and frustration linked to stagnant liver energy.

 Jim MacDonald refers to a past blog entry of Sarah Head in 2008 where she suggests that bitters promote release. Sarah says different herbs have affinities with different parts of the body so will promote the release of different secretions or emotions from those areas. I now realise there are energetic as well as physical attributes to bitters, the major benefit is to the digestive system but there could be others as well.

White Horehound flowers

Campaign-Urbana Herb Society (2004) Herb of the Month: Horehound (marrubium vulgare) www.cuherbsociety.org

Head, Sarah (2008) Bitters: Herbs which promote release? http://kitchenherbwifeblogspot.com accessed 27.1.2010

Mabey, R. (1988) The New Age Herbalist Simon & Schuster: New York

MacDonald, J. (2009) Blessed Bitters http://www.herbcraft.org/bitters.pdf accessed 27.1.2010

Wood, M. (2008) The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants North Atlantic Books: Berkeley

Anti-Viral Herbal Remedies

Today I attended Sarah’s workshop looking at herbs for viruses and winter coughs and colds. We made violet syrup, elderberry syrup, elderberry elixir and fire cider vinegar. Although antibiotics can't help viruses there are some herbal helpers and elderberry is quite specific for flu viruses.

Kitchen table
 Violet syrup is good for coughs and constipation in children. If a child saw it being made I’m sure they would believe it was magic medicine. Sarah had covered the violets with boiled water the night before and they had steeped overnight; the mixture did not smell too appealing and was green in colour. We drained the liquid off; we had 200ml, and added the juice of ½ lemon and the green liquid instantly turned Barbie pink – magic! We added sugar (5oz) and simmered for a few minutes and we’re left with our syrup which any child or adult would take, it tasted delicious.
Violet syrup

 We made a warming elderberry syrup. Along with elderberries (anti-viral, especially for flu) we added hyssop (relaxing for coughs), rose hips (vitamin C), cinnamon bark, nutmeg (warming), marshmallow (soothing for coughs). This was boiled together in water for 15 minutes, strained, and then 1lb of sugar added to each pint of water.
Add ingredients to pan

Grating nutmeg

 The elderberry elixir had other ingredients added, orange peel (bitter to help the liver & digestion), cinnamon bark, nutmeg, ginger (warming), rosehips (vitamin C). We covered the ingredients with honey and topped up the jar with brandy. I will strain in about 3 weeks.

 We also went home with Fire Cider Vinegar, an anti-viral mixture. Crushed garlic, grated horse radish, rose hips, grated ginger and turmeric powder topped up in the jar with apple cider vinegar with will stand for about a month. After a month, strain and use 2 teaspoons in a cup of hot water with 2 teaspoons of honey.
Ingredients going into Fire Cider Vinegar

 On arrival we made some anti-viral teas. The first contained dried sage and thyme with grated ginger, the second had sage vinegar with elecampane honey, they both tasted good.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

The End of Year 2 of my Herb Apprenticeship

Our last herb task of the year involves reflecting back over this year and forwards to next year.

I want you to look out your original list of herbs and go through each one answering the following questions.

Did I plant this herb? If yes, what happened - do you have photos, did you make notes or drawing? What did you discover about this herb? Do you feel you know enough now or what else do you need to find out?

Did I wild craft this herb? If so, where from, when, what did you do with what you gathered? Will you return to this colony in the future?

Go through all your activities with your herbal ally. Is there anything left you haven't made or a particular part you don't know about? Is there time to complete your task or is this something to carry forward to next year?

Bergamot: not a good start, I haven’t really thought about this herb this year and have decided to drop it from next year’s studies.

Bilberry: the idea here was that I believe I ought to have knowledge of what grows in my own locality; this grows in abundance on the hills behind my house so I am walking past it all the time. I have photographed it and tried bilberry leaf tea but got so busy I never made the time to harvest berries, this is where I miss my kids being little, we would pick together from moorland and hedgerows and I’d make a pie with the fruity hoard.
Blackberry or Bramble

Blackberry: exactly as above, leaves wild gathered from bushes on the hills.

Calendula: I never got my own seeds sown but helped to sow and harvest at the Sanctuary, I have photographs. I have used calendula in my skin care products as it’s so healing and gentle on the skin.

Comfrey: I had a bit of root from the Sanctuary a few years ago and it has grown vigorously. I made leaf oil which is pictured on the blog but I still need to make root oil which I think is more effective although I am aware of PSAs.

Dandelion: my herbal ally this year; I have been more aware of dandelion, spent time with it, talked to it (don’t lock me up!), lived with it and experimented with it. I have also photographed, photo-shopped pictures, drawn pictures and been inspired by it. I have made infusions, bitter tincture and vinegar. I wanted to make more things and write about more of its uses so I shall have to carry on a while.
Dandelion pictures

Elder: This also grows on the hills behind my house; I have made an elixir and made my first glycerite earlier in the year from dried berries. Photos were taken. This tree is so versatile with so many uses, I want to look at it in a more energetic way and I think it will be fun to look at the stories from times gone by.
Elder berries

Elecampane flowers & dried root

Elecampane: Sarah gave me a bit of root and it grew, not as big as hers and it didn’t flower but I expect great things next year! Even though I will still observe it and use it I’m going to take it off my study list now.
Feverfew: I can’t really say I grew it this year as it has self-seeded all over the garden. It’s such a cheerful looking flower that I have let it go where it wants. Tried it in a sandwich as I read somewhere that this was a good way of damping down the strong taste, it still tastes bitter, I feel I’ve completed my time with it now, I’ve decided to let this one go from my list after 2 years.

Hawthorn: I have it growing on the hills but by my allotment were the biggest and brightest red berries I’d ever seen so I picked these and put them in a tincture. I took pictures, I just feel drawn to it so it’s staying on the list.
Hawthorn berries
Lady’s Mantle: I’ve used it from the Sanctuary and my garden and put it in my Lady’s blend. This one’s going from my list now.
Lady's Mantle

Lemon Balm: I’ve used it in a tincture with St John’s Wort and I’ve found that the tea is such a soother after I’ve worked in the garden during hay fever season. I feel Lemon Balm and I have a bit more potential.
Lemon Balm

Meadowsweet: I’ve grown it in the garden but didn’t get to harvest it; I’m disappointed with myself about this and will do better next year.

Motherwort: I’ve taken some pictures and have made a tincture, I need to look at it closer.

Mugwort: a magical herb I think, I enjoy working with mugwort, I have dried some for a dream pillow, harvested at samhain for extra potency.

Nettle: growing well around the compost bin! I’ve had macerated water and lots of nutritious soup, there’s still some in the freezer.

Plantain: I didn’t do anything with plantain this year but want to carry on another year with it.

Skullcap: this got me through a rough patch last year so I wanted to study it more but haven’t yet.

St John’s Wort: this still fascinates me; it’s growing really well in the garden and keeps me going in oils and tinctures. I have experimented and tried to research its sun protection properties and got some great feedback about other people’s experiences.
St Johns wort

Valerian: I have this growing in the garden and this must be why it’s on my list but I must confess I’d forgotten it was on my list until I came to do this list, woops! What does that say about valerian and me?

White Horehound: I haven’t done a lot with it this year except to put it in the most bitter tasting cough mixture in the world! I looked into its properties in more depth last year; I shall publish my article on here. I feel I’ve finished with it for now.
White horehound

Yarrow: keeps escaping me, it grows scantily on the hills. There’s a lot in town at the roadside but this is too polluted to use so I shall plod on with yarrow, it’s an interesting herb.

Which tinctures/vinegars/honeys/flower essences/elixirs have you made throughout the year? Have you kept notes of the recipes? If not, can you still remember what you did so you can make a note now?

 I’ve kept this blog since the first of January and it’s been great for keeping a record of what I’ve done along with my photographs. How great to find I something kept in an organised way! I can recommend it for other apprentices.

You will need to choose a new herbal ally for next year and a further 5-10 herbs to study. You are allowed to drop any from this year's list which you've either finished with or not felt drawn to. (If there is one you are studiously ignoring but which refuses to go away, I would suggest you take a deep breath and embrace it!)

Chamomile, mullein, guelder rose, solomons seal, marsh mallow to add and elder for my ally.

Do a herbal stocktake this month - what do you have in your cupboard/larder/herb drawer?

I needed this task to prompt me to tidy my potion cupboard! This is what I found:


St John’s wort, St John’s wort and lemon balm, hawthorn berry, motherwort, mugwort, bitters, hawthorn blossom, horsetail, wild cherry bark, meadowsweet, dandelion.


Four thieves, lady’s blend, dandelion leaves, rosemary, thyme, fire cider, bramble root.


Iron tonic


Wild cherry bark and elderberry, grapefruit bitter, ginger, elderberry, colt’s foot.


Quince, crab apple and guelder rose.


St John’s wort, meadowsweet, calendula, plantain, elder bark, mugwort, thyme, yarrow, dandelion flower, comfrey leaf.


Elder bark, ginger, chilli

Flower essences

Hawthorn, chick weed, dandelion, feverfew, crab apple blossom


Wands of various types of wood, crab apple being my most recent addition, some cramp bark to save the bark from, mugwort and ashwaghanda seeds drying in the airing cupboard and all those things that will turn up in drawers, cupboards and handbags that I had forgotten about.

Now is the time to think about what we've done over the past year - what was helpful? What would you have liked more of? What did you hate but found useful? Would you have preferred to have done something differently? Could I have done more to help?

I would also like you to think about how you have changed and what you have achieved and what you would like to achieve next year.

I can’t believe how much I’ve achieved this year, looking back through my blog of the year brings back memories of not just what I have done but who I have shared these moments with; such lovely people. Working with other people, even if I don’t know them at the start is so helpful as everyone shares their own knowledge and experience and has alternative ways of doing things. This and having a mentor who is knowledgeable and gets me to try things I never would usually is the difference between learning with others and learning from books, so keep making me taste things I wouldn’t usually dare to! My style of learning seems to be to try the tastes, smells and experiences that can only be learnt by having a go and then reading what the experts say and seeing if these merge.

 Life happens to us all and we have to prioritise so sometimes it’s hard to keep up. I find a monthly task gives me a nudge to get on with my work!

 Setting up this blog was my first scary moment of the year, not being very techno-minded; but it’s helped me to keep a record of my work that you can read and has been enjoyable. I have felt brave enough to join a blog party as well! I find I have more confidence with my knowledge and with giving advice but still feel I have so much to learn.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

December at the Allotment

It’s been the mildest autumn I can ever remember and as I haven’t had much time to give it lately the weeds have been growing. I’ve had a busy time checking on and cuddling my new granddaughter Phoebe (7lb 2oz on 8th November), finally managing to launch my own range of skin care products, and having an adventurous & busy weekend in London.

 Sprouts are soon to be harvested for Christmas dinner, leeks and parsnips are doing well. I harvested a few late raspberries today and a good handful of chillies.

 We had our last gardening lesson of the year today, we looked at each other’s plots to what was still growing, and people are still putting in garlic so I am going to get some. We have had some fan trained trees to grow against the wall, an apricot and a cherry and a fellow allotment holder has kindly helped me to plant them today.
Apricot Tree
Cherry tree

 The Shark Fin Melons were harvested today which were grown from seeds donated by garden organic. Some people are going to dry the seeds so as we can plant more next year and spread the seed to others. To be honest they taste a bit bland and it was decided that we need some good recipes if we are to continue with the cause or we are growing them for nothing.
Shark Fin Melons

 The gardens where the allotments are have been in touch with an old fashioned brewery that uses Costmary in their brewing instead of hops and will supply a barrel of ale in return for an amount of the herb. I’d heard of Costmary but didn’t know anything about it, Mrs Grieves says it gave a spicy flavour to ale and one of its other names was Alecost. Costmary is similar to tansy in appearance with small yellow flowers, but has a more balsamic aroma.

 We also discussed beetroot gluts, beetroot juice is supposed to be very good for you. Just juice raw beetroots and add a bit of carrot or apple, a tale was that neat beetroot juice can freeze your vocal chords; this did not seem to have affected the story teller though!

 Jo-Ann, thank you for your comments, I can’t comment back on this blog any more but I hope you have used your quinces, my slow cooker is smaller than most and I manage well. I’m very interested in your quince brandy, is this made in the same manner as sloe gin?

Saturday, 5 November 2011

How I Got Addicted To Quince and Crab Apple Jelly With Guelder Rose Berries


The quince is an ancient fruit, a cross between an apple and a pear and not seen much in modern times but it does seem to be having a mini revival. Sarah, my herb mentor, gave me some quinces last weekend, I hadn’t tried them before.
Quinces in a row on the bench

The quinces were to make jelly and cheese and have been sitting in a bowl on the dining table all week. Sarah told me that they need to cook for about 3 hours as they are hard, so every time someone’s gone to pick one up and bite it I’ve said “you can’t eat it raw because… it’s hard”. I decided to make my jelly yesterday and thought I’d have a taste of raw quince to see why it’s cooked; it was very sour and astringent, giving an instant feeling of having a furry tongue; some were harder to cut than others.
Chopped quince

 To make the jelly I cored the quinces but left the skin on, filled the slow cooker with quince and about half full with water and then thought “was I was supposed to do something with a lemon?” I read the instructions on Sarah's blog, I should have put the peel and juice of 2 lemons in, I only had one so I put that in. In future I must read instructions when I’m making things instead of trying to remember what I’ve read days before! The quinces had started to oxidise quickly, I thought maybe if I’d put them straight into water and lemon they wouldn’t have gone brown so quickly. I was reading my Preserves book this morning by Pam The Jam (Pam Corbin) and she has a table of how much pectin is in fruit and how much acid. She says the 4 things needed for jams or jellies are fruit, pectin sugar and acid. The acid draws the pectin out of the fruit and as quinces have high pectin and low acid a couple of lemons balance that out. If I had read the instructions at the time I would also have covered my quince with water and had more liquid.
Straining the cooked quince

 I did a bit of shopping and visited some friends and came home to find pink quince in the pot with pink fluid, I was quite amazed. I tasted the boiled quince and yes, it was still sour. I strained the cooked quince through a jelly bag, I had 1 pint of fluid to which I added 1pound of granulated sugar. I let this boil for 10 minutes but it had not quite reached setting point, after 5 more minutes I was there. I poured the pink liquid into sterilised jars. I tasted it, and loved it, it’s hard to describe – perfumed pear with a hint of rose along with sweet and sour, it was really worth making. My eldest daughter walked in as I was finishing off, “mm… that would taste lovely with toast” she said, so that’s what I had for breakfast today, any excuse, and yes it was lovely. Quince is my new favourite fruit!
Quince Jelly

 A good thing about making quince jelly is that the fruit that was strained off need not be wasted; Sarah had recommended quince cheese, which isn’t cheese at all. I pureed the fruit with a little fluid from the cooking of the quinces and had a bowl of sloppy red-brown pulp. To 2 pounds of quince I added 2 pounds of sugar and heated it on a very low heat until it was thick enough to drag a spoon through to show the bottom of the pan and it took a few seconds for it to cover over the pan bottom again.
Quince cheese

 Even when cooked on a very low heat my quince cheese kept bubbling and shooting blobs up the kitchen walls, cupboards, cooker, floor, into the dinner I was trying to cook and splashed onto my arms burning me. Even half off the gas ring it resembled a geyser from Yellowstone park, I thought I’d cleaned up everything, went to put the kettle on and got a sticky hand. I won’t bother with the cheese again I told myself, until I tasted it; again it was well worth it.

 I hadn’t bothered checking how many jars I had before I started, I thought I had plenty and discovered that this was not the case so the next thing I had to start doing was straining off tinctures and elixirs which were sitting on my windowsill so as I could use the jars! Quince cheese has the grainy texture of pears and can be eaten with cheese which I look forward to trying.

 I wasn’t sure I’d like quince but I love it, I think I'm getting addicted I have to keep tasting it! I can’t believe it’s not more popular, thank you Sarah.

Make a bitter jelly using rowan or cramp bark with apple. What would you use this for medicinally?

 Whilst I was in jelly-making mode I decided to do my practical task for autumn. At the herb Sanctuary last weekend I collected crab apples and berries from the guilder rose or cramp bark tree. Cramp bark as the name suggests helps with pain, it is very good for menstrual pain, and I don’t know whether or not the berries contain any pain-relieving compounds. The berries are bitter and bitters are used to help the digestive system, tasting bitter food starts off the production of digestive enzymes and bile ready to digest food. Eating some bitter jelly with your dinner could help you to digest your food better.
Berries of the Guelder Rose or Cramp Bark tree

 The berries look beautiful, red and glossy but don’t smell so good I’m afraid, and after cooking them I had a lingering aroma around the house. Everyone entering the house was asking what the smell was so I ended up lighting incense to mask it.
Crab Apples

 As I had to cook dinner, mind the exploding quince cheese and clear up after everything , the easiest thing was to put the crab apples and the guilder rose berries into the slow cooker for a couple of hours until everything calmed down.
Crab apples & guelder rose berries before cooking

 I then strained the fruit through the jelly bag as before.
Straining stewed crab apples and cramp bark/guelder rose berries

 To one pint of liquid I added a pound of sugar, I had more fluid but the smell was putting me off being left with too much of this stuff. The liquid tasted very bitter, I didn’t think anything edible would come of this. Again it took me 15 minutes to reach setting point; in Pam the Jam’s book crab apples are high in both pectin and acid so no lemons are required, good job as I never considered it at the time.
Crab Apple & Guelder Rose Berry Jelly

 I must admit I was pleasantly surprised when I tried the finished product, it has some bitterness to it but the addition of the sugar has made it very palatable and there is no sign of the unpleasant aroma that was left lurking everywhere else around the house. I think it will be just the thing to have with a greasy meal to help digestion and I would make it again.