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.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

The Skull Structure, Nasal Passages, Eyes, Ears and Helping Herbs

Research the construction and mechanism of the skull looking particularly at eyes, nose, ears and sinuses. How do they work? What common conditions are they prone to? What herbs would you use for sinus congestion, blocked tear ducts, sore/dry eyes, ear ache, Eustachian tube blockages, ear wax build up?

The skull contains 22 bones which are divided into two categories; cranial bones and facial bones.
The cranial bones surround and protect the brain; the frontal bone, 2 parietal bones, 2 temporal bones, occipital bone, sphenoid bone and ethmoid bone.
 There are 14 facial bones; 2 nasal bones, 2 maxillae, 2 zygomatic bones, mandible, 2 lacrimal bones, 2 palatine bones, 2 inferior nasal cochae, and vomer.
Diagram showing the bones and structure of the skull

Video of the skull bones from You Tube

 The paranasal sinuses are paired cavities in certain cranial and facial bones near the nasal cavities. The sinuses are lined with mucous membranes as on the inside of our noses. The sinuses are in the bones I’ve put into italics. Besides producing mucous the sinuses make the skull lighter and help to resonate sound when we speak or sing.

·         The maxillary sinuses are in each cheekbone.

·         The frontal sinuses are on either side of your forehead, above your eyes.

·         The smaller ethmoid sinuses are behind the bridge of your nose, between your eyes.

·         The sphenoid sinuses are between the upper part of your nose and behind your eyes

 Secretions from the sinuses drain into the nasal cavity. An allergic reaction can cause inflammation of the membranes, this is called sinusitis. If the membranes swell enough to prevent drainage then pressure builds up in the sinuses causing headaches, the area around the sinuses can feel tender. Sinusitis can also be caused by infection.

 Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal mention horseradish for sinus congestion. Last winter we grated horseradish at one of the winter workshops at Sarah’s house and I think the whole houseful had their sinuses flushed out, it was very strong! They also say mint has been traditionally used for sinusitis and wood betony for sinus congestion.

 Matthew Wood uses cinnamon for sinus congestion and star anise specifically for the maxillary sinuses.
Cinnamon and star anise

Nasal congestion accompanying colds and flu could be eased by hyssop which loosens phlegm and the strong aroma of rosemary, spearmint, penny royal and peppermint act as decongestives.

Eyebright can be used to ease the nose as well as the eyes; it helps with rhinitis, sinusitis, free secretion of watery mucous and irritable sneezing (Matthew Wood); it seems to help with allergic reactions.
A country name for yarrow is nosebleed as it was commonly used to treat them. The flavonoids in yarrow help to clear blood clots, the tannins help with wound healing. It also contains anti-inflammatory chemicals.

Diagram of the human eye

Looking at the eye we can see the white sclera which has muscles attached to it. The iris, the coloured area, is made of muscle which contracts and dilates, controlling the amount of light entering the eye. The pupil is the hole in the centre of the iris, which appears black. Light shines through the eye onto the retina which sends messages to the brain through the optic nerve to enable us to see. There is a cornea at the front of the eye; the lens behind the pupil and fluid inside the eye, called the aqueous humour at the front and the vitreous humour behind the pupil. At the inner corner of the eye there is a tear duct through which tears are shed, debris is washed away and the eyes and delicate conjunctiva that cover them are kept moist.
 Richard Mabey says herbs are most successfully used on the superficial areas of the eyes, such as the eyelids and conjunctiva. More serious problems can be assisted by using herbs to help improve the general well-being of a person. Ann McIntyre says antioxidant herbs can strengthen the eyes’ blood supply and inhibit macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy; bilberry, elderberry, hawthorn berries, rosemary, thyme, sage, sweet marjoram, selfheal, ashwagandha and ginko are some.

 Conjunctivitis is inflammation of the conjunctiva, acute conjunctivitis is a sudden onset caused by infection or allergy. Chronic conjunctivitis is long-term; it can be from infection, living in polluted environments or from a drying up of eye secretions. Mabey suggests eye baths of eyebright, marigold or a weak decoction of golden seal.

 For blepharitis, inflammation of the eyelids, in children Mabey suggests a cold poultice of stewed apple or tea in an eyebath.

 Ann McIntyre recommends taking borage seed oil and evening primrose oil for chronic conjunctivitis and blepharitis.

 Styes are inflamed areas at the base of eyelashes that secrete lubricating fluid, a compress of warmed parsley or marigold flowers can help.

Tired eyes can be treated to an eye bath of infused eyebright, elderflower, marigold petals, plantain leaves, raspberry leaves, cornflowers or fennel seeds.

 A blocked tear duct could be caused by a number of problems; infection, rhinitis or trauma, a soothing anti-inflammatory treatment could be a cool chamomile compress, a cold chamomile tea bag would do.

 Sore, dry eyes can be treated with a compress of cool tea made from marigold, eyebright, coriander or chamomile for 10-20 minutes.

Problems with the functioning of the thyroid gland can lead to changes in the eye and the eye socket. This is thought to be an autoimmune disease leading to the immune system response of inflammation. This is known as Graves’ disease and the tissue around the eye, including the orbital fat and eye muscles becomes swollen. David Hoffman says the specific herbal remedy is Bugleweed (Lycopus virginicus or L. eouropaeus) which can reduce the activity of iodine that causes hyperthyroidism. For accompanying insomnia he suggests passion flower and valerian.
Passion Flower

Eye sockets, the frontal bone forms the roof of the orbits or eye sockets. There is a thickening of the frontal bone called the supra-orbital margin, a blow to this area results in bleeding. Bruising in this area causes fluid and blood to accumulate which gravitates into the upper eyelid giving a black eye. Chamomile or calendula compresses would be soothing herbs. Herbs2000 suggest clay packs containing horsetail tincture alternating with cabbage leaf poultices.

 The ears, nose and throat are connected in our bodies by the Eustachian tubes. The ear is our organ of hearing and has an inner, middle and outer part. The outer ear has our visible ears, the ear canal and the surface of the ear drum. The middle ear contains the three bones or ossicles of the ear, the hammer, anvil and stirrup. The Eustachian tube opens into this area. Problems can arise with ear wax blocking the external ear canal or a hole in the ear drum causing hearing loss. In the middle ear loss of hearing can arise from infection causing inflammation leading to fluid in the middle ear instead.

 The inner ear is protected by skull bone. It contains the organ of hearing, the cochlea and the labyrinth or vestibular apparatus that is the organ of balance and motion. The eighth cranial nerve links between the inner ear and the brain stem. The inner ear can sense motion and vibration of sound by the movement of liquid and hairs in fluid filled ducts.

 Ear ache is most common in children; the Eustachian tubes are shorter and narrower than in adults and blockage can be caused by a middle ear infection, otitis media. Ear drops can be used if the ear drum is intact. Mullein or garlic oil are commonly used drops. For middle ear infections, goldenseal contains berberine which is antibacterial, it seems to stop germs attaching themselves to cell membranes and it can be used internally as well as externally. Saint John’s wort and calendula are antibacterial and anti-inflammatory and in a study performed well together to relieve ear ache with garlic and mullein. Lavender essential oil on a compress can also be used on the area to give pain relief.

 Mullein oil and/or garlic oil can also be used to disperse a build-up of ear wax, again the ear drum or tympanic membrane needs to be intact. These oils are warmed before being added as drops.

Outer ear infections are commonly picked up when swimming; goldenseal, St. John’s wort and witch hazel can help.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

October's Herb Workshop

I went to Sarah’s Sanctuary at the weekend and had a look at what was happening with the plants at the moment.

The first plant to catch my eye was Guelder rose or Cramp bark tree with splendid autumn red maple-like leaves and glossy red berries. I did not realise it was a native British tree and haven’t noticed it in hedgerows before. The berries of this plant are part of our autumn task, to make a jelly so I harvested some, they don’t smell that sweet, I’ll see how it turns out.
Gueder Rose known as Cramp Bark

 Mugwort also caught my eye, Sarah has told me before that it is at its most potent at Halloween, last year I was disappointed and all the mugwort around my neighbourhood had died off and gone black. This year I have collected some to dry; I don’t know whether it is because it is a bit milder in the Cotswolds or because we have not had a good frost yet. My friend wants to make a pillow with her mugwort, she is used to having precognitive dreams and they have stopped recently, mugwort can help you to recall dreams.
Mugwort leaves turning yellow

 Wormwood, Artemisia absinthium, was still looking intact and its usual pale green colour. It is anti-parasitic, can be used for worms as the name suggests and was used as a strewing herb. Wormwood is a bitter digestive and was an ingredient in a green alcoholic digestive called Absinthe. Absinthe was popular amongst bohemian artists of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as it had mind altering effects, they called it “the green fairy”. The effects led to “absinthe madness” – dementia type symptoms and other toxic effects and Absinthe was banned. It is thought that thujone, a chemical in wormwood removes the blocks in our mind that prevent it from working at full capacity, allowing thoughts at a higher level than usual. Thujone was also thought to be responsible for Absinthe Madness but now it is thought the symptoms could possibly have been simply from alcoholism.

Sarah has kindly given me some quinces from the tree at the Sanctuary. She has suggested I make a jelly and a cheese, her recipes are here . The quince is an ancient fruit, a cross between an apple and a pear. Whilst waiting to be jellied they are sitting in a fruit bowl in the dining room and scenting the room with a sweet perfumed aroma.
Quinces lined up on a bench

There are also medlars at the Sanctuary, these are an ancient type of pear that needs bletting before use, these can be used in a jelly as well.

 Sarah was harvesting Ashwaganda plants, if it was left to me I’d have been making a tea with the leaves, but that’s not right, the roots and seeds are used. The seeds did not seem too ripe so we have taken some home to see if they come on. I’ve got some between sheets of newspaper in the airing cupboard with my mugwort. Sarah’s Ashwaganda roots are the best bet, she has taken them to dry and will then powder them.
Ashwaganda roots

  Liz harvested the remaining calendula flowers and their seed heads and the seed heads of the milk thistle plants.
Milk thistle seed heads

 I wondered around the trees looking for a wood that I felt called to and found the crab apple, I have a twig to make a wand and gathered some crab apples for a jelly.
Crab Apples

Joe Pye weed or Gravel Root was still standing proud but its leaves are fading, its roots are used for eliminating bladder stones, Sarah told us.

 Maria made her own type of herbarium as we went round the garden. She wrote the name and uses of the plant and then threaded a piece of each plant through the paper. I tend to go home with lots of pictures and have trouble remembering what some of them are of.

 The bargain of the day was found in the local supermarket when Maria and I popped in to grab something for lunch we found olive trees for £5, only thin stemmed but with a little crop of olives on.
 I now have to create something with my crab apple twig, make a quince jelly, make a guelder rose berry and crab apple jelly and start my new apprenticeship tasks, busy times ahead.