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.

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