Feburary observations – Snow drops, Cuckcoo Pint and Willow

Its been a while since I wrote on here!  I havent quite known what to write.  January was full of business and sorting that the new year brings, I hardly had time to notice the changes in the trees and bushes.  I did see some beautiful misty mornings when the landscapes were layers of grey that the sun would dissolve as it rose from the horizon, and some lovely starry nights.  Although there really wasn’t a lot of sun this January, there was one day where the sky was blue and the sun was bright and the moon was above me too, so I took the chance to sit in it all day. That was really needed! 

This month, I have had more time to look around and observe. The christmas period was quite stressful, (as im sure it is for so many people) with my Father being diagnosed with Parkinson’s, which was such a shock, but with the new life that seems to be springing up around us, I too have found a new lease of energy and positivity. I will probably do a post about Parkinson’s disease at some point, as we have done so much research since finding out; with a combination of Herbal medicine and Nutrition, we have really given him hope and his symptoms are improving, it will be a long journey for him and my Mother, they have really changed their whole life so quickly… so it is true that it is possible to make changes, at any age of your life! I’m proud of them 🙂

Snow drops –Galanthus nivalis 

I’m sure everyone who is blessed with a garden or has had the chance for  a little country side walk has noticed all the little shoots spouting up from the earth, the little snow drops! They are fully out where I am now and have been for a week or so I think. apparently there are up to 75 different species of snowdrops, all with the white flower head so im sure they are quite difficult to spot. I was wondering whether there were any medicinal uses for snow drops as there are so many of them and they are quite noticeable as some of the first flowers of spring.  I just found this website with some uses of the bulb as a nervine and for use in Alzheimer’s.. have a look if you like http://en.heilkraeuter.net/herbs/snowdrop.htm  I also found on Botanical.com this information…  “An old glossary of 1465, referring to it as Leucis i viola alba, classes it as an emmenagogue, and elsewhere, placed under the narcissi, its healing properties are stated to be ‘digestive, resolutive and consolidante.'”  Very interesting! I’m sure there are many uses for all the little plants.

Here is a poem I found by Hartley Coleridge, its in The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady book.

“One month is past, another is begun, Since merry bells rang out the dying year, and buds of rarest green began to peer, as if impatient for a warmer sun, and though the distant hills are bleak and dun, the virgin snowdrop, like a lambert fire, pierce the cold earth with its green-streaked spire, and in dark woods, the wandering little one may find a primrose.”

I really must get a camera to put some photos up!

Cuckoo Pint – Arum maculatum

During my walk in the woods I noticed too lots of Cuckcoo Pint pushing up from between the Beech leaves. I find Cuckoo Pint quite mysterious and magical.  The leaves are such a beautiful dark green and push upwards with their leaves rolled tight together, called a spathe to then open up and out, blotched with black. The stem is called a spadix which carries both the male and female flowers.  They were commonly known as Lords and Ladies probably because of this, and their celtic name is Cluas chaoin.

I have the beautiful Druid Plant Oracle cards, and there is really lovely information on the Cuckoo Pint.  “The Cuckcoo Pint displays the chalice and blade united.  This symbolizes at one level the union of man and woman, but at a deeper level the goal of the Druid and all spiritual seeker: the union of the masculine and feminine aspects of the psyche, sometimes termed the Mystical Marriage or Alchemical Wedding.”   I really like this thought, the male and female, the Yin and Yang all embodied in the spirit and conveyed by the parts of this plant. Perfect balance! It is a very poisonous plant and so should be avoided really, although there is a  wonderful description of some of its traditional uses in the Druid Plant Oracle book. It mentions “Druids themselves were once known as ‘adders’ and Cuckcoo Pint has been called adder root, probably because of the fifth century herbalist Discorides’ belief that is could cure snake bites.  He named it: Drakontaia Mikre, or ‘little dragon’.”  The root has many uses, one of which is for its starch, but has to be treated appropriately before use other wise is as poisonous as the part above earth. apparently the festival of Beltane can be associated with Cuckcoo Pint as it flowers at roughly the same time.

Weeping willow – Salix babylonica

I have just been researching a little bit on willows and have found that the 2 large willows in my garden are Salix babylonica, imported from China originally. I would love to do a whole post on them some day soon; so will now just note that their long swishy stems are turning a golden colour now as the little buds begin to grow. I can almost see them trying to change to a bright green ish colour as the sun shines through, iluminating them as they sway in the gentle breeze. I have noticed that there is some sort of whitish substance on one of the branches, it looks like mould.. It’s probably moss but I will have to check. Our 3rd willow fell in the winds about 3 years ago, it was about this time in the year when the sudden winds came, they were out to do something important as their force blew it over completely; the inner trunk was totally rotten. The winds of change have plans of their own.

The last thing I would like to mention is that I saw the first little blue/white flower of Speedwell last week in my sisters allotment in Oxford. It was wide open! I would love to make some medicines with Speedwell this year, I will write about this little treasure of a plant soon too but I just love Lucindas page on her blog, she writes so beautifully! Click here.

The Beech trees are budding and I noticed too the little tiny beginnings of buds on the Hawthawns.

I hope as the evenings get lighter and the spirit of sping brings new life as the sap begins to rise, and the winds clear the sleep of winter away, that you too will feel renewed and full of inspiration and creativity for the year that comes. 🙂

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Borage, Calendula … and a very crazy thought :)

Well the snow is still here, so not much chance to observe the little plants and wintery changes.  I have been making extra effort to make sure I feed the birds, and have thrown the left over meaty pieces out for the foxes. It’s funny how the birds interact with each other, some are so protective and will scare off the others, while the big fat pigeons will just eat, eat, eat until they pop, pecking without stopping for a breath. Some land in couples, and some stand far off waiting in turn. I like to watch them! I have also been noticing lots of foxes, they stand out so clearly in the snow at night, like little dark shadows flashing around without a sound, so light on their feet! All the little animals must be so hungry right now. Makes me feel very lucky to have a warm house protected from the elements.

Borage and Calendula

I decided in about January this year to grow Calendula and Borage this year. I grew them from seed and watched them grow into the most amazing huge plants!! It was quite incredible thinking how something so small, with love and care can grow in to something so beautiful and produce so many flowers.

Borage:  Borago officinalis

  I had sown lots of seeds as I had never actually seen Borage before, I planted them quite close together in the flowerbed (my Mum had set aside a nice flowerbed for me and was terrified when I told her I was planting Borage, she thinks it’s a big weed and told me I had to cut it down before it seeded…. oops) which was probably a bit of a mistake, I don’t think I would do that again, they were incredibly squashed in together. The plants grew about a meter high and produced thousands of beautiful little star flowers from a bright blue to shades of pink and purple. The bees and wasps just loved them!! It was really so beautiful to see, I think Borage was nick named Bees bread because bee’s love it so much. I don’t blame them, the flowers are lovely to eat. The taste almost oily, quite rich – they fill my eyes with their blue beauty and really raise the spirit! I managed to harvest quite a few and made a lovely Borage syrup and a Borage tincture.  I use it for lifting the spirit and lightening the mood. One of the bottles, I mixed some tincture with the syrup and it really was delicious, the most perfect happy mix! I used honey for the syrup. yum yum.  Unfortunately the Borage got black fly quite bad, I had planted all the Calendula around the flower bed but I think the time where I had neglected them (whilst moving house) hadn’t helped. I asked the universe for ladybirds and they soon came! They had a good feast and I think the wasps did too? I had to cut a lot back but surprisingly more shoots came and so did more flowers! Beautiful borage.

One tip when cutting back Borage… wear gloves! I didn’t and a few days later, a rash all on my hands and arms appeared looking strangely like scabies! After searching the internet for some good old self diagnosis, I realised it was a reaction to the Borage, the stems and leaves all have thousands of little hairs that can get stuck in your skin, rather itchy.  But disappeared a few days later.  After the flowers died, then came the seeds, 4 little black seeds in each flower pod, no wonder my mum wanted me to cut them back before, they must have produced thousands of seeds…. all back in the ground for next year, and imbedded into the path cracks … oops again. ah well, if they are meant to be, they will be!

Calendula/Marigold: Calendula officinalis

The Calendula was rather the same, it grew like wildfire! The plants were full of flowers, from bright yellows to deep orangey/golds. The bees also loved these flowers. I was really happy about that. I started to harvest the flowers from the beginning but was careful to leave enough on each plant (so I didn’t feel like I was stealing all its beauty from it) and also because I wanted to leave some for the insects and bees. I found a few techniques of drying them, mostly on the internet. I started by picking the individual petals off the flower heads and drying them in the sun, it worked quite well, then stored them in kilner jars in the cupboard, but then I realised that some of the healing properties and from picking them, that the white mucilaginous sap was in the stems and leaves too, so I ended up cutting them a little way down the stem and hanging them to dry in an aired dark place.

I found with the Calendula that by cutting the dead heads off once they had gone to seed, it really increased the amount of new flowers it produced, I collected all the dead heads, once the petals had fallen off and hung them in the shed. I have now got thousands and thousands of Calendula seeds to sow next year (so does my mum’s path…!!). They flowered right into October, maybe even November. I was really surprised. I am planning to cover the bed with cardboard and let the bed rest for next year. 

I have made so far, Calendula tincture, with stems and flowers in 40% vodka, I just filled the jar and covered with the vodka and left for under a month, it didn’t need more than that. And at the moment, I am making Calendula oil, I used an organic sunflower oil and used some of the dried petals and the dried whole flower heads with a few dried leaves too… not sure if it’s what I am supposed to do … but I think I am 🙂  This time I felt like I wasnt supposed to keep it in complete dark, I feel its happy in the moon light most nights, on the window sill.

I made a chickweed oil too… im planning on making a nice balm for the skin in a few weeks, I just need to find some good bees-wax and buy some more cocoa butter.

Here is the crazy thought…..

Right, I was driving home the other day thinking how much I really don’t know about the exam we will have in the new year on biochemistry and phytochemistry… all I really remember from the lecture was the first 5 mins about the atoms.. atoms really, really fascinate me..  (I have a lot of revision to do) .. so anyway, isn’t an atom just like a little galaxy?!  All planets orbiting a central point…. So then I thought, think of an atom in a cell, and how many thousands if not millions of atoms make up a cell, each atom being a galaxy…. but then…. think of how many cells make up an eye!!! so each cell is a space containing millions of galaxies…. within an eye, a bigger space….so an eye contains millions of cells all containing millions of galaxies….. within an even more giant space that is the head!! then…… there is a whole other eye!!!! Imagine if this (which I have no doubt it is) is the scale at which the universe is, and apparently ever-increasing. But then think of the space which the “eye” is in…not being a head and being a thing with a million “eyes”… that really is mind-boggling! or even another completely random shape, or a part …of another part of a whole?!  This really is a strange thought right?!..  but it did bring me to these conclusions:

if too many atoms within a cell die, then eventually the cell will malfunction and inevitably die… if so many cells die within a thing then surely that creates disease or aging I suppose in terms of humans (not too sure on this.. I just know it can’t be good) …..so there becomes a state of dis harmony within the whole…if thinking of this in universe terms… then we seem incredible small and almost insignificant, and when thinking of pollution and the survival of earth. It could seem that the death of such a small dot (the earth) in the scheme of things wouldn’t be so bad.. all hop on a space ship to mars or whatever and carry on…… but… it is the beginning of the death of the “atom”.  At the moment, the state of our planet and the way we are treating it is causing disharmony, I can only belive that this will be having an increasing effect on the surrounding planets and in term on the galaxy we are in. As would a “malfunctioning” atom on the molecule.   So we owe it to the universe to help this earth to live as much as we owe it to ourselves and the poor little lovely earth. right?! could be so wrong .. but interesting!

the second thing was…. if the center of the atom is a combination of neutrons and protons, that making the “earth” – what are we (humans and animals) represented as? 🙂 apparently there are little things called nucleons and quarks… littler things! Maybe they are like us – creating or destroying the habitat we inhabit!   – my friend Matt is a mathematical physicist and he smiles at my little cartoon child like images of what I come up with, with absolutely no knowledge, proof or vocabulary to support what I have thought up!! He says this is possible and stranger things have been thought along these lines. … I think I am going to think the universe is like a giant turtle from now on, and we are a speck in its beautiful multicoloured body, ever-increasing by the huge amounts of magical stardusty grass it eats daily from the realm not yet discovered 🙂

night night. x

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Wonderful winter soup!

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write about but I knew I wanted to write something… and soup it happens to be!

I’m a big fan of soups, you can fill them with lovely things and none of the goodness is lost (apart from heat sensitive vitamins ), they are warming in this chilly weather and also very cheap to make. 

I have always just thrown a load of veg in a pan, added water, boiled, seasoned and finally blended, all in which has taken about 15 mins, but recently my lovely boyfriend Josselin, who is a very fine chef has introduced me to some of the most delicious recipes and the technique of soup making!  I am going to give you my favorite…

The first thing is you can do this with absolutely any arrangement of vegetables, whatever you have left in the fridge or a lovely planned combination, my favorite so far has to be the mushroom soup I made yesterday… it fed 4 people.. 

Time needed to prepare .. 10 mins …and cook …about 2-3 hours.

You need…

  • 1 or 2 onions (depending on size – I used little ones so I used 2)
  • 3 garlic cloves  
  • about 2 inches of ginger root
  • a little bit of chilli – but only if you like a bit of spice.
  • lots of veg! –  Here you can add anything, I used sweet potato, courgette, chestnut mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, and 2 other strange-looking types I found in waitrose that were delicious, half a de-seeded very little green chilli – chopped and spinach.
  • Water
  • Soy sauce
  • Salt and pepper

First of all, slice the onions roughly and chop garlic.  Put in pan, apparently its best to use a high heat to get the brown colour on onions, stirring lots so as not to burn and stick to pan, I used a dash of olive oil and a little bit of water as I don’t like heating too much oil.  Once they start to get soft, add a splash of soy sauce, it makes the pan a bit brown and adds a lovely flavor to onions, Joss makes them go caramalised sometimes with the soy sauce, I just don’t know how to do that yet! I usually throw in some chopped ginger here too, about a few cms of root –  don’t be scared of using too much, it’s really lovely once cooked.

Next, fill the pan to the top with water (it may seem a lot but trust me it will end up deeelicious) and throw in all the rest of the vegetables. Add a bit more soy sauce and the rest of the ginger, some pepper and a little salt, bring to the boil then let it simmer a bit vigorously for as long as you can! About 2 – 3 hours. It will reduce lots and leave you with the most yummy warming broth.

Ginger – Zingiber officinale, is such a lovely thing to have in the winter, it increases circulation warming you up and also aids digestion, helps with nausea and also is sometimes used for pain relief, (you should always research whether it is good for you if you have a certain condition, im not an authoritative source yet. I’m sure a little in cooking is just fine but always check!). A little chopped root in boiling water makes a lovely tea.. one of my favorites, with honey is great too.. the best honey I have ever tasted, I heard about from my lovely friend Lucinda, one of the most wonderful herbalists I know, its raw and unfiltered and the bees are treated so well, click here to see website where you can purchase some.

Back to soup.. I like to eat it just like that, but it can be blended if you prefer, you can also add some noodles at the end if you wish.  Joss likes to add a raw egg to the bowel of soup at the end, and stir it in, it cooks in the hot water, you can tell as the little pieces go white in the soup. If in doubt, throw in back in the pan and heat until you do see that. I thought it was a bit horrible when I saw him do it but it was amazing 🙂

It took me a few goes to get it tasty and not too watery. I hope you enjoy!


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Walk your worries away

These past few months I really have neglected going for walks.  We recently moved back into our new built house (on our old land – my parents knocked our old subsidence riddled house down – im still living at home but its great now 🙂 hehe) but my room was the last to be finished so the past 6 or 7 months have forced me to keep on the move, staying at friends, and at my boyfriends, having a car full of clothes and getting frustrated with builders and the lack of care of our property and the slowness of their work (i know not true for all builders), trying to keep on top of college and in touch with all my friends, and making sure they have been ok in some tough times as much as I can. Its all been quite a lot to handle and I found in order to keep going, knowing a time of rest was in sight in the near future, iv just not allowed myself to stop! Im not sure if this is for better or for worse but its funny how we find ways to cope in all mannor of different situations.  I realised in this time too how much we rely on a ‘base’ for our security, as a comfort and really as a sanctury in which we can know ourselves… I have lived in the same family home my whole life, but always been a bit of a traveller, flowing from one place to the other with the wind, but always knowing home was home!  

…. i just have to interrupt here as on my walk today I picked up some seeds from a flower, the pods were big and shiny like beetles! One just exploded on my desk and the seeds flew across the room!! How ingenious! its quite warm in here, maybe they explode as the warmer weather comes, in order to seed in the correct conditions… clever, beautiful nature. ….

anyway home is home.. I thought it would be a good time for me to try feel complete without having a base, to be happy in my own skin in any situation, to not ever get too comfortable or rely on one place for my happiness. I think this quote is just perfect.. from The Druid Plant Oracle by Philip and Stephanie Carr-Gomm…. the Plantain card (Plantago sp.)  it says when you have a hard situation “imagine that what you need is way down beneath you – in the earth – and deep down inside you.  Instead of reaching out to be ‘saved’, by looking for someone or something that can rescue you, try reaching in.  ‘Hunkering down’ then becomes not resignation and fatalism, but the act of drawing on your secret source of power.  Weakness turns to strength and the wheel will turn.” “Remember that, however many times the Plantain is trodden on, within its leaves lie soothing ingredients. Regardless of how tough life is, in the end the real healing comes from within”.

I have to say I think this in some circumstances can be a life long lesson but it was interesting to observe. I think the most interesting thing was that I realised that I have never been so much attached to the physical things like my old house, or houses I have been staying in, but more the land I am on.  I missed my garden, my trees, the big willows 🙂 and the feeling being on the grass gave me, I had never felt so connected to ‘my land’ as through this time. 

 If you feel close to the land and are currently living somewhere that isnt your ideal but has to be for now, I read somewhere once, to help with getting used to a new place,  it was a help to walk everywhere, all around, even if it is a small town or village or a huge city, and to try to visualise it as it was before the place was built.  To familirise yourself with where north and south is, to position yourself on the map, to know where the sun rises and sets, even to find an old map of the place, especially if its a town and know where the old woods stood, where the rivers originally flowed and what remaines still.  Where ever we are I think its a great comfort to know the stars and moon will always shine over us, and stay so constant.

I went for a long walk today for the first time in a long time around the fields near me, it was lovely, seeing my old friends again! (the plants!) I find thoughts plod methodically through my brain to the timing of my steps, and by the end of it, everything has been thought about and usually has come to some sort of resolve, the moving scenery around helps I think to keep the thoughts flowing rather than becoming stagnant.

Herby notings:

  • lots of hawthorn berries still out, as well as rose hips and sloes! I know probably past their best date, I wonder why the birds dont eat them? I would, if I was a bird.
  • Little cleavers plants hiding under the bushes, im drinking cleavers tea now actually, I dried some in the spring – only plant I recognised so have loads! hehe
  • Little mice squeeking in the hedge.
  • Dive bombed by lots of little birds.
  • Met 3 little black pigs on the way to the field, they are just so cute, they talk back to you you know, in piggy squeeks, and run really fast!
  • Picked up exploding seed pods! I just noticed one is on the blinds!

By the way with all the colds around at the moment, I woke up feeling awful this morning, so as we have been taught, I made a huge brew of Peppermint, Elderflower and Yarrow then headed for our sauna (my mum insisted we had one in new house -brill!)  (oo the other pod is in my fiberoptic lamp -Just fell out of it)   –  I have to say, I felt almost instantly better.  I have had 2 other pints of the mix since, il wrap up warm for bed.  It really is amazing.

So, I left my walk with a worried brow and came back with a smiling face. It gave my cheeks a rosy glow and filled my heart with joy. I will rest my body and soul for a while and keep walking my worries away from now on.

Powdery skies and lots of foggy love to you all.

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A very new herbalist

Hello everyone!

I have finally decided to start a blog!  I am currently studying herbal medicine, in my 2nd year and thought this would be a lovely way to share my learnings and observations as the year passes by. 

 I am 24 years old now and I can’t believe that before the beginning of my studies, herbal medicine and the world of plants and beautiful trees was almost completely unknown.  I have always loved nature and known it was where I belonged, busy towns are so alien to me, I feel suffocated at the lack of air and so many people rushing around, but I honestly feel like I have opened my eyes to a whole new world, like all these years I have been blindly missing the silent plant kingdom that so loudly speaks to me now.  Every day I am meeting a new plant or noticing how it grows, how it smells and what time of year it grows and dies. As the winter frosts come and cover the earth to begin the deep sleep, I notice that winter is a time for the herbalist to rest as well as the plant kingdom… but I could be wrong … that is why I am writing here, I am completely new to this (yet funnily it does seem quite familiar)  so I am hoping that my very basic observations and crazy theories can be of help to anyone beginning their path as a herbalist too.

Why between the willows?  Because there are 2 beautiful giant weeping willow trees in my garden that have stood tall since before I was born, I have seen their leaves grow and fall, watched them dance in the strong winds, and observed that without leaves they look rather like giant veins in the brain, more times than any other  tree. They stand majestic like guardians of our house, and through them fields lie for as far as the eye can see. They are my friends, and my very beautiful silver friends in the frost. 🙂

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