Woods in May
At this point in the year, there is the greatest profusion of native plants growing everywhere, in the woods, along field edges, sprouting out of cracks between wall and pavement, and of course in our gardens. Everywhere they proclaim their assertive joyful presence and remind us that they live here too!
As I walk the fields around where I live, I am increasingly aware that there is a great regeneration and spreading of native plant species. The warm wet weather, as our climate changes, is suiting the native species of both plants and trees. I am constantly on the look out for what is in profusion and I could collect for drying or tincture making and also for seed collecting later in the year. I have begun to write locations down in my herb journal so that i can return other years. Eventually,I will make a series of small localised maps to include these details .... with the year i found them and where.
When picking herbs from the fields it is important to only pick from where there is a great profusion of plants (never pick if there is only a few, they need to be able to flower and reseed themselves). Make sure you are picking away from where dog walkers may walk, away from the road, and from land that you are sure has not been sprayed.
Cleavers ~ Galium aparine
This is the perfect time for collecting Cleavers (See March), Chick weed, (See March) Hawthorn flowers (look back on my other May entries). As I walk about my local environment, I am making an internal map of what is growing where. Today, I found Lime trees, and collected some leaves for making tea.... noting that the flowers are beginning to form and will be ready for collecting for making Lime flower tea in a few weeks... a beautiful flavoured calming tea, well worth collecting.
But what really interests me is not what I see growing, but what is no longer growing. We have a 96% loss of our native plants in the countryside so I am interested in re introducing them back and seeing if they will regenerate. For years I have been growing them in my garden, collecting the seeds in the autumn or buying a pack of seeds and bringing them on so that I have small plants ready to plant out.
This month, I am looking at some of our native woodland plants, with the idea of taking them from my garden to plant out in our local wood. If you do this, be very very sure that you are planting out the native variety.
Lilly of the Valley ~ Convallaria magalis
I absolutely adore this beautiful sweet smelling native plant, which once grew in profusion, both in the wild and as part of the cottage garden. It makes an excellent ground cover in shady places under trees and was once a native woodland plant. It is worth buying a plant from the garden centre and giving it space in your garden. These creeping rhizomes like to be left to ramble about in the shade. Once established, you can begin to find other places to plant it out. It doesn’t like being disturbed and I have had many failed attempts to move it to new sites. I have found the best way is to dig them up in an undisturbed block without disturbing the roots. With this in mind I have carefully dug some up from my garden before they came into flower and they are ready to plant out now under a tree in the woods, where hopefully they will be happy and they can be left to go their own way. They prefer a dryer not soggy woodland location
Snow drop ~ Galanthus nivalis
Snow drops are native to Wales and the west of Britain, but now naturalised all over the country. This is one native bulb that gets guerrilla gardened most frequently and has a very high success rate! They have finished flowering now, so these are ideal to dig up from your garden and re-plant out in the woods now, while they still have their green leaves to help locate them. They are much less fussy than the Lilly of the Valley, although again, will thrive best under trees and in ground that is left undisturbed
Columbine ~ Aquilegia vulgaris
Columbine are one of the best known and loved native plants of the cottage garden and a woodland native. Although there are many hybrid species, the smaller dark blue are the natives and will happily spread if planted out. Buy the native seeds from a specialist wild flower website to be sure.
It has been interesting to look back on my other May entries and see how very different it has been this year, with the cold start to spring making everything so late. But the wild native plants have been revelling in all this wet weather and the woods have never been so full of flowers. I have been so heartened to see the Cowslip making a great come-back this year, especially along the motorways, but also in woods. Cowslips are a protected plant in the wild, but a great plant to buy and let grow wild in your garden. Use the flowers as a general tonic for the nervous system and of prime use for anxiety, stress, nervous headaches, and as a sedative. Drink before bed for insomnia. Use for neuralgia and as a detoxifying remedy, effective for colds, flu, fevers and coughs. Soothing to the skin and for sunburn.
The Wild Garlic has been a delightful addition to our salads.
A freshly picked wild native salad of Wild Garlic, Corn Salad, Chives and Lady's Smock flowers.
It has also been a great May for dandelion flowers!
Dandelion ~ Taraxacum officinale
A common native perennial, found in grasslands and hedgerows. Flowers March to September.
In the Garden: Every gardener moans about dandelions but by using the leaves and flowers and saving the roots to dig up in the autumn for medicine or food, they take on a different significance in our gardens. Early leaves can be forced under plant pots, which are wrapped with straw or bubble wrap.
Part Used: Leaves, flowers and roots.
Herbal Uses: Dandelion is a master healer, supporting overall health by flushing out toxins and improving the function of the liver, gall bladder, the kidneys, the urinary system and the digestive system. It is a prime lymph tonic, removing poisons from the system and cleansing the blood. It has a beneficial action on the lungs, helping coughs and bronchitis and will strengthen lung tissue. It helps reduce high blood pressure, high cholesterol, joint pains, viral infections, fluid retention, arthritis and hormonal imbalance. It is naturally high in potassium. The leaves are best for the kidneys and the roots for the liver.
Metaphysical Use: It brings determination and adaptability, clears emotional stagnation, turning depression into expression and self-empowerment.
In the Kitchen: A great spring tonic herb. Add the small young leaves to salad mixtures or to cooked leaf mixes. Take out the central stem of larger leaves to reduce their bitterness. The flower petals can be sprinkled on salads and any other food as a garnish, made into syrup, cordial and wine. Make the roots into tincture, a coffee type drink and beer, or dry for decoctions.
See my other May entries for Dandelion Flower Cordial
Herbal and Flower Syrups
Dandelion flowers, Elderflowers, Red Clover, scented Rose petals, Mint, Rosemary and Lemon Balm.
This is a delicious way to take your herbs and they can be drizzled on to porridge, ice cream, yogurt, as well as made into hot drinks. Make a note in your herb journal of what you have created, noting proportions and your methods.
1. Half fill a pint jar with leaves, flowers or fruit.
2. Cover with apple juice and let it steep for 24 hours, stirring occasionally.
3. Strain off the plant matter.
4. Bottle and Label. Will keep for 3 weeks in the fridge.
Infused Herbal Oils
Infused oils are simple to make and once made they will last for years. (See June 2012 for method)
Elder Leaf Oil - for rashes, wounds, burns, sprains and bruises and a wonderful smoothing oil for insect bites. It will also prevent insects from biting.
Dandelion Flower Oil - rubbed into the skin for tired stiff joints and to loosen tense muscles.
Cowslip Flower Oil - Soothing to the skin and for sunburn.
Yarrow Oil - Make with the leaves and flowers. Use to stop bleeding, for inflammations and piles.
This is the beginning of summer, the great fertile time, when the land becomes green again, the trees come into leaf and plants seem to grow overnight. Life is on the move, wild and untamed, mysteriously profound in its ability to simply let go and grow. This is Bluebell time, and the time when the trees flower, when the sheer abundance and beauty of the natural world is overwhelming and deeply moving in its robustness and fragility. The interconnected web of life is at its most visible and accessible. We are called to get out from the confines of buildings and engage with the life force, become part of its power to go wild, grow and manifest.
Hawthorn ~ Crataegus monogyna
A native shrub found in woods and hedgerows. Known as the May Tree or White Thorn, and heralds the beginning of spring. Flowers May to June. Fruits August to November.
The Hawthorn comes into flower at this time... Pick the flowers and leaves to dry in brown paper bags or make into hawthorn tincture. Hawthorn is a safe and primary remedy for the heart, relieving palpitations, angina, hardening of the arteries, water retention and poor circulation. It has the ability to regulate high or low blood pressure depending on the need and will gently bring the heart to normal function. Use for any nervous conditions including stress and insomnia.
Tinctures are alcohol extracts and will preserving herbs for a longer period. Tinctures work quickly as they are absorbed through the mouth's membranes and bypass the digestive system.
They are also useful when we are out and about, at work, or when traveling. The herbal properties of the plant, fruit or root are preserved in vodka or brandy or any grain spirit of choice, but I urge you to by one of quality as the cheaper ones may be made with GM grain crops. Vodka is the most usual spirit to use as it has no taste of its own.
The alcohol draws out the herbal constituents from the plant but a certain percentage of water needs to be mixed with the alcohol to draw out the water-soluble constituents from the plant as well. A 90% or 80% alcohol content is usual for home tincture making. Dried herbs need more water - 60% alcohol to 40% water. Home tincture making is not an exact science.
1) Fill a dark jar with chopped up leaves, roots, bark or seeds. If you haven’t a dark jar simply put your jar in a brown paper bag.
2) Top up with vodka and water mix, and press the plant matter down with a chopstick to remove any trapped air, which could oxidize and ruin the medicine. Put the lid on tightly and shake well.
3) Label the jar and date it.
4) Shake the jar every day or two in the first couple of weeks and there after when you remember. Keep them where you will notice them!
Write in your herb journal where the plants were picked, what kind of day it was, and what you noticed, what came to you, the date, if it was a full or new Moon and generally anything that adds to understanding the plant and this remedy. Also add anything about your making of the tincture including the alcohol content. I can't stress enough how important this is. It provides an invaluable record to look back on and learn from, and keeps the connection with the pants alive.
5) After a month to 6 weeks, strain off the plant matter, pressing the juices through a sieve, jelly bag, paper coffee or wine filters, an old pillowcase or muslin. I like to make a herb tea with the remains, pouring a little hot water over the mash. I raise my glass to the plant in thanks and enjoy my first taste. Finally I put the spent mash back on the earth, again with thanks.
6) Re-bottle the strained liquid into clean dark dropper bottles and remember to label and date them.
~ Tinctures will keep for about 5 years in a cool dark place. But check them and discard any that have gone cloudy or smell 'wrong'.
~ Using the fresh herb for making tinctures is best, but dried can be used too, as long as you leave room in the jar for them to expand, soak them in a little water for 24 hours first and use a 60/40% ratio of alcohol to water.
~ Generally it is best to make tinctures with one plant at a time and create combination tinctures later.
~ Tincture making can be speeded up if the tougher plant matter such as roots, bark or seeds are ground up first in a coffee grinder. In this case they can be ready in 24 hours.
~ Tinctures are for adults only, because of the alcohol content. They can be taken neat but are usually taken in water, or fruit juice if you prefer. They don't have a lot of taste, but they do have some, which you either like or dislike, so the amount of water is entirely up to you. Sweeten with honey if you prefer.
Elder ~ Sambucus nigra
Elderflower, Dandelion, Hawthorn or Broom wine or any edible flowers that you have a lot of and want to use. If using Elder flowers, strip them from their stalks using the fingers; for Dandelions, cut off as much of the green stalk as possible; for Broom pull the yellow parts from the green calyx, which is bitter.
4 pint glasses (2.3 litres) of flowers stripped from their stalks or calyx
1 gallon (4.6 litres) of water
8 oz (225g) minced or chopped sultanas
3lbs (1.35kg) sugar
6 fl oz (175ml) cold black tea
1) Pour boiling water over the flowers and leave covered for 3 days. Stir every day.
2) Strain off the flowers. Bring the liquid to the boil adding the juice and finely grated rind of the lemons and oranges, sultanas, tea and sugar. Return to the bucket and when luke warm sprinkle the yeast on top.
3) Cover with a tea towel tied round the top of the bucket with string and let this stand for a week.
4) Carefully strain off all the ingredients, and pour into a clean demi john, and fit the fermentation lock. Bottle when fermentation stops.
These can be made using any edible flowers. Create your own interesting combinations using Dandelions, Primroses, Cowslips, Sweet Violets, Broom or Hawthorn flowers using the basic recipe below.
Dandelion Flower Cordial
A great use of Dandelion flowers as at this time of year they need picking to stop them going to seed and spreading everywhere.
1) Gather I pint glass full of Dandelion flowers with all the stalk removed. Be aware that the latex can turn your skin and finger nails brown and make a sticky mess of the inside of the pint glass.
2) In a sauce pan bring 4 pints of water to the boil and add 100grams of light brown sugar
3) Place the Dandelions in a bowl, making sure there are no insects in them.
4) When the water and sugar mix is like warm, pour over the dandelions. Add 2 chopped lemons or oranges, stir well and cover with a cloth.
5) Stir everyday for 5 days and then strain and bottle.
6) Kept in the fridge it will last for 5 or 6 weeks. Mix half and half with fizzy water.
12 Large heads of Elderflowers
3 lemons, chopped.
600g (1lb) sugar
4.5 litres (8 pints) of water
2 table spoons (1oz) Cream of Tartar
1) Put all the ingredients in a large bowl. Pour on boiling water and stir well
2) Leave for 24 hours stiring occasionally.
3) Strian throigh muslin and pour into clean bottles
4) Dilute to taste with still or fizzy water.
5) Will last a week or so in the fridge or can be frozen in plastic bottles for later use (don't fill the bottles to allow for expansion.)
Highly delicious and loved by all. Again add other flowers to create new and interesting flavours.
4.5 litres (8 pints) of water
600g (1 lb) sugar
10 Elder flower heads
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1) Boil half the water and add sugar allow to cool
2) Add Elderflowers, chopped lemons, vinegar and cover.
3) Leave 4 days to ferment. If it doesn't begin to ferment, add a couple of teasp of yeast.
4) Strain through muslin and bottle. Ready in 10 days. Drink within 6 weeks
Rowan ~ Sorbus aucuparia
Making Flower Essences From the Native Tree Flowers
There is something so touching about the native trees in flower. They are often delicate and unassuming for such large beings and they are often short lived and can be missed. Sit beneath a tree in flower and absorb its vital presence. Your appreciation and thanks will create a tangible energy between you.
Flower essences are a subtle energy that help us to change at a deep emotional level.
1) Place a bowl of spring water beneath the tree, or nestle it in the branches, preferably in a sunny spot. Cut one flower into the water and let it infuse, while you sit peacefully with the tree and intuit the gifts it brings. Write or draw in your journal. You will have a sense of when the essence is ready.
2) When the essence is ready (purely intuitive), pour the infused water into a clean dark bottle half filled with brandy. This is your Mother Essence. Save a little of this to water the plant with, and a little to sip with your thanks to the plant. Label the bottle and add the mother essence symbol (a circle with a diagonal line through it) and spend a little time decorating the label to help anchor the plants essential energy.
3) Dilute 7 drops of the Mother Essence in a dropper bottle of half spring water and half brandy, for use when you need the qualities that the plant invokes.
Rowan Flower Essence
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