This is a lovely time of year I always think, when the days can change at the whim of temperature, air pressure, sun and wind, and new delights like ice formations can amaze and surprise us. A good time for winter walks with the camera.
Not all plants have died back and in the garden, the hardy edible natives such as Lady's Smock, Wintercress, Watercress, Hairy Bittercress, and Chickweed are growing strong and provide a nice bit of dark green leaf to sprinkle over food.
Lady's Smock ~ Cardamine pratensis || Wintercress ~ Barbarea vulgaris
Pick the fresh leaf stems and more will grow. The more you pick, the more you get!
Watercress ~ Nasturtium officinale
Watercress is a fast growing aquatic or semi aquatic plant. Rich in vitamins A and C, iron, calcium, iodine and folic acid, and is valued as an antioxidant.
My Watercress is growing in a shallow pond and is especially good this time of the year. A friend and I bought a packet of seeds to share at least 5 years ago from Chase Organics and it has continued to grow most vigorously ever since.
Warning: You must be careful when picking Watercress in the wild. When grown in the presence of animal manure, especially sheep and cows, it can be a haven for parasites such as liverfluke.
More interesting info on watercress on Wikipedia
Mixed Cress Soup
This is an instant soup, packed with goodness and delicious.
1. Gather a mixture of edible native cress and edible greens.
2. Sweat some onions and garlic and throw in the cress leaves.
3. Cover with water and a spoonful of vegetable stock, add salt and paper and a little soya sauce.
4. Let simmer until all is soft,- about 2 minutes. Then liquidize.
5. Take off the heat and just before serving stir in a generous amount of soya cream or yogurt.
Chickweed ~ Stellaria media || Corn Salad ~ Valerianella locusta
Up by the house, pots that had previously had tomatoes growing in them are now being taken over by winter growing native plants. I planted small transplants of Chickweed around the tomato plants in the autumn and the plants are now vigorous and can be cropped weekly. I sprinkled the seeds of Corn Salad around the base of my cucumber plants back in September and they too are growing well now. They will carry on providing me with leaves through to March.
My medicine shelf
This a good time of year to sort out your medicines, strain and bottle up tinctures and check on old ones. If the old ones have gone a bit cloudy, then strain them trough coffee filter paper tucked into the top of a sieve, and they usually come out clear again. Throw away any you are not 100% happy about. Tinctures last for 3-5 years, so check on any that are near the end of their time.
Making a Medicing Bag
This is a simple bag to make to store your dried herbs or seeds in.
I have used leather, but you could choose another natural material, cotton or wool (Old jumpers are good, especially if they have become matted in too hot a wash...)
1. Cut a circle out of chamois, leather or other tightly woven cloth by drawing round a template of choice, anything from a large plate or circular tray depending on the size and use of the medicine bag.
2. Cut or poke small holes around the outside of the circle.
3. Cut a long piece of leather thong or plait together some embroidery threads or wools to make a length, and thread this through the holes.
The winter is time for resting, regenerating and relaxing. Be gentle with yourself. Love yourself. Do what makes you happy! Nourish yourself with good home cooked food, homemade cakes and other delights. Use all the wonderful things you have carefully stored and preserved during the autumn.
Now we reap the benefits of all the herbs we have picked, dried, made into tinctures or elixirs during the summer months. Each year, as your knowledge and passion for the herbs grows, there are always more you wish you had, and a resolve to grow or collect more of a certain herb you want to use in the winter. Make notes of these and find places where you can order native plant seeds. Dried herbs can be ordered and sent through the post if there are herbs you find you need and have ran out of.
Boosting Your Immune system
Elderberry tincture or elixir is essential to take at this time of the year for colds, congestion and coughs and to boost the immune system. Take a teaspoonful daily in a glass of water to boost up the immune system and help prevent colds. At the first sign of a sore throat take a teaspoonful elderberry tincture or syrup three times a day.
If you didn't manage to collect elderberries in the autumn, buy dried elderberries. Make the tincture or elixir in the usual way, leaving a little extra room in the jar for the elderberries to swell. Drink hot elderberry wine to bring out a fever and clear the chest of congestion.
You can't beat raw garlic for fighting off infections and boosting the immune system. Chop it finely and sprinkle over the tops of soups or any savoury dish just before serving, to get your daily dose. Whizz into fruit smoothies (a lot more delicious than it sounds!)
Valerian ~ Valeriana officinalis
Valerian is a powerful herb that I associate with this time of year as it will help you to relax and ease the stresses of this often busy month.
Dig up the whole plant, wash some of the soil off but not all and gently cut off the largest roots with a pair of scissors. These are washed thoroughly and dried or made into tincture. See Novembers entry for method.
Replant each cluster, giving it room to grow. Valerian will grow in almost any condition, in, poor soil, in very little soil and along north hedges, although if you give it plenty of good quality soil and plant it where it will get plenty of light and sunshine, it will grow a lot more vigorously. It is a tall plant, with the flowering heads growing up to 5ft tall so plant at the back of borders. If you want to grow it for the roots, prevent from flowering so that all the energy goes into the roots not the flowers.
Because it grows vigorously in the garden I usually pot up many new plants from the clusters I dig up now, to give away or ready to plant back out in the countryside in the spring.
Make the roots into a cold infusion by letting them soak in cold water for 12 hrs and drinking the water. Alternatively take 30 drops of tincture before bed for a good nights sleep.
Valerian is a powerful nerve tonic that is very effective for mental and nervous exhaustion and anxiety.
It will help you to sleep if you have a busy head and can't shut down at the end of the day. It will not affect your ability to remember dreams or making you feel sluggish the next day.
Use for nervous headaches, bile dysfunctions, stomach and intestinal cramps and painful periods.
It has a calming effect on the heart and is a painkiller for any condition that needs the whole system to relax.
NB: A powerful herb that should not be used continually.
Metaphysical Uses: It will help 'earth' you when you have become overwhelmed by fears, or after a physical or mental trauma.
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