The Druid Herbalist

An ongoing journey with the healing power of plants


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Wild Foods! Foraging in the British Countryside

This month as part of my Herbcraft course we’re working on the Plant Realm – Wild Food. Here on the Suffolk coast there are lots of wild foods at pretty much any time of the year. With so many to choose from, it was hard to narrow it down to just nine for my course, so I’ve opted for some wild food combined recipes instead alongside nine available foods right now! All of the wild food listed here is found along the coast, heathland and bridleways of my home. It goes without saying: do not collect anything to eat unless you are absolutely sure of what it is.  There are many dangerous look-alikes that could seriously harm you, or even kill you. Also do not eat too much wood sorrel, as it contains oxalic acid that can cause upsets. That being said, foraging for wild food is one of the best and most rewarding ways to fill your plate, especially in the autumn!
Blackberry: found in hedgerows, sweet when fully ripe, tart when ripening. Eat straight off the bush, or use in smoothies, crumbles, eaton mess and other desserts.

Mushrooms: puffball and parasol, nutty and fleshy, found under trees, in lawns, along paths, dry soil. Use quickly after picking, as they don’t last (few hours) – great for frying or in a light batter. Wipe clean with a damp cloth.

Elderberries: found in hedgerows and forest, tart and juicy. Great for jams and wines. Also good as a syrup for winter coughs, colds and flu.

Haws: berries from the hawthorn tree, found in hedgerows and forest, tart and fleshy. Great for jams and jellies.

Rowan: berries from tree, found in hedgerows and forest, tart and juicy. Great for jelly.

Heather: flowers, found in abundance on heathland, sweet and earthy. Nice tea, as well as flavouring for beer and wine.

Crab apples: found along hedgerows and the occasional escapee in the woods, tart. Pectin in apples great to add to any hedgerow fruit for jams and jellies.

Rose hips: hedgerows and forest edges, strangely tart and sweet at same time! High vitamin C, lovely as jelly, also can be made into a syrup for coughs and colds in the winter.

Yarrow: young leaves and flowers, found fields and meadows, along bridleways and forest edges, mild bitter flavour. Use in salads or with flowers as a tea.

Recipes:

Springtime Soup – gather nettles (tops), alexanders (stalks) and cleavers (fresh shoots) in the spring. Fry an onion with alexanders stalks until softened and then add nettles and cleavers to pot, wilting them down. Add water and vegetable stalk, season to taste. Blitz in blender and serve. Scrumptious and packed full of vitamins and nutrients for a good, spring cleanse!

Spring Salad – mix together fresh young hawthorn, dandelion, chickweed, wood sorrel and yarrow leaves. Serve with a light dressing – maybe a blackberry and vinegar dressing from the previous autumn? Late summer/autumn you can make the same salad, just without any tree leaves as they now contain too many alkaloids. This recipe is more bitter than boring old iceberg lettuce, but so much tastier!

Mushroom Fry-Up – simply toss puffball and/or parasol mushrooms with a bit of butter/oil and garlic. Eat on toast or with eggs for breakfast. Gorgeous.

Raw Hedgerow Jam – gather haws, rowan, elder and blackberries along with some crabapples. Take off any stems and put together in blender. Add local honey (about halfway up the fruit) and blend together. Strain through muslin cloth into clean jars and wait for it to set (around two hours). Enjoy on yummy scones! Not as sweet as conventional jams, but equally delicious.

British Forager’s Stir-fry: stir-fry alexanders stalks, puffball and/or parasol mushrooms, samphire and blackberries with some garlic (you can use ransomes in the spring, or the ransomes bulb in the autumn). Just before serving wood sorrel and young fresh dandelion and yarrow leaves. A real taste of the British countryside.

Flower Power Teas: Just add water and allow to steep for 3 – 5 minutes with the following – heather flowers, chickweed, rose hips and petals, hawthorn flowers (can use leaves as well in spring – do not use any tree leaves after summer solstice, as they then contain too many alkaloids). Light and refreshing taste.

Breads: sweet chestnut or acorn with beech bread can be made by making nuts into a flour for pancakes, breads, scones and more. Do not eat too many beech nuts as they can cause stomach upsets – good to combine them with other nuts. Full-bodied, nutty and rich taste.

Eg. Making Acorn Flour
• Similar to other nuts, you’ll need to remove the shell of the acorns before you can consume them. There are different ways to do this: Nutcracker, pounding it with a hammer and removing the nut meat, or my favorite way is a two-step process: first cut them all in half with a large kitchen knife and then work at popping out the nut meat using the sharp point of a smaller knife.
• Now that you have all the nut meat out of the shells, you’ll want to grind these down as fine as possible. The old way is to use a big flat rock as your surface (acts as a mortar) and a smaller round rock used to crush and grind the nut (the pestle) into a fine consistency. Since I like to train in the old way but still use technology when possible, I like using my Greenstar juicer or a food processor. The nuts are softer than peanuts and will not damage these appliances.
• Leech the bitter tannins out of them before gobbling them down. To do this, bring a pot of water to a boil and pour the acorn meal in it. Let it boil for 5+ minutes making sure to stir the pot so that some of the acorn meal doesn’t stick and burn at the bottom. As an FYI, you could have skipped step 3 and just continued with this step, however I find that it takes way too long to process and wastes too much fuel. By using the ground up meal, it provides a greater surface area and leeches out the tannins much faster.
• After your initial boil, filter out the acorn flour with a cheesecloth or an old t-shirt (even a sock will do in a pinch). I like to place a colander in my sink and then place the t-shirt or cheesecloth over the colander making a bowl-like depression with it. After pouring the liquid into the cloth depression, be careful with the hot water. It’s best to pour cold water into the slurry until it cools off and you can then pick up the cloth filter to help strain the remaining water out. After filtering, you’ll want to do a taste test. Is it still bitter? If so, repeat steps 4 and 5 until the bitterness is out.
• At this point you’re left with essentially a ball of acorn-flour dough. If you want you can use this right away or if you want to save it for later, you can dry it out. To dry it out, simply spread it out flat onto a cookie sheet and place it in the oven at the lowest temperature until it is completely dry, or do the same thing but instead place it outside (this takes longer). Placing it in a food dehydrator also works great. After it has dried out you’ll probably notice that it has caked together (this is due to the high fat content). You can store it as is or further process it by crushing it into a powder (by hand or food processor). This acorn flour can then be used to make pancakes, bread, or added to cereals or soup.
*Acorn flour recipe from Tactical Intelligence Blog: http://tacticalintelligence.net/blog/how-to-make-acorn-flour.htm

Alcoholic drinks: Freeze some sloes or any other berries the night before. Empty half a bottle of vodka or gin (invite some friends around to help you!) and then fill up the bottle with the frozen berries until full. Leave in a cool dark place for a week or longer (if you are able and not tempted to drink it straight way), shaking up the contents every day. When you’re ready, strain and enjoy! Dee-lic-ious.


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Nettle – Urtica Dioica

Here is the second herb that I chose for my personal herbal – stinging nettle, urtica dioica.

NETTLE (Urtica Dioica)
Plant Family: (Hamamelids)
nettle-topsParts Used:
Leaves, buds, rhizomes and roots.

Collection season: early spring for leaves and buds until they flower, seeds and roots in autumn.

Soil and Environment: Universal throughout British Isles and most of temperate world, found in forests, woods, river banks, under shrubs and bushes, wasteland – pretty much anywhere. Thrives in nitrogen-rich soil.
Propagation:
Wind-pollinated perennial.

Description:
Up to 5ft tall, with long jagged edge to shield-shape leaf that comes to point at tip. Stinging hairs along leaves and square stalks. Small, creamy-green flowers in long strands, seeds not long after flowering.Nettle 1

History:
An Anglo-Saxon sacred herb (wergulu) and used in medieval times as beer to treat rheumatism. Tibetans believe their sage and poet, Milarep (AD 10252-1135) lived on nettle soup until he turned green. Nettle tops were used as a rennet substitute in cheese-making as they turned milk sour. There are around 500 species of nettle.

Chemical constituents:
Chlorophyll, vitamins A, B complex, C, D, E and K, folic acid, minerals, bioflavinoids, seretonin precursor.

Actions and Medicinal Uses:
Reduces fatigue, improves stamina, nourishes kidneys, adrenal glands, nourishes immune, digestive, endocrine and respiratory system, increases metabolism, normalises weight, eases/prevents rheumatism and arthritis, good for skin and hair, eases lung complaints such as asthma. Galactagogue. Eases leg cramps and muscle spasms. Reduces haemorrhoids. Anti-inflammatory, alterative, astringent, haemostatic, circulatory tonic, diurectic.

Combinations:
Can be used to “boost” many other herb actions, especially when dealing with immune system.

Usage:
Tea – 2 tsps steeped (dried) or 3 tsps (fresh) in boiled water for 5 to 10 mins three times a day. Tincture is 1 tsp twice a day.

Contraindications:
None.

Spiritual Aspects:
Protection, self-respect, resiliency and flexibility. Teaches of healthy boundaries while providing deep nourishment. Good meditational tea and also cleansing/purifying bath before ritual.


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Hayfever/Seasonal Allergy tea

So as part of the coursework I have to create a hayfever tea, which is handy as it would appear that I now have hayfever for the first time ever! I created two teas, one for daytime and one for nighttime, as the daytime one contains nettle (urtica dioica) which can be a diuretic, and I didn’t want to be running to the loo all night 🙂

Daytime tea recipe:

Equal amounts of plantain (plantago lanceolota), nettle (urtic dioica), eyebright (euphrasia officianalis) and elderberries (sambuccus nigra).

Steep in one cup of boiled water for 10 – 15 minutes and then drink.  Can be sweetened with a teaspoon of local honey, which can have an homeopathic effect as it would contain pollen from the area in small doses.

Nighttime tea recipe:

Equal amounts of plantain (plantago lanceolota), elderberries (sambuccus nigra) and chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla).

Steep in one cup of boiled water for 10 – 15 minutes and then drink.  Can be sweetened with a teaspoon of local honey, which can have an homeopathic effect as it would contain pollen from the area in small doses.

P1070339 (1024x768)

Plantain is a great antihistamine, and nettle boosts the immune system. Elderberries and flowers are great for coughs and colds – I didn’t have any flowers to hand but did have some berries.  Eyebright works well for coughs as well, and can be applied as a poultice or eyewash, however, only organic and well-strained infusions should be used on eyes – if in doubt, don’t use it! Chamomile is to help give a restful sleep, which is also a good immune system booster.

As dairy products create more mucous in the body, it is best to avoid dairy during hayfever season. If you simply cannot live without, goat or sheep’s milk or cheese is better.  High fat food should also be avoided, and fresh vegetable and fruits should be eaten to boost the immune system.  Exercise gets the lymphatic system going, and helps circulation, releasing toxins, again helping your immune system.

I’ve been taking the tea for a week now, and my sinuses have cleared almost straight away. I still have a cough, and may switch the elderberries to elderflowers to see if that makes a difference for me personally.

On with anatomy and physiology homework!


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Drying rack up and running!

So, I’m using my airing cupboard as a drying rack – here in the UK, many houses also have their hot water tank in their linen cupboard, and call it an airing cupboard. Not only great for keeping dampness and a musty smell away from your linens and towels, but also great for drying herbs in a warm, dark place! In this photo I am drying stinging nettles (Urtica dioca) and plantain (Plantago lanceolata) for use in hayfever tea.

Drying rack with Nettles and Plantain(800x435)


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First forage of the year :)

So, here’s my first forage results: nettle (for hayfever tea and as a spring tonic), chickweed (spring tonic and soothing bath oil), plantain (hayfever tea) and cleavers (spring tonic and bath oil)  and the odd dandelion.  I can’t tell you how wonderful and relaxing it is to just pop down the road onto the bridleway and spend an hour in the hedgrows, listening to the birds and the wind in the trees, the little creepy crawlies on bare skin, the song of the greening filling the land 🙂

I’ll share some recipes for the above soon!

15.04.2015 nettles cleavers chickweed plantain (1024x768)