When I realised that the topic of this month’s blog party was going to be herbal hugs, I will admit to feeling slightly nonplussed at first, but with some thought – and recent experience – I must admit that while there are several herbs that crop up as a real herbal hug for me, the most recent encounter I have had with a really comforting herb has been with the rose hips I went out and picked from our hedgerows a couple of weeks ago. It was a freezing cold but bright day, hard frost all around, and the rose hips themselves were covered in a lovely coating of frost and ice. The grass underfoot crunched quite appealingly as I wandered along the hedgerows, basket over one arm, muttering at my fingers which quite rapidly grew so cold that I couldn’t feel them and had to put my hands in my pockets to warm them up again. The work was a meditation on its own, and when I got back, I brewed up a huge batch of rose hip syrup which is now stored in lots of small, dark glass bottles, taking up a substantial amount of room in my fridge. I came home with around 6Ibs of rose hips after a good couple of hours of picking, and I can fully attest to the idea of picking rose hips at this time of year – the rose hips are soft and squidgy, and they smell absolutely divine on the hob! I’ve always found the scent of cooking rose hips to be really comforting and warm, especially with a stick of cinnamon added.
My rose hip syrup uses a fairly basic recipe, one that I used as a child first dabbling in the hedgerows and which I still use now.
Ingredients: 4 Ibs of rose hips
4 pints of water
2 pints of water
1 cinnamon stick
1Ib of sugar to each pint of rose hip juice and water.
Instructions: Dump the rose hips into a heavy based pan with the 4 pint lot of water, bring to the boil and mash thoroughly – this is where having rose hips that have been given a good freezing is particularly good because they mash really easily. Boil up the mixture again and simmer until it has reduced down a little, then turn off the heat and leave it overnight. The following morning, strain out the rose hips through a sieve – you can use a jelly cloth as well if you are worried about the little hairs, but I haven’t found that to be a problem, especially in rose hips this far along in the season. To the filtered rose hip liquid, add the remaining 2 pints of water and 1Ib of sugar to each pint of water, plus the cinnamon stick. You can add lemon juice as well at this point if you want to, though I didn’t think about it this time. Bring the syrup back to the boil and reduce down by about a third, simmering carefully. Don’t take your eye off it at this point! If it sticks, you’ll have a house full of smoke, and that really ISN’T that comforting! Allow the syrup to cool and bottle it in small, sterile bottles. The syrup is best kept in the fridge but if its bottled in small bottles, it should keep reasonably well in a cool, dark room. I make this into a hot drink, or a cold drink with filtered water, or it works beautifully over ice cream, sponge puddings, or just take 1tbsp every morning for a vitamin C kick to ward off the winter nasties. I’m wondering if it would go nicely in flapjacks or something like that as well. I just love how this stuff smells! It puts a delighted grin on my face every time, and I really do resemble the archetypal witch while making this stuff – very hubble bubble toil and trouble!
I’ve also had a go at making rose hip vodka as well – squish up a bunch of rose hips thoroughly in the mortar and pestle and pack them into a kilner jar with two or three heaped tablespoonfuls of sugar, then top up the whole jar with vodka and shake regularly. I’m going to leave this for another two or three days and then strain it – it will have been in the vodka for a couple of weeks by then. This will be a good vitamin C tonic, especially after being out and about in the inevitable cold snaps that I think we will see over here in the UK before spring finally graces us with her presence.
Of course, me being me, I also started off a gallon of rose hip wine. This is a lovely orange colour, made with just over 2Ibs of sugar to 6ibs of rose hips and of course 4 litres of water, boil up the rose hips in the water with whatever spices you want to add (I added a cinnamon stick and some cloves) then mash, leave to cool, strain through muslin and add the yeast – I used a basic wine yeast for dessert and fruit wines because I find this doesn’t alter the flavour of the finished wine too much. I’ve never made this particular hedgerow wine before. I predict it will be ready perhaps by Yuletide this year, so watch this space – I’ll post whether or not it is any good!
To return to the topic of herbal hugs, there are a few others that I always turn to as well. Rosemary is fantastic at cutting through a mental fog, gloomy thoughts, inability to focus and the whole ‘carrying winter on your shoulder’ kind of mentality. You don’t need much of it, but my goodness does it clear out the fog! I think this is better suited to phlegmatic and sanguine people – it probably wouldn’t suit people with a hot temper as it can really stir up the grumpies if you aren’t careful. It can make some people feel rather wired as well so use it cautiously – a tea is good, or a couple of drops of tincture.
Then of course there is Chamomile – this perhaps isn’t one of the main comforting herbs, but I have found it very useful to relieve gut deep, almost mindless terror with a deeply rooted, deeply hidden source. I’ve used it myself for this, for the panic stricken inclination to run, without being able to figure out quite what it is that is so frightening. A good strong tea of the flowers with a decent dollop of honey in, sipped slowly, is really good for soothing and helping to provide a little clarity to help a person figure out exactly what on earth is upsetting them so badly.
I’ve always found the Rose family herbs to be comforting, in particular Rose itself and Hawthorn flowers and tops. Hawthorn helps me slow down and relax and not push myself so hard – I used it when I had a torn leg muscle and was going steadily crazy with the forced inactivity. It would combine very well with Chamomile for those who need to keep moving constantly and who don’t feel safe if they are in any way incapacitated. It is particularly good for those struggling with anger based on terror.
When I was at university, one of my good friends used to add Marshmallow leaf to prescriptions to provide a thick, warm, soothing blanket – especially good for children and for those whose inner child has been traumatised and becomes frightened very easily.
I must admit though that while it is hard to pinpoint one herb in particular that I find comforting, getting outside always helps, no matter how bad I feel. Walking in nature, feeling the sun and wind on my face, even the rain and snow, watching the herbs move through the seasons, smelling them on the breeze, feeling the touch of them on my skin – these things always lift me, motivate me to get through whatever is upsetting me.