I’ve made a number of realisations recently – one of which being that I have rather lost sight of what I am doing with my herbalism, and where I am going with it! This is pretty profound for me – I grew up dabbling with herbs after begging my mother for a garden when I was 13. She gave me a small, round plot just outside the kitchen window, with a sundial in the middle of it. The garden just happened to have a few culinary herbs in it at the time, and that was pretty much the start of my obsession. Because I got interested in what those culinary herbs could do – so I swiped my mother’s copy of Culpeper.
Three years later that small round herb garden was crammed with about 40 different herbs, with a load more in seeds trays and tucked into flower beds. I could also identify another 30 or so in the wild and was adding more to my knowledge with every foray into the countryside. I did a lot of dabbling with home remedies – teas, decoctions, baths, washes, ointments (which turned out rock hard… go figure) and infused oils… you name it, the list is endless and this only covers a few of them. But then, a good few years later, I went to university to do my degree in herbal medicine. I don’t regret a single day of the time spent at university, but I’ve found, since then, that my herbalism has been so single mindedly focused on patients, tinctures, teas, patients, that I’ve rather lost sight of why I got into this delightful, messy, green business in the first place! And in losing sight of that, I’ve rather lost sight of myself, who I am and what it is that I need from life to be fulfilled. I’ve stopped thinking creatively what I can do with the plants, stopped dabbling, stopped doing anything really other than making tinctures and prescribing tinctures. I’ve realised this summer that I’ve been dashing around like a loon, and I’ve really not achieved very much at all in the grand scheme of things – other than a few nasty hangovers and a great deal of fatigue. This autumn that is going to change.
So what exactly am I going to do to learn to put technology aside for a while, and to really regain my equilibrium as a woman and as a plant person? Well, first off, I’ve recently taken up tai chi, which I now practice first thing in the morning. I’ve also decided to get up at 6am, start writing my morning pages again (thats three pages of handwritten blurb first thing in the morning – I’ve found it really helpful for getting mental clutter sorted out so I can figure out what’s what.) I’ve also started trying to get out for a daily walk again as I hadn’t realised just how much I’ve missed it until this morning, when I got out there in the very early morning sunlight, with mist billowing across the fields and a faint, chilly breeze blowing. I’ve also made the decision to switch the computer off an hour before bed and just spend my time reading, writing, puttering around, doing whatever needs to be done as long as it does not involve technology at all. And I am going to start keeping 9am – 5pm work hours, so that I have time in the evenings and the early morning to get out there and rediscover the plants themselves. I suppose for me this is going to be the really big one – I, like so many other self employed people, am an absolute sod for working stupidly long hours and chasing my own tail, when I could get everything done quite comfortably in work hours and have time over for hobbies and interests. I have no need to feel guilty if I stop work at 5pm – but its going to take some hammering to get that through my thick skull!
And just so you don’t all think this is a lot of talk and hot air – here is the recipe, or a rough guideline at least, for my latest concoction, which I am calling Hedgerow conserve!
You might remember an earlier post of mine talking about preserving tiny golden bullaces in brandy – well, I filtered off the brandy a few days ago (which tastes delicious by the way, and will taste even better for a few months keeping!) I put the brandy soaked fruit into a preserving pan with a good 500g fresh sloes, five small local crab apples for pectin, and then chucked in about 1pt of rosehip decoction. I made this using hips from the rosa rugosa bushes in the garden – its very simple to make, literally chop the hips in half, put them in a pan with the water and bring to the boil. Boil quite fiercely for a good five minutes, until you can give the berries a good mashing (you’ll need to boil them a good deal longer for dog roses, but rosa rugosa has nice soft hips, especially when they’ve been on the plant for a while!) Strain the rosehips through a jelly bag and put the resulting liquid in the pan with the fruit. Simmer gently until the whole lot starts to break down, then force it all through a colander – this is much easier than a sieve, and anyway, the idea is to get the stones out and leave as much of the fruit pulp behind as you can possibly manage. Put the resulting fruit pulp back into the pan and add the sugar – I went for about 1kg because I had about 2kg of fruit pulp. I think the proportions are approximately 1kg sugar to every 2kg fruit, and this has worked pretty well for me so far. Heat slowly until the sugar dissolves, then bring to the boil and boil to setting point – you can test this by putting a small plate into the fridge to chill, then dabbing a little bit of the liquid onto the plate and putting it back into the fridge for a few minutes. When the liquid wrinkles when you push it with your fingertip, its ready and can be put into jars ready for keeping. This got me five beautiful jars of conserve, which set really well and has a gorgeous rich, red berry flavour to it. I’m increasingly fond of sloes, and I’m going to be doing a good deal more experimentation with them over the next few weeks, as we have masses of them growing locally!