Regreening the Soul

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.

Through the gap in the fence at 7.30am this morning...

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!

Across the fields...

Hedgerow Conserve

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!

6 thoughts on “Regreening the Soul

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  1. A most interesting blog some of which I can associate with, as being self employed.
    Work can get very repetitive and boring, and I become a bit like a robot, on a mission.
    It is difficult to remain on the ball with your job, and other interests try and interrupt your train of thought.
    The worst part about being self employed is, one minute you have so much work and are busy, and suddenly there is no work, and you are kicking your heels.,
    However as one’s own boss at least you are in control, well most of the time.

    1. I fully agree! The problem I have is that herbalism was a hobby long before it became a job, and I’m very wary of allowing the work side of things to make me forget just what it is that I love about herbalism as a whole!

  2. Hey Ali!
    Well done on your resolution, it sounds like a wonderful way to get back to your herbal roots. Turning the computer off an hour before bed is advice I should certainly heed. My head is always much clearer when I don’t do computer stuff last thing… unlike tonight!
    The conserve sounds great. It’s a good idea putting it though a colander rather than a sieve to get more of the pulp, thanks for the tip.
    I’ll look forward to reading more about your re-greening adventures!

  3. You have made me wish, yet again, that I could taste a sloe! lol! that is a good idea about the colander, and can be used with many other things though:) I wholeheartedly think you have came up with a wonderful plan for finding your herbal roots! xxx

    1. They’re quite tasty, actually! Need quite a bit of sugar to make them pleasant flavoured though as they are very tart without it! I think its not so much a case of finding my herbal roots as it is a case of rediscovering them – I got so caught up in tinctures and patients that I forgot why I got into this trade to start off with!! 😀

  4. I understand. When I first started with herbs, I just adored the different ways to add/use them with food, teas, crafts, oils and salves.. and then learned to tincture. It wasn’t long until friends and family would come to me with this and that and if I had ideas on herbal helpers, I would tend to offer teas and foods but found so many times people won’t take the time to nourish themselves by taking the time to actually use teas and such so was giving out more and more of just the tinctures as they would actually do that. so can understand how you got caught up in a formal setting… yes rediscovering is a better way of wording it. 🙂

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