Be of good heart with hawthorn blossom tea

14/05/2015 at 5:00 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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In late spring there’s a plentiful blossom in the hedgerows that makes a wonderful, health-giving tea. Hawthorn blossom and leaves alike are good for all aspects of the heart. Rich in tannins and bioflavonoids, it’s a great alternative to green tea. But harvest it wrongly, and you may never want to touch it again.

Hawthorn fragrance is an intriguing mix of sweet and… well, not so sweet. When it’s ultra-fresh, the sweetness prevails. When it’s wilted, there’s a lingering whiff of something rank.

And yet when hawthorn has completely dried, it becomes again a delightful, drinkable tea – rather like a lightly fermented green China tea.

Simply collecting the blossoms on a dappled sunlit day is therapy in itself. I like to follow Lucinda Warner of Whispering Earth’s advice and pick miniature sprigs of young flowers surrounded by a few leaves.  You have to watch out for the thorns, but they’re easy to avoid.

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To drink hawthorn blossom fresh

A single fresh sprig, plucked straight from the tree, makes a lovely cup of tea for one. Place one fresh sprig in a cup of boiled water, and brew for a few minutes. It’s fun to drink while the sprig is still in the cup. If wished, add a squeeze of lemon and a small teaspoon of honey – delicious!

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To drink hawthorn blossom dried

Place your sprigs of hawthorn blossom complete with their leaves on a tray in a well-ventilated place to dry. Cover with paper if you need to protect your harvest. Sometimes I simply place them so they can lie in a single layer inside a large paper bag, then  leave them on a shelf in a warm and airy place. If you have a dehydrator, you can speed up the process dramatically and produce dried sprigs on a gentle setting in just a few hours.

To drink, place one to three dried sprigs in a tea filter, inside a cup of boiled water, and brew for a few minutes. Remove filter and enjoy.

Why it’s good for you

Hawthorn blossom, leaves and berries have all been long used as a tonic for the heart, helping with irregular heart beats, tiredness associated with poor heart function, and lowering of blood pressure. It’s also helpful for the whole circulatory system. And it’s been used as a tonic for the emotional heart, helping alleviate anxiety and bring calm. The feeling after drinking is as if your heart is basking in a warm, reassuring glow of wellbeing – that’s how it always feels to me.

Herbalist Nina Nissen suggests that it’s best drunk daily in small dosages over a period of 2-3 months, but it can safely be taken continuously if required.

If you are taking other medicines, check with your doctor before drinking hawthorn infusions.

Hawthorn, a member of the rose family, has been viewed as a sacred medicinal plant for millennia. It’s a plant of many dimensions, endlessly fascinating to those who take the time to hear its teachings. The blossom is a wise and beautiful addition to any tea collection – and it’s free.

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Gathering wild strawberry leaves for tea

07/05/2015 at 6:16 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Spring is an ideal time to gather fresh young wild strawberry leaves… but actually, any time of year is pretty good. This easy-going plant is in leaf all year around.

Fragaria viscera grows prolifically as ground cover in the Studio garden, on damp and partly shaded earth. It has even thrived in the gaps between paving stones. Many summers ago, my youngest used to sit naked, a Buddha baby, among the wild strawberry plants munching the tiny sweet crimson berries. I understood then that bliss is built into this little plant’s DNA.

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To make an infusion

Wild strawberry tea is a good alternative to green tea.

For one person: pick a small handful of green, healthy leaves. Wash if required. Chop roughly. Place in an infuser in a pot or mug of boiled water for three to five minutes. Remove infuser. Breathe in the fresh green aroma, and enjoy!

Alternatively, harvest larger quantities of the leaves and dry in a single layer on a tray in a warm, ventilated place. An airing cupboard or a dehydrator are both good. When crinkly-dry, store in an airtight jar in a cupboard away from light. The dried leaves are best drunk within one year. Use one teaspoon of dried strawberry leaf in an infuser per person.

I did read recently that strawberry leaves should be infused either fresh or completely dried, not in-between. Apparently there is some mild toxicity present in the in-between state.

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Health benefits

The leaves are rich in Vitamin C and also contain iron, calcium, and anti-oxidants. They are rich in tannins, giving them that ‘green tea’ dry taste in the mouth. They help to maintain a healthy digestive tract. They are traditionally used to treat chronic diarrhoea, and also joint pain. Interestingly, they also contain ellagic acid, which reputedly inhibits cancer tumours. Very rarely there may be an allergic reaction to strawberry leaves: in cases of swelling or rash, stop drinking and consult a doctor.

But for the vast majority of people, the wild strawberry is simply an easy-going and very helpful cottage garden plant, happy to grow almost anywhere, in return for some amazing culinary gifts.

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PS On Thursday 14th May there’ll be a herb morning at the Studio garden. Come and gather wild strawberry leaves and other spring herbs to make delicious, healthy infusions.

Introducing naturecraft

25/04/2015 at 12:11 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Balm, Chickweed, Dandelion, Nettle, Wild Strawberry, Blackcurrant and Lungwort make a fabulous spring tea.

Balm, Chickweed, Dandelion, Nettle, Wild Strawberry, Blackcurrant and Lungwort make a fabulous spring tea.


Nature plays a huge, much loved part in the meditation activities here in the Studio. But did you know that all year round at the Studio, I harvest from nature to make culinary dishes, herbal teas, flower and fruit cordials, natural skincare products, and a host of other lovely products?

I’ve shared some of these recipes on my blog already. In fact, they’re usually my most popular posts 🙂

But from next week onwards, I’m offering regular hands-on naturecraft sessions here in North Wiltshire. We’ll be based at the Studio, but we’ll also go out into the neighbouring countryside, so bring your wellies!

You’ll be able to make your own natural skincare products, eat yummy wild foraged dishes and drinks, and even do some creative willow weaving.

Naturecraft sessions will often be arranged at fairly short notice to catch harvests at their very best.

I hope you’ll join me soon at a naturecraft session. After all, we all need to know the difference between inedible lily of the valley and yummy wild garlic!

And of course, I’ll be including more naturecraft blog posts over the coming seasons, to share with you wherever you live.

Lemon verbena tea – the recipe

27/08/2014 at 4:58 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments
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If I had to choose one herbal tea to drink for the rest of my life, I would probably choose lemon verbena, also known as Aloysia citrodora. When you brew it strong, it’s zingy, health-enhancing liquid sherbet in a cup: a light and warming drink that lifts the spirits unlike any other. When you brew it weaker, it is a delicate, uplifting citrus-scented beverage. But there is a catch: it has to be harvested and stored with love and respect. If you find a bargain packet of 20 lemon verbena tea bags, walk on by. The aromatic oils will not be present. Without them, you are left with dried and empty leaves.

I first discovered the magic of lemon verbena when travelling with my family through Northern France, eight years ago. We stayed in a guest house with big, bare rooms and botanical books on the shelves. We arrived late, and slept soundly between crisp white cotton sheets. At breakfast the next day, the herbal tea on offer was verveine, which I knew was the French name for this popular tisane. So I asked for verveine. It arrived as a small twig of dried leaves in a pot. The fragrance was heavenly. I was already falling under its spell.

When I drank the brew, I tasted a zingy, lemony lightness. The flavour was so vibrant. It seemed extraordinary that so much could be packed into a small, dried sprig.

The next time I asked for verveine, in an Alpine resort, it had been made with a tea bag, and was a dull disappointment. I discovered then that processing destroys this herb.

Back home, I tried ordering loose leaves from herbal suppliers, but they were never as lemony as that first, fragrant brew. So I experimented with harvesting my own.

My parents had actually been growing an Aloysia citrodora in their greenhouse for years. My mother put a few leaves at the bottom of cake tins for a subtle zingy additions to her bakes. But no one was making tea with it. So I started harvesting their surplus. I made the tea with fresh leaves, four or five chopped roughly per cup. I dried many of the leaves for winter use, as the plant dies down in colder weather. And so I continued for several years.

Nowadays I still harvest from my parents’ greenhouse plant. But recently I bought a plant of my own from Foxley Road Nurseries near Malmesbury in Wiltshire, UK. Co-owner Carol Hinwood is a huge fan of lemon verbena tea, and always keeps a good stock of plants there. All summer long my new Aloysia citrodora has been sitting in my front yard, soaking up the sunshine in a large earthenware pot. It grows quickly, and has even flowered profusely with tiny, fragrant blooms. I cut a stalk at a time, put it in water indoors, and use it successively for three or four cups of tea. It is just beautiful. Before the weather gets too wintry, I will bring it into a cool garden room, to protect it from frost.

Lemon verbena blooms

Health benefits

The essential oil in lemon verbena is uplifting, de-stressing and relaxing. The plant has anti-viral and anti-fungal properties – studies have shown it to be effective against Candida albicans, or thrush. Lemon verbena is also rich in youth-promoting anti-oxidants. The meditators who come to my studio love it. The combination of meditation and lemon verbena might even be the world’s best kept beauty secret.

Lemon verbena leaves

The recipe

First, locate your nearest lemon verbena plant. You may be lucky and know someone who is already growing it. If not, herb nurseries should have young plants available.  It can’t cope with frost, so plant it in a large pot in a sunny spot, and bring it into a cool indoor space in the winter. Or grow it in a greenhouse.

Harvest the leaves by pruning the plant when the stalks are around 25 cm or longer.  Cut the stalks fairly low down with scissors or secateurs.

For fresh tea:

Roughly chop four to six leaves and place in an infuser, in a cup, preferably covered. Leave to steep for five minutes. Then strain the leaves and drink the resulting, fragrant infusion.

For dried tea:

Dry the leaves by hanging the stems upside down in a large paper bag in a warm space for a few days or weeks until completely dry – the stalks should snap when you bend them. You may put them in a jar or bag as they are, or crumple them slightly, to fit more into your jar. I generally remove the leaves from the stalks (easy to do) and just store the leaves. Other people keep the stalks. Either way seems to keep the all-important essential oils intact. Put an air-tight lid on your jar, and store in a cool, dark cupboard. When you are ready to drink the tea, take a few dried leaves, or about one teaspoon of the crumpled herb, and steep in a cup, preferably covered, for five minutes. Strain and drink!

If you are seriously into herbs, as I am, it’s worth investing in a dehydrator. I use an Excalibur that I’ve had for many years. In this case, I take the fresh leaves off the stalks, discard the stalks, and place the leaves on trays in the dehydrator. I dry at a setting of around 45ºC or 115ºF for a couple of hours or so until the leaves are crispy dry. (It’s wise to keep an eye on them. At times I have over-dried and lost some of the essential oils.) Then I place them in a jar, as before.

I believe that to make your herbal tea from nature is to connect with your own true nature. And the nature of lemon verbena is one that’s truly worth connecting with: happy, vibrant, healthy and serene… and absolutely fragrant.

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PS For a refreshing summer health drink, simply pop one or two leaves of fresh lemon verbena into a glass of cool water. The herb infuses the water with a deliciously light citrus note.

When nature’s remedy came to stay

03/03/2014 at 3:49 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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One of the best teachers I ever had was a medical herbalist called Nina Nissen. She taught me the herbalists’ belief that the plants you need tend to grow near you. For example, nettles and cleavers appear in the spring, just in time to help our bodies to flush out winter congestions and give us a multi-vitamin and mineral boost.
I don’t know about you, but I can learn something in my head… and somehow forget to apply it in real life. A mysterious wild flower started growing near my kitchen door. It had serrated leaves like ancient arrow heads. In the summer, pinkish purple flowers grew on long stalks. I kept forgetting to look it up. One day, I ordered some new medicinal plants. When they arrived, I suddenly discovered the identity of the mystery wild flower…

Among my bought herbs was a nervine: a relaxing herb that is particularly helpful for highly sensitive people who may become fearful or worried easily, and who, on balance, find it easier to stay at home. I could relate to these qualities. Although I love being with people, I find I also need long, quiet periods on my own. And I know that sometimes this stops me from doing things that would be helpful in my work. Steven, my partner, says that I am a hermit, and there is some truth in his comment. 

The plant for hermits goes by the name of Wood Betony,  or Stachys officinalis.

As I unpacked the Wood Betony plant I had ordered, I was amazed to see that it was identical to the mystery plant that grew near my kitchen door. Betony had come to me when I needed it, and had waited, patiently, for me to notice it.

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So finally, today, I do something that my herbal medicine teacher, Nina Nissen, taught me a dozen years ago. I do an intuitive tea tasting.

First, I study the plant, to notice what I notice. I can see the leaves, shaped like arrowheads or even elongated hearts. I gather a few and bring them indoors. Close up, I can see tiny curved hairs all over the plant. The tiny hairs seem to collect particles from the environment. And yet a rinse under the kitchen tap is enough to clean the leaves completely.

Betony texture

I think, not for the first time, how important it is for any sensitive soul to let go of all that they pick up from their environment. Busy places in particular can make me feel exhausted far quicker than Steven, who thrives on stimulation. If I have lots of old energetic debris still clinging to me, I have to do something about it: a rest, a cleansing bath or shower, a dip in my local pool, a session of gardening. Like Betony, I need to let it go.

I continue to follow the advice of Nina Nissen, who has written about intuitive tea tasting in her classic book, Teach Yourself Herbal Medicine. I sniff the leaves, and  breathe in an earthy, almost musky scent, with fresh green undertones.

The chopped leaves go into freshly boiled water for three to five minutes. Many herbalists suggest ten minutes or so brewing time. If you are trying to get maximum nutrients, that’s probably a good idea. However, I remember Nina saying that you only need to make contact with the plant.

When the tea is ready, I filter it and study it once more before sipping it.

Betony tea

The colour is a fresh, delicate green that begins to fade almost as I look at it. The fragrance is earthy. It makes me think of a cottage, somewhere on a damp moor, with a peat fire creating a simple, peaceful warmth.

As I drink, the soft texture of the liquid reminds me of marshmallow tea. It soothes my dry throat, and the warmth spreads throughout my core. The taste is not a ‘pretty’ taste. It is more like the taste of Mother Earth, with fresh green after-notes.

I am beginning to feel distinctly light-headed. Images of scenes from my childhood and teenage years appear in my mind, one at a time. Alongside these images, there is a tight heaviness in my heart. What would make my heart feel better? Without really thinking about it, I imagine myself as a tiny point of consciousness, able to travel at will within a symbolic version of my body. I go to a control room just behind my eyes. There, I see a mini-version of myself at a big console. She is steering my body.

“It’s no use talking to me,” says the mini-me, who looks very busy. “I have to follow the programmes I’m given. If you want to change your direction, you need to talk to the programmers.” And she directs me deeper into my brain, to the programming room.

There, I find a small team of mini-me’s behind more consoles. These ones look quite boffin-like, with big dark spectacles. I talk to one of them, who is very friendly. She’s happy to write a new programme for me. We decide the words together and she hands me the completed programme. “You can take this to the navigation room yourself if you like,” says Boffin Me, smiling.

So I carry the programme back to the navigation room, and there it is received by the navigator who pops it into her console. “It’ll overwrite the previous programme,” she explains, comfortably. Together, we watch that happen on a big screen. I feel a huge sense of satisfaction.

Gradually, I return to my normal awareness. My heart feels less tight now, although I get the impression that changing course is a slow process that can take days or weeks to complete. I will be making more Wood Betony tea, though I will probably mix a leaf or two with another fragrant favourite such as spearmint, or lemon verbena. These have healing properties of their own.

And what was the new programme that I installed? Here it is, short and sweet:

“I have the power, wisdom and confidence to choose right action, or non-action, as appropriate.”

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