Recipe: summer flower cordial

24/06/2016 at 6:20 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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This delicious summer drink is prepared over two fragrant, flower-filled days. It makes approx 2.5 litres.

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Day One

Take 20 or so elderflower heads with thick stalks removed, add a handful of rose petals (I used a mix of wild roses with some fragrant garden ones), seven sprigs of lavender, two sliced lemons and two handfuls of wild or cultivated strawberries. Meanwhile, add 1.3 kg sugar to 1.8 kg just boiled water in a big bowl. Stir to dissolve, creating syrupy water.

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Add all ingredients to the bowl of syrupy water, cover with a cloth and leave for 24 hours.

Day Two

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Strain mixture through a clean muslin cloth or old clean pillow case. Squeeze well to extract the juice. Pour the fragrant cordial into bottles.

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Drink diluted with water. Delicious! Also goes well with sparkling water, tonic water or even ginger ale.

Feel free to vary the flowers and fruit according to what you can find. That’s all part of the fun.

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 an unusual 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.

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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, particularly heart pressure ones, 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 my 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.

 

How to gather and cook wild garlic

01/05/2015 at 10:50 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Garlic bud Wild garlic grows in vast, natural fields in damp woodlands in the spring. It’s just waiting for you to harvest it and if the buds are looking like this one above, the perfect time to harvest is right now. Here are some guidelines for you.

Be sure to identify it correctly

Wild garlic, or Allium ursinum, has long very pale green stems. Its leaves are arrowhead-shaped, one per stem. Its buds grow one per stem, and opens out into a loose tuft of pretty white flowers. Every part of the flower has a pungent garlicky fragrance which is best experienced by crushing a leaf lightly between your fingers. There are two toxic plants that must never be confused with wild garlic. Lily of the valley has similar leaves but purple stems, and its flowers grow in a long spray. Lord and Ladies, an arum, has different shaped leaves but grows among the wild garlic and could be scooped up by an over-hasty picker.

Only gather what you need

One spring I went out with relatives and we all went a bit crazy, picking as much garlic as we could carry. Of course it was next to impossible to process all that food, and I’m sorry to say some of the surplus ended up in the compost. It’s a plant that is best eaten fresh, so just gather what you need. If you’re intending to cook wild garlic as a side dish, 20 leaves per person makes a generous portion.

Pick the stems low to the ground

The stems have a more delicate taste and pleasant texture, so be sure to collect them as well as the green leaves. Don’t unearth the bulbs which are very small. The goodness we want is in the aerial part of the plant: the part above the ground.

Vase of garlicProcess it early

It will keep for two or three days in your kitchen, either in a loose bag in the fridge, or in water as shown here.

Eat it raw

Wash, chop roughly and add in small quantities to salads. The open flowers can also be added to salads, contributing beauty and an amazing peppery taste. Wild garlic pesto

Create a pesto

There are many recipes on the internet. My favourites don’t copy the classic basil pesto, but blend ingredients that perfectly suit garlic’s distinctive taste. This is a great example by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall. Blend 50 g of lightly toasted and cooled walnuts in a food processor with around 75 g of washed and chopped garlic leaves, 35 g parmesan cheese, finely grated zest and juice from half an unwaxed lemon and around 130 ml of olive oil. Add sea salt and black pepper to taste. Spoon into a clean empty jar, and store in the fridge. It will keep for several days, but probably won’t last that long – too yummy! You can also freeze portions for up to six months, in my experience. Mix it with pasta or spread on crisp bread.

Cook it as a spring green

Wash and roughly chop leaves and stems, and simmer for a few minutes in a little water until soft and wilted. Make sure the pan doesn’t boil dry. The flavour when cooked is remarkably mild, making it a perfect spring vegetable. You can also add the washed, chopped leaves to a casserole for the last few minutes of cooking. You can create a soup with onion, a little potato, and lots of wild garlic with seasoning and a swirl of cream. Or you can simply add a single raw garlic bud to the centre of any soup as a peppery garnish.

Garlic bouquet

Give a truly fragrant gift

Wrap some wild garlic up in some brown paper and write some simple instructions on the paper. As gifts go, it’s a definite talking point, and you may even be introducing someone to a great spring ingredient. A jar of wild garlic pesto is another popular foodie gift.

Bask in the health benefits

Wild garlic is antibacterial and antiviral, and of all the allium family it is particularly good at lowering blood pressure. So it’s helpful for your immunity and your heart.

Lemon verbena tea – the recipe

27/08/2014 at 4:58 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 15 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, finding it both peaceful and refreshing.

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 try to 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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Betony light leaves

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.

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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.”

Wabi sabi: learning to love the ‘imperfect’

28/01/2014 at 7:40 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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Damsons

Thirteen years ago…

I am living in Richmond, Surrey, in a small terraced house with my partner Steven, and our young, disabled son. At night I am dreaming of floods. I see Britain covered in sheets of silvery water. The border between meadow land and rivers becomes indeterminate. In my dreams I see people leaving the flood plains, moving higher up. Some want to go shopping, to buy up supplies. But in the background there is a quiet, wise voice, pointing out that this is not a time for shopping. 

Twelve years ago…

We have decided to move to rural Wiltshire. I notice that I absolutely do not want to live near any flood plains. I want to be on a hill. We buy a place on a hill.  We arrive on the eve of the Winter Solstice. During the following seasons, I study the countryside around us with a burgeoning sense of love. I have the dim understanding that out there, beyond our home, is the equivalent of a supermarket, if only I knew what I was looking at. There is food here, wild, unrecognised, unpackaged, unremarkable to look at… but food, nevertheless.

Damsons on tree

The present day…

Britain has been having a wet winter. It’s fair to say that the weather world-wide has become more extreme in recent years. At the foot of our hill, fields have been submerged in water for weeks now. Pilots flying over our neighbouring county have started referring to ‘Lake Somerset’.

I know a little, just a little, about the plants that grow around me. Depending on the time of year, I gather leaves, roots and berries. Elderflowers, mint and nettles become refreshing herbal teas. Marshmallow and elecampane roots are harvested for nourishing decoctions. Elderberries and damsons (pictured above) are transformed into ruby-coloured jams and cordials. Wild garlic and tender young ground elder add nutrients to casseroles, soups and salads. Small, juicy apples and plums (below) feed us for weeks from a few small trees.

The fruit my daughter and I collect bears no resemblance to the plump, perfect specimens in the nearby supermarkets. It’s as if the fruits in the shops have been photo-shopped. I wonder how many individual plums and apples are rejected by the store buyers. Ours, in comparison, are half-wild fruit: small and mottled. But they are still food, and vibrant food at that.

Plums

Recently I learnt that the Japanese have a name for what I have been learning in the English countryside: wabi sabi. This is the understanding and acceptance of the transience of things. Fruit and people age. None of us is perfectly shaped. The imperfections are to be appreciated. They add to the beauty of the whole.

Back in the nights when I dreamt of floods, my wise dream narrator told me that the floods were the sadness of people made manifest. That included myself, of course. At that time my disabled son was five years old. He had just started at mainstream school with one-to-one support. There were challenges, and we were still adjusting.

But I always felt the dreams were a comment on the wider community too. In the language of dreams, floods may signify suppressed emotions, which will find an outlet despite ourselves.

To put it another way, when a people cannot cry, the planet will cry for them. We have a legacy of not accepting ourselves – of believing that we, like the food we eat, need to be standardised to what we think is a perfect state. We cannot attain that state. I cannot. My disabled son cannot. No one can. No one should really want to. But many of us try to, or else we give up and feel disappointed at ourselves.

We don’t tend to talk about this, though people have recently begun the conversation. We get on with life, finding the funny side, suppressing the sadness. But the land becomes unbalanced, and the tears will out.  Only then does the healing begin.

Damsons

Recipe: elderberry cordial

15/09/2013 at 10:01 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 50 Comments
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Elderberries

If you’re looking for a reason to love autumn, I give you… elderberry cordial. Imagine a sublime concentration of juicy, fruity, fresh and vibrant flavours. Picture the deepest, richest ruby red colour. And did I mention that it’s backed with health benefits? It’s full of antioxidants and bioflavanoids. Rich in vitamins A, B6 and C, it also has good amounts of iron and potassium, making it a healthy drink all winter long. Okay, it contains sugar. But you do dilute it. Elderberry cordial is just beautiful.

My friend Jacqui asked me for the recipe, and I realised I don’t have one, not really. It’s flung together according to what fruits are available. I have been known to throw blackberries and plums into the mix, and any number of citrus fruits.

But this year, for the first time, I have written it down, just for Jacqui… and also for you, if you are passing a harvest-ready hedgerow any time soon.

Please note: measurements do not have to be exact.

Collect bunches of ripe elderberries (Sambucus nigra), as many as you can find. Pick them, put them in a basket, and carry them home.

At home, remove the berries from their stalks, discarding any that are past their best. The easiest way is to run a fork down the stalks. Put all the berries in a big bowl of water and swill around to remove any dust and bugs. Please note that the leaves and stems of this plant are considered toxic in the long-term, so don’t add them to your brew! A few tiny floret stems are fine, however.

Place the berries in a large pan and add just enough water to cover comfortably. Bring slowly to the boil, then simmer gently for 15 minutes. Stir from time to time.

Strain into a large bowl through a colander with a muslin cloth draped over it. Press the cloth with the back of a large spoon to get as much of the juice out as possible. Be careful about spills: this liquid stains!

Measure the amount of liquid you have and put it back in the rinsed out pan. Add half a kilo (1 lb) granulated sugar for each generous  litre  (1.5 pints) of liquid.

Heat gently until all the sugar is dissolved. While you are doing this, you might like to add the juice of  a couple of mandarins (or an orange or lemon) per litre  (1.5 pints) of liquid.

Pour the liquid into sterilized bottles (putting them through the dishwasher beforehand is fine).

Put caps on the bottles, making sure they are well sealed.

Label and put in the fridge. (You can also freeze your cordial, but make sure you use plastic bottles and leave enough room in each bottle for the juice to expand when it freezes).

Elderberry cordial

Your elderberry cordial will keep all through the winter, until early spring, in the fridge (actually, mine can keep for up to a year, in a cool cupboard).

Dilute with water to drink – a ratio of 1 juice to around 5 or 6 water depending on your taste. You can also drink it with sparkling water, or white wine, or even champagne. And it’s wonderful diluted with hot water to chase away winter chills.

There is something magical about gathering Mother Nature’s wild fruits, preserving them, and drinking them. You will find nothing so vibrant, in any shop. You’re connecting with nature, and your true nature.  The medicine is in the making. And the finished product has a healing quality all of its own.

Recipes: elderflower cordial, elderflower tea

26/05/2011 at 10:01 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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Elderflowers: fragrant and good for you

We are busy gathering elderflowers for cordial right now. The fragrant flowers are all around us in the hedgerows, and easy to collect. Each head is a frothy summer’s bowl of wellbeing.

Elderflowers have been used for centuries for their health benefits. Elderflower water is mildly astringent and has traditionally been valued for the complexion. Make your own fresh elderflower toner by steeping a head or two of the fresh flowers – remove the pungent stalks first – in half a cup of boiled water, then straining. Apply on cotton wool, or spritz on to your skin. You can use it over a couple of days if kept in the fridge.

Elderflower cordial is an uplifting summer tonic – delicious with still or sparkling water on a hot summer’s day. If you have a cold or flu or feel run down, a hot drink of it in the evening is comforting and healing. Elderflowers are diaphoretic – they help the body during a fever by inducing sweating.

The recipe: we take around 25 elderflower heads, with the stalks removed, and add them to a big bowl in which 1.3 kg of sugar have been dissolved in 1.8 litres of just boiled water. We add a couples of lemons, sliced, and a couple of oranges (or limes, for a more sharply refreshing summer drink). We mix the whole thing up, cover and leave for 24 hours.

After 24 hours, strain the liquid through a muslin cloth. It’s ok to give the cloth a good squeeze to get out more of the juices. Then decant into clean, sterile bottles (You can sterilise bottles by putting them through a dishwasher, or by gently simmering in a big pan of water.) The cordial will keep for at least a month in the fridge. I have kept it for up to six months, though it usually gets drunk long before that! You can also pour it into washed plastic bottles – leave space at the top as it will expand once frozen – and store it in the freezer.

We also gather the flowers to make herbal tea, which has all the health benefits of cordial, without the sugar. Discard the thick stalks, and leave the flower heads to dry. When dry, crumble the flower heads, discarding more stems as you spot them and place in an airtight container. This will keep for a year, until the next elderflower harvest. To make your tea, put one teaspoon of flowers in a cup of boiled water, brew for three to five minutes, then drink. You can add a slice of lemon or orange and maybe a spoonful of honey…. You can also make fresh elderflower tea by steeping some of the florets (without the thicker stalks) in hot water for around 5 minutes.

Recipe: Rosewater and Glycerin

15/11/2009 at 11:13 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 15 Comments
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This is another solution to the issue of preserving the skin’s moisture levels, and it comes to you with love and radiant skin from my mother, Shirley. Shirley has a beautiful complexion: glowing and dewy. She looks far younger than her age.  And for much of her grown up life she has used Rosewater and Glycerin. If she swore, she would swear by it.

As a young mother sailing from England to Russia in the 1960s, she carried with her a gallon of Rosewater and Glycerin. It was enough, she calculated, to last her for the duration of her husband’s two-year posting to the British Embassy. Of course, she didn’t get through half of it, and left the rest to her cook, Nadia, who no doubt enjoyed her own radiant complexion for a long time thereafter (and perhaps a few valued friends and customers did too).

Nowadays, I blend my mother’s classic recipe for her, and here it is for you.

Ingredients

1/2 cup  rosewater 1 tsp vegetable glycerin

Method

Put the ingredients in a glass bottle, shake vigorously, and let it settle. Shake before use. Use as a toner/moisturizer morning and evening.

Why it works

Glycerin is a fantastic humectant, which is why it’s valued in soaps (glycerin is actually a natural by-product of soap-making). Whereas oil locks moisture into the skin and prevents it from escaping, a humectant attracts it from the external environment, and draws it up from the internal layers (so keep drinking the water). A humectant such as glycerin is  particularly helpful during the winter months, when the central heating comes on.

Rosewater is skin-soothing, anti-inflammatory, healing and anti-bacterial, with a mood-enhancing scent.

My mother uses Rosewater and Glycerin at night on its own, after soap and water, and in the morning she adds a moisturiser with sun-screen. I love the simplicity of this approach – and it works.

PS Plenty of rest plus regular doses of meditation also help keep the skin young. Check out this easy guide.

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