Diary - 05/08
Diary - May 2008
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May 2008


Transporting the hazel stakes, prior to cutting ...

The May Workshop under way ...  (photo - Debs Cook)

Discussing the benefits of herbs while relaxing on the summer house veranda ... (photo - Debs Cook)

The foundations of the new stepped path took some hard work digging and clearing of the undergrowth. Later in the year we are hoping to build some more substantial steps with treated timber steps and gravel treads. (photo - Debs Cook)

May is always a profound month for growth and this year is no exception. We spent two weekends working on the Sanctuary with accompanying backache and general exhaustion. It was amazing seeing how everything had grown in just one week!

As well as digging the skullcap bed and across the top of the main herb garden, Chris and my father sorted out some new supports for the hops in the top bed. Chris also finished digging along the patch by the fence removing everything except the motherwort and goats rue plants which can run wild there if they like.

I still haven’t done any weeding on the top herb bed, crossing my fingers the few remaining Echinacea plants will not be completely overwhelmed by mugwort and creeping comfrey.

During the first weekend, I picked a whole basketful of ribwort plantain leaves to dry for the workshop the following Saturday. On the return journey my basket was full of burdock leaves and dandelion flowers. The latter made a dark brown syrup and the leaves were tinctured once I got home. The leaf stalks I pickled using the recipe in Non Shaw's Book "Herbalism, an illustrated guide".

I cut the burdock stalks from the leaves and tinctured the leaves, then cut the stalks into 1" pieces. They filled a pint measure, so I blanched them in boiling water and put them into a large glass jar. Then I heated a bottle of organic cider vinegar together with 2 tablespoons of sugar, a cinnamon stick and a large pinch of powdered cloves. When the mixture boiled I poured it over the burdock stalks, then sealed the jar and labelled it. I forgot to peel the stalks, but when I ate a couple after they'd been blanched, two were so tender they just melted in my mouth! Amazing, I've never eaten burdock stalks before!

When you collect dandelion flowers for syrup you have a choice, you can either twist the green bits off and just use the flower petals (as you would for wine making) or use the entire flowerhead. It doesn't really seem to matter. The colour is different - golden if you just use petals and dark brown if you leave the green bits on.

Place your flowers in a saucepan and either cover with water or measure the amount of water (2pints to 4oz flowers). Simmer the flowers in water with the saucepan lid on for about half an hour. Strain the flowers, pressing them hard to remove any excess liquid. Measure this amount of liquid. Clean the saucepan. Pour the liquid back into the saucepan and leave of the lowest heat you can for as long as it takes for you to reduce the liquid by 7/8ths. This means 2 pints reduces to 7 fluid ozs (or 2dl if you understand metric, which I don't!)

Evaporation takes a long time. Usually the liquid will reduce by about an inch down the side of the saucepan per hour depending on what heat source you have. Gas is much quicker than a rayburn. I ended up with 3 pints liquid from a 5 pint saucepan filled with flowers which I reduced for about 5 hours to 1 pint. (You are allowed to give up if you get fed up of waiting for it to evaporate down to 7floz.) I was aiming for it to reduce to 14fl oz/3/4pint but couldn’t wait any longer.

You add a pound of sugar to each 7 fl ozs and gently stir this in until it has all been absorbed/dissolved. You will need to do this back on the low heat, otherwise you will be left with sugar crystals around the bottom of the saucepan.

I added 2 pounds of sugar to my pint of reduced liquid and it filled 6 small wine bottles. (The ones which provide a single wine glass full of wine.)

The dandelion syrup is a substitute for honey or maple syrup - so for pouring over ice cream or pancakes or fruit salad or porridge. You could use it as a sweetener in drinks, but I would want to add quite a bit of lemon juice before I made it into a drink by itself. It's very sweet!!

I also gathered some cleavers from amongst the nettle beds to tincture.

During the weekend of the workshop, we were granted the most amazing summer weather –gloriously bright and hot! As we arrived at the farm on the Friday evening, we followed the path of a thunder storm which was just retreating as we got out of the car. I needed to pick some nettles to make an overnight maceration. It was the first time I had ever harvested in the dark to the accompaniment of lightning forks and thunder flashes! It was really quite amazing!

The nettle maceration was amazing too. Simply covering the nettles with cold water in a clean plastic washing up bowl produced a rust-red liquid which tasted “green and healthy”! Everyone who tried it found it very refreshing on a hot day.

We made the double infused ribwort plantain oil which came out a golden colour, very unlike the dark green/almost black of the comfrey, yarrow and horse chestnut leaf oil I made the following morning or the violet leaf oil I made on the Monday evening at home from a mixture of field and garden violet leaves.

We also tried some cleaver and lemon balm tea and ground ivy tea, which I’d been wanting to try for a long time. It was a very subtle flavour that I could really enjoy. The hot chocolate mint tea was another favourite.

Debs Cook’s husband, Simon, did a sterling job with Chris digging out the foundations for a new stepped path from the bottom bed up to the top herb bed. Now Chris has to sort out some tanalized timbers for the steps and think about how we cover the steps to make them safe.

Before coming home, I harvested some more burdock leaves to dry in the summerhouse, alongside hawthorn blossom and some red clover which suddenly burst into blossom. The bugle and ground ivy were in deep profusion, but although I took back a bundle to tincture of the ground ivy, the bugle was left to colour the Sanctuary for another day.

Thanks to Debs Cook for her pictures of the Workshop.

Apple mint Basket of dandelion flowers Bergamot Cleavers amongst the nettles Cow parsley Cow parsley in bloom
Cowslips Crampbark Dandelion clock Dandelion flower essence Flowering cartmint Ground ivy
Hawthorn flowers Ladies mantle Marjoram May blossom flower essence Narcissi in bloom Pink campion
Pouring plantain oil Red clover leaf Ribwort and plantain flowers Rosemary in flower Sea holly Self seeded woad
St John's wort Solomon's seal flowers Spearmint Sweet woodruff Tansy Vervain

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