To speak an obvious truth, the pandemic is affecting all our lives and most certainly not always for the best. At the same time, it would be remiss of me to suggest that my life has come to a complete standstill over the last eight months. In fact, because of so many events now being online, I am perhaps busier than ever. Whilst it was frustrating that I wasn’t able to network effectively at the Permaculture Convergence last weekend, I enjoyed many of the talks and learned a number of interesting facts, some of which I am going to impart to you in this post.
I’ve written before about eating wild food and the health benefits of herbs, so I will refrain from regurgitating what you can read elsewhere on this blog. Instead, I will give you an account of information which was new to me until last Saturday evening; and tell you about something I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to tell you for over a year.
Herbs for Health was a talk given by Helen Kearney, Jo Webster and Anne Stobart at the Permaculture Convergence. Helen is a medical herbalist, Jo is training to be one and Anne is another medical herbalist, who is the co-founder of a medicinal forest garden in Devon. As an aside, my mum started to train to become a medicinal herbalist and I am sure she would be as interested as me in taking a visit to the garden but these things will have to wait.
This herb was named after Achilles the Warrior because of his use of its leaves to stop bleeding during warfare. Crushed-up leaves can be applied as a wound dressing or placed in the nose to stop a bleed there.
The flowers are also useful for the skin. After being dried and steeped in oil, the resultant mixture creates a salve which is good for dry skin
The plant is classed as a ‘bitter’, which means that it is good for digestion – it aids the absorbtion of nutrients in the food we eat with it and it may soothe gut issues such as IBS.
Equal parts yarrow, peppermint and elderflower when dried make ‘flu’ tea. In other words, if you are under the weather this drink could perk you up. As Anne pointed out in the talk, it is important to stress that this is not an alternative to government guidance to keeping two metres apart from people outside your household, washing your hands on a regular basis and wearing a face covering. And, as Helen said, if you do not get better or your symptoms deteriorate, contact your GP.
Apart from shop-bought dandelion coffee (made from the roots of the plant), I have not yet experienced the culinary delights of this ubiquitous perennial. Autumn being the best time of year to harvest the roots, though, I think I will be digging up some soon and popping them in the dehydrator.
The leaves and flowers will have to wait till next spring. Dandelion is another bitter and thus aids the absorbtion of nutrients in the meal we are eating. The flowers are rich in lutein, which is good for our eyes and thus our vision.
Incidentally, as you may already know, vegetables in the past used to be bitterer than they are these days. So, we have lost this benefit from commerically grown vegetables, making it more important to eat those foods which still contain the bitter element.
Now, while I have written about this wild plant before, I did not know before the talk that it contains antihistamine and is therefore good for hayfever sufferers. Apparently. I suffer from hayfever and eat nettles – but would my hayfever be worse if I didn’t eat them? Certainly, this year I had expected to suffer really badly, being at home surrounded by pollen rather than in the city and several storeys up, where the pollen doesn’t seem to reach. And all things being equal the hayfever this year was tolerable. But then, as the grass was flowering all winter due to the rain, it could well be that my body had developed some resistance. The jury is out.
There are many ways of improving the microbiome in our gut, including eating fermented foods, such as homemade apple cider vinegar. This is because of the microbes it contains. However, vinegar is also a solvent and when herbs are steeped in it, their nutrients become more accessible to the body.
If you click on the title above, it will take you to Jo’s website, where she gives you recipes for making a variety of gut-improving products. In the meantime, here is a photo of the apple cider vinegar I have been making at home over the last year.
Ignoring the collection of artefacts at the back of the photo, the fancy bottle in the foreground contains the vinegar I made some months ago and next to it is some that is on the go now. The solids in the container with the teatowel over the top are the mother of vinegar. I’ve got quite a lot of the mother of vinegar now, so should anyone ever give me a bottle of wine, some of it might go in there to make a different type of vinegar.
Now, I didn’t know that ginkgo could grow in this country. Or rather I’d assumed that with such an exotic name, it must prefer warmer climes. Then again Devon is warmer than West Yorkshire, so perhaps I should not get too excited about getting one for my own forest garden.
Anyway, I have recently been suffering from tinnitus, brought on I suspect from wearing headphones whilst teaching online (I’ve stopped wearing them since the issue started and the tinnitus is subsiding). And it would appear that the leaves from this tree make a tea which helps those suffering from ringing in the ears.
Helen, Jo and Anne made it clear that it is important to bear in mind potential interactions with other medicines when using herbs and wild foods.
On that note, I would like to highlight the fact that I am not in any way qualified to say if any of the above are advisable for you personally. Something like homemade vinegar on your fish and chips should be fine (it is delicious) but wild foods can be quite powerful.