Nature’s first aid kit…

I love herbs and flowers but would never call myself an ‘expert’ on their more alternative uses and I am constantly being surprised by the things I discover they can be used for in relation to our health and well-being.

I was always told to use a dock leaf to relieve the pain of nettle stings, but reading my pal Julia Horton-Powdrill’s Wild Pembrokeshire website last week I saw her recommend this instead:

“Pick a young nettle leaf and scrunch it up tightly so that it gets juicy. It won’t sting. Then rub it onto the stings. There are one or two herbs/plants that help ease stings, but this one will always be on the spot – so to speak!”

Someone else on her website was extolling the virtue of rib leaf plantain as being wonderful for binding wounds and staunching bleeding. Natures first aid kit!

I am very keen on the soothing benefits of herbs and rosemary has a great many uses in this area. It is a common ingredient in sleep pillows and can be combined with other herbs like lavender, hops, and chamomile – they really are very restful.

Fennel is one of nine Anglo-Saxon herbs known for secret powers. In ancient days, a bunch of fennel hung over a cottage door on Midsummer’s Eve was said to prevent the effects of witchcraft. Today, if witches are not a problem, try nibbling on the herb’s seeds, as Roman women did centuries ago, to help depress the appetite!

Our dear old friend, sage – which I expect almost everyone has growing in their herb patch, could almost be called a cure all. The botanical name (Salvia officinalis) is derived from salvere, meaning ‘to be in good health’.

Sage acts as an antiseptic and soothes coughs and colds, flu, bronchitis, swollen glands, laryngitis, is a relaxant for nervous disorders, relieves headaches and expels worms! It is also very effective for the treatment of cystitis.

Sage (pictured right) has always been thought of as good for the brain, improving the memory and, in some cases, even as a cure for insanity. So there’s hope for me yet! And if that wasn’t enough… a sprig of sage in the wardrobe will keep away moths!

One of the joys of the internet is that there is so now much information about these things at our finger tips. But, as with all natural remedies, do exercise caution as concentrated doses can be immensely powerful. If you are pregnant I suggest you don’t try ANY of these ideas.

 

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Harvesting your herbs…

After all the rain we’ve had, my herbs have grown absolutely HUGE and could do with cutting back. Last week I received an email asking me how best to dry lavender… and I thought – aha, time for a blog on drying herbs!

Cutting back overgrown herbs, leaves you with masses of fragrant and tasty cuttings that are far too good to be thrown away. Drying them is a brilliant way to add flavour to your cooking outside the herb growing season and save money.

Drying herbs

Living plants contain large amounts of water – as much as seven eighths of their weight in many cases – and his has to be removed before they can be stored.

Tie bunches of leaves and flowers loosely together in bundles and hang in a clean, airy, place out of direct sun until brittle enough to break easily between your fingers. A good tip is to hold a bunch together with an elastic band rather than string, then it shrinks as the stalks dry out and stops them dropping on the floor. They usually take about a week to dry if the weather is warm enough.

However… given the summer we are ‘enjoying’ in the UK this year, you may need to use an airing cupboard, shaded greenhouse, warm attic or dry ventilated shed.

Herbs can also be dried in a domestic oven or dehydrator, but you need to keep the temperature at no more than 32ºC/90ºF for the first day or two, after which reduce to 25ºC/75ºF until the process is complete – between three and five days. Turn the material occasionally and complete one batch at a time – don’t be tempted to add fresh material as this will reduce the temperature and raise humidity. I personally prefer the hanging in bunches method AND it looks lovely in the house!

Bunching several herbs together for bouquet garnis is easier before drying then after.

Handy tip: Culinary herbs cut up small and packed in measured amounts with water in ice-cube trays lose little of their flavour when frozen and are ready for almost immediate use!

 

 

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Herby beautiful

With all the herbs growing like mad, I thought it was time we had another herby pampering session!

Rosemary Hair Tonic

Rosemary is an excellent substitute for mildly medicated shampoos, and this tonic also helps control greasy hair and enhances the shine and natural colour.

You will need: 

  • 250ml/8fl oz fresh rosemary tips
  • 1.2 litres/2 pints bottled water.
  1. Put the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer for approximately 20 minutes, then allow to cool in the pan.
  2. Strain the mixture and store it in a clean bottle. Use after shampooing your hair. 

Feverfew Complexion Milk

Feverfew grown prolifically in the garden, self-seeding all over the herb beds, and this is a welcome use for some of this over-enthusiastic plant. The milk will moisturise dry skin, help to fade blemishes and discourage blackheads.

You will need:

  • One large handful feverfew leaves
  • 300ml/½ pint milk
  1. Put the leaves and milk in a small saucepan and simmers for 20 minutes.
  2. Allow the mixture to cool in the pan then strain into a bottle.

PS. Feverfew flowers

If you haven’t got feverfew sprouting everywhere like I have… it can be cultivated easily; it is especially pretty grown in tubs and pots in the greenhouse or conservatory.

Hang bunches of flowers upside sown and leave to air dry; use as a decorative addition to flower arrangements.

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Herby hair tonics

All my herbs are growing like mad now and I hate wasting them, so am always looking for ways of
using them. These two hair treatments are lovely – it’s so nice to produce your own natural products – and they’re really easy to make!

Parsley Hair Tonic

Parsley stimulates the scalp and gets the circulation going, which aids hair growth and adds shine.

You will need:

1 large handful of parsley sprigs

2 tbsp water

1.            Place the parsley springs and water in a food processor

2.            Process until ground to a smooth purée. Apply the green lotion to the scalp, then wrap your head in a warm towel and leave for about an hour before shampooing as normal.

Lemon Verbena Hair Rinse

Add a delicious fragrance to your hair with this rinse. It will also stimulate the pores and circulation. Lemon verbena is worth growing in the Garden, if only so that you can walk past and pick a wonderful scented leaf.

You will need:

I handful of lemon verbena leaves

250ml/8fl oz boiling water

1.            Pour the boiling water over the lemon verbena leaves and leave for at least an hour.

2.            Strain the mixture and discard the leaves. Pour this rinse over your hair after conditioning.

 

 

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Salmon & Ginger Pie, with Lemon Thyme & Lime

This exceptional pie is highly recommended! The recipe uses salmon’s special flavour to the full.

Serves 4-6

You will need:

4 salmon fillets (The flat shape, not the chunky ones) weighing 800g/1¾ lb

3 tbsp walnut oil

1 tbsp lime juice

2 tsp chopped fresh lemon thyme

2 tbsp white wine

Salt and pepper

400g/14oz puff pastry

50g/2oz flaked almonds

3-4 pieces stem ginger in syrup, chopped.

  1. Place the four salmon fillets in a shallow dish. Mix the oil, lime juice, thyme, wine and pepper, and pour over the fish. Leave to marinate overnight in the refrigerator.
  2. Divide the pastry into two pieces, one slightly larger then the other, and roll out – the smaller piece should be large enough to take two of the salmon fillets and the second piece about 5cm/2in larger all round. Drain the fillets and discard the marinade.
  3. Pre-heat the oven to 190ºC/350ºF/gas 5. Place two of the fillets on the smaller piece of pastry, and season. Add the almonds and ginger and cover with the other two fillets.
  4. Season again, cover with the second piece of pastry and seal well. Brush with beaten egg and decorate with any leftover pastry. Bake for 40 minutes.

 

 

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