Collective Change

With the rise of the technological world and many of us living in built up areas, today’s children are lacking a connection to the natural plant world. Their experience with the natural world may be fleeting and tame, not wild and connected. Knowledge that once was handed down from generation to generation, is now simply being lost and forgotten. We have perhaps been led to overlook the riches of nature, which inevitably has led to our innate connection to the land being devastatingly broken.

I strongly believe that plants have many answers and the closer we bring ourselves back to nature and trust our intuition the more we will have a sense of belonging.  

Our complex human bodies have no ability to thrive without plants. We are indebted to them. They are the air purifiers, the water regulators, the carbon dioxide transformers, the oxygenators, the bearers of the nutrients needed to sustain life. They are non-negotiable for our human experience. They are our lifeline. 

I can not think of a better way as a mother, to reclaim some of this basic herbal knowledge and to teach my children how to identify and forage for common medicinal plants that we can use for healing. 

Gathering herbs for free can be the beginning of a valuable and therapeutic relationship with the wild.

Basic Foraging Guidelines

It is fundamental to ensure you have the right plant. Use a good guide according to your regional area.

  • I highly recommend two books to get you started that can help identify common plants, their medicinal properties and DIY recipes. 
  1. The Big Book of Backyard Medicine by Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal 
  2.  Plants for the People by Erin Lovell Verinder.
  • When collecting, try to choose a place where the plant you are harvesting is abundant and vibrant.  Woods, fields, seashore and minor roads are best. Avoid areas where there is a chance that chemical spray was used or any contamination.
  • Harvest herbs when they are at their lushest. Its best to pick on a dry day, after the morning dew has burned off. For St John’s Wort the energy of the sun is important, so wait for a hot day and collect while the sun is high in the sky, ideally before noon. 
  • Communicate with the plants, ask permission and give thanks. I feel this is such a forgotten part of the experience and something that is important for children to learn. Giving gratitude to plants, is based on the premise that everything is alive, and that we are all interconnected. It is a two-way street in which the plant and the person achieve mutual understanding, each communicating in their own language.
  • Harvest only what you need and will use. Leave some of the plant so that it will grow back.
  • Aim to harvest the top third of the plant, don’t take the whole plant or roots if it can be avoided. 

Dandelion Root Tea

 Mildly bitter and full of nutrients dandelion root tea is a wonderful way to use food as your medicine. When eaten regularly, the nourishing roots can support digestion, liver health, and a diverse gut microbiome. 

When you eat the roots in the autumn you are also getting lots of inulin, a prebiotic that feeds healthy gut flora. In the spring the roots have a stronger, bitter flavour. Some herbalists prefer to collect it specifically during this time as it better supports liver health. 

To collect the roots you will need to take a digging fork and push it into the soil two or three inches away from the crown of the dandelion and then pull back on the fork, using the fork as a lever to lift the dandelion, root and all from the soil. 

Once collected, you will need to scrub and wash them, then chop them into small uniform 1/4 inch slices. Once this has been done I then lay them on a towel in a dry, cool area until they’re brittle. The next day I will roast them by adding the roots to a pan over medium-high heat and stir until they become golden brown and fragrant. 

Dandelion root tea is a nourishing diuretic tea that supports liver function and helps your body detoxify. To make dandelion root tea, break the dandelion root in a mortar until it is chunky, and the size of lentils. Dandelion root tea is a decoction rather than an infusion. 

Add 2 cups of water, to 2 tsp of herb. 

Simmer for 15 minutes.

Shut off the heat.

Allow the mixture to settle in the pan. Strain and pour into a cup.

If you make extra, store the remainder in the fridge and consume within 24 hours.

St John’s Wort Sun Infused Oil Recipe

This bright perennial begins to flower in June in the UK, but earlier in warmer parts of Europe. When used topically as an oil or in a cream it has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effect. It helps to relieve sunburn, mild burns and bruises, as well as a treatment for nerve pain. 

Ingredients: 

50g fresh flowering tops of St John’s wort (picking off insects or damaged parts), left in the sun for a day to dry slightly

300ml almond oil

Vitamin E oil

Press the flowering tops into a jar and pour over the almond oil. Place the jar on a sunny windowsill and every two or three days give the mixture a gentle shake. Add more almond oil if the level needs topping up. The plant material should stay covered all the time otherwise it will go mouldy.  After 4 weeks the oils should have taken on the hue of caramel or a light amber. Strain through a muslin-lined funnel into a sterilised bottle. Leave behind any sediment. Store in a cool place and use within 3 months. 

Apply sparingly several times a day for skin complaints, such as shingles but not on open wounds. Backaches, sore muscles, sciatica, arthritic joints, sprains, and surgical scars. 

Caution – not to be used during pregnancy or lactation. Avoid excessive sunlight due to photosensitivity. Contraindications with pharmaceutical drugs include the pill and antidepressants so please speak to your doctor. 

Immune Tonic

Cleavers

You might remember this one from your childhood. This roadside plant clambers all over hedges and other plants. It is covered in small hooks that help it attach to anything it touches. Cleaver is a wonderfully gentle lymphatic cleanser. It soothes irritated membranes, soothes swollen glands, of the urinary tract and is useful for many mouth and throat problems such as tonsillitis.  

February and into Spring is a good time to start foraging.

Elderberries

A shrub with fragrant clusters of creamy white flowers in summer, followed by black berries in the Autumn. The berries are well known for reducing the length and severity of colds and flu, and can be used to help prevent infection. Do not eat raw elderberries, and speak to your doctor if you have an autoimmune disease. 

This power packed combination of immune tonics and lymphatic loving herbals work to shift an active flu and support an overburdened immune system. Brew strongly, and be sure to sip frequently to alleviate symptoms. 

 

Ingredients:

3 parts cleavers leaf, stem, flowers 

2 parts echinacea root/leaf/flowers 

2 parts elderflower

1 part cinnamon chips

1 part elderberries, 1 part orange peel (fresh) 

1/4 part lemon balm

Make as a tea or infusion (infuse for 3-4 hours or overnight and then strain) gently warm on stove.

Nettle Frittata

Few plants boast the nutrient content of the nettle. They can be consumed in large quantities like spinach or kale. They must be cooked or dried prior to eating to eliminate the stinging hairs. 

You want to harvest the leaves before the plant flowers or goes to seed. Make sure you wear long sleeves and use gloves, as well as scissors to chop the top few inches of fresh growth.  

Caution – for some, nettle can be a strong diuretic. Use with caution for those with dry constitutions. 

 

Ingredients:

6 tbsp olive oil

7 large spring onions

3 garlic cloves

1 tsp dried rosemary

1 tsp dried thyme

1 tsp dried mustard powder

6 eggs

salt and pepper

1 tsp baking powder

3 cups finely chopped nettle leaves

1 cup finely chopped dill leaves

1 1/2 cups finely chopped parsley

Heat the frying pan with some of the oil and sauté the spring onion and chopped garlic until soft. Add the dried herbs and mustard, sauté for 1 minute. Mix the eggs, salt and baking powder in a medium bowl, whisk until well combined and a bit frothy. 

Gently stir in the nettles, dill, parsley, and cooked spring onions into the egg mixture. Heat the remaining oil and pour the egg mixture so that it is spread evenly into the frying pan. Cook on a medium heat, cover for 8-10 minutes or until the bottom is set.  

Uncover the skillet and place it under the grill for 1-2 minutes until it’s cooked through. 

 Written by Natasha.