I haven’t blogged since the summer? Yup. We made it. The weather was largely good. The tent didn’t leak. The loos were almost acceptable. The water pressure didn’t make it to the upper part of the site, so washing ended up being in a bowl under the stars. It was almost romantic. There was food. There was wine. There was fruit cake. The array of colourful and fascinating skin disorders presented at the First Aid tent was instructive. The teaching was superb. I may volunteer for next year, but drink more wine.
Joolz and I are off to the Green Gathering this weekend, for me to be a volunteer first aider (all herbal, of course) and for us both to have general good fun around issues that draw us and with which we may like to become more involved. Note the cautious approach. I am primarily cautious about turning hippy, however that may look in my warped imagination. My cardigan is weeping “I am so completely NOT hippy, man, I have not one hippy gene in me”. However, I tend to be interested in the self-same issues that hippies of yore involved themselves with. And here they are represented at the Green Gathering. Awkward. To overcome embarrassing U-turns on me and hippiedom, I have used the excuse of being a herbal first-aider to smuggle myself in with Joolz, who would probably have quite liked to have been a hippy before going all “professional”, as she is now.
Green Gathering will be preceded by three days of first aid training for both of us, then induction day for me and then four days of Gathering. It used to be called the Big Green Gathering, but has probably shrunk since Joolz last went. All in all this entails 9 (nine), as in 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 days of camping. That is also something for which I cannot locate one single gene expression. However, Joolz is adept at making things very comfortable and we are taking Pilates mats and a duvet for me. I can’t sleep with my legs trussed up in a sleeping bag.
I have baked one large fruit cake, and a very large tray of nutty flapjacks as essential emergency victuals. There was talk amongst ‘friends’ about there only being vegan fare available, but I think they were trying to wind me up. I also have 6 bottles of Bin 50 in their very own little wine carrier with plastic (just don’t say anything at all) glasses. Joolz is talking about lentil soup, which, whilst I really like it, is taking on a hippy hue in the context. When I was a student at Sussex University in the mid-late 70s, there was a vegetarian restaurant on campus called “Pulse”, which, I SWEAR actually did use sawdust as a major ingredient in their recipes. There were no hippies at Sussex, we were all revolutionaries. The restaurant closed. I digress. She is also talking about fried egg rolls, so I breathe again.
The cats have, as usual, cat sitters and cat worshippers, cat adorers and cat groomers, cat feeders and cat entertainers at their beck and call during our 9 (nine) days away. I am going to be a cat in my next life.
I’ve been thinking about an ointment that can be put on wounds, cuts, scrapes, grazes or ulcers. Dedj’s Duck Poo contains arnica, so can’t go on open wounds. It works amazingly on bruises, bashes, sprains, strains and the like, though. Now, if I had an ointment or a cream that worked as well as that for open wounds, that would be a fine thing.
I tried two ideas, using the Duck Poo ratio of oil parts to aqueous parts, and making it slightly less hard, so using less beeswax. Here you see the results.
I had made a deep decoction of Achillea millefolium, a wonderful vulnerary, which smells deep, dark and delicious. This I used as the aqueous component for both, and I used organic Symphytum officinale, also an extremely effective wound-healer, in the form of infused oil in both, with organic beeswax. The ratios are roughly 30 oil, 10 aqueous, 2 beeswax. Then add whatever you think will give it a little extra something.
I had recently acquired some Shilajit capsules – Shilajit is supposed to be a wonder-healer, developed, I think, from some kind of resin. It’s difficult to get reliable information on it – the one leaflet I read (and bought!) was written by someone who made up spelling, syntax and grammar as she went along, so I didn’t even begin to trust her research. Hey ho. Anyone who knows more about this substance, please get in touch. I cracked open 15 capsules, which on my scales did not add up to even 1g, and added that to 10g Achillea, and put them in a bain marie to heat. 29g of Symphytum oil were added to 2g of beeswax, and they were also heated to melt the beeswax. The Shijalit expanded immediately in the deep decoction so the mixture became very stiff, and stuck to spoon and glass, hardening quickly. It took some stirring when the oil and beeswax were added, to break up the consistency and scrape it off the walls of the glass. When it felt as if the Shijalit had been suspended sufficiently not to ruin my coffee frother, I frothed until the mixture turned gleaming and fairly smooth. Here is the result: a wonderfully dark ointment with “bits” of Shijalit in it. Shall try it out on an unsuspecting (grown-up) child (of mine) this evening. He has a big scrape on his elbow from heroically avoiding a suicidal run-out in cricket.
The second batch was made with double the quantities of everything and 10g of Commiphora molmol (Myrrh) powder instead of the Shijalit. It looked about double the Shilajit in bulk, and I am wondering whether my scales were having a sulk when I was weighing the Shilajit. I usually put Myrrh powder on open wounds, so this may be a more efficient way of doing it. This time the powder didn’t bulk up so much in the deep decoction, but the result is still grainy. Frothing it was fairly easy as you can see here. Again, I shall experiment this evening for results.
Here you can see the finished Commiphora molmol nestling gleamingly in its tin, and if you look carefully you can see flecky bits residing within. Both these ointments will suit the “It looks so disgusting it must be doing me good” tribe, closely related to the “No pain, no gain” family.
I’ve been making creams again – a very light Rose face cream with Jojoba oil and Safflower oil; and a Rose body cream, slightly heavier with Rose Hip oil and Shea Butter, to go with it. I use an established recipe, the same one every time, just changing the aqueous content occasionally although I do usually use a Rose infusion. Lavender is also delightful.
What foxes me is that every single time I make a cream, it turns out differently. They are all lovely, and all have roughly the same weight and absorbency as the previous time, but they are decidedly different. This time the ‘heavier’ cream turned out more mousse-like and the face cream more like a lotion. How the former could be more aerated than usual, and the latter less, I don’t know. The kitchen is the same temperature, give or take a degree or two, and I have done exactly the same things as before, used exactly the same ingredients, same batches, same method, same timing. Bizarre. Good thing I am not selling them. Maybe I’m not drinking enough wine to help the process along 😉
Joolz and I went on a wonderfully windy walk in the Pentlands on Saturday: Flotterstone to Turnhouse Hill. And back, thankfully. Have never been outside in such magnificent wind. We came across this rather lovely tree in blossom. No idea what it is, but there are pine cones and very green leaf buds:
One of the loveliest things we have to do in the first year of our Herbal Medicine degree at Lincoln College is the Tree Study. As far as I can tell (and there are actually very precise instructions for completing this assignment) this involves adopting, or, rather, being adopted by, a tree which is local and medicinal; we sit with it and get to know it, its energy, its ambience, its nature, its tree personality, in all weathers, throughout the year. I’m not anthropomorphising here, trees have quite different personalities from humans, and it is not only humans and animals that have personalities. We draw it, talk to it, listen, (sorry Karl – a fellow student of mine may have apoplexy at this interpretation of the Tree Study) exchange gossip (if she is talking to me, and if I am listening), and in my case, harvest leaves, flowers and berries for teas and tinctures.
I present to you here, the most lovely Hawthorn (Crataegus oxycantha or C. monogyna):
She lives along the Waters of Leith and when I visited her this morning, the conservationists were tidying up the area and doing a bit of hand mowing with scythes. She is usually quite difficult to get to, but for a few weeks, at least, she will be more in the open. She is quite a small tree, about 10m or so, and underneath her she has Ramsons growing in the Spring and Summer, nettles and various umbelliferae (apiaceae now?) – anyway, the plant family with the flower heads that look like parasols or umbrellas, e.g. Hemlock, Sweet Cicely, etc. This particular Crataegus seems to have less frilly leaves than some of her siblings, and has never seemed to have very prominent thorns – but I have been pricked often, so I know they are there. when I looked carefully today, I found them on the end of little twiglets, not coming off the main branch or twig itself. That dark thing you can see sticking up is in fact a thorn on the very end of a twiglet, from which leaves are sprouting. You can see them sprouting at the tip, where the thorn begins, and at the base.
Crataegus is of the Rosaceae family and she is also called variously ‘English Hawthorn’, ‘Mayblossom’, ‘Whitethorn’, ‘Quickthorn’ or ‘Bread-and-Cheese’. Her biochemical constituents, which probably account for a great deal of her power, include flavonoids (incl. rutin and quercetin) oligomeric proanthocyanidins (amazing how that trips off the tongue these days!) and triterpenoid saponins. She has a regulating, soothing and tonifying effect on the heart and is used in congestive heart disease and cardiac insufficiency, cardiac arrhythmias and other ailments and dysfunctions of the heart. As a peripheral vasodilator (she opens up the arteries towards the surface of the body, thus decreasing pressure towards the inside of the body) she helps lower blood pressure. She improves the efficiency of the heart’s functioning, meaning that the heart is able to contract more strongly without much increase in effort. It’s quite complex, so consult a medical herbalist for how and whether to use her yourself. The biochemistry of this is currently doing my head in. Hence a break for the blog post.
Traditionally, Crataegus has not only been used for physical / physiological problems of the heart, but for the soothing and nurturing of the emotional heart. Our tutor Robyn made us tea of Crataegus leaves, to experience the taste, the qualities and their effect on us. This is not a practice to be trifled with. Slowing down to experience the effect of what one is ingesting has an effect in itself; we didn’t know what the tea was – that’s trust in a lecturer for you! Crataegus tea seemed thick, soothing and slowing (other teas had perked us up, physiologically and mentally). It seemed to open me up, but provide a structure at the same time. Softening, nurturing, gently stimulating. So welcome. She is supposed to be sour… I found her sweet and woody, green.
I spent half an hour or so looking, touching and sketching, taking a few photos, and then talking with the conservation volunteer who seems to esteem her greatly, too. She still has lots of berries on her – what this means about the coming weather I don’t know, but there are plenty left for the birds.
There’s more to the noble art of sweet-making than meets the eye! And fortunately, in this little saga involving the lovely Karoline and me in another Friday morning experimentation extravaganza, nothing hot or boiling met any of our eyes. Karoline turned up just at the end of a wonderful herbal med e-seminar on skin cancers, contact dermatitis and psoriasis with a large bag of frozen Sea Buckthorn, Hippophae rhamnoides. She, and Doug and Jonesie (Jonesie is the lurcher) are absolute heroes and went harvesting on the Scottish coast. This is not without difficulties. If you have ever harvested Sea Buckthorn, there are three things which will not have passed you by: firstly the thorns… long and spiteful; secondly, the squishiness of the berries – they splat as soon as touched, launching their juiciness to the four winds; thirdly, the fact that Sea Buckthorn juice is a really effective, permanent yellowy orange dye. So, if you get anywhere near enough a Sea Buckthorn branch to harvest it, you will quite likely be covered with orange goo as a thank you. However, it is worth it. The easiest way to manage Sea Buckthorn is to freeze it ASAP, and get the berries off whilst still frozen, avoiding splatting and inadvertent dyeing of favourite sweaters.
Sea Buckthorn is an amazing food, very citrusy and tart, containing at an average of 695mg per 100g fifteen times the amount of vitamin C as oranges. It also contains vitamin E, carotenoids, omega oils 3,6,7 & 9, flavenoids (including quercetin) and minerals, making it a nutritious food-medicine. Although boiling it will destroy some of the constituents, it will still taste highly distinctive. Not to say mouth-puckering.
We dutifully scraped all the berries off the branches with forks (thus avoiding the thorns), picked out most of the leaves and rinsed / washed them. Then into the jam pan with 200ml water. You will be asking how much Sea Buckthorn. We didn’t weigh… but there was a large plastic bag full of berries on branches, frozen. We brought the mixture to the boil and simmered for five minutes or so, then strained the whole lot through a muslin and a sieve to give us 732ml Sea Buckthorn juice. Very, very tart.
I cleaned the pan, and we put the juice back in with 732g golden castor sugar and brought it to the boil. The trick is to get it to the ‘soft crack’ or ‘hard crack’ temperature, then – somehow – get the liquid into these little silicon trays you see above and below. We stirred continuously (remembering a previous jam-making scenario where I turned my back for a millisecond and was rewarded with ‘caramelised plum jam’), and, hey presto, around 140 C, the mixture started going very dark, very quickly. No more bright orangey goo, this turned a glorious, rich, dark orange in, yes, a millisecond.
Getting it out of the jam pan and into the silicon trays involved a soup ladle, a pyrex jug, a lot of swearing, and no burns at all. Well, just a tiny one on my little finger which I can’t feel any more. This stuff cools and hardens very quickly indeed, so we were manhandling a rather sticky mess in no time. Notice the toothpicks in the large heart-shaped sweets. These will be lollies. There will be an easier way to do this, and I shall investigate. The washing up was easy peasy (mainly because my cleaning lady had turned up, and she did it) but also because a little hot water dissolved away all the sticky goo immediately.
The result is very yummy, very sticky (suck, do not chew if you want to keep your fillings), and may well turn up in some guise in my children’s christmas stockings. Now I’m off to sup Sea Buckthorn vodka and suck a sweet before dinner.
The subtitle for this post has to be
I’VE MADE DUCK POO!
The recipe (classified) for this wonderful preparation comes courtesy of the delightful Dedge Leibbrandt who lectured us on herbal first aid a couple of weekends ago at Lincoln College. As hinted, it is designed for bashes and bruises, sprains and strains, fractures and swellings, and combines a speedy anti-inflammatory action with bone healing and soft tissue repair, as well as being analgesic, or pain – lindering. The magic ingredients are Symphytum officinale (Comfrey), Arnica montana and Gaultheria fragrantissima (Wintergreen). The magic lies largely in Symphytum having large amounts of allantoin, the substance that occurs in the body itself wherever healing is required, Arnica having proven bruise-healing ability, and Gaultheria having very large amounts of salicilic acid, the stuff in aspirin. It smells fantastically antiseptic and medicinal, courtesy of the Gaultheria, and it would be fair to say that I am chuffed with it.
Of course, I had to tinker with the recipe as given, as if this tried and tested preparation has not already been road-tested to dynamic perfection. So I have added some emulsifying wax to the beeswax, and some glycerin, as it looked more like a cream on paper, than an ointment. Why I think that I can improve on the recipe, never having actually made it, eludes me. Next time I shall make myself do it as per instructions and it will undoubtedly be even better.
Many decades ago, Joolz’ grandfather, ‘Grandpa Flynn, the chemist’ developed and used a preparation called ‘Grandpa’s Healing Cream’ which Joolz says smells very similar to Duck Poo. However, whereas Duck Poo has the colour and consistency of, yes, duck poo, Grandpa Flynn’s Healing Cream (GFHC) was orangey – black in colour and very ointmenty. Sadly, Joolz dropped and smashed the very last jar of GFHC many, many, many years ago, and Grandpa Flynn went to his grave with the recipe, despite his son and daughter-in-law both being doctors… or maybe because… and there has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth since, as it did work extraordinarily well. The latest gnashing and wailing has obviously come from me, as I would have been MOST interested in getting my grubby little paws / brain cells on that recipe.
This year the harvest has been very good from our little plum tree. We reckon 8 or 9 kg, leaving the uppermost branches for the birds and beasts to feed upon. This means there have been lots of delicious happenings:
Plum jam: 225 ml water and 700g caster sugar to each kilo of stoned, halved plums. Simmer the plums in the water for 20 minutes until the skins start to come off. Heat the sugar in the oven in the meantime, to help prevent crystals when it hits the plums. Add sugar and stir, simmering for another 15 minutes or so until all crystals have gone and the sugar is completely and utterly dissolved. Then boil hard for 10 minutes and start testing for the ‘wrinkle effect’ when dropped onto a cold place and pushed with a spoon. Pour into sterilised jars, cool, seal and label.
Plum jam with orange and chili: add powdered, i.e. ground up in a pestle and mortar, dried orange peel. We dried our own from organic oranges – so pungent!!! Thereof 2 teaspoons, and 1/2 teaspoon very, very hot dried flaked chilies we got from the Indian grocer’s. These to each kilo of plums, in the initial shimmering stage. Yum!
Plums in vodka, folk method: fill a large Kilner jar with halved, stoned plums and press down. Fill the same jar with good quality vodka. Seal and leave for at least two weeks.
Plums in brandy: fill a large Kilner jar as before. Add one tablespoon light muscovado sugar to about 200ml Courvoisier and let the sugar dissolve. Add this to the jar, then top up to the top with straight Courvoisier. Both jars should be filled right up to level with or above the top of the plums. Leave for about 2 weeks, or longer.