Join in Study Group remotely…

There’s a new way to join us at Herb Hut Study Group.
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We’ve had interest from folk who just can’t make it along to the current Study Group sessions for various reasons; they live some distance away; they’ve got something else on; getting out to the Camp is difficult… etc.
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So we’ve been thinking hard about how to include everyone in our community and you’ll now be able to join us remotely.
For £5 per month, I’ll post you out samples of our Herb of the Week and you’ll be able to join in the chat on our Facebook forum – The Herb Hutters.
We will use this private space to continue discussion from our study sessions as well as share our various Plant Adventures.
You also have the option of joining us for one in-person Study Group a month if you are able.
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Message us from here, if you’re interested in this option, and we’ll get you started.
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As with the original Study Group concept, this has scope to evolve in response to participants needs and interests so please do get back to me with any suggestions or requests and we’ll see what can be done.
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Sprouting Ginger

Skeleton Trees

Emerging Bulbs

It is very definitely still Winter. The trees are still skeletons against the cold sky. Some are  swaddled in warm green Ivy, others the wispy shroud of last year’s Galium. But if you stop for a moment, you can see life emerging. Along the seemingly bare twigs, tiny buds peek out. Under sheltered hedges, bulbs poke up through the leaf litter. Soon the snowdrops will be flowering and the Beech hedge will throw off its auburn cloak to make way for the fresh green leaves of Spring.

Sprouting Ginger!

Meanwhile, in the kitchen, my winter supply of warming ginger is also forming hopeful new buds. Might it be possible to grow my own? Let’s find out…

I have a clipping from Grow Your Magazine which says…

“Plant a ginger rhizome in a pot, keep it on a warm windowsill and you’ll soon have a leafy plant. After a period of strong growth, turn out, harvest some rhizomes and chop or grate to make tea”

This seems entirely too easy but a helpful gardening forum also says yes, advising to soak the rhizome first to help remove any growth inhibitor in shop bought ginger. They also point me to this website which is a bit more realistic about my chances in a temperate climate. Google then guides me to Craftsy and a free pdf download with succinct and practical advice. So, I’m off to soak my sprouting rhizomes and find a suitable (and beautiful) pot.

Let the Ginger adventure begin…

Wishing Well

An Adventure in which Hedgerow Hippy and her Trusty Apprentice encounter a Kingdom, a Hillfort and a Magical Well…

In search of an adventure in Perth that didn’t involve a pub, we headed up to Kinnoull Hill. It started out with a disappointing (and pretty steep) gravelly path but we took the first opportunity to take a detour into the woods and discovered a beautiful maze of paths winding a bit more gently around the hill. I much prefer a leisurely zig zag than a mad march straight to the top.

Starting out in a dapply Birch Wood with loads of flowering Wood Sage along the path edges, we climbed over a few fallen Larches before coming to a clearing full of my latest obsession – grasses. This year, I’ve been really taken with the different types of grasses – amazing architectural and textural variety. If you’d told me 10 years ago that I’d find grasses even remotely interesting I’d have laughed so hard! But I suppose once the conifers have got you, a line is crossed and no botanical obsession is too weird…

When we reached the top, a hazy horizon failed to match the lookout plaque – no mountains to be seen today. But there were wise words etched into the bench – Think Global, Act Local.

think global act local

It’s a sentiment I’m familiar with but I’m less familiar with the name it is attributed to – Patrick Geddes. A quick Wiki makes me want to read more though…

We press on round the path to another look out point. This is more like what we were expecting! A dizzying view across the silvery Tay to the Kingdom of Fife .

across the Silvery Tay

I know. The picture doesn’t do it justice. We tried a few different ideas to give it a bit of perspective but, really, you just need to get yourself up that hill and see it for yourself.

En route to the Hillfort, a glimpse through the trees caught my breath… no less impressive on discovering it was in fact a carving.

bird through the trees bird carving

The real discovery was yet to come though. Whenever we’re out and about he inevitably gets the phone out and has a look for any Geocaches that are about. Kinnoull Hill is hoaching with them! So we went up to the hillfort and for the ‘virtual cache’ – photo evidence:

Hillfort

Then went looking for Lady Grey’s well. I’ve got mixed feelings about geocaching but its when it leads you to discoveries like this that I love it. Yes, it’s a plastic box with some random nick nacks in it at the base of a tree (they’re always at the base of a tree!) but while he was signing the little book to say we’ve found it, I was taking in the atmosphere of the Well. It’s a Clootie Well – a kind of wishing well where you tie a piece of cloth to a tree to heal you of some affliction or make a wish for your future.

A red neckerchief stood out immediately but the longer I stood the more and more ribbons and baubles became apparent. A long pink ribbon from someone I imagine to be a Polish immigrant.

pink ribbon

“I wish for a chance to belong and to find determination in everything I do but most of all to be happy and for others to find happiness too – K xx”

A Swan Vesta match box from someone I imagine wants to give up smoking (and chocolate, the person who tied on a Thorntons ribbon).

A poignant Marie Curie Daffodil which simply reads ‘thank you’.

I cut the ribbon off my notebook and made a wish as I tied it to the tree (not telling – if you tell, it doesn’t come true!)

And so we headed off to Boaby’s Wood (stop it!!! No, I laughed all the way there…) before the rain came on…

Shelter from the storm

My Sister and her Island Man gave me a lovely wee book called the Healing Wells of the Western Isles by Finlay MacLeod. In the intro, he discusses the role of ritual in effecting healing. Certainly, the pilgrimage to such a well and the symbolism of leaving your wish or leaving your illness behind on the cloot to be washed clean by the spirit of the well has the power to be an effective placebo. However, each  of the wells in the book has a specific range of powers to heal certain illnesses so I wonder about the plants that grow nearby. Could they leach their healing properties into the well water? What about the mineral composition of the rocks the water flows through? Indeed, the book describes some wells as having water which is ‘full of iron’ or with a ‘film resembling oil’ to be seen on the surface of the water.

On the other hand, I have been thinking alot recently about the psychology of health. The way that people respond to health and ill health is fascinating. When writing my dissertation, I also became fascinated by the nature of mental health – the way we separate the psychological from the physiological and how it wasn’t always that way. It is intriguing that many of the Wells described in book are credited with the power to heal all sorts of nervous or mental illnesses, from ‘insanity’ to dementia, toothache to deafness!

So, i’ve been pondering on the words Wishing Well. At first glance its a ‘well’ where you get water but now, thinking about it, I wonder which came first. The well that holds water or the water that makes you well?

Wild Carrot ID Day (falling in love with Galloway)

I’m pretty confident with my botanising but I have a mild (but healthy it has to be said) fear of the carrot family. I certainly never point them out when I do herb walks! What if someone got it wrong when they picked on their own?! So when I saw a course called “Confidence with Carrots” on the Galloway Wild Foods website, I thought “that’s the very thing for me!” I was fairly certain that I wasn’t the only one with mild paranoia about these plants and, sure enough, when I posted up the link on the Scottish Herbalists facebook page, there was plenty of interest.

And so, 6 months later, me and my man, along with 8 lovely Herbalists (and a little baby Herbie), headed South to Galloway. And what a stunning weekend Mark chose for us. After a dismal, cold start to May I was beginning to wonder if I should look out my thermals for the camping trip! But the weekend of the 26th brought a heatwave and the South West shone in the sun. The last time I was down this way it was 1976, I was three years old, holidaying in a caravan at Kirkcudbright – happy (if hazy) memories and another heatwave. Maybe it’s always this nice in Galloway…

After meeting at The Mill on the Fleet for introductions and cuppas, we headed off – first stop Ground Elder

03 - first plant - Ground Elder

Little baby Herbie more interested in man with shiny red camera than man with plant

We all avidly made notes and took pictures as Mark led us round the hedgerows of Gatehouse of Fleet.
04 - taking notes

His common sense advice was reassuring as was his knowledge and passion for his subject which was obviously distilled from long experience. We looked at the sometimes purple stems of Cow Parsley and made a note to compare it with the purple stems of Hemlock later. We discovered Wild Angelica, Pignut and the edible young shoots of Hogweed (a big hit of the day!)

A sober pause at the bridge, as we saw our first Hemlock Water-dropwort, leaving us all incredulous at how this seriously poisonous plant looked so edible. It looks just like celery! Even smells a bit like it. People have died from eating a meal of the roots as it even tastes good! It was one of the really lovely moments of the day for me though, as we all confessed our fears and experiences – a little bonding moment of trust…

It was great to chat and share experiences with people who know what it means and what it takes to get to know the plants and the habitats, to build confidence one season at a time, accumulating knowledge and constantly learning. This was Mark’s patch and he clearly knew it intimately and loved it well. By the time we reached the field to turn back towards town I think we had all quite fallen for Mark and for Galloway.

The midday sun had wilted us all somewhat so we decided to stop for lunch at Gatehouse before we did anything else. Water bottles refilled and shade sought, lunch was a revelation which perked us all up no end. We had been gathering edibles in the lunch basket as we went but Mark had pre-prepared some little wild-greens sushi rolls drizzled with his homemade Elderberry vinegar. I wish I’d taken a picture, they were so pretty, but they were gone so quickly! We filled up on delicious cheese and homemade bread whilst Mark prepared our next treat – young Hogweed shoots, fried in butter with Sweet Cicley seeds and Ground Elder – we’re still talking about it in our house. Some locally smoked mussels and salmon to finish and, replete, we rested in the shade.
07 - picnic lunch

If that had been the end of the day I would truly have gone home happy. But Mark had very generously offered to take us to the coast in the afternoon. So, refuelled and ready for more, we hopped into the cars and headed to the Isle of Whithorn to meet the next ‘baddie’ of the day. It was a long drive to get there but seeing a plant up close and personal is invaluable – how can you get to know it if you’ve never met it? Hemlock was indeed worryingly similar to Cow Parsley but the purple on the stem was distinctly ‘blotchy’ and the smell was rank!
08 - Hemlock - purple blotches

We also met Sea Radish (hot!) and Orache before moving on to St Ninian’s Cave. What was supposed to be a quick walk through the woods to get to the beach took much longer than anticipated as this kept happening…

Roger 27.5.12 054

Has anyone seen this before?

Roger 27.5.12 055

What’s that? What’s this?

Floras at the ready (Paul Sterry’s Collins guide and Francis Rose being the popular floras of choice) impromptu IDs were established and we were all in our element. Much excitement over the finding of another Wild Carrot – Sanicle (sorry my picture didn’t come out – too blurry) and we eventually made it to the seaside…

14 - heads down - watch yur feet

Mark’s enthusiasm for his plants was impressive before but now that he had coastal plants to play with, his giddy excitement was infectious. Sea Campion, Rock Samphire and Sea Kale all hit our taste buds with explosions of flavour – sweet, pungent, aromatic – carrot, broccoli, honey – intense, surprising and moreish!

Much consternation amongst the Herbalists as we found the flattest Hawthorn in the world with what seemed to be little satellite outposts of Blackthorn. The coastal habitat was seducing us all and we started to make plans for a full Coastal Foraging day next Spring…

Roger 27.5.12 073
Mark was still raring to go and pointed to the hillfort we were to climb next to find Scots Lovage and Wild Carrot but the Herbalists had all gone limp in the heat. I sooo wanted to see the Wild Carrot but climbing that hill in the heat would have finished me off (I was already a bit headachy) and the others still had a 3 hour drive back home ahead of them so, sadly, we decided to make our way back to the cars. But Mark had more! He showed us some Sea Holly (tasty), a sample of Giants Hogweed (another baddie) and some Monkshood he had found (the baddest baddie). One last stop to have a tantalising look at the Bay of Herbs and an impressive display of Mark’s beloved Sea Kale…

We drove back to the campsite mostly in silence, each of us digesting the feast of information, experience and sensations of the day. An occasional “those Hogweed shoots!”… then a  “My favourite bit of the Sea Kale was the flowers… no the shoots… no…” or a “Sea Campion flowers – who knew?!”…  all met with satisfied little happy nom nom noises of agreement.

Writing this now just makes my heart so happy. It was such a beautiful day. We slept well that night and headed back North in the morning, truly in love with Galloway and desperate to come back as soon as we can…

A final note to say an enormous, heartfelt thank you to Mark Williams for being such a knowledgeable, enthusiastic and generous host. As well as giving us all a memorable day, he has given me the confidence to embrace the Carrot Family and opened up a whole new world of plants. To top it all off he’s a genuinely lovely guy and a great Hedgerow companion to have.

Get yourself over to http://www.gallowaywildfoods.com/ and book yourself some time with him.

An Awesome Walk (and carnage at Sally Ardoch)

I take my hibernation quite seriously and don’t usually venture out much at this time of year. But prompted by the mild weather and by Aye Can’s Facebook campaign to Get up and Go, I went down to the woods for the first time this year. What a mess! It was carnage – trees down all over the place. I took pictures but I don’t think they capture devastation. You could almost see where the wind had funnelled through the woods toppling tree after massive tree as it went. Once they’re all cleared away there will be a distinct gap in the woodland floor. If you have a fire in the house, this would be a good time to stock up on wood (as evidently some have been doing). As well as the giant conifers, there are plenty of smaller birches and rowans down too.

It was a beautiful walk though. I stopped to watch the Roe deer grazing in the stubbly fields for a while (easing myself in gently you know?). The hedgerows are showing signs of life; Sweet Cicely poking through at the horse gate, tiny Gallium shoots at the layby and Dandelion and Plantain all over the place. Sweet Woodruff in its usual spots but it looks like last year’s growth rather than new. As I was pondering this I was disturbed by an almighty noise and looked up expecting to see geese. Instead, 5 swans, beating their powerful wings and gabbling to each other, sailed over the treetops. Awesome in every sense of the word.

Making my way through the woods, I came across this young tree which just shone at me as I passed. I’ve never seen such a metallic silver bark. Oddly, I think this means it’s a Downy Birch rather than a Silver Birch but apparently they hybridise so it could be a bit of both. I’ll keep an eye on this one I think and see what it does as it grows.

As I reached the gate at Tigh Ban I could see it was getting dark but I had heard tales of wild garlic up in Crieff (I know! It’s January!) So, as I didn’t have anything waiting for me at home except my tax return, I took a right and headed for the beach. This gave me a good opportunity to take some pictures of the Tilia down that way. They are quite different to the church ones – more upright and rounded. I’ll add them to the Tree Year file for comparison and attempt an ID at some point. Sadly I didn’t find any garlic – a few moments of excitement but it turned out to be young docks. As well as all the advice about not picking anything unless you’re sure what it is etc. I think I’ll add “don’t attempt to ID in the dark”!

I wandered down to the beach for a few moments contemplation before I headed home. It’s always different down there. Changing river levels, floods and a certain amount of excavation, constantly change the way the water flows. In an isolated but still deep pool, I saw the tell tale ripples of fish rising. I hoped they would make it out before the pool shrunk any more but as this passed through my mind a Heron took off from the far bank and circled overhead – they may make easy pickings I fear.

Turning for home, yet another sight to stir my Winter soul from hibernation: shining in the twilight sky, Jupiter and Venus! Which reminded me – apparently tonight there is a good chance of seeing the Aurora borealis. But looking to the North, the mountains were already almost hidden and in the West, more dark clouds were rising. I stopped awhile as I passed the woods on the way home to stargaze through the bare branches of the Winter trees…

A magical end to a magical walk.

[pictures hopefully to follow – computer gremlins…]

[TREE YEAR] Summer Harvest

tilia close up on dark So, I didn’t do as well as I’d hoped for the Tree Year (it didn’t help that they chopped my trees down though). I got a harvest of flowers from the trees in the park in August but I think they’re different types of tree because they are much smaller than the Church ones and they don’t seem to sprout at the base. This afternoon I have some hope that the Church trees are showing hopeful signs of regrowth though and i’ll continue to post on their progress. I have alot more to share about the wonderful properties of the Tilia flowers but, for today, with a whisky induced headache, I simply offer some pictures of a Summer harvest to look forward to…

tilia a mass of flowers

tilia close up on tree

[TREE YEAR] April

Yes I know this is now 6 months late! But last time I looked it was April. What happened to Summer? It makes me feel a bit sad to look at these pictures now. Spring had just sprung after an awful Winter, the air was warming up and I looked forward to a Summer sitting underneath my Tilia trees…

But then came May with late frosts, June with unseasonal gales and Summer ended up just dull, damp and disappointing. Now Winter looms again and I never did spend as much time as I had hoped with my trees.

I did spend much of April sitting under them though; knitting hearts for my newest niece Cara; taking time out to read a book and not a computer screen; snoozingzzz and taking pictures as the plants unfurled around me…

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APRIL’S BLUE SKIES – the unfulfilled promise of Summer 2011

 

[TREE YEAR] April's blue skies

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APPLE BLOSSOM – sadly lost to the late frosts of May – no apples

[TREE YEAR] Apple blossom

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HAWTHORN – blossom just about to burst…
[TREE YEAR] Hawthorn blossom

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MOTHER ELDER – stretching bony fingers in the warm Spring air
[TREE YEAR] Mother Elder

As for my Tilia trees? The miraculous development of a canopy, that I had imagined, didn’t happen. The lady across the road would say to me as she passed “don’t worry, they’ll come…” Something to look forward to next Spring?

Medicinal Meanders Around Muthill

With predictions of an early snowfall followed by promises of an Indian Summer, no-one knew quite what to expect of the weather for the Crieff and Strathearn Drovers’ Tryst this year. But Saturday came and went fairly dry and fingers were crossed for my walk. Sunday dawned, grey and damp but nothing wet was falling from the sky at least. My trusty backmarker and I made our way to the Crieff Visitor Centre to meet our walkers and what a lovely bunch they were!

sun on our faces - cropped and compressed

An immediate ease settled on the group and we all chatted away happily as we waited for everyone to arrive. Then off we set. We met our last two walkers in Muthill and headed through the village and out along the bug road.

As we trailed through the woods many of us started to peel off some layers and by the time we broke from the cover of the trees the sun was splitting the sky. I kid you not. It was properly, actually sunny! Along the farm track and onto the old railway track, we stopped to take pictures of the stunning views and enjoy the beautiful feel of the sun on our faces. It was still very wet underfoot but we were all well prepared for that so we hardly noticed as the group mingled back and forwards chatting and getting to know each other.

under the bridgeUnder the bridge and heading out to the river the wind got up a bit and clouds came over but it stayed dry and the cool was welcome. The only near disaster was that some of the plants we had reccied only two weeks previously had almost disappeared! My plucky apprentice (and backmarker) managed to hunt down some Yarrow though and, having nearly given up on the St John’s Wort, I gave a big cheer as we discovered some further along the track. Time was getting on and we knew there was coffee and cake waiting for us back at the Hall so we headed up for an easy trek back to the village on a quiet back road.

What a pleasant surprise we found at the Hall! The Muthill Paths and Walking Group had laid on quite a spread! Mountains of tasty rolls were devoured, tea and coffee flowed and a wonderful range of home baking was sampled by a very appreciative bunch of Medicinal Meanderers. A happy, warm glow spread round the room. Eventually, everyone made their farewells and went on their way offering compliments and thanks all round.

cups and saucers washed - compressed

Tables were cleared, cups and saucers washed and this pleasantly puggled Herbalist and her wilting backmarker headed home. It was wonderful to part of such a great festival and to have the support of the generous and lovely people from the walking group. Heartfelt thanks to everyone for making it a truly magical day.

♥ ♥ ♥

Garden V Hedgerow

I have a confession to make. I have been neglecting my Hedgerows. The cause is a wee patch of ground I have been allocated which I rather grandly call a Garden. Last year was mostly spent turfing and digging and manuring and planning but we did get a bumper crop of Salad and some lovely Red Pak Choi. I also transplanted various herbs that I had been harbouring in my pavement pots until a more suitable home could be found. My Thyme lushly declared its new home ‘most suitable thank you’ with a quite breathtaking spurt of growth and is flowering away quite happily at the moment. The Lovage is looking a bit more like itself without the confines of a pot. The Chives are brightening the place up and keeping order with their purple rows dividing up the patch. The Valerian was magnificent until the gales came and knocked it down. I left most of the stems on though as it was just coming into flower which the bees loved (I did too – a curious scent but strangely mesmerising). The other side of the path is for veggies and I’m hoping for at least a wee crop of beans, lettuce, pak choi, courgette, cabbage, radish and spring onions. I’m also making a bold attempt to raise Globe Artichokes from seed (for medicine well as food). So the veg side is all planned out but I’ve still got space in the herb bed.

A curious thing is happening though. As I flip through books and catalogues trying to decide what else to plant in my patch, I find myself pondering Wild Garlic, Elder, Hawthorn… Some Raspberries have made a surprise appearance so I’ve transplanted them over near the fence. I’ve carefully lifted the nettles from the veg patch and made them a home near the rasps. I’m lenient with the Plantain hugging the wooden boards around the beds and I’ve given the Yarrow pride of place alongside the Rosemary and the Lavender… It seems I’m making a Hedgerow in my Garden! Oh dear… it seems you can take the Herbalist out of the Hedgerow but you can’t take the Hedgerow out of the Herbalist. Time to order some more ornamental herbs perhaps and return to the Wild…

Hedgerows here I come!

The Amazing Buzzing Tree

It was one of those days. I had spent most of it at the desk doing wee bits and pieces but nothing that gave any sense of satisfaction (it all needs done and I’ll be glad it’s done when I get to the next bit – but no achievement factor today). I was restless…

So I decided to nip just down the road to get some nettles for tea. Which I did and it turns out it was a lovely evening. Much milder than I expected so I thought “och I’ll just take a wander up the circular walk and see what the nettles are like there”. And I am sooo glad I did. Never ever underestimate the power of a good walk and a bit of fresh air! It wasn’t much of a walk really – no big expedition – more of a saunter… but man did I feel good after it. I found a stone to sit on up near the golf course and reminded myself what a beautiful country I live in. The high rise views to the North tapering out Eastwards to the flatlands of Fife in the distance. Sheep to the fore, golf to the left and the Two Towers and rooftops of the village to the right.

I didn’t want to go home. Himself was working late and I had done enough work for one day. So I decided to go the long way round and pick some wild garlic too. With the added bonus of going past the Amazing Buzzing Tree. I discovered this the other day. It’s alive with Bees! If you stop and look vaguely at it, trying not to focus on any one bit in particular, you eventually become aware of them all buzzing in and out of the canopy. And the noise is immense! This is one reason why I think walking is superior to cycling. You hear things that the wind would otherwise whip away, notice colours that would blur into the green as you speed by. I don’t mind a bit of cycling but for the most part it’s a means to get me to a spot where I can dump the metal and immerse myself in the world around me more gently…