You’d think that, being a student of herbal medicine, I’d have regular opportunities to be out enjoying nature; recharging the batteries and learning at the same time. Well, you’d be wrong. Once term starts that it! Research proposals to be handed in, clinical medicine to revise, patient notes to write up… it’s all about the books. A couple of weeks ago, however, after a particularly long and intense day in clinic, our tutor gave us the best “homework” ever. He told us to go home, make brief notes on the cases seen today and then go for a walk and “remind yourself why you want to be a Herbalist”. So I took him at his word.
It was a bright clear day thankfully but, to be honest, I’d have gone out in the rain. First stop was the Woodruff patch. Still there – nobody’s trampled it up, dug it over or dumped an old fridge on it. I picked a few sprigs to take home (just because I love that sweet grassy smell it gives off as it dries) and took the path along the southern edge of the woods, as it was chilly in the shade. I’ve been walking these woods for over eight years now but there’s always something different about them. I suppose that makes sense because it’s always a different combination of season, time of day, weather, mood… Plenty of squirrels about today and a few jittery pigeons (not surprising they were on edge – I could hear shotguns in the distance).
I finally reached the old railway track and headed for the Rosehips as I wanted to make some Rosehip syrup. I wasn’t sure if they’d still be good or if the wildlife and the frosts would have got them but there were plenty of healthy, bright red patches to choose from.
The haws were super abundant too and all the more striking as many of the bushes had lost their leaves. These were also on my shopping list as I wanted to make some Hawthorn vinegar. The smaller redder ones were easier to pick than the fatter, more purpley ones which had bigger thorns. The deal was, I could pick until I got pricked then I had to move on. It only happened twice though and from the big dark ones – they’re not so friendly.
When I felt I had enough, I headed further along the track to check on the Mullein. The yellow spires of Summer were all brown and dry but a gust of wind revealed a rattle which told me that they were still full of seed. I shook a few into the bag to scatter on my “wildings” pot at home. I probably should be more organised about sowing seeds but we’ll see if they come up. The first year rosettes were also doing well, all snug and woolly, settling in for Winter. I’m really looking forward to seeing them come up next year; it’s been great to see them growing from the start.
One last harvest before heading home; raspberry leaves. I had been wondering, at the end of Summer, which were the right leaves to pick. After the berries, the plant puts up new canes and I didn’t know whether to pick the leaves from these or from the canes which had just fruited. None of the books were clear on this. Anyway, the old canes had died back now so I started picking the new leaves. Then the answer made itself quite clear. I realised that, by picking the leaves from next year’s fruiting canes, I was robbing the plant of the ability to make the energy required to produce the fruit. Better then, to harvest the leaves after they’ve done their job for the plant. Also, as a friend had pointed out, the tannins will be higher in the older leaf and that’s what gives it astringency.
The wind had dropped and the sun was warm on my face. I felt rested, grounded, connected. For me, it’s always been about the plants; that’s where my interest in Herbalism comes from. It’s funny; I don’t really know why I want to be a Herbalist. But I know that I do. It took me long enough to find my path; 15 years of doing a bit of this, a bit of that; and now that I’m here I just know that it’s right. It’s something I want to do every day. From the plant, to the medicine, to the patient, there’s a creativity, a connection, that stimulates and motivates me. Who knows where my path will take me. There are so many possibilities and ideas to explore. But one thing I absolutely know now – wherever it takes me, I’ll always be a Herbalist at heart.