Saturday, 20 August 2011

Late summer

There's a freshness to the air when I walk Tammy in the morning now. Where previously it felt as if I was a late joiner to a day that had begun hours earlier, now the world just seems to be waking up at 6am. Berries are green but ripening on the elderflower trees and we have collected our first harvest of blackberries. The apple tree is also laden with its first crop of James Grieve. It must be approaching harvest time!

I'm watching the elderberries progress with great interest as every year I make a cordial from the berries, which is both delicious and has a reputation for fighting off winter colds. I have to be quick to beat the birds to the berries, plus there are many other human foragers in Sheffield. It is a heavily wooded city - the greenest city in the UK if not Europe - so there are always plenty of berries left for the wildlife on the more inaccessible trees. I am also doing some reading into blackberry leaves which seem to be a neglected native remedy compared to other, better known and researched herbs from Asia and America. I have been eyeing up the dramatic purple banks of willow herb - a plant that used to be timid and rarely seen until the last century when it decided to come out and rampage - with similar interest in its medicinal properties. There are so many herbs growing around us that we could make much more use of!

The rowan trees are heavily laden with jewel like red berries, so pretty against their green leaves. I have been tempted to make a rowan berry jelly but on further reading it seems to be a fiddly process! Instead I think I will harvest some of the wild apples growing in the woods and make a crab apple jelly.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

It's summer!

The garden is flourishing after surviving being buried under three feet of snow for months during the winter; I'm sure the sub zero temperatures we had month after month killed off many harmful viruses and bugs, as well as causing a super crystalisation of the snow that was extremely beautiful. I am waiting for the lavenders to flower as I ran out a few months ago and it is a vital ingredient of many of the teas I make, being a mental and physical relaxant that promotes digestive health. I also like to use it with marigold flowers in a strong infusion to treat yeast infections. I will also be harvesting the borage plants that have sprung up all over the garden - often in the most inconvenient or unexpected places, but I find them easy to accomodate as they bring in so many bees, have beautiful blue star-like flowers and when harvested can be used as a wonderful adrenal tonic. I have yet to experiment with adding the flowers to salads; maybe this year will be the first....

I managed by the skin of my teeth to collect elderflowers; we returned from holiday to find them in peak condition, but then daily rain frustrated my attempts to collect any. Finally, just as I thought they were all past their best and I would have to settle for the extra berries in a few months time, I found a dry bush on a sunny day in the Peak district where the cooler weather meant the flowers were only just emerging. I am stocked up with the dried and tinctured herb but I was very keen to make my first batch of elderflower cordial; it tastes delicious, but my recipe needs further tweaking next year.

The scent of elderflower has now left us for the year, and been replaced by the delectable perfume of linden blossom and wild honeysuckle. Linden blossom is one of my favourite herbs; it makes a delicious tea which is deeply relaxing, and also thought to benefit those with high blood pressure. I think it is a fine addition to teas taken when suffering from a cold, as it has a softening, lubricating quality to it and will help to soothe a cough or cold, especially if combined with marshmallow or mullein, elderfower, yarrow and plantain.

In January we adopted a lovely alsation-labrador cross, 4 year old dog. She has been a wonderful addition to our lives, not least because she gets me out into the woods every day, at least twice. As a result I have witnessed the gradual changes as winter gave way to early spring, succeeded in turn by late spring and early summer. Wood spurge, lesser celandine, bluebells and wild garlic - green, yellow, blue and white - are replaced by a frothy sea of fool's parsley with wood forget-me-not below. Brambles and willow herb emerge, and the unfurling of the tree canopy turns a world of open sky and monochrome tree skeletons into an intimate, green tent. Next year I intend to follow in the footsteps of so many others and keep a record of the first time I see each emerging plant.