Spring sits on the cusp of Summer and with it the Wind..... Im sitting in my conservatory normally a place of sanctuary but currently tensing with every flap of the Polytunnel!...its making the Cat crazy too.... Wind sends everything up in the air -even us! I had chance to blow all that away though by being fortunate to visit the guys at Karuna for a land blessing it was a fabulous day in great company and really helped to blow the cobwebs away and get immersed with natures awakening.
Meanwhile Annie and myself have been up at the allotment preparing the ground to implement our Celtic medicine wheel plan. We were most excited when in pulling back the black plastic we were confronted with not only less Cooch than we were expecting but also a very healthy crop of Dandelion....now as much as we love them, they had to go but of course it became a harvest not a weeding session! What also by chance happened was something i had been meaning to try for ages....some of the plants had become blanched, you can see in the pictures they are much lighter than others. In a taste test they went down extremely well, they had lost a lot of the bitterness and almost had a sweet tinge to them. You can blanch Dandelion leave much the same way as you would with Endive or when you force Rhubarb.....it really is a versatile plant, i have had the first bright yellow Dandelion pop up in my garden too this week and they really are a fabulous addition to the diet, with 2.7g protein, 45 calories, 3.1mg iron, 14000iu vitamin A, 35mg vitamin C and 187mg calcium per 100g.
Ive also been able to make my first salad of the year entirely from plants in the garden as well as having a go at making Tansy pudding. Tansy - Tanacetum Valgare is used as an insect repellant and to get rid of parasites and worms. I is aromatic, bitter and an emmenagogue. It also contains vitamin C and citric acid but it should not be used in pregnancy as it is also a stimulant, stimulants can work on specific pars of the body such as Pepper works on the digestive system and Caffeine works on your central nervous system so Tansy works on the endocrine glands and increases the secretion of hormones, i is particularly effective on the thyroid and thymus glands. If you are considering using Tansy in a herbal sense it should be done after much research and using a light hand.
The recipe i used was taken from The ladies own cook book and Dinner table directory 1844 and contained bread crumbs, milk, butter, eggs, brandy, Tansy and Spinach juice. It was cooked up on he hob and then baked in the oven and sprinkled with sugar to serve. I was fully expecting it to taste disgusting as i hate Brandy and the Tansy is rather pungent. However i was surprised to find it actually was not unpleasant! It was like a bread and butter pudding and not having a massively sweet tooth i found that aspect pleasing too. The alcohol had of course cooked off and he Tansy actually gave a rather nice back note - i probably in hind sight could have added more Tansy but i was a bit wary as it is so strong! I also thought it interesting that the pudding was traditionally eaten at easter with it having a hormonal effect on the body at the same time as the Sap is also rising!
The term Spring tonic is a broad reaching term, which has many meanings and can be described in different
ways. In basic terms it is a drink of herbal and/or newly emerging early Spring leafy green plants. This can be
a simple tea of Dandelion to a more complex tonic wine. It is generally described as a drink which builds up your
energy, flushes out your system and is good for you. Mat Wood in the practice of traditional western medicine
describes It as a herb or food that acts on he body in a slow nutrive fashion to build up he substance of the body
Nettle is a good example of an all round good tonic as it contains many nutrients,vitamins and minerals including
Iron and Sillica.
Matt Wood also goes on to state how tonics can be split into groups in order to identify which
would be best suited to an individuals needs - Bitter tonics were used to strengthen and nourish the liver and
metabolism (alteratives mostly), Sweet tonics acted primarily on the immune system and adrenals
(adaptogens).Oily tonics supplied fixed oils and essential fatty acids to tissues to ensure hydration, cell
permeability and to prevent atrophy.Mineral tonics provide essential minerals,and sour tonics are rich in
bioflavinoids. Protein tonics are rich in protein.
In days gone by no foods were imported so so people diet was quite limited, the meat people ate either
had to be caught fresh or salted for preservation. Vegetables eaten through Winter would be generally root
vegetables such as Potatoes,Turnip, Swede, Carrots and some green leaves such as Cabbage and Kale.
They would possibly have some left over grain, stored Apples and Fruit. Come Spring people would have been
malnourished and sluggish.Spring tonics formed an important part of restoring the strength and vitality necessary
for the onset of hard work in he fields. People would choose plants growing in abundance locally to themselves.
We live in a very different environment today with a completely different food system but it could be argued that
due to the poor quality of food available to us due to inefficient farming methods, pesticides and insecticides,
bad animal practice/meat production and the rise of junk food and ready meals not to mention the fact that we
generally have a heaver diet through the Winter, that the consideration of harvesting greens for Spring tonics
is as of much benefit today as they help to shift toxins in sluggish cells and introduce vitamins and
minerals to revitalize.
NATURES SPRING TONICS - Matilda Peters Home Economics dept University of Nebraska–Lincoln
During my research i came across this report from 1926 which was interesting for a number of reasons,
Matilda talks about how at that time people would take a Spring medicine treatment of Sulphur, molasses and
Sassafras to thin the blood, she mentions how it was prevalent in drug stores a the time to sell such remedies
and how it was her own feeling the it was not something we innately need. Indeed today in commercial terms
the 'detox' is big business, it is inherent for humans to feel sluggish when coming out of Winter and indeed in
today's times i would argue it is more common for people to feel this throughout the year which is in the most
part as Matilda quite rightly points out is that an adequate diet makes Spring medicines unnecessary. Personally
however i feel this depends on if getting an adequate diet at all times of year is possible and suggest that Spring
tonics are part of this not separate as they can be made from the abundant plants around us.
Interestingly though during 1926 this may well have been possible as there were many modern farm homes well
supplied with dairy,orchards and gardens, they indeed did not have much difference between their Summer and
Winter diets.This was due also to the practice of canning fruits and veg and modern transportation facilities.
Matilda points out that where dietary practices are followed there is then an absence of that tired feeling at the
end of Winter.She also states that with the coming of warm weather various green became available and were
eagerly consumed - Wild Onions, Sorrel, Dandelions and Lambs quarters were promptly added o the food
supply.Cows became fresh and milk was available, Hens added worms, insects and tender grass to their diets and
so began laying eggs. The gardens would begin to provide fresh vegetables and the first wild fruits of the season
would be sought and thus the tired feeling would disappear around that time. Matilda Peters advice is to eat raw
and also practice canning and planning for the garden, they had what they called a fruit and vegetable budget
which was a plan for the proper amounts of fruits and vegetables to be grown, canned and stored for use during
he 8 non growing months of the year in order to provide for the health of the family. As she also points out it
also avoids over canning one thin to insure a pleasing variety over Winter!
Of course we do have extended growing seasons today and seemingly at that point in history they possible did
have less of a need for Spring tonics that previous generations needed and indeed possibly our society today
needs today in our food chain but the points about an adequate diet and for me along with appropriate available
supplements from other plants throughout the year is the optimum goal for health and well being. I like the idea
of the fruit and vegetable budget though and think its an idea that could be revived and applied for today's
households particularly in an urban setting looking to be more self sufficient.....Permaculture your diet!!!!
PLANTS TO USE FOR A SPRING TONIC
There are a number of plants you can use but you must consider each one carefully
remembering its effects vary on an individual as a general guide you can see below traditional uses for common
Cells – Burdock Blood – Nettles, Ginger, Rosemary
Lymphatics – Cleavers
Kidneys – Birch, Dandelion leaf,parsley or celery
Liver – Dandelion root, Ginger, Milk Thistle, Turmeric
Bowel – Dock, Linseed
Lungs – Ground ivy, Plantain, Thyme
Skin - Nettles, red clover, Burdock
There are many herbs and native plants that are of benefit as a spring tonic, Strawberry leaf was one i have
never come across before which is high in vitamin C.I even came across mention of a lady in America whos
neighbour had been using Violet leaves as a Spring Tonic. As part of my Herbal apprenticeship i have made up
some Spring Tonics being mindful of trying to use plants in abundance around me. I have also been having an
experiment to make a herbal tonic that will be of particular benefit to myself. So i collected some plants that i
had available in the garden which according to my research can be beneficial as Tonics,the plants i have been
looking at are:
Dandelion Leaf and root- Diuretic, cholagogue, anti-rheumatic,laxative, Tonic The leaf is light and refreshing
(i used blanched leaves) It didn't taste bitter and had almost a sweet tinge. The root had a mild earthy flavour
not dissimilar to root vegetable cooking water.
Plantain- Expectorant, soothes inflamed and sore membranes, astringent This was rather bland tasting with no
smell, it did have a pleasing bright yellow/green colour.
Wormwood- Bitter, tonic, carminative, anthelmintic, anti-inflammatory Wow! Pungent with a capital P! strong tasting and very drying on the mouth and tongue.
Rosemary- Circulatory, nervine stimulant, toning calming
effect on digestion, muscular pain Pungent yet floral with a woody note, it felt warming and refreshing.
Thyme- Bitter principle, carminative, anti-microbial, anti-spasmodic, expectorant, astringent, anthelminitic
It had an earthy woody taste, like a base flavour yet felt nourishing and refreshing.
Marjoram- Stimulant, expectorant, emmenagogue, rebefacient Also an earthy woody taste that yet refreshes
Nettle - Astringent, diuretic, tonic A green, light earthy taste feels uplifting and nourishing!
Sage- Carminative, spasmolytic,antiseptic, astringent, anti - hidrotic Very aromatic smell another woody one, it
has a very plesent flavour not overpowering as i was expecting
Ginger - Stimulant, carminative, rubefacient, diaphoretic Strong, pungent spicy flavour warming on the
tongue and stomach
Strawberry leaf- Diuretic, astringent, tonic, anti-bacterial,antifungal, anti-oxidant Mild taste, fresh put me
in mind of Cleavers
Lemon balm- Carminative, anti-spasmodic,anti- depressive, diaphoretic, hypotensive Strong scent with a very
strong lemon taste akin to Citronella.
So i had a mix, a taste and a ponder and this is the one i came up with-
MY SPRING TONIC RECIPE
6 Nettle tops
3 sprigs of Thyme
3 Dandelion leaves
3 Strawberry leaves
Small piece of Ginger
Infuse in a cup of just boiled water for 10 minutes, strain and enjoy!
It also may be an interestin experiment to try herbal waters in cooking, some of he woody herbs in particular may work well here...ill put it on the to do list!
On the subject of also including looking at food as a Spring tonic i came across this recipe from 18th
France Pot herb pie - A Spring Tonic
1 pound of mixed greens(dandelions would be good, as well)
1 pint bechamel (white sauce)
salt and pepper
zeste icing sugar and rose water--a sprinkle of each
Remove stems from greens. Boil in salted water for5 minutes. Drain, chop and squeeze dry.
Make bechamel by stirring milk into a roux of butter and flour--grate in nutmeg and lemon zeste.
Simmer until thick. Beat eggs and stir in greens. Add to bechamel.
Pour into pie shell of fine pastry.
Sprinkle with a dusting of powdered sugar and a drizzle of rose water.
Bake in a moderate oven. Remove from oven and allow to set for 10 minutes before slicing to serve.
Recipe adapted from A Taste of History, the Origins of Québec's Gastronomy. Marc Lafrance & Yvon Desloges,
Les Éditions de la Chenelière inc., Québec, 1989, p. 19
Holistic Herbal by David Hoffman
Watching the video back i notice there are also plants i neglected to mention...i know gardeners love a good plant hunt!....so if you spot any didnt talk about when watching please add them in the comments section below or on the comments section on youtube.
One of our interests as part of the Permaculture group is looking into sustainable locally sourced staple crops, they make up an important part of our diets and so to be self sufficient in these crops would be a massive leap in terms of food stability. We have of course Potatoes........
One of our interests as part of the Permaculture group is looking into sustainable locally sourced staple crops, they make up an important part of our diets and so to be self sufficient in these crops would be a massive leap in terms of food stability. We have of course Potatoes here in he UK but cannot provide ourselves with these all year round, we also have Nettle which has a tenuous link here... it is an abundant local resource full of vitamins and minerals. It also stores well for Winter use by drying or freezing but as it is of the green and leafy variety it does not exactly fit the bill here.
So i was very interested when long time contributor to our Seed bank and local vegetable grower extraordinaire Steve Gwynne donated to the Seedbank including a big bag of Runner Beans (Phaseolus coccineus) and suggested that the Seeds themselves may well be a viable option as a local staple crop.The plant certainly provides a plentiful amount of Seed, anyone who has grown Runner Beans will know that once they get going they produce a plentiful crop and it can be hard to keep up with the harvesting. They also seem to camouflage themselves quite well....you think you have picked them all and all of a sudden you notice long pods that have gone over hiding in the depths of the plant!
So i started experimenting....firstly like any other bean they need soaking over night, being generally quite a large bean they take up quite a bit of water. Before using them - as with other Beans you will need to cook them because of the chemicals they contain.
Always cook your Runner beans properly and always cook other green beans also as this removes any danger by altering the chemicals in them, unless your sure your raw variety contains less of the poisonous chemicals - i did taste one Bean raw for he sake of experiment and it had a pleasant mild Runner Bean taste but eating in large quantities can cause problems as they are poisonous.
Raw beans are poisonous because they contain prussic (hydrocyanic) acid, which through cooking is rendered not dangarous. Prussic acid protein was discovered in green beans in 1957. A few hours after eating raw beans or bean seeds, some individuals become sick from low blood pressure, vomiting, stomach ache, circulation problems, convulsions, or heart palpitations. These poison symptoms are possible with all beans. The susceptibility to these reactions to beans is hereditary. That said Green beans nourish the blood and strengthen the nerves and bones. They help reduce high blood pressure and improve the function of insulin.
Firstly i cooked some up, it took about 20 minutes for them to become soft, i covered one serving with a little olive oil with salt and pepper. They tasted pretty good very comparable to Kidney Beans, the texture is similar and the cooking water also turns that deep red colour you get with the Kidney bean. To my pallet though i thought the Runner bean was more flavoursome than the Kidney bean. I then added some more olive oil to another batch along with a pinch of Paprika and whizzed it up in the food processor to make a kind of hummus. This tasted delicious and is quite versatile, i was having it on toast and with salads although it has to be said that it is not the most appetizing of colours when prepared in this way as it comes out a brownish colour, personally though that doesn't bother me...i tastes great! The paste i made was quite thick almost like dough so i tried to fry some up, this failed due to the high water content but this mixed with flour would definitely produce some nice patties or falafel type dishes. I did not experiment with that here though as adding flour would diminish the quest for alternative staple crops.
I then went on to put them in a tomato stew much like you would use any other Bean, this also worked extremely well. I was also looking at coming up with a new Nettle soup recipe to and so added some beans into the soup which also worked really well.
In conclusion then i would say that the experiment was a success!! The Runner Bean Seed is a definite contender as a sustainable locally sourced staple crop for the UK, i will be definitely be making sure i have a good stash of them in the store cupboard this coming winter.
NYREES'S NETTLE SOUP
Half a carrier bag of Nettle tops
A handful of kale
200g Runner Bean Seeds
Small piece of Ginger
Pinch of Paprika
1L of Chicken stock ( you could use vegetable)
- Soak your Beans over night and boil for 20 minutes or until they are soft and cooked through
- Chop your Shallots and the stems of the Kale and saute off in a little butter
- Add the Garlic and ginger o the pan and cook for a couple of minutes
- Add your Chicken Stock to he pan along with the Nettle
- Bring to the boil and simmer until the Nettle is soft and cooked through
- Add a few of your beans here to use for thickening the soup
- Take off he heat, leave to cool for a few minutes and then whizz up using a hand blender
- Return to the heat and add he rest of the beans and the Kale bring back o he boil and simmer for around 10 minutes
- Add a pinch of Paprika and adjust the seasoning if necessary
Toppings of your choice - you can incorporate using Spring greens here, i used Blanched Dandelion,Chives, Wild Garlic and Landcress - including a few flowers from a particularly hardy plant! I also added some Greek yogart and some small pieces of crispy smoked streaky bacon.
And Spring arose on the garden fair,
Like the Spirit of Love felt everywhere;
And each flower and Herb on Earths dark breast
Rose from the dreams of its Wintery rest.
The Snowdrop and then the Violet,
Arose from ground with warm rain wet;
And their breath was mixed with sweet odour sent
From the turf like the voice and he instrument
I think that is a perfect note to leave it on!.....catch ya next month!
Community festival by the people for the people to share skills and generally get together for fun! - This year we are going to kick off with a Nettle workshop where we will harvest the Nettle together, prepare and make Soup and Soap. We are also planning other workshops and lots of other activities....more news soon...we are looking for anyone who would like to get involved, it really is what the people who support us and get involved make it, if you would like to do a talk, do an activity - ideally based around the ideas of Urban sustainability, skill - sharing and community. Also if you would like to have a stall or be a general volunteer please get in touch we would love to hear from you.