Saturday 8 May 2010

My Entry Into Transition and A Medicine Jelly

Two years ago I went with Charlotte to see the documentary What A Way To Go – Life At The End of Empire, which Sustainable Bungay were showing at the local Fisher Theatre - one of a series of films for bringing attention to peak oil and climate change. I almost left in the first half hour, feeling trapped in my seat whilst a monotonous American voice droned on about the end of the world of the American dream, accompanied by images of the mining, burning, deforesting, bombing and drilling of the earth. Something compelled me to stay, however.

The central image is of a train that’s headed for disaster, whilst the genteel passengers in smart clothes chat away and have food served to them, unaware of anything beyond the train. The solo voice of the writer-director gives way to interviews with other writers, artists, psychologists, friends and relations who all see or sense our predicament. At the end of the film, Tim Bennett walks out into the land, down to the shores of Lake Michigan in the rain, where he joins a group of people. His messages for the times ahead: build lifeboats, get to know the land in your area, the medicinal plants; find your people.

Afterwards the lights went on and Kate led a discussion, which the whole audience joined in with. No one left. Some people found the film depressing. But more than a few of us, myself included, felt liberated by it in some way. As if suddenly we weren’t on our own.

We are the people we have been waiting for.

This was my entry into Transition.


Recently I've been making what I call medicine jellies, using a basic vegetarian jelly mix and adding all sorts of herbs and fruit. Here there is peppermint, lemon balm, ground ivy, mugwort, slices of lemon and blackcurrants stored from last year. Only the lemon and the jelly mix are not from the garden.

I made the first one for Charlotte to help shift the remnants of a cold which had affected her sinuses. They taste (and smell) really good, not at all medicinal. And they're really fun to do. Just drop the chopped fresh herbs and lemon into the liquid jelly right at the beginning and stir once or twice before it sets (I use the handle of a wooden spoon). I put the (cooked and defrosted) blackcurrants in slightly later than the rest of the ingredients.

The jelly in the picture I took along to the Strangers’ Circle on Wednesday. It was a great digestive after our celebration feast. I took it as a good sign that it disappeared without trace almost before I’d put it on the table.

Talking of jellies, the picture at the top is of a jelly bag with the remains of a bunch of cleavers, which I chopped up fine and squeezed first into a bowl, then into this jar before adding some runny honey. This is called cleavers succus. A friend showed me this marvellous green medicine she'd made after the Bungay Plant Swap. When I tasted it I got so excited I had to go and make some myself. The recipe can be found in the excellent book Hedgerow Medicine. Cleavers, or clivers, or goosegrass, is a lymphatic cleanser and general tonic. It’s scrambling everywhere now in the lanes and garden. It's best used before it flowers, so now is a good time to gather and squeeze - or brew – especially as you can’t use it as a dried herb. Cleavers is related to coffee, which might explain the electric zing I get when I drink the tea or take a teaspoon of the succus.

And with that I bring my latest three day week of Transition Tales to a close. Wishing you all the best of the Maytime green.


  1. I'm facinated by Mark's use of common plants (or weeds to the uninitiated) and regret my own lack of skills in this area. I've always devoted my garden time to growing as much 'bulk' food as possible because many years ago it was not easy to get organic produce and I was keen to minimise my family's intake of peticides.

    Maybe I need to re allocate my time or maybe we need to train up local plant specialists who would provide some cleaver succus in return for some veg? I can easily imagine Mark as a 21st century version of the ancient medicine man!

  2. I've often felt the same way about growing food, John, and wished I had grown up eating (and gardening) more of the kind of food you've been growing for so many years!

    But that's what's great about Transition. We bring all our different skills together for swapping and sharing.

    And maybe in our conversations we're bridging that old cultural gap between the wild and the garden.