Thursday 8 July 2010

Herbs for Resilience

"That’s very precise," said Erik. "The eighth of July."

"I know ," I said "But it’s true. Every year that’s the day when I start noticing them."

We were talking lime trees. Those extraordinary trees with sticky heart-shaped leaves which for most of the year appear inconspicous beside the showier oaks and horse chestnuts. But suddenly in early July they burst dramatically into flower. And every year I make a journey down the coast to an avenue of great limes and pick some of the flowers for tea.

Because if you want to go to heaven for five minutes drink a cup of fresh limeflower tea.

Fragrant, golden, tasting of honey.

Limeflower gathering is a very rewarding kind of foraging. The flowers are easy to pick and easy to dry. The trees are abundant, dripping, laden with flowers, so there’s no chance of reducing stocks. And what more lovely way to spend an hour: standing, paper bag in hand, beneath a lime tree, immersed in their awesome scent. You’re never alone when you do. Because every bee in the district is there with you foraging for its sweet nectar. Everywhere is humming.

There are three kinds of lime and all are good for flowers. The small and large leaved limes in the country, the common lime frequently planted in the city (several huge ones in St Benedict’s Street). The tea is one of the world’s great downtimers. You can mix it with other heart herbs (lemon balm, hawthorn flowers, rosehips) or have it straight before you go to sleep. It’s a flower that uncoils the springs inside and won’t weigh you down like valerian. Those relaxing flowers will put you on a different wavelength altogether. Out of the mind’s urgency and into the expansiveness of the heart.

I haven’t got a pic of limeflowers yet because it’s early (six o’clock - now added! ed.). But here is a downtime tea I’m drinking right now (rose, lavender and chamomile - divine!) and above some resilient herbs I picked from just outside my door. They are all stalwart members of my medicine cabinet. Elderflower and yarrow tea deal with any shivers in a chill. Marigold is a great anti-inflammatory and lymphatic cleanser (I’m using it right now as an eyewash for conjunctivitis). Rosemary, sage and horsetail, all excellent tonics.

The small daisy-looking flower is chamomile which I grew from seed (thank you Erik!). At the beginning of the year I decided I would put together a Herbs for Resilience Toolkit. Some simple wild and garden plant medicines that fellow Transitioners might like to know about. Plants I’ve used through the years that have been useful remedies or tonics. I’ll be writing about all these flowers and leaves in more depth later in the year.

Meanwhile here are one or two good tips about foraging. Rule one: Go for it! Walk out and tune in. Put a pair of scissors and a brown paper bag in your pocket, grab a flower guide and step into the green world of the neighbourhood. You’ll find the plants and trees everywhere once you decide to look. Rule Two: recognise what you need. Get a feeling for those plants appearing in front of you. Certain ones will grab your attention at different times. Those are the ones you need: for your body, for your mind, energetically.

The planet’s wild plants are stronger medicinally and nutritionally than anything cultivated. The native ones most of all. When I went on a wild plant walk at the Transition Conference the herbalist told us that wild greens contained ten times the minerals of commercially-grown plants and recommended putting a handful in with your stir-fries and salads through the year. Here she is talking about the daisy, a substitute for the rarer mountain-growing arnica, whose leaves can be mixed with chickweed and dandelion earlier in the year .

With the flowers of summer: take from the most abundant and least grimy places and only what you need. Shake out insects. Dry in the airing cupboard (in the paper bag or on a tray) and store in jars. You’ll find yarrow is on all the roadsides at the moment, horsetails in every damp patch and sun-loving rosemary and sage growing in neighbourhood gardens if not in your own (be bold, ask for a sprig if you don’t). Elderflower is almost at the end of its season (but keep an eye out for its marvellous berries later on).

And it’s the eight of July: so dear reader look upwards as you walk down the street today. You might find yourself in heaven very soon.

Photos: elderflowers, Greek mountain sage, marigold (calendula), common horsetail, chamomile, yarrow, rosemary; limeflower tea; rose, chamomile and lavender tea; pushing daisies at the Transition conference; walking down the lime avenue Suffolk.

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