Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Sweet Chestnut Harvest

We were up Northaw Great Woods yesterday in glorious sunshine foraging for autumnal goodies! What joy this time of year always brings – having 4 kids with us was brilliant we all really enjoyed kicking about in the fallen leaves.

We found some spiky treats under the Sweet chestnut Trees (Castanea sativa)I love these majestic trees -their bark often seems to twist themselves around the tree like a spiral, they are in the Fig family or Fagaceae, and the delicious edible seeds are also sometimes called Marron, Maroni in Austria.

During the Christmas period one can see street vendors everywhere in Austria and in some British cities roasting the Chestnuts releasing very pleasant odours. The seed pods are super spiky and we found we had to stamp on them and then roll the whole thing underfoot for the 3 seeds per pod to be freed.

Some of these great trees seemed to be really ancient hard to age exactely but I remember that the oldest Tree at Kew Gardens is a Sweet Chestnut and it is well worth a visit with its amazing spiralling truck reaching up to the sky. Greenwich park in London is another site of ancient Sweet Chestnuts the oldest one planted in 1664.In the UK, the best known ancient sweet chestnut is the Tortworth Chestnut, in Gloucestershire. Written records of this remarkable tree go back to the 12th century. The oldest surviving tree is reckoned to be between 3-4,000 years old and Sicily.

Roasted or ground into flour, sweet chestnuts formed an important part of the Roman diet and it is reported that Alexander the Great and the Romans planted chestnut trees across Europe during their various campaigns. It is said that Roman soldiers were given a porridge made from sweet chestnuts before going into battle.

I like eating the seeds best by simply heated in the oven for 15 mins as a delicious snack but Dieter made chestnut jam -Sweet Chestnut Jam recipe


2 kilos of fresh chestnuts
The zest of a large lemon
9oo grams dark muscavado sugar
I vanilla pod
200 ml water
200 ml brandy


Shell the chestnuts carefully with a small sharp knife avoid breaking the inner skin

Put them in a saucepan with the lemon zest.
Cover with water

Bring to the boil and simmer for an hour until soft.

Remove chestnuts in small batches from the hot water, with a slotted spoon, and peel the inner skin.

The nuts need to be warm to be peeled easily.

Press the soft husks through a sieve and set aside.

In a clean saucepan slowly dissolve the sugar and water over a low heat. Stirring constantly.

Add the vanilla pod and the sieved chestnuts.

Bring to simmering point and simmer for twenty minutes.
Stirring every now and then to stop the mixture burning on the base of the pan.
After twenty minutes add the brandy and simmer for a further ten minutes, string constantly.

Remove the vanilla pod.

Ladle into warm sterilised jars.

Label when cold and store in a cool dry place

Medicinal virtues of Castanea sativa are recorded in Mrs. Grieves –she states -
In some places Chestnut leaves are used as a popular remedy in fever and ague, for their tonic and astringent properties.
Their reputation rests, however, upon their efficacy in paroxysmal and convulsive coughs, such as whooping-cough, and in other irritable and excitable conditions of the respiratory organs. The infusion of 1 OZ. of the dried leaves in a pint of boiling water is administered in tablespoonful to wineglassful doses, three or four times daily.
Culpepper says:
'if you dry the chestnut, both the barks being taken away, beat them into powder and make the powder up into an electuary with honey, it is a first-rate remedy for cough and spitting of blood.

Come the Spring I am going to pick some leaves n try them out!

Friday, 15 October 2010

Hips n Haws

Been out a harvesting today with some lovely folks all keen to learn more about da plants.

We picked lots of rosehips and hawthorns -I was after making some rosehip tincture and as today Friday is ruled by venus -roses planet, it make for good harvesting.

The moon is waxing crossing from practical structured capricorn -great for the creation of my tincture over to the social group loving aquarius, brilliant for our fun discussions after the harbesting and production.

The rose hips are full of nutrients, high in vit c -during the 2nd world war
-During the war it was not possible to import oranges for vitamin C so researchers looked for other sources from which to obtain the vitamin.

Researchers in Bristol and Newcastle-upon-Tyne discovered how to extract vitamin C from rose hips.

Children were then recruited to pick the rose hips and received payment. During the war some children were allowed time off school and were even bussed out to certain areas to undertake picking of the rose hips.

The rose hips were then used to make Rose Hip Syrup - one of the manufacturers being Delrosa. Although Delrosa rosehip syrup is no longer available in the UK it is still going strong in the US and Australia.

LitoZin is a popular new supplement derived from Rose-hip for Joint Care. The active ingredient GOPO (glycoside of mono and diglycerol) was discovered over 20 years ago in Denmark and significant levels can only be obtained if the rose-hips are dried . They have patented the method of drying the Hips but anyone can go and collect these plentiful hips for teas, tincture , syrups and jellys or jams.

We have used our tincture in various cases of artiritic joints with good results in combination with other herbs.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Ache Ease

We had a busy evening preparing the new batch of Ache Ease. Baba in bed gave Oriole and me the perfect opportunity for uninterrupted potion making.
Our Ache Ease has become so popular we made as big a batch as we could manage, Pyrex bowl allowing.

We used last year’s horseradish oil, which me and Karen dug up, from Lea Valley. Its irritant mustard oils are so powerful that goggles were needed in order to chop it. But this is the compound that draws the blood to the area of the body being treated and makes it so affective. Since we added horseradish to the recipe the Ache Ease has become a wonder rub for sore, achy, joints and muscles.

The horseradish is mixed with comfrey oil, which we made a warm infused oil of in a bain-marie. Comfrey needs to be dried in a nice gentle heat to stop it going black and when dry can be made into and oil. This is truly healing and restorative for bone and ligaments alike.

Next was lavender oil, which Karen made from the lavender in the garden, anti-inflammatory and healing.

We mixed them with beeswax and cocoa butter melted in a bain marie added delicious peppermint and rosemary essential oils and poured into the waiting glass jars…mmm

I snapped a ligament in my knee a few years ago and have used the balm ever since, avoiding an operation. Its great!

Fungi Foray

We had a lovely wander through the rapidly changing woods near Rhododendron mile last week. There are no rhododendrons there at the minute though because they’re so invasive they’re cutting them all back and burning them out. They sound like fireworks when they burn fresh, much to the delight of my friend’s kids.

The mushrooms were out in droves and many, already on the way out. Penny buns were the big surprise as well as the fantastically looking, edible bright orange fungi. The major crop, although we were unsure at the time of edibility is the common yellow brittlegill mushroom.

Hidden amongst the silver birch were the magical fly argaric, which I harvested a few of for our new batch of flying ointment. It has been used as an external preparation for nerve pain but can also make you fly if properly dried and administered. It should not be mistaken for the brown version, the Panther Cap, which can apparently make you pretty sick.

The sweet chestnuts and the conkers were well on their way, so they be the next harvest.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Opium Poppies

This plant has been on mind mind for years - a little more so these past few months as I have been making Laudeum and also using them as an ingrediant in the Flying Ointment.

So delicate their paper thin petals and they seem to disappear within a matter of hours. Harry my son was concieved on this beautiful, etheral connective plant, we were living in the South of Spain and driving through a nature reserve near Seville which opened out onto fields and fields of poppies.

Working on the Ointment connected me to the fact that they are an imprisoned, war torn plant - a commodity with a hugh impact on human/global politics.

I send a prayer to the Opium Poppy for freedom and peace.