Sunday, 11 January 2015

Learning the land & Winter's bounty

One of the tasks I have been set as a herbwife apprentice is to find and map all the Hawthorn & Elder trees and three species of Wild Rose (Dog Rose, Briar Rose and Rosa Rugosa) within a mile of my home.  These are all medicinal trees & bushes which can be identified in the winter and in some cases can still provide material which can be foraged at this time of year.

So I armed myself with some pages from some plant identification guides I found online:

I printed off zoomed in maps of my local green spaces from Google Maps and put them on a clipboard with the plant ID guides and headed out of my front door armed with my camera last Sunday to systematically explore a couple of my local green spaces for these particular plants.

I have lived here for over 20 years so I know my own local patch well, but it was interesting to explore with the eyes of a herbwife looking for local resources.  I found I got my eye in after spotting my first few hawthorns and elders, I became attuned to their shape and they jumped out of the background of other hedgerow and woodland plants.  The roses were few and far between, though some may have been hiding within the abundant brambles which covered much of the ground within the woods. 

 Hawthorn clumps on the local common

Hawthorn branch detail

Elder growing right next to an oak tree - we saw several like this in the local woods

 Elder detail - notice the warty texture of the bark

There were some elders with fresh leaves in sheltered spots in the woods

Roses with rosehips

Relationship to the natural world and local wild places has always been very important to me as a pagan.  My husband Barry, who performs as the Wild Man of the Woods has written a book called the Art of Conversation with the Genius Loci which is all about the different dimensions of the spirit of place and how we can build relationship with it

Taking this journey to learning the ways of the herbwife is helping me to deepen my relationship with the plants which live around me.  It will also help me develop my relationship with the seasonal changes of the year.  At this time of year the plant world seems dormant but there are still things that can be foraged.  James Wong gives a useful list of fresh plants which can be picked in winter in his book 'Grow your own drugs: A year with James Wong'.  He specifically mentions bletting which involves leaving some fruit on the tree to mature until after hard frosts, which starts a chemical process which breaks down the tannins and increases the sugars in the fruit.  Rosehips are a fruit that benefit from this.  So this time of year is a good time to pick rosehips, although if you pick them in the autumn you can put them in the freezer rather than waiting for a frost.

Rosehips are rich in vitamin C and bioflavonoids which protect Vitamin C from oxidation.  Rosehips can be used in syrup or honey.   I was inspired to make a rosehip honey by reading about this in Glennie Kindred's book 'Letting in the Wild Edges'. 

Recipe for Rosehip Honey

Pick rosehips which have been softened by frost or put them in the freezer to soften.

Top and tail the hips and cut the hips in half and scoop out the seeds and hairs inside.  This is fiddly, the easiest way is to use a thumb to do this, wear gloves as the hairs are an irritant.  It is time-consuming but you do get to keep all the goodness of the hips rather than straining and discarding them after the honey has infused.

Put the hips in clean jars and cover with runny honey, ideally local organic honey, poke with a chopstick to ensure there are no air bubbles which could cause oxidation.

Leave for 4-6 weeks to infuse, stirring occasionally.

Add a teaspoon of the honey and rosehips to drinks, spread on toast or drizzled on fruit salad or yoghurt.  A great winter booster when we need plenty of Vitamin C to help keep colds and other bugs at bay.

Rosehip honey


  1. A good blogpost Anne, I tried the recipe for the rosehip honey last year and it's delicious.

    1. We tried making rosehip syrup in the past but didn't particularly like the result, I prefer the honey.

  2. The rosehip honey sounds fantastic!

  3. It's a bit fiddly but I think it's worth it.