Monday, 23 March 2015

A magical Spring Equinox and recipes using spring plants

Last weekend I attended the first workshop of the year at Springfield Herb Sanctuary, which focused on identifying plants as they are beginning to grow.  We tried Nettle tea and Couch Grass root tea, both of which are good for the urinary system amongst many other benefits.  I picked some Chickweed, Dandelion tops & roots from weeding, Burdock burs to plant and some violets to take home with me.  The workshops at the Sanctuary are open to anyone interested, you don't have to be an apprentice to attend, information on the workshops for the year including the weekend Herb Festival in September can be found here

Daffodils and one of the springs which gives the Sanctuary its name

Twisted Hazel at Springfield Sanctuary



Last Sunday I washed & chopped the Dandelion roots & leaves I had gathered when weeding at the Sanctuary and put them into a jar with vodka to make a tincture for general health maintenance, acute skin eruptions, digestive problems, recuperation from chronic illness, sluggish liver, gout, eczema & psoriasis and for overindulgence in food & drink (uses from 'Hedgerow Medicine' by Julie Bruton-Seal & Matthew Seal). I also made Violet syrup, which is useful for constipation & coughs, particularly for children.  The infusion was a bright green colour but magically turned pink when heated with sugar and lemon juice.  I made infused oil with some of the Chickweed from the sanctuary, which should be useful for skin problems particularly eczema. I also decanted the Cramp Bark tincture & Hawthorn Bark tincture started previously.   I picked more Nettles in the woods to make a second batch of Nettle tonic (recipe on previous post) and decanted the first batch, it was hard messy work wringing out the fluid from the jelly bag, but I tried to get every drop I could as it is full of herbal goodness.

 Dandelion tincture

Recipe for Violet Syrup 

- Fill a clean jar with violet flowers & leaves, cover with boiling water.
- Leave to steep overnight with lid on.
- Strain out the leaves & flowers.
- Measure the amount of water left.
- Put the water in a pan and add 150g of sugar for every 200ml of liquid
- Add juice from half a lemon.
- Bring to the boil and simmer for a few minutes.
- Pour into sterilised bottles.
- Keep in the fridge.
- 1-2 teaspoons at night for constipation or coughs, particularly for children.

Based on recipe in 'Wild Drugs' by Zoe Hawes.

Violet Syrup

Recipe for Chickweed Oil

- Gather chickweed and leave to wilt overnight to reduce moisture content.
- Put half the amount of chickweed you have in a bowl or pan inside a larger pan, cover with sunflower oil.
- Heat the oil with gently simmering water in the larger pan underneath the small pan for 2 hours.
- Strain the oil and return to the pan with the second batch of chickweed, heat for 2 hours.
- Strain the oil through muslin into sterilised jars.

Chickweed Oil
This weekend started with the magical occurence of a solar eclipse on the Spring Equinox.  We watched it at our allotment.  There was an eerie dimming of the light as the moon gradually moved over the face of the sun and the temperature dropped several degrees during the eclipse, at maximum eclipse our breath was steaming in the cooler air.  As the moon moved on the light brightened and it became a glorious warm spring day, it truly felt that spring had arrived.  I picked nettles and other greens in between keeping an eye on the sky.  Later in the day I went back to plant rose bushes, an Apothecary's Rose and a William Shakespeare Rose, which are both highly regarded for medicinal purposes.  I transplanted Lungwort which I found under brambles in a vacant allotment and scattered some Burdock seeds up towards the wild end of the allotment in the hope that they will come up so I have Burdock to harvest in the future.

Smile in the sky as the moon partially covered the sun


 newly planted Rose bush and Lungwort

Back home over the weekend we had friends staying so I tried out my Nettle Soup on them, which was well received.  I also tried putting Nettles in with scrambled eggs and made Nettle Aloo using Nettles rather than spinach which were both very tasty.  My husband made a Sourdough loaf and mixed some Nettles in with the dough which came out well.  As the Spring is well and truly upon us it was high time to start planting some seeds.  We went to visit Smiths Nurseries on the outskirts of Coventry which has an excellent selection of herb and wildflower seeds.  I started off some herb seeds in a seed tray and a few in pots for the kitchen window sill, in a nice little container I was given as a present which includes a useful box just the right size for keeping packets of seeds in.  

Herb pots for the kitchen windowsill

Recipe for Nettle Aloo -  side dish for 4

500g potatoes - chopped into medium size chunks
A large onion - finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large cloves garlic - very finely chopped
1/2 a red or green chilli - very finely chopped
2cm lump of root ginger - very finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon of black mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon of turmeric
Colander of washed Nettles with stalks removed
Juice of half a lemon
Salt & black pepper to taste

- Boil potato chunks in salted water until tender.  Drain & set aside.
- Heat the vegetable oil in a pan.  Add the onion & cook until soft & just starting to brown.
- Add the garlic, chilli, ginger, mustard seeds & turmeric, cook briefly stirring so the onion & spices don't burn.
- Add the cooked potatoes and a medium wineglass of water.  Bring to the boil and simmer for about 5 minutes.
- Turn up the heat and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated and the potatoes have absorbed the spices.
- Add the Nettles & season with salt & black pepper to taste.
- Cook for a couple of minutes till the Nettles have wilted and are bright green.  Check the seasoning and add the lemon juice.
- Serve as a side dish with curry, rice, yoghurt & chutney.

Adapted from a recipe for spicy spinach & potatoes in 'Tender volume 1' by Nigel Slater 

Nettle Aloo


  1. Love to see the herb tray in action x

    1. Yep it's now in action, hopefully some little baby herbs will start peeking their heads up over the next couple of weeks xx