28 March 2012

News from the Hedgerows

Herbage, herbivore, Dejeuner sur l'Herbe: we're not talking about herbs here. Herbaceous, Culpeper's Complete Herbal, herb gardens: we are talking about herbs but only some of the time. How confusing! When my neighbour Julia announced that she was taking a degree in herbalism I thought she meant a degree in herbs. Could it be that big a subject? Everyone except me probably knows that a herb doctor is one who practices healing by the use of herbs. And herbs can mean a plant which is herbaceous, ie a non-woody plant that dies down each season, or a plant valued for its medicinal, savoury and aromatic qualities. So it's bigger than just herbs - there are wildflowers, weeds and 'garden worthy' plants too.

The greening of the hedgerows adds to the general sense of lung-filling joy in spring and herbalists I dare say, feel it even more intensely. 'A lot of the fresh green leaves of the moment are full of vitamins and minerals,' Julia points out. 'They are edible spring greens, traditionally very exciting after a winter of potatoes and turnips.'

We take a walk up the country road that we live on to see what's bursting into life. There are nettles and there is galium (aka sticky weed, goose grass, cleaver). Nothing very exotic. But no, the galium is 'looking tasty' so we gather some, and the nettles in turn are 'feisty' which is how we like them. With their fresh green tips they do look more appealing than usual and we gather some with the aid of gloves, for a very quick dose of goodness as well as a taste test.

Julia often refers to herbs (you know what I mean) as a 'she' or a 'he'. It's a personal thing. 'Nettles are feisty grandmas who keep everyone in line.' They are also seen as a protective plant. Anything that crawls in there will be kept safe: very grandmotherly.

We pass by some colt's foot (above) on the way back and Julia is quite excited to see it here. To me, its big spurred coltish stalks say WEED and Julia admits that it is 'madly invasive' and not for cultivation. But it is still a wonderful plant because it stops the cough reflex when a person is going through the last hacking stages and the chest just feels wounded and sore.

I need to be reminded of the finer point of nettles and of galium while the kettle is boiling.
'Nettle is anti-inflammatory and it's also a blood tonic: use it after long-term illness or blood loss.' Or drink nettle tea because you like it. Cooled tea can be poured on the hair to give it a pro-shine and anti-hairloss boost. Julia adds four nettle leaf tips to boiling water and we let it steep. There's something a bit tingly about the whole process and I can't help thinking abut the word 'nettle', a derivative of 'needle'. It smells like wee.

Galium smells like grass. It is an excellent lymphatic tonic and its tea is very effective when the glands are up. It also helps to shift fluids which need shifting. It tastes, smells and looks like chlorofyll: a pure green pigment experience for herbivores. Nettle tea on the other hand is really rather lovely, especially when someone else has done the picking and preparing.

Julia is also known on twitter as Botanical Bird@juliathompson15


  1. Fantastic! So informative.

    1. Here to help. Next time: Dandelions, the ultimate cure-all cut and come again crop.

  2. Been inspired by all this talk to make herbalicious tea--not the dried shop bought tea bag variety, but with fresh cut chamomile flowers, mint, verbena and rosemary. The more ingredients the more decadent the brew!