A big autumnal hello from this edition of Herbs, Healing and Health.
The autumn harvest is upon us and in just one morning I have gathered approximately 1Kg of mixed sloes, blackberries, rose hips and hawthorn berries. Adding my booty to the apples and Kentish cobnuts already awaiting my attention in the kitchen, there is lots of preserving, remedy making and general harvesting happiness to be attended to over the next few days.
Sloely does it
In a previous newsletter I spoke of sloes, bullace and plums. These sloes are destined for that most traditional of beverages sloe gin, of course. During the harvesting of the sloes I took to holding one in my mouth, eager to make as direct a connection with the plant as possible. Sloes! That instant, drying, astringency is unmistakable and it can be difficult to equate it to the magnificent liqueur that will be the end result. Interestingly however, gradually allowing the sloe to disintegrate in your mouth introduces you to the plummy flesh in a very measured way, and the initial astringency becomes curiously enjoyable. In fact, I found myself wanting a second one. Its very pleasing that sloes are so drying given the reputation of plums and prunes to act as laxatives.
Looking at the deep blue perfect spheres of the fruit, it comes as no surprise that they are full of bioflavonoids, a fact confirmed by a piece of research published in the Journal of Food Science this year. We all know by now, that where there are bioflavonoids, there are health benefits to be had, for both chronic health conditions and acute conditions such as colds and influenza. This is what good, fresh food does for us. It acts as medicine. Also, consider the rather exotic, bluish purple/white bloom on the skin of sloes. This is due to the presence of wild yeasts on the fruit. You no doubt are aware of the big deal that has been made of the importance of gut flora in recent years (Lynne Margulis would be proud). Our gut flora is now hailed as being central to our health and books on how to eat for good gut health abound, as do pre-biotics, pro-biotics etc. But one of the best ways to encourage a healthy, bio-diverse gut flora is to eat a healthy, bio-diverse diet. One of the best ways to do that is to eat the wild.
Much is now made of using natural yeasts to make bread, wine etc. Eating natural foods from the hedgerows will provide you with an ample supply of pre-biotic substances as well as all the bioflavonoids your heart desires.
Speaking of your hearts desire, let me return for a moment to lovely hawthorn, one of my favourite plants. The hawthorn haws this year certainly seem to be prolific, sumptuous even, and again, they are loaded with bioflavonoids. This is one of the plants that I make a point of harvesting each year to personally make medicine for my patients. It’s a great pleasure and privilege to interact with Hawthorn in this way, and I usually end up chatting to someone who remembers these leaves and the blood red berries from their childhood, as bread and cheese. This year, there is such a largresse that I am going to also dry some berries for winter teas and have a crack at the recipe below, which I just love the sound of. It’s a wonderful example of food as medicine. Never mind your bog standard tomato ketchup from a supermarket in a plastic jar: make some medicinal and delicious haw ketchup and feel good about it!
Saucy Haw Ketchup.
- 500g haws
- 300ml white wine vinegar or cider vinegar
- 170g sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Ground black pepper to taste
- Strip haws from stalks and rinse.
- Place haws in saucepan with vinegar and 300ml water; simmer for 30 minutes. The flesh will become soft and the berries red-brown.
- Remove from heat and pass through sieve to remove stones and skins.
- Return mix to clean pan and add sugar.
- Heat, stirring gently until sugar dissolves.
- Bring to boil and cook for 5 minutes.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Pour into sterilized bottle and seal with vinegar proof cap.
- Use within 12 months.
Recipe taken from Preserves: River Cottage Handbook No. 2. Pam Corbin.
Ketchup with health benefits for the cardiovascular system: what could be better.
Harvesting is also a sacred enterprise. Here are a few lines taken from the immensely practical and useful book, The Herbal Medicine Makers Handbook’.
You may not specifically believe in plant spirits of course, but many people find contact with the natural world to be a spiritual enterprise, and the practice of gratitude, of not taking more than we need, and of general mindfulness are all pretty valuable things to focus on. If you count yourself as a plant person and you hold respect and gratitude towards the plant kingdom a plant persons life may be an expression of joy and gratitude
As before, my best piece of advice for this time of year is eat the wild.
Many apologies, but my wee referencing software has thrown a wobbly this month. If anyone is interested in any of the sources of information I have used, please do drop me an email and I will get back to you.