This has been added to the Herbarium as we wanted a place to offer personal reflections, observations and snippets of information that don’t warrant a full article. Everybody can join in, (use the ‘Comments’ box at the bottom of the ‘Blogservations’ file) but please keep faith with the core values of the Herbarium. We won’t, for instance, accept personal political rants or questions about herbal treatments – there are enough herbal chatrooms for such purposes already.

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Last winter I found myself forced to harvest our Valerian root in freezing mid-February, and rather than the recommended preparation method had to content myself with merely picking out any adhering chunks of dirt (not to mention chunks of ice!) When I came to tincturing it, there was as one might expect a lot of earth in the bucket. No matter, it filtered out all right, and (this is the point) the resulting tincture was more aromatic (evocative of the flowers), much more potent & energetic and, (you’ve guessed it!), more earthing. The best ever, in fact.

On the strength of this, (and here I expect all those of you who still like your herbal medicines pasteurised, standardised and authorised to pass out), we’ve made all our root tinctures this way, simply picking them clean-ish and admiring the mud at the bottom of the bucket. By now we’ve done this with Angelica, Bistort, Echinacea, Elecampane, Liquorice, Lovage, Marshmallow, Poke Root, Solomon’s Seal, Teasel, Rose Root, and half a dozen others. All good. All very, very good. So that’s how we’ll go about it on future.

Are we being reckless? Actually, many gut problems, particularly diverticulosis, have by now (no doubt grudgingly) been strongly associated with the lack of dirt in out diet: we, like parrots, need a bit of grit at the bottom of our cages, and of course those ready-cleaned, double-wrapped vegetables from our supermarkets provide none. And all those bacteria that teem in the soil? Rather than pathogenic to humans, it turns out that they contain in their ranks some of the most useful probiotics – a term that sounds like somebody just invented something, when really it’s just another bit of evidence that we urgently need to restore the relationship that we and nature were once used to sharing, before we decided to take charge and ruin everything.

A last tantalising conjecture: do the bacterial populations normal to plants (and some of them will be present in all fresh-herb tinctures) actually constitute part of their therapeutic activity? Knowing how lifeless and one-dimensional over-manufactured herbal medicines can be, it seems highly likely.

Stephen

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Has anybody else noticed how tall many plants have grown during 2010? We had Cornflowers & Corncockles so tall they blocked our view of the herb garden for the summer. Marshmallow, Mullein and Teasel towered over us. Or coppiced Cramp Bark looked like a primeval forest. The near-procumbent Catmint tangled round our thighs, ready to harvest in late May instead of late summer during this startling year.

It all seems inconsistent with such a short growing season after that interminable, frozen winter. But maybe that provides the answer – all that energy being accumulated underground for so long. Those who have been alarmed by the unfamiliarity of this year’s weather patterns should pause to reflect: this is more like normal than the last thirty years of soggy winters alternating with indifferent summers. At last, we have our four seasons back. It’s like the winters and springs and summers and autumns of my childhood, and even then they weren’t quite as distinct as those of, say, my mother’s childhood, when she was given to swim in the Thames in summer and skate on it the same winter. Chaucer gave a good description of what the four seasons should be like. Vivaldi set them to music. There must be some reason why they run so deeply through our folklore. Let’s hope they’re back for a while, even if the nation does has to invest more in its stocks of road-grit and suntan lotion.

Carol

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