This is my favourite time of year with regard to all things herbal. For the next few months I will be very busy indeed, with all the lush medicinal plants that are sprouting up everywhere in a glorious and wild profusion of colour and aroma.
When the plants are in their optimum state for harvesting, and the weather conditions are right, I’ll be off gathering what I need to create potent herbal tinctures.
Hot, sunny mornings
Typically, I’ll be waiting for a hot sunny day, which will first take the morning dew off the plants, and then bring the therapeutic saps and oils to the surface of the leaves and flowers. I try to get out late morning, before the day gets too hot and the plants, and I, start to wilt a little.
Recently, I’ve gathered fluffy heads of elder flowers and spread some of them out to dry on racks above the boiler in my boot room. The heady scent they give off is quite intoxicating – especially when I first open the boot room door in the morning. I’ll use the resultant dried plant, mixed with similarly dried peppermint and yarrow, to make a herbal tea which is the absolute best for colds and flu as it makes you sweat, as well as having lots of other therapeutic properties.
I am also macerating some of the elder flower heads in diluted organic grain alcohol to make a tincture (takes about two weeks) that I often use for prophylactic treatment of hay fever – mixed with other herbs, such as eyebright and nettle.
My fingers were stained nicotine yellow after harvesting the elder – not a good look for a health practitioner!
The nettle – gathered when it was heavy with seed heads, is also currently in maceration.
Sage & Rosemary
From the allotment, I’ve harvested pungent sage – bravely fending off the fat bumblebees that were buzzing all round the purple flowers on the sage and didn’t take kindly to me chopping down their nectar supply – and rosemary, of which I have several large bushes.
My fingers and nails this time were engrained with a thick layer of brown and green oils. (At this time of year, I often have to explain to patients that my disgusting looking nails are not the result of having just done an oil change!)
St John’s wort
Next on the agenda is St John’s wort, which is said to flower on June 24th – St John’s Day, hence the name. Today (June 13th) the rather large bush in my garden has one fully opened flower, and many buds, so I’m hoping it will be in full flower pretty much bang on target!
Lemon balm, Meadowsweet & Yarrow
And so many more still to do – lemon balm, meadowsweet and yarrow being a few of my favourites.
It is such a rewarding practice, because the herbal medicines I prepare myself are always the very best, most potent in my dispensary. You can smell and taste the vibrancy and healing energy in them.
Spirit of Plants and People
That is not to say the herbal medicines I buy in from accredited suppliers in other parts of the country, who also grow many of their own plants, aren’t of the highest quality and therapeutic efficacy – it’s just that I feel home-prepared have the edge. Partly because the sole herbalist is better able to harvest at the absolute optimum time, but mainly because, I believe, the spirit of the person who picks and prepares medicinal plants infuses into the plant and gives the medicine an extra power and energy.
Hence always gathering and preparing herbal medicines with respect, love and gratitude.