Thursday, 27 September 2012

After so Long…

Well, I have been pretty rubbish at blogging since the beginning of the year so, after a stern reminder to us all from Sarah, I will try and redeem myself whilst I have a day or two off work!
To be honest, I don’t think I can begin to cover everything I have done during the year so next month I intend to do a bit of an inventory of the herb cupboard, which is looking surprisingly full, and this should give the reader more of a flavour of herbal activity throughout the year.
The Apprenticeship
In terms of the apprenticeship tasks, I have to admit I have tended to pick and choose them, feeling smug when the task list arrives and I have already made a start on some of the activities and (to my discredit) tending to overlook some of the more “artistic” tasks such as painting my herbal ally.
The theoretical tasks have been good prompts to keep up my reading around anatomy and physiology – having gained a diploma in it last year I have been enjoying not poring over the books but the tasks Sarah set on looking at specific body systems and the herbs associated with them have provided a relatively undemanding and enjoyable way of keeping the information fresh in my mind and building upon it. 
The practical tasks have achieved exactly what I hoped they would at the start of the apprenticeship year, in that they have pushed me to experiment more with which herbs I gather and how I prepare and use them (e.g. syrups, salves and even tonic wine at the recent herb festival as well as the teas, tinctures and oils I was already more familiar with). Some months I have had more time to devote to herbs than others and the weather has sometimes made things difficult, but it is quite astonishing how much you can make and learn even with a relatively small amount of time invested. The days (whether workshops or workdays) at the sanctuary are also always very enjoyable and informative and are an important & worthwhile part of the apprenticeship (as well as a way to help Sarah out in return for all the hard work she puts into sharing her herbal knowledge). The herb festival earlier this month was, as ever, a wonderful event with lovely people and fascinating speakers – even the weather was kind.
In the next day or two look out for posts on recent activity – of which there has been quite a lot, autumn being a time of real hedgerow abundance (this was one of the months when I was smug when Sarah sent out the task list as had already been working away on rowan jelly, hawthorn berry brandy and vinegar, digging up roots etc).
In the meantime here is something I wrote in July but never actually got round to posting!
Feverfew (written 9th July, posted 27th September)
I thought I might have to do without my feverfew when it did not appear in spring in the pot it was in last year and I also had no luck with the seeds I planted to replace it, which were quite old and also got flooded out twice not long after planting and did not germinate. Imagine how pleased I was then when a new plant appeared in the motherwort pot – apparently having self seeded from last year’s feverfew that had been in the pot next to it! The self seeded plant is now thriving.
Given this happy reappearance I clearly had to spend some time with this plant and make use of it so this evening I have made a tincture in vodka using the aerial parts of the plant and have also tied some bunches together and hung them up to dry in a paper bag (something I have not done before as I usually dry herbs between sheets of newspaper spread out on the floor but drying space is now getting scarce!). The plant lends itself to drying in this way as it has quite firm stems and is easy to bunch and tie together.
As its name suggests, feverfew is a febrifuge and diaphoretic (inducing sweating and reducing fevers). It is also indicated for headaches, including migraines (some sources suggest a 70% reduction in instances of migraines when sufferers start taking feverfew). Its use to combat headaches is one reason why I have decided to dry the herb for use in teas as well as tincturing it as it seems to make sense to avoid an alcohol tincture when dealing with headaches. Suggested doses seem to be 10-30 drops of the tincture in hot water or teaspoonful doses of a hot infusion of the dried herb taken several times a day during a fever. For treatment of headaches another option may also be eating 1 leaf a day (although it is recommended that the leaves be eaten between slices of bread as they can cause ulcers in the mouths of some people).
When I started reading more about the plant, I found that it has also long been used for issues related to the womb such as suppressed menstruation/sluggish menstrual flow and for relieving some of the symptoms of PMT such as headaches, irritability and tension. These uses  were of particular interest for me at the moment and I intend to experiment a little with it as well as with other herbs such as motherwort.  It is also indicated for regulating contractions during childbirth - for which reason it is advisable to avoid during pregnancy.
In addition to all this, modern uses in Culpeper suggest that the tincture be applied directly to soothe itching of insect bites and that it can also be made into an insect repellent lotion by mixing with distilled water. This use does not surprise me too much as the leaves have a tangy smell which is somewhat reminiscent of eucalyptus – though not quite the same and not quite as pleasant.
Addendum 27th September – can’t quite believe it is over 2 months since I prepared this post (or that I didn’t actually post it! However, I can now confirm that feverfew tincture is one of the most disgusting things I have ever taken (must be taken in orange juice or something!). It is very bitter and, in my opinion for those of you who have tried motherwort, is far, far more unpleasant! Have not yet been brave enough to try the tea... However, I am persevering with taking a mixture of feverfew and motherwort tinctures in the 10 days or so running up to and during my periods, just to experiment really.
I should add that, despite its horrible flavour, I do think this is an amazing plant. As mentioned above, it had self-seeded in another pot from last year and is incredibly hardy. Once I had started working with it I noticed it everywhere and it is a real “fighter” growing out of concrete near houses, between paving slabs and in other similarly inhospitable places for plants. My plant in its pot went woody in early September and I cut it right back but already there is another fresh green clump growing up. I have got quite fond of it ;-). And I will definitely be trying out its insect repellent properties next summer.

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