Bridget

Archive for the ‘Herbs’ Category

On a fresh Spring morning in Arigna…

In Herbs, permaculture, sustainable living on April 10, 2012 at 11:33 am

Everything is so fresh this morning after the rain of the weekend. The Birch is sending forth it’s new soft leaves. This tree, which can be seen from our kitchen window is one of my favourite trees. It is a tree said to have a particular affinity with women. It’s slender white trunk and graceful branches which allow light to filter softly through have earned it the title  “Lady of the Woods.” The leaves are edible… having diuretic and antiseptic properties… they are considered a Spring tonic… as is the sap which needs to be drawn before the buds break.

Honesty or Lunaria is flowering at the moment…like many things this year it is a little early. I love Purple flowers so this is a welcome relief from the predominant yellows of the moment. I often wonder if people see colours differently? I sometimes say to Andy “look at that, I just love that purple,” he will say “that’s not purple, it’s blue.” I know purple and blue are close together in the colour spectrum but to me they are vastly different. I find blue to be a cold colour while purple is, to me, a warm enlivining colour.

Going into the garden it seems the Victoria Plum is having a rest this year. It should be flowering now. It has given around 40 lbs of fruit each year for the last 5 years so it is entitled to a break. As if to compensate both of the Damson trees are flowering for the first time.

There are lots of Comfrey plants all around the garden. Such a useful plant! Mixed with Nettles it makes a wonderful organic fertiliser for all growing things. The smell is rank so leave it in an out of the way spot. Comfrey has a very long taproot so it is a great accululator of minerals from deep in the earth. This are made available in the fast growing leaves which can also be used as a mulch around plants. This is a permaculture technique called “crop and drop.” Four to five cuts a year can be taken. Comfrey also has medicinal uses. The name “knitbone” gives a clue to one of it’s uses. A poultice of the leaves is said to help broken bones heal easier and stimulate cell growth and repair. It can also be used internally, but caution is needed as there are reports of Comfrey causing liver damage.

Jostaberries are promising a good crop this year…if we get them before the blackbirds!

Even the outdoor herbs have put on a lot of growth already this year. The Lovage is a little bit weighed down by all the rain at the moment but it is huge compared to this time in previous years. It is flanked by more Comfrey, Chives, Gooseberry and a young Crab Apple tree in this 3 year old forest garden area. Lovage makes a good substitute for Celery and in my view easier to grow. I’ve not had much success with growing Celery. I much prefer the perennial plant that returns each year. I always have wastage from Celery anyway. I buy a head…use a few stems for cooking… then it gets shoved to the back of the fridge to be discovered a few weeks later as a sad, floppy item destined for the compost. So not totally wasted I suppose but from now on it’s Lovage for me. Fresh and tasty direct from the good Earth.

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Friday Musings from Prospect Cottage.

In Gardening, Herbs on August 26, 2011 at 8:04 am

Eupatorium purpureum or Joe Pye Weed as it is commonly called is a hardy perennial which likes a sunny spot with a moist soil. Its common name was derived from a Native American who was said to have cured typhoid fever with it by inducing extreme sweating. It was also used as an antisyphilitic. The plant is also a benificial for bees and butterflies.

A bowl of Pot Marigolds, 70 heads to be exact, these ones were used to make an ointment which is excellent for any skin problems. An oil can also be made by covering the heads with sunflower oil, placing in a sunny place for a few days then straining off the resulting beautifully coloured oil. Again an excellent treatment for any skin problems.

This Lysimachia with the variegated leaves will hopefully spread like the plain leaved one. I was careful to plant it where its rapid spread can be absorbed. It too likes a moist situation. It can be divided in Autumn or Spring every 2 or 3 years.

The recent heavy rain has played havoc with the Poppies although they continue to produce masses of new blooms.

I think their seed heads look rather attractive anyway. I wonder if the seeds of these Opium Poppies can be saved and used in cooking? Anyone know ?

The Grapes are slowly starting to ripen in the polytunnel. They are in dire need of some sun which has been very scarce this Summer. Typically the forecast is good for next week just as all the children return to school.

Sweet William, Burdock and St. John’s Wort.

In Folklore, Foraging., Gardening, Herbs, sustainable living on August 12, 2011 at 12:45 pm

Sweet William is one of the oldest known garden flowers. I love its range of colours, the fact it is scented and that it is long lasting even when picked. Plants grow between 1 – 2 ft high and are topped with rounded clusters of flowers.

Flowers come in every shade from pink to white, they can be fringed, single or double. I prefer the single flowered ones as they are more suitable for bees.

Plants can be easily grown from seed planted in June or July, they will flower the following Summer. They can be overwintered in a cold frame or polytunnel. They do best in full sun in a well drained soil.

Along the lane wild plants with herbal uses continue to draw my attention. This one is Burdock (Arctium lappa), a biennial herb with a large taproot. It is an excellent blood purifier and promotes healthy kidney function. It expels uric acid from the body so it is helpful for gout and rheumatism. The fresh root can be used like carrots in soups and other dishes. In Japan Burdock is considered a premium vegetable, it is know as gobo root. Burdock can be made into a tea and used to bathe wounds, ulcers and ezcema.

St John’s Wort is also a perennial herb which grows wild here. In medieval times it was hung in windows and doorways to keep evil spirits at bay. An oil can be made from the flowers and leaves, 70 percent flowers to 30 percent leaves. Collect from the plant just as the blossoms are opening. Pinch a bud and a squirt of bloodlike oil will squirt out. If ready, the buds will stain your fingers bright red. It is desirable to pick on a dry day. To make the oil place the plant material in a wide mouthed jar. Pour in enough olive oil to come 2-3 inches above the herb. Cover tightly and leave on a sunny windowsill for 4-6 weeks. The oil will slowly turn a deep red colour. Strain the oil through a fine mesh strainer and bottle. Apply to sprains, bruises and burns. Some people can have a skin reaction which is aggravated by exposure to the sun so test it out on a small area first.

The Wider View. Part 2.

In Gardening, Herbs, sustainable living on August 9, 2011 at 2:38 pm

The gate to the vegetable garden.

First thing to see is this Victoria Plum tree laden with fruit again this year.

Following the path, Blackcurrant bushes on the left, veg beds on the right.

There are 2 polytunnels. The biggest one is 63ft long, the smaller one about 22ft. Among the vegetable beds there is a seat, an essential in any garden. It is one of my fave places to sit and contemplate or just observe the beautiful nature which surrounds us.

At the bottom of the small tunnel and looking back towards the house there are fruit trees, Plum and Apple. These are planted in tyres as the ground here is heavy and wet. Herbs and flowers are planted round the bases of the trees.

More veg beds beside the small polytunnel.

Looking over the fence we can see the house through the Birch  tree. The cottage garden bed is at the other side of the fence.

Hope you enjoyed the tour!

The Potato Experiment @ Prospect Cottage.

In arigna, Folklore, Gardening, Herbs, sustainable living on August 3, 2011 at 9:28 am

Monday last was August 1st, also known as Lammas or Lughnasa. In the not so distant past this was a time of fairs and horse trading in honour of Rhiannon, the horse Goddess of the Underworld. There is still one remaining horse fair held on this day which is I believe held somewhere in Galway. Here in Arigna we like to harvest produce on this day  as it is also a celebration of the abundance of the season. A time of gathering and preserving in preperation for the Winter which is just around the corner.

In April we planted Potatoes using a method new to us. Newspaper was placed on the ground, potatoes on top then covered with a thick mulch of rushes (straw could also be used). See post Blueberries, Potatoes & Rushes published on 11th April for more info and pics.

The variety planted was Colleen. Wow, the results far exceeded my expectations, I admit I was dubious. The Potatoes are clean, just pull back the mulch and there they are. Good yield, the amount above is from 2 plants. The size was a bit erratic, some very large Potatoes, some small. All in all we are well pleased and shall definitely use this method again.

In the new gravel garden, see post Elephant Hawk Moth & Gravel Garden published June 8th, everything is filling out nicely. The pots with mostly succulents in are doing particularly well. It is the sunniest spot. Many of the plants have flowered for the first time. Really love the little flower on this one.

In the vegetable garden Oregano is flowering now. The Bees just love it. Some of the flowers will be dried for use in teas. It is useful for colds, headaches and gastro-intestinal disorders. With the addition of a teaspoon of honey it makes a delicious tea. The leaves can also be infused to make a hair conditioner or added to your bath water to promote relaxation.

Weather, weather, weather!

In Animals, Cooking, Gardening, Herbs, sustainable living on July 18, 2011 at 7:47 pm

What a difference a week makes. Last week I took this pic of Bella and Enid sheltering from the heat of the sun under the Sycamore tree. The last 3 days have been like a return to Winter. Have’nt opened the polytunnels for days as there have been such strong gusts of wind. Huge amounts of rain have fallen and it’s been cold too. I’ve hears it said that “a week is a long time in politics.” Well, a week is a long time when it comes to Irish weather!

So, what to do when stuck indoors in July. I cook and bake. Over the weekend I made 3 cakes which are almost gone, we did have lots of visitors! Also the 4 brown breads you see above. I always bake 4 together, 1 to use immediately and 3 for the freezer.

Gooseberries are ready for picking, a job for tomorrow.

The Rosebay Willowherb is still looking lovely on the lane. Won’t be bringing it into the garden though as it does spread like crazy.

The Lavender is flowering, unaffected by the rain and wind, although the scent is not so good without sunshine. Lavender has a multitude of uses. It can be used in cooking, from flavouring for jams to crystallizing the flowers for cake decoration. Medicinally it can be infused as a tea for headaches, to calm nerves and ease flatulence. Household use includes using the flower heads in sachets to protect clothing from Moths. All that and it looks good too! The good news on the weather is things are set to improve with high pressure dominating by next weekend. Fingers crossed!

Calendula Ointment & other musings from Prospect Cottage.

In Gardening, Herbs, sustainable living on July 5, 2011 at 9:26 am

Lychnis coronaria, it’s striking magenta flowers would light up any border. The grey leaves show up the flowers brilliantly. It loves well drained soil and a sunny position. There is also a white version but this is the one for me! I shall  save seeds from this one, I want more!

Thistles are just starting to reveal their beautiful purple flowers. Purple is one of my fave colours.

Seed heads of Sweet Cicely, these have a slight aniseed flavour and can be used in Apple or other fruit pies. According to Lesley Bremness in The Complete Book of Herbs they are used to flavour Chartreuse liqueur and when  crushed make a furniture polish.

Escallonia at the back of the border provides year round greenery. It is covered in tiny flowers right now, their abundance making up for their size. Now is a good time to take cuttings of  Escallonia, they strike easily.

Lots of Calendula at the moment, it self seeds from year to year. An ointment can be made from the flowers which is good for burns, bruises, sores or other skin problems. To make it:  100g Calendula flowers (about 70 heads),   150g emulsifying ointment (from pharmacy), 70ml glycerine(also from pharmacy), 80ml water.

Method:  Chop flowers and put with rest of ingredients into a bain-marie for about 1-3 hours depending on desired strength. Take off heat and add a few drops of lavender oil. Strain into sterilised jars.

Wild Herbs and Birch trees.

In Gardening, Herbs, sustainable living on July 3, 2011 at 8:58 pm

Rosebay Willowherb has come into flower overnight. I noticed it on this morning’s walk with the dogs. I suppose you could’nt really miss those pinky/magenta flowers. To me they are as pretty as any garden plant.  It has to be kept under a careful eye in the garden as it spreads rapidly. Each plant has about 80,000 seeds, these have silky hairs which aid dispersal by the wind. In North America it is called Fireweed and was used medicinally by the native peoples.

The plant became known as Bombweed because of it’s rapid colonization of bomb craters in the Second World War. It needs space and light to thrive and dies out where there are trees and shrubs. In Alaska candies, syrup and even ice cream are made from the plant. Russians use it as a tea.

On the return from the short walk I picked a big bunch of Equisetum, Horsetail or Mare’s Tail are it common names, this will go in the liquid feed brew. Equisetum is said to be a good preventative against fungal diseases in all crops. Mixing it into the liquid feed is a good way to apply it.

This is the view from the bathroom window onto the first flower bed we made here. It has filled out nicely now. The stone was brought from an old building in the back field and most of the plants were grown from cuttings, or slips as they say in Ireland.

From the same window I can also look into the canopy of this Birch, one of my favourite trees.

Spotted Flycatchers and Garden Musings.

In Animals, arigna, Gardening, Herbs on July 2, 2011 at 8:48 am

A pair of Spotted Flycatchers have set up home at our neighbours house and produced this brood of 5 chicks. They are 13 days old now and will fledge in the next few days.

At Prospect Cottage we feed the birds all year, mainly with peanuts. Usually we don’t get too many takers in Summer, but this year, because of bad summer I presume, we have more visitors than usual.

The long border is looking good right now, everything looking lush and healthy. Really like this Buddleia globosa with it’s balls of yellow flowers. The Carex, grown from a division given from my friend Colette, has really done well. I will be able to make divisions from this next Spring and pass it on to someone else and increase the plantings here. So the circle goes, round and round.

Now is a good time to take semi-ripe cuttings of perennials. Choose a sturdy side shoot, soft and green at the top, stiff at the base. Plants like Buddleia, Escallonia, Pieris and Hebe to name but a few take root easily at this time.

Feverfew is in flower now, this is the double flowered form. Culpeper said that Feverfew is good for “melancholy and aches and pains in the head.” Most people who suffer from migranes find significant improvement after eating a number of Fererfew leaves every day. This is best taken with other foods, maybe in a sandwich, as Feverfew is very bitter. Three to five leaves a day is generally recommended. An infusion can also be used as a mouth rinse after tooth extraction. Be careful though as it also acts as a mild laxative.

Bumble Bees & other musings from Prospect Cottage.

In Bees, Gardening, Herbs on May 17, 2011 at 10:29 am

There seems to be lots of Bumble Bees about this year. Great to see them as worldwide they are in decline mostly because of disturbance to habitats. There are about 250 species living mostly in the Northern Hemisphere, although they are common in New Zealand and Tasmania. They are ground nesting often in tunnels abandoned by other creatures. Living in small colonies of no more than 50 they produce only enough honey to feed their young. Unlike their cousins the Honey Bees they do not die if they use their sting. However, it is rare for them to sting, usually only if they feel threatened. Bumble Bees are important pollinators of crops and wildflowers.

These Alliums are doing really well considering they were planted late, end of January, bargain bulbs in sale. They are holding up well to all the recent rain. I love purple flowers. Actually I really like the colour purple in clothing too.

Silverweed is plentiful on the lane at the moment, it thrives in the moist soil we have. A member of the Potentilla family, in the past the root was cooked and eaten as a vegetable or ground to use in bread and porridge. Geese are said to be partial to the leaves. The plant was also used medicinally. An infusion is said to be useful for gargles to relieve painful gums and toothache.

Tormentil, also a member of the Potentilla family, is in flower at the moment. It has similar properties to Silverweed being of the same family. The Lapps use the juice from the root to stain leather.