Friday, 24 June 2011

st john's wort oil

Although we celebrated the summer solstice on the 21st june, in many parts of the Britain and Europe the 24th June, St John's Day, has historically been considered to be midsummer. Technically the solstice is an astronomical point so the date moves between the 20th - 23rd june but in the distant past many European peasants were not able to travel to Stonehenge to check the passage of the sun, settled on a fixed date on which to celebrate, the 24th. In Shakespeare's play, his midsummer night's dream occurs on the 23rd, midsummer's eve.

A herb that flowers at this time is St John's Wort, Hypericum Perforatum. A wonderful herb known to treat depression, anxiety and sleep disorders and also, externally, nerve pain and skin disorders. It flowers on and around this day and is said to be most powerful when picked on this day. It also has many magical connotations, traditionally linked with the festivals of love and fertility.

The young maid stole through the cottage door,
And blushed as she sought the Plant of pow'r;--
'Thou silver glow-worm, O lend me thy light,
I must gather the mystic St. John's wort tonight,
The wonderful herb, whose leaf will decide
If the coming year shall make me a bride.

from A Midsummer's Celebration by Mike Nichols

I have found quite a large clump growing in my local park and although not many of the flowers have opened yet, most likely due to the weird june weather we're having, I managed to pick enough for a small jar. As with any herb or plant you harvest from, take care to thank the plant for what you take, and also not to strip it bare; leave something for others to enjoy.

I was taught years ago by my herbalist friend Paula ( how to make this oil and I love the folklore behind it and the magical way the oil changes colour using the warmth of the sun. Its almost like there's a kind of mystic alchemy involved!

To make this infused oil like this you need an empty jar with an airtight lid, a carrier oil such as sweet almond oil, jojoba, grape seed, hemp or olive oil and enough flowers to fill the jar. Crush or chop the flower heads and put them in the jar. Use enough oil to cover the flowers and put the lid on tightly. Leave in the sun on a warm window sill for 2-3 weeks, giving the jar a gentle shake every day to encourage the oil to infuse. Eventually the oil will turn a beautiful dark red colour. Once it has turned red the oil can then be strained through muslin and kept in a dark glass container for up to a year in a cool dark place.

This oil does not have any of the anti-depressant qualities of the orally taken herbal tincture but it has many other external uses. It can be used for abrasive wounds, musculature and nerve pain and also burns. I will keep checking the oil for the next couple of weeks and show you the results once the colour has changed.
I love these home remedies. They are so easy to do and I feel it helps you become more aware of the plants that you might not otherwise take any notice of. I have also collected some lime flowers from a tree I spotted on the way to my Zumba class last night. I'll dry them and use in them in tea. They smell so amazing and so evocative of summer.

I really want to add to this that I am not a qualified herbalist. I have picked up many of the remedies and preparations from books, courses and personal study but if in doubt always consult a professional. It is so important to double check that you know what it is you're picking and how it will effect you when used as a treatment. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

happy solstice!

I would love to say that my solstice/Litha started with me getting up at dawn (4.45am GMT), greeting the new day with a calm yet joyful heart; but unfortunately it didn't happen. However as Isla is teething, I got up to see to her at about 3.30am, so I guess you could say I greeted the pre-dawn, albeit through half closed eyes!

It's been a pretty blustery day here, with the weather changing on a sixpence as it has a tendency to do, so we didn't see much sun but I guess its a good day to appreciate the changing seasons. A herbalist friend of mine has organised a herb walk round Regents Park in London but as I can't go on this occasion, I decided to have a walk around my local area to see what I could find. (She also has a wonderful blog, find her here We had such amazing weather in april/may this year many of the trees such as elder and hawthorn have long since flowered and are producing berries for the autumn. The bramble is also in flower ready to transform flowers to fruit. I'm so looking forward to making elderberry syrup, blackberry vodka and hawthorn brandy again this year.


I also found nettles in abundance, dripping with seeds, as well as plantain and yarrow. Plantain is a wonderful herb for this time of year as you can use the leaves to rub onto insect bites. Chew them up a little to release the mucilaginous juices and apply to the bite for a soothing, cooling poultice. As a child I used to love firing the seed heads off the end of the stalks like a canon! Yarrow can be used in a tea as a remedy for fever and the young leaves can be used in salads. Also called 'soldier's wound wort' it can be used to stop nosebleeds.Yarrow is also a well known witches garden herb, historically used in many wise folk's spells and charms. Carrying yarrow blossoms in your pocket is said to attract new love to you and the fragrance is said to alleviate fears and help you to see a situation more clearly.

Nettle is a fantastic remedy for hayfever as it contains anti-histamine and is also a very good source of iron. You can use the leaves in tea, soup and salads but I wouldn't recommend picking the leaves to eat after the beginning of june as they become course and bitter and much more laxative. The seeds can be harvested over the summer and they are used as an adrenal adaptogen; useful for raising energy levels. Check out whispering earth's blog for more in depth info on this

oh and I know it doesn't really count as a herb but I found it on my walk and it made me smile...

I like to spend time in the garden at midsummer, seeing what is in bloom. We've been on holiday recently so everything has gone a little mad, with all the rain we've had while we've been away. My nasturtiums have taken over my herb bed and will need moving, likewise the rocket. The grass was ankle deep and the roses need dead heading pruning so they'll flower for a second time. So mark & I spent a couple of happy hours mowing, weeding and clearing. I decided to tackle an overgrown flower bed that hasn't been touched since we moved in.

Its amazing the kind of things you find....

quite appropriate really!

So now I'll sit back and enjoy a glass of last seasons blackberry vodka with lemonade and enjoy the last of the sun, then indoors for a fire and a meal. Happy solstice!