Inspiring lifestyles

How to benefit from the natural remedies on your doorstep

Juliette picking calendula
Juliette picking calendula (Giles Bryant)

By Juliette Bryant, nutritional consultant.

The other day, I received a distressed call from a friend in need of help. Her daughter had cut her lip open really badly on an obstacle course. Due to the location of the wound, the doctors were unable to do much except tell her to keep the child quiet and still so the injury could heal.

As a result, she called me for advice and I knew just the thing. For years, since my first child was small in fact, I have made healing balm, which I carry around with me at all times in case of emergencies. I cannot count the times this little pot of ointment has come to the rescue, helping to stop deep cuts from bleeding, healing minor grazes, easing dry lips, relieving insect bites, soothing headaches and treating sunburn to name but a few uses.

It is worth remembering in this context that we all have a veritable cornucopia of natural plant remedies on our doorsteps. Indeed, some common plants like calendula, the star of this article, have been used for thousands of years.

But a big breakthrough in understanding medicinal plants in this country came with the development of monastic herb gardens. Monks would grow a wide variety of medicinal plants, with some using up to 500 species for both food and medicine. In fact, in monastic or castle gardens, everything not recorded as a fruit tree was considered an herb as plants were believed to facilitate both good health and good taste.

Today, however, most of us have forgotten this ancient wisdom and limit our use of herbs to a sparse few. So why did this knowledge of herbal lore almost disappear?

A major cause was the persecution of anyone using herbs and branding them as a witch. What was done to the wise women of the seventeenth century by fanatical zealots, especially in East Anglia, is a shocking story.

Herbalists and healers

Because East Anglia was the playground of the notorious ‘Witchfinder General’ and was synonymous with witch hunts. At a time when Puritanism was at its peak and the 1603 Witchcraft Act was still in force, local parishes paid Matthew Hopkins to find and try witches, who were all too often single, older women working as healers, herbalists and midwives – or who simply ended up as scapegoats.

Although we live in more enlightened times now, knowledge of how to use plants medicinally is still restricted and censored to this day. But the word is starting to get out now helped by advocates such as James Wong with his wonderful book and TV show, ‘How To Grow Your Own Drugs’.

Herbs such as mint, coriander, tansy and marjoram are native to the UK. But their bounty was supplemented by the Romans who, on invading these shores, brought with them spices such as ginger, pepper and cinnamon, and herbs like borage, chervil, dill, fennel, lovage, sage and thyme, all of which are still part of the average British kitchen.

Calendula or pot marigold is also a very versatile plant and has a long history of use. Linked to the Virgin Mary, it was included in many 14th century recipes to help fight the plague. The ancient Egyptians likewise honoured it for its rejuvenating properties, while Hindus still use it to adorn their altars.

The plant, which has also traditionally been used for culinary purposes, was colloquially known as ‘poor man’s saffron’ and employed both to adorn salads and dye clothes. Its flowers were engaged for everything from reducing inflammation and calming nappy rash and angry skin such as eczema to soothing cuts and grazes and relieving bed sores, ulcers and varicose veins.

So if you would like to make a simple calendula-based healing balm of your own to act as an invaluable first aid tool, here is a great recipe:

Calendula Healing Balm
Calendula healing balm (Giles Bryant)

Healing balm

300ml of olive oil or coconut oil (or a combination of both)

1 cup of calendula flowers

2 sprigs of lemon balm

½ cup of lavender flowers

1 head of rose petals

½ cup camomile flowers

3 tbsp of bees or candelilia wax (the vegan option)

10 drops of lavender oil

Place the oil and flowers into a saucepan and put on a very low heat to simmer slowly for 20 minutes, never allowing the mixture to boil. Alternatively, you can place the flowers and the oil into a glass jar and leave to steep for six weeks.

When done, strain the oil from the flowers and discard them. Put the oil back into the pan with your wax and allow it to melt gently on a low heat. When all of the wax is melted, add 10 drops of lavender oil and pour the mixture into glass jars to set. It will last up to a year.

Juliette Bryant

Juliette Bryant is an author, nutritional consultant, superfood chef and presenter who runs courses, talks, workshops and retreats around the world. Her passion is helping people to thrive by showing them how to make delicious and healthy food. Juliette runs a busy practice providing nutritional consultations to individuals and businesses worldwide.

 

 

 

Inspiring lifestyles

Discovering the delights of wild food

Mushroom growing in a forest
Photo by Matthias Zomer on Pexels.com

By Juliette Bryant, nutritional consultant and healer.

Many of the plants we think of as weeds have been used for thousands of years as both food and medicine. It is not necessary to go too far back in history to a time before online shopping, supermarkets or even the village store when knowing what could be eaten from the local environment was simply a matter of survival.

Farming is estimated to have first emerged in Britain around 6,000 years ago. Long before that, people hunted and gathered their food. Although all too often the few people in the world who still maintain this kind of lifestyle are considered primitive, the question is, are they really? Not only are they generally members of sophisticated cultures, but they often only need to work as little as three hours a day to satisfy their physical needs.

On Mother’s Day this year, I was given a wonderful book by Ray Mears called ‘Wild Food’. Through his television programmes and courses, Ray has done much to demonstrate the value of natural resources, honour the indigenous groups that keep them alive and generally help reconnect people to the earth.

After asking the question ‘what plants did our hunter gathering ancestors eat?” he brought in leading archeo-botanist, Professor Gordon Hillman, to answer. They spent time with the aboriginal people of Australia in order to learn the old ways that are still practiced today. What they discovered was a highly-developed awareness of the local environment – something that we in the West have lost largely.

While it may seen very convenient to have other people provide for all our food needs, in doing so we miss out on valuable medicinal food sources that can be found in our locale. There is even an argument that local food is best for us, not just due to food miles and freshness issues, but because the plants that grow near us may be most suited to our constitution and heal us in the most effective way.

The mystical series of books ‘Anastasia’, which is set in Siberia, considers the inherent power of wild foods – they have developed naturally over millions of years and are so tough they can survive almost anything humans throw at them, always returning to colonise the land no matter what.

juliette foraging for wild garlic
Juliette Bryant foraging for wild garlic (Giles Bryant)

Food for free

But it was the publication of Richard Mabey’s iconic book ‘Food For Free’  in 1972 that initially started a resurgence in eating wild foods. Now there are foraging courses all across the UK, including some good local ones in East Anglia. Such knowledge is not only beneficial for our health. It is also good for our pocket too as we can use foraged food to supplement the paid-for goods in our larder.

Unsurprisingly lots of businesses are likewise getting in on the act by selling foraged seaweed such as samphire as well as local mushrooms. The small Suffolk town of Sudbury even has a pop-up restaurant called Shillingford’s, which is located at The Quay performing arts theatre and specialises in wild food.

While there is something primal about collecting your own food, there are also massive potential health benefits from a medicinal point of view in eating a wider range of foods. Archeologists believe that pre-agricultural humans may have eaten between 200–1,000 different plants species over the course of a year. But today, a huge 90% of cultivated foods come from just 20 plants.

Having a more diverse diet though means we consume a wider range of tiny phyto-nutritients, the healing qualities of which are being discovered more and more each day.

While out foraging, however, it is important to bear a few things in mind:

  • It is against the law to uproot a wild plant, however common, without the landowner’s permission;
  • Only pick specimens that are abundant and never strip a plant completely of its leaves, fruit or berries, or take more than you need;
  • Beware of eating anything that may have been contaminated;
  • Never eat something if you are not completely sure of what it is, or how to cook it if it cannot be eaten raw, as some wild plants can be deadly.

Here is a quick and easy recipe that can be made from some of the wild foods growing all around us:

Wild garlic & chickweed hummus

1 tin chickpeas

2 tbs tahini

juice of 1 lemon

4 tbs olive oil

1 tsp good salt

small handful of chickweed

small handful of wild garlic leaves

3 tbs water

½ tsp paprika

Blend together well in a food processor, adding a dash more water if required. Garnish with a sprinkle of paprika. This is delicious served with baked potatoes and salad.

JulietteBryant

Juliette Bryant is an author, nutritional consultant, superfood chef and presenter who runs courses, talks, workshops and retreats around the world. Her passion is helping people to thrive by showing them how to make delicious and healthy food. Juliette runs a busy practice providing nutritional consultations to individuals and businesses worldwide.