February Task:

Discovering what herbs are growing around you

Walk around your “harvesting space” (this may be your garden, a local park or field, hedgerows, allotment, canalside etc) and identify what plants are growing. If you can find them, pick and make tea with cleavers, chickweed and young nettles. If you can gather enough, add chickweed to a salad or stir-fry and make and oil and/or salve. With nettles make an iron tonic and/or soup. (Make sure the area you are picking from is not frequented by dog walkers and rinse your harvest thoroughly before eating/cooking.)

Wow, motivation was hard to find this February! I failed pretty much totally on the ‘harvesting space’ part – eventually (about a week ago) I settled on my patch in the back garden but got immediately daunted and overwhelmed by the idea of having to pick out and identify all the little weeds in their earliest stage of development. I spotted lots of Hairy Bittercress (whose mustardy excellence I’ve only recently gotten acquainted with), some creeping Wild Strawberries and a fair amount of Yarrow rosettes picking up where they left off at the end of last year. Other than that I don’t really have a clue, and can only promise to keep an eye on the area to see what matures in the coming months. So a cop-out basically. Sorry! (Generally I’ve surprised myself with my progress in being able to recognise & identify plants from their newest shoots while out and about. Knowing that adult specimens were growing there previously helps a lot.)

I had more luck with Cleavers and Nettles, both of which have been coming up in some profusion near where I live. Chickweed has been harder to find in patches large enough to make much use of, other than as a wayside nibble. Here’s a Cleavers & Nettle infusion I just made for tomorrow morning/afternoon:

I followed Robin Harford’s instructions of simply pouring boiling water straight over the herb in the (pre-warmed) jam jar, then covering & leaving overnight. I found that an infusion of Cleavers on its own tasted pretty awful, like nasty vegetable water. I felt pretty ‘cleansed’ after, however, and the ‘quick gulp’ technique worked well for getting it into me relatively painlessly(!) I prefer to eat them raw as a salad component in sandwiches, although they do put up quite a fight scratching at the tongue and inside of the mouth in a desperate bid not to be swallowed…

I haven’t eaten Nettles this early in the year before. It gave me a laugh when I first examined the new growths starting to poke up along the paths and, especially, on or around rubbish heaps (apparently they like soils ‘rich in phosphates and nitrogen’) – the baby plants all look so raggedy and bristlingly angry with their leaves still full of holes and not at all elegant as later in life. I made the Chris Hedley Iron Tonic:

(Ingredients: equal weight nettles and dried apricots – diced – orange peel, red wine to cover. Soaking for two weeks)

… as well as a few teas, the above infusion, an omelette and a fry-up:

(Ingredients: smoked streaky bacon, cut up, eggs, onion, nettles, red pepper, sunflower seeds, olive oil, rosemary)

I felt great especially after the teas. I could really feel the wonderful green, spiky essence buzzing in my mouth, down my throat (tweaking the glands on the way down) and warming up the belly. It left me practically bouncing off the walls with a wild, mischievous energy. My skin looked markedly healthier only a few hours afterward too. And I still feel very ‘nourished’ after including them in a meal. Currently, I have a batch sitting in the fridge, waiting to be turned into soup…

I’m afraid I’ve rather neglected my herbal ally, Yarrow, so far, apart from giving it a special greeting and a promise to spend more time with the specimens growing in our garden every time I see some growing in the wild, and occasionally putting some of the feathery leaves into wild salads.

Here are some Horse-Chestnut buds I’m turning into a flower essence as per the instructions on this page:

(Yes, that’s the same Nettle/Cleavers infusion sitting in the background – many people have chastised me over the years for doing things at the very last minute.)

Will try to do better in March…


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