You’ll find that many of the plants that grow in certain seasons of the year correspond with what your body needs at that time. In spring you will find highly nutritous, mineral and vitamin-rich green growth that will aid in detoxifying your body and restoring your vitality after the winter’s slumber. Nettles and dandelions spring to mind, but there are many more!
This is a great tonic for people who have an iron deficiency such as anaemia or otherwise tend to be low on energy or with a decreased immune function. They could do with a regular (and delicious!) iron boost. This lovely recipe comes from the renowned herbalist Christopher Hedley.
- 5 handfuls freshly picked nettle heads – that’s the top 4 leaves of a nettle before it goes to seed and looks fresh and green.
- Roughly 1/2 bottle organic red wine
- 5 handfuls dried organic/unsulphured apricots, chopped
- Peel from 1 organic/unwaxed orange
Combine the nettle, chopped apricots and orange peel in a sterilised, airtight container. Fill it up with red wine until the ingredients are fully submerged. Stir or shake the mixture daily for 2 weeks.
After 2 weeks, strain the liquid and keep it in the fridge in an airtight container. Drink 2 tablespoons daily or half a glass as an aperitif 20 mins before your meal in order to stimulate your digestion. Try your utmost not to drink it all at once 😉 Should keep for a couple of months.
At this time of year the elderflower is in full bloom and as you pass beneath this auspicious tree you suddenly find yourself engulfed in its gorgeous scent! I can’t help but pick some flowers and try and capture its fresh flavour. When picking elderflower make sure you leave the tree as you found it. The flowers are loved by a variety of wildlife and they also eventually turn into juicy elderberries in the autumn which makes for a wonderful immune-boosting winter syrup. Make sure that you have permission from the owners of the land to pick. Also to find out whether they spray any toxins onto their land. The elderflower is particularly helpful for hayfever (prominent at this time of year!), flu, fever and colds and the leaves can be used in an ointment for bruises. But perhaps something more fun and in preparation for the summer festivities is an Elderflower Champagne!
- 2 L hot water
- 3 L cold water
- 15 fresh elderflower heads, cut the florets from the stem and ensure all the bugs are released
- Zest and juice from 4 organic lemons
- 750g sugar
- 2 Tbsp white wine or cider vinegar
- Optional: 1/2 tsp dried inactive yeast nutrient or 5g Champagne yeast
- A bucket or big saucepan with a lid
- A muslin/cheese cloth
- Empty champagne bottles with stoppers. These are probably the safer option since they have thicker glass and more effective closures, although swingtop bottles should also work. Either save up your old prosecco bottles or buy them secondhand or new online.
Make sure all your equipment is sterilised or throughly cleaned before starting. Sterilise the bottles by washing them in hot, soapy water and leave to dry in a 100 degree oven for 10 minutes. Dissolve the sugar in hot water in a bucket or saucepan and then top it up with cold water. Make sure the liquid is cool and aerated. Add the elderflowers, lemon juice and zest. Here you can add the yeast to kick start the fermentation process if you want to.
Elderflowers actually contain wild yeast so you could wait and see if it ferments on its own. If after 3 days it has still not started to ferment (i.e. started to become foamy and create bubbles), you can add the yeast. Leave the brew to ferment for a further 4-6 days, tasting it regularly (make sure you do not double dip your spoon though!).
Strain the liquid with a muslin cloth and squeeze out any excess juice from the pulp. Bottle the liquid up where it should continue to ferment for another week before serving it chilled. I recommend storing the bottles in the fridge or a cool larder where it should keep for a couple of months.
Elderflower, Lemon and Ginger Cough Drops
This recipe is adapted from Vicky Chown and Kim Walker’s gorgeous book The Handmade Apothecary. Although it says it’s meant for a cough, I think it’s a yummy sweety more than anything! If you plan on having these sweets genuinely for a cough I would recommend using natural/organic ingredients where possible.
- 4cm sliced fresh ginger
- 3/4 Tbsp whole cloves
- 150ml water
- 3 fresh elderflower heads, cut the florets from the stem
- 200g unrefined sugar (I know…)
- 100ml honey
- Juice of 1/4 lemon
- Icing sugar for dusting or shaping the droplets
- Optional: 1/4 tsp cayenne powder
Combine the water, ginger and cloves in a large, heavy-based saucepan and simmer for 10 minutes, covered. Remove from the heat and add the elderflowers. Steep for 20 minutes. Strain the liquid and ensure the liquid amounts to 125 ml. If there isn’t enough, top it up with some more water or with some Elderflower Cordial.
Return the mixture back to the pan and add the sugar, lemon and honey. I also added cayenne powder to give the sweets a bit of a kick. It’s also a great immune system booster and an anti-irritant for a sore throat. Bring it to a gentle boil for about 15-20 mins (might need longer) until the liquid has reached the hard-crack phase (which is extremely hot so careful). Test the liquid on some greaseproof paper to see if it creates brittle strands and then take the liquid off the heat.
With a teaspoon pour droplets of liquid on greaseproof paper and let it set. You can then coat it in icing sugar to prevent them from sticking together. Alternatively, fill a tray with 2.5 cm depth of icing sugar and make moulds into the icing sugar using a droplet-like shape (I used my ring). Pour the liquid into these moulds and, once they are set, coat them with the icing sugar. The left-over icing sugar can be reused. Store the cough drops individually wrapped in greaseproof paper or in an airtight jar steeped in icing sugar. Suck one when needed. Yes, you heard. Just one.
There are many other beautiful things bursting out of their buds at this time of year and many of them make for delicious dishes (such as soups, salads and pestos) or potent medicinal potions (such as tinctures, tonics and teas). Lookout for and read up about the powers of chickweed, cleavers, dandelion, plantain, daisies, clovers, mustard seed, comfrey, birch, linden, hawthorne and others! You’d be surprised…