The Compound umbel of the Ground-elder flower
(James Lindsey at Ecology of Commanster [CC BY-SA 2.5 ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

Ground-elder - Aegopodium podagraria - Herb for March 2017


Here is a wonderful blog from John Handley, a naturalist and friend whose website will soon be a must-see:

I marvel at the synanthropic ability of Ground-elder, a plant that is well suited to live together with us. Often on the outskirts of inhabited areas, it has invariably arrived there because of us, and marks the land where two worlds meet: the natural world and where our influence is total.

While some authorities suggest that the plant was introduced to Britain by the Romans, others propose that it appeared here in the Middle Ages (probably brought in by monks used to cultivating it in monastery gardens on the European mainland, primarily for medicinal use) and was grown as a vegetable.

It obtains many of it’s names from its association with both monastries and the medicinal purposes to which it was put, such as: Ache weed, Bishops goutweed, English masterwort, Goutweed, Goutwort, Housemaid’s knee, and Wild masterwort. The number and variety of these names help us understand how valued this plant was and why it was brought here, planted and encouraged to grow.

Ground-elder is a member of the Apiaceae Family. The Apiaceae are one of my favourite families: in the process of gathering the flowers together evolution has crafted appealing landing pads for a wide variety of invertebrates and on a sunny day, when any member of this family are in bloom, you’ll be treated to a succession of beetles, hoverflies, bees and flies all busily gathering nectar or pollen. 

In terms of safety, Ground-elder isn’t easily confused with any other members of this family, and learning a few basic rules should help differentiate it from any other members of the Apiaceae.

Three simple rules for foraging Ground-elder

  1. Pick plants that don’t grow near water – this helps exclude Hemlock Water-dropwort.
  2. Pick plants that have green stems – this excludes Hemlock which has purple blotches on the stem.
  3. Pick plants that grow in extensive patches with rhizomes – this rules out Fool’s Parsley.

 The best way to forage with confidence is to get to know the leaf shape. Ground-elder has ‘ternate’ leaves – divided into three more-or-less equal parts. 

The ternate structure of a compound Ground-elder leaf.

Ground-elder’s rhizomes make it difficult to eradicate; the rhizomes break easily when the soil is disturbed and a small piece is enough to start a new plant. Ground elder often forms dense stands which exclude all other plants. One plant is enough to create such complete shade with its densely-packed leaves that no other shoots can grow.

It makes a great food plant because it grows so abundantly and no matter how much you forage you will be extremely unlikely to eradicate it. Ground-elder is easy to forage: collect the young leaves and use them as you would spinach, wilted down with a little knob of butter. They have a flavour that is reminiscent of parsley and the texture of the young leaves is a little more resistant than spinach but less tough than a winter cabbage. The leaves become leathery as the plant gets older, therefore generally a good plant to use in the early spring.

 And here is this month’s poem from my good friend Nadia Kingsley:


What have the Romans ever done for us?

They may be known for their aqueducts, and obviously 

the roads – but when they came they also dropped

snapped-off lengths of Ground Elder rhizome 

with covering of dirt to grow and feed the stomachs

marching, marching upon these spreading routes.

No one in England, and I mean no one, not in this age

and not on any day in February, should starve

thanks to them: for its stems in soup, in pasta, or 

as salad will stave off scurvy, keep the eye sharp,

knit your bones dense, and give blood its oxygen.

And to all modern moaning gardeners, with a toxic 

fear of its marvellous tenacity - as it peeps its green 

from out of winter's earth, conquer it via your digestive 

system to spare the muscles of your back, but know 

come summer you will mourn their lost white parasols.


Gorse - Ulex europeaus - Herb for January 2017

Thank Heavens for this prickly but cheery plant!  It provides welcome colour to the countryside in an otherwise bleak and drab January.  On a sunny day, its little flowers can briefly transport me to a warmer climate with their sweet exotic coconut scent.  

Medicinally it has little value today. In the past, the seeds have been used to help rid the body of stones and to ease diarrhoea. They have also been found to contain a cardio-active alkaloid, Ulexine, which has been used in cardiac dropsy. The flowers were given in a tea to ease jaundice and scarlet fever. It also had a reputation for clearing people and livestock of worms. 

Although its medicinal values are few, its past usefulness is unquestionable. The young shoots are edible and saved lives in the Irish famine. When burnt, the ash is an excellent fertiliser and can also be made into soap. It has been greatly prized in the past as a fuel, a dye, food for livestock, providing cover, stock-proof hedges  and cleaning chimneys 

The presence of Gorse, like that of thistles, is said to indicate rich soil. There is a saying referring to plants and the quality of soil – 

Where there is Bracken there is GOLD;
Where there is Gorse there is SILVER;
Where there is Heather there is Poverty 

Today I am very proud to present my guest blogger - John Handley - a good friend of Nadia’s so I will let her introduce him: 

Thanks Jayne! 

I first met John on an organised wildflower walk through Bridgnorth Cemetery. Since then he has helped me both artistically – for example he came round and helped me identify all the plants that were growing in a 2 metre quadrant of our lawn so that I could write a poem about each one for “Lawn Lore”; he has agreed to be recorded for, and written about Grey Squirrels – in Fair Acre Press’ project “Maligned Species”; but he has also helped enormously on a personal level, and is a very good friend. John knows an enormous amount about all aspects of nature, but his speciality are Grasses. He will soon have a website up and running: He is also a keen forager.


From John Handley: 

The buttery, yellow flowers that crowd the spiny branches of Gorse plants are wonderful to see, as much because they can be flowering abundantly even in the middle of winter; there is a saying that “when gorse is in blossom, kissing’s in season”. This is as much about the three different species of gorse in Britain and the different times they flower through the year.

The picture of Gorse, Ulex europeaus, was taken on Dartmoor on the 7th January 2017. 

The name ‘Gorse’ probably comes from the Anglo-Saxon word gorst, meaning ‘a waste’, referring to the plant growing in rough places. Another common name for it is ‘furze’, this is thought to have come from the Anglo-Saxon fyrs – Gorse has long been gathered for firewood. Oliver Rackham states that it is one of the very few fire-promoting plants of British woodlands (Rackham, 2006). 

Gorse is one of the 151 species that make up the Fabaceae, pea family, within Britain. This family were formerly known as the Leguminosae, from which we get the phrase legumes. Many of the plants in this family have root nodules that contain symbiotic bacteria called Rhizobia. These bacteria can fix nitrogen from the atmosphere, where it is unavailable to plants, and convert it into a form the plant can use.

This adaptation means that gorse is a common plant of nutrient poor soils such as heathland and commons. As a pioneer plant it quickly colonises brownfield sites, and it is quick to establish itself on land that is reverting back from farmland.

My pleasure at seeing it bloom when so many other plants are in their basic form sets it apart, but for so many people, commoners, it was a daily blessing. It grows rapidly and requires no maintenance and provides a source of fuel that burns fiercely, an ideal source of kindling and perfect for the baker’s oven.

Its uses are varied, as much because the poverty which necessitated its collection provided the inspiration for its uses - therefore it has been used as a barrier to inhibit livestock, in the darkest of situations as a chimney brush, as a colourant for Easter eggs, scattered over the surface of seedbeds to discourage deer and pigeons, and bound up with heather to create a besom broom. 

Gorse mills were used to bruise the gorse stems and help take the edge of the grooved spines; gorse was an important foodstuff for livestock, especially for horses, with an acre of gorse providing sufficient winter fodder for six horses. Its value meant that there were strict rules as to when it could be cut and how much each commoner could take. Richard Mabey (1998) refers to parishioners only being allowed to take as much as they could “carry on their backs”, on Cumnor Hurst, Oxfordshire following the Enclosure Award in 1820. In other areas of the country, rules prevented plants from being uprooted and only certain types of implements could be used, to restrict the amount that could be harvested.

The ability of gorse to flower over such an extended period and throughout an adverse period of the year makes it a useful plant for bees, who will use the pollen as they come out of hibernation. Bees are the primary pollinators of gorse: flowers that emerge in the winter produce as much pollen and are of comparable size to those produced in the spring. The winter flowers stay open for longer and the particular appeal of winter flowers means that the pollination is as high in the winter as the spring.

My main use for gorse is as a tea. 

You can use the flowers fresh or dried: a useful tip is to pick the flowers and put them to one side until they have wilted a little, any residents will leave and you won’t have to fish them out of your cup! It is said to smell and taste of coconuts though that defeats many of the people I mention it to. A dozen flowers per person if using fresh flowers, half a dozen if using dried flowers, bruise them to bring out the flavour and infuse in boiling water. I serve it with a little lime flower honey, a lovely buttery taste that I find soothing for throats too.

MABEY, R. (1998) Flora Britannica, Chatto and Windus, London.
RACKHAM, O. (2006). Woodlands (New Naturalist). Harper Collins, London.

And here is a poem from Nadia Kingsley:

Striking it rich

When you see the golden flowers
know that gorse is as common as kisses
that it talks with stonechats
its blossom smells of coconuts
its buds - seams of protein. 

I read of a drunk
who woke
ten foot in 
took a helicopter 
to free him.

It's not an easy harvest: 
be armed with a basket
leather on hand
some vinegar, some bandages
a prayer on your tongue



Angelica archangelica - Angelica - Herb for October 2016


October’s herb is a beautiful giant plant: sweet-smelling and standing like a guardian angel in gardens across the world. 

Native to Syria, this plant has spread and naturalized in cooler countries such as Denmark, Germany, Belgium, France and occasionally Britain. It can be found wild in damp waste places, often by riverbanks and has self-seeded itself for generations in several London parks and gardens, notably Lincoln’s Inn Fields and, until recently, has stood sentry on the slopes of the Tower of London.  

There are around 40 varieties but it is only Angelica archangelica that is used in herbal medicine - mainly for respiratory disorders such as asthma, pleurisy, bronchial catarrh and fevers but it can also be used for digestive disorders such as bloating, heartburn, hypoacidity, and has had some success in cases of anorexia nervosa. It also has a reputation of improving vascular health and thus aiding in the prevention of arteriosclerosis when taken in the long term. 

The stems are collected in June and July, while October is the time to collect the fragrant roots for use as a medicine…

Angelica is an ancient plant and is therefore steeped in folklore, stretching across many decades of human history. Its very name is a strong indication of its protective qualities against contagion and negative energies. Its old name was ‘root of the holy ghost’ and was used in ancient pagan festivals to ward off evil and disease. After the introduction of Christianity the name was changed to its present name of Angelica archangelica. Legend tells us that Angelica was revealed in a dream by the angel Raphael who told the dreamer it would cure the plague and was chewed to avoid infection. Today we can not agree with this claim but its healing properties do cover some of the Plague’s symptoms. 

It blooms on the feast of Apparition of St. Michael (May 8th) which fortifies its reputation of having Angelic connections. The fragrant seeds of Angelica are used to flavour vermouth and due to their sweet smell are also widely used in perfumery. It will also lure a queen wasp to a trap in spring.

Today, this herb, which in the past was respected as a great and powerful plant, has sadly dwindled in our appreciation and is used mainly for cake decorations. How the great have fallen.


Here is a poem from my good friend Nadia Kingsley – who wrote this poem to mark the opening of the Roots to Health treatment room and shop, on the High Street of Honiton, on October 1st 2016:

From a non-cook

For Jayne


There’s a woman I know 

who wears her love with knowledge, 

whose eyes smile a lot - 

filling you with brightness like 

the Harvest Moon on cloudless night.


I see her with a willow weave 

heaping it with harvest - from 

woods, fields and riverbank. 

She walks the hills, 

she walks the valleys.


I want to honour her - so, 

with chopped up candied 

emerald stems from aptly named

‘Herb of the Angels’, 

I’m baking her a poem-cake.


Walking with purpose 

she’s always remembering. 

Knows how to use Angelica 

in case of indigestion. Have a slice, 

I say to her - she happily accepts.



Silybum marianum - Milk Thistle - Herb for September 2016



Try as I may, this pretty thistle has eluded me! It is our only thistle which has the milk white veins running along its dark green leaves. It is native to southwest Europe and introduced to Belgium, Holland, Denmark and the lowlands of Britain but as hard as I have searched for it I have not come across it.

Ever since I learned about its amazing liver-healing properties I have looked for it. Just to frustrate me even more, I have learned that this plant can be used as a vegetable and is very similar in taste to artichoke. I love artichoke! I love finding wild food! So why, oh why, can I not find this very special plant? I will persevere.

It seems it’s not just us who like to eat this thistle, it has been given the name Pig thistle because pigs used to snuffle them out and eat them (maybe I should get a pig), also the seeds are a favourite food of finches.

In modern herbal medicine, the Milk thistle has received more scientific interest than most plants, which has proven its healing and restorative effect upon liver cells. It is a remarkably safe herb to use and is very effective for hepatitis, fatty degeneration of the liver and cirrhosis.

It is also a proven antidote, if used in time, to many poisons such as that of Amanita muscaria (fly agaric).

As I mentioned, this plant is a good food - tasting much like artichoke, being of the same family. The heads of the thistle used to be boiled like artichoke, as were the leaves and stems, with the thistles being removed first. The young shoots and leaves, cut close to the ground were eaten as a boiling salad.

In folklore, it was said that drops of milk fell from Mary’s breast onto the leaves while she was suckling Jesus, hence its name milk thistle; due to this legend, herbalists of the past used to use it to bring on a new mother’s milk.

I will keep searching for this powerful plant, living in Devon they should be around: I will pay a visit to the coast where they like to grow. When I find one, I will not pull it up, but harvest the seeds to sow in the garden and add to my collection.

Poem by my good friend Nadia Kingsley – find out more about Nadia at

At seven millimetres

a milk thistle’s seed sits amongst a thousand others

waiting for its tuft of hairs to lift it on to air currents.

The flower that gave it life on metre-straight stem, 

was more red than purple, with necklace of pain.

White-veined leaves , sharp spines on each edge:

seed well protected from all - but this goldfinch.



Petasites vulgarisButterbur -  Herb of the month for August 2016


On a rainy summer’s day, when I was a child, I was always glad to come across this mighty plant whilst out on my adventures in the countryside, as I would pick the largest leaf I could find and use it as an umbrella. Its huge size would completely shelter my entire body. I would stand under it, keeping dry, listening to the pitter patter of the rain all around me and breathing in that lovely smell you only get with the warm summer rain. I remember thinking “This must be what it is like to be a fairy!” as the large leaf somehow made me feel miniature.

As an adult and a herbalist, I now also treasure this plant for its healing properties.

Butterbur is found throughout Great Britain and Europe except in the far north. It grows in wet ground, marshy meadows and riversides and it has the largest leaf of any plant found growing in Britain, which can reach 3 feet in diameter.

Its genus name – Petasites comes from the Greek word petasot - a felt hat worn by shepherds. Butterbur was the British name given to it as it is believed that the large leaves were used to wrap up butter on hot days.  Germany gave this plant the name Pestilenzenwurt, meaning the plague flower. This brings us closer to its medicinal values. Ancient herbalists revered it as a herb of great value in times of the plague. Lyte, in his herbal in 1578 calls it  ‘a sovereign medicine against the plague’ which is one of the earliest recorded usages of a herb that we have to date. Today it is still used for fevers, pain and as a heart tonic. It can be used for colds and flu and is useful in urinary complaints due to its diuretic properties. Its pain-relieving and sedative action also make Butterbur a good plant to use for gallbladder pain.

The fresh plant is better to use than dried. Leaves and flowers are collected in spring, roots and rhizomes in the summer. This is not a plant that can be used long term due to its alkaloid content but it is very effective for acute conditions.

I still use its giant leaves today in the summer to protect my head from sun or rain while walking by the riverside, but alas I have grown and no longer feel like a fairy.

Poem by my good friend Nadia Kingsley – find out more about Nadia at


Pub Quiz

It's not fair! I announce, as I set our four pints down

for we're ready to drown our most recent defeat

to the Couch Potatoes (and the rest of them). With Bitter aloft,
we shout Here's to the Herbalists! Then I expound:
I mean –
why aren’t there questions
on what herb can treat 

the most obstinate sciatica
or which of all plants
has the largest leaves in Britain?

Butterbur! says Pete  
And its seeds sown on a Friday,
a half hour before sunrise
will conjure up your future husband!
That's a myth,
I reply,

but to the rest, I say this: Let's toast the damned lot of them! 

We raise glasses again, and as the pub fills all conversation
sounds the same: Rhubarb, Rhubarb, Rhubarb.
I smile at this -
for Butterbur leaves
share a similar shape to that pink-stemmed vegetable.

Hypericum perforatum - St John’s Wort - Herb of the Month for July 2016


St John’s Wort has naturalized in the UK and is widely found throughout Britain, Europe and Asia. It can be found on roadsides, banks, and hedges, open, dry places and prefers chalky soil. It flowers in summer to early autumn.

This is one of the Herbalist’s great power herbs and is one of our few herbs that has been well researched and embraced by the mass market, which is not always a good thing for us Herbalists. This is because plants used in research are standardized on a marker compound and do not represent the complex chemical components found within the whole plant; this can lead to it being associated with side effects which would be less likely found in the whole plant preparations that Herbalists use. 

On the positive side, research has found that extracts of Hypericum to be as effective as antidepressants of the class known as SSRI’s (Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors) without the unwanted side effects of those drugs. Indirect evidence does show the possibilities of interaction between some prescription drugs and St John’s Wort, so much so that the Committee on Safety of Medicines in London, March 2000, issued recommendations of caution to practitioners and the public; so if in doubt, consult your herbalist.

As well as its antidepressant action, St John’s Wort is also used topically as an antiseptic and analgesic (painkiller) for burns, wounds, bruises, itchiness; it is a specific for Herpes Zoster and shingle’s rash.

We included it in our personalized prescriptions for patients, for a large range of ailments such as :- Neuralgia (facial and intercostal), sciatica, shingles, back pain, post-operative pain, physical shock, polymyalgia, tingling, injuries that have caused nerve damage, shooting or stitch pains, animal bites, piles, Tetanus, Parkinsonism, anxiety, stress, depression, menopausal nervousness, menstrual cramps, cramps of terminal disease, colic of digestive, bladder and uterus, gallstones, gastritis, varicose veins, peptic ulcers, diverticulitis, nervous bladder, stress incontinence, rheumatic pain, nervous headache, cough, insomnia, diarrhoea and  earache, to name just a few!

As you can see, this is a most effective and useful plant to have on our doorstep. Its medical uses are ancient and it’s no wonder that in folklore this plant is steeped in superstition and is associated with religious and magical powers.

The name Hypericum was originally given by the Greeks, meaning ‘over an apparition’ the plant was put above figures or icons of the person or thing to be protected, usually against evil sprits and witchcraft, a tradition which is reflected throughout the continents in which it grows.  Perforatum is on account of the leaves, which look perforated when held up against the light. The golden pockets that are seen are not perforations but tiny glands of oil held in the leaves. This is a very good way of identifying the medicinal variety of St John’s Wort from the many other types of Hypericum with which it can be confused. 

Here is a little ditty I found translated from Gaelic:-

St John’s wort, St John’s wort,

My envy whosoever has thee,

I will pluck thee with my right hand,

I will preserve thee with my left hand,

Who so findeth thee in the cattle fold, 

Shall never be without kine.  (cow) 

                            [Carmichael, 1900: n103]


It first flowers around about St. John’s Eve (June 24th) Its ruby red oil and bright yellow flowers are symbolic for the mid-summer and for the solar fire and blood representing the Baptists’ martyrdom and the patients’ wounds. 

No one should be without a bottle of St John’s wort oil in their medicine cupboard, Its beautiful colour and abundant healing qualities makes this a joy to make and delightful to use.

Here is a very simple and effective recipe from my most revered herbalist and teacher H. H. Zeylstra 1999:-

St John’s Wort Ruby Oil.

Take a minimum of 110g of fresh St John’s Wort flowers.

Steep in 250ml of oil – sunflower, corn or almond.

Stand for at least 6 weeks in full sunlight.

Shake occasionally during the steeping time.

Strain through muslin and into sterile bottles.

It will keep up to a year in a cool place away from sunlight.

Use topically, as required.


Here is our regular herbal poem from the lovely Nadia Kingsley 


If your child

If your child suffers from wetting-the-bed

it might be something primal: a fearing

of ghosts or monsters – so I  suggest 

you harvest  Hypericum perforatum - hang it 

in their room and the dreadful whiff

of turpentine will rid both cause and effect.

If this doesn’t cure, pour them its tea at storytime.

But if this fails, then treat yourself: let sunshine-flowers, 

from the weed St John’s Wort, plug your flooding depression.

Lime Tree Flowers


 Tilia europaea - Limeflower - Herb of the Month for June 2016


Found in Northern Temperate Zone, especially the British Isles.

The flowers from this lime tree, also known as Linden flowers are collected in June for use as herbal medicine. I love the tea made with the fresh flowers, they have a wonderful delicate taste of honey that is lost when dried. They should be gathered as soon as they flower on a dry day a dried carefully in the shade so as not to lose the essential oils.

Lime blossom is a soothing, relaxing herb used in conditions where there is nervous tension. It is used to help prevent arteriosclerosis and in hypertension. We herbalists specifically use it to lower blood pressure associated with nervous tension. Its relaxing effects on the circulatory system makes it helpful for some forms of migraine. It is also used to help increase sweating to bring down fevers and so is a good remedy for colds and flu.

Linden tea is commonly used in France as a household drink and honey made from the lime flowers is regarded as the best tasting honey and is one of the most valuable in the world! Is wood is good for carving being white, close grained and smooth it allows for great sharpness in minute details, Grinley Gibbons did most of his flower and figure carvings for St. Pauls Cathedral, Windsor Castle and Chatsworth in Lime wood. It is a light wood and never becomes worm ridden.

A beautiful tree with heart shaped leaves, I am always thrilled when I come across a Lime tree in the wild, and look forward to a sunny summer day when I can take my willow basket, collect the flowers and make the delicious tea which can only be drunk fresh at this time of year.
Try it for yourselves; it can also be drunk cold with ice as a refreshing, relaxing summer drink.

Here is this months poem by Nadia Kingsley. See more of her work at


Lime Tree Flowers

As a child I had my favourite subjects:

Maths - for its pie charts; 

R.E.-  for illustrations of Joseph’s brothers, 

and the story of the Ark. 

Both classes required me opening that box:

Caran D’ache it said 

on top of snowy mountains;

inside the promised rainbow spread.

Look back at pictures drawn aged five.

See happy sun, line of blue,

four-windowed house, 

and tree that was always a Lime: 


as wide as its height, its leaves are love.

Walk your city - hear the Lime 

before you see it -

humming with punch drunk bees. 

Sit under for shade as the temperature rises. 

Feel calmer about the global crisis. 

Plant more Limes – then disgruntled drivers 

may give up their cars – for there’s always a cloud 

behind every lining. And as for me? 

I’m starting to grow up. 

I will scavenge through car boot junk, 

amass crayons of green, brown and cream. 

Then I’ll draw as many Limes 

as I can, before the heat from global warming 

reaches our more Northern climate, 

and I forget what they’re like.


Convallaria majalis - Lily of the Valley - Herb of the Month for May 2016


My first encounter with this queen of Lilies was also one of my first memories. My grandmother, Alice was a keen gardener, a skill that was kindled during the harsh days of the war, and one that remained with her for her whole life.

Her house in Arundel had a garden that was brimming with flowers, fruits and vegetables. There was one spot, along the side of the house, an alleyway, flanked by the high walls of two houses, always draughty, cool and with very little sunshine, but at this time of year it was my favourite spot in the whole of Arundel.

My Grandmother had somehow managed to raise a large bed of Lily of the Valley plants along the whole length of this alley. Their angelic fragrance hung in the air, day and night, on fine days or dull days; their abundance was their strength and ruled that space for a few weeks a year. If I was sad, they would cheer my heart and raise my sprits with their wonderful sweet smell and beautiful delicate little flowers. From then on these sweet and powerful plants etched themselves deep into my memory and my soul, a mere whiff of their fragrance transports me back to those very early days of my childhood.

Native to North America, Lily of the Valley is found in dry woodlands in England and Wales, as far north as Dumbarton and East to Inverness but absent from Ireland and Western Britain except where it can sometimes be found as a garden escape. The leaves and flowers are used for herbal medicine but the berries are poisonous.

This is a powerful plant that should not be used by non-professionals and can be toxic in untrained hands.  It is the herbalist's number one choice for congestive heart failure, and helps with water retention and breathing problems associated with this condition.

The generic name Convallaria comes from the older name Lilium convallium due to the pure whiteness of the flowers and was therefore naturally associated with the Virgin Mary in many countries.  Long before this it was known in Greek legend, it was found by Apollo and given by him to Aesclepias the Greek physician.  An old English name for Lily of the valley is liriconfancy or Our Lady’s tears. They would grow wild in St Leonards Forest, Sussex - supposedly where this saint’s blood was spilt after his fight with the dragon and can still be found today carpeting that forest floor. Its sweet fragrance is said to lead the nightingale from the hedge to his chosen mate.

On writing this I find myself reflecting on those happy childhood days spent with my Granny Alice, gazing into my lovely little Devon garden and wondering - why do I not have any Lily of the Valley plants yet? Note to self - come October, plant many Lily of the Valley as a tribute to Alice Aylin and her green fingers.

Poem kindly written by Nadia Kingsley – find out more about Nadia and her works at

Overheard, in a garden centre near you

Joy: Oh look Matt look! We must buy this pot. 

Matt:Looks  dead to me

Joy:Well of course it does. But look at the label - Convallaria majalis

Matt:Eh? (looks puzzled)

Joy:Lily of the Valley. You know -  white flowers. Plant in partial shade it says, and a woodland plant - perfect for our dingle!

Matt:I know what it is, Joy. Mother had some plastic ones up on the dining room mantel. An abomination. Like everything she touched. I don't want to be reminded.


Matt:Look, I've spoken.

Joy:They're sweetly scented

Matt:I wouldn't know about that

Joy:Prefers alkaline soil (pause) Well. That’s no problem – we’ll buy some additives...

Matt:I've heard they're highly poisonous

Joy:You're making that up

Matt:I’m not!

Joy:It’s what you always do - when you find yourself in a corner.

Matt:I'll prove it (gets his mobile out)

Joy:(hisses) Not here

Matt:(loudly) Why not?

Joy:Please (holds out her hand, it hangs mid air for a moment then drops) -  forget I ever mentioned it

Matt:Here we are. All parts highly poisonous - causes abdo pain, vomiting, blah, blah, blah. What about the grandchildren?

Joy:Herbalists use it - I remember Jayne saying...

Matt: There's a Pet Poison Helpline 

Joy:Tell me - in America?

Matt:And a website called 'no lilies for cats dot com'. Ah. And this is how I knew

Joy:What? (getting her own phone out)

Matt:That they're poisonous, keep up. It's what Walt used - both on Augustus Fring, and that six year old, Brock. Though they first suspected Ricin.

Joy:Why does everything we discuss have to end up back at Breaking Bad? Says here it works like the drug from the foxglove, profoundly effective in the treatment of a failing heart 

Matt:Series 4. Episode 13. Title Face Off. Look - there's the shot - them by Walt’s pool

Joy:Looks nice (leaning over). What do you think?

Matt:Get four, no six. There's a three for two thingammy on!

Styled on a much better poem by Shauna Robertson Denver ‘77

Photo by Herbyjayne

Urtica dioica - Stinging Nettle - Herb of the Month for April 2016


It is because of plants such as the noble stinging nettle that I have great pride in my art as a Western Medical Herbalist! The nettle is so common that it is taken for granted and even regarded as a pest to be cleared, destroyed and controlled. At best it is put on the compost heap or made into a natural liquid fertilizer, but this overlooked plant is a powerhouse for healing.

Urtica dioica, along with its not so common and smaller cousin Urtica urens, are true natives to Britain. It is widespread and abundant in every sort of environment, particularly waste and cultivated land, wet woods, hedge banks and river valleys. The best time to gather it is in the spring and early summer, picking after the month of June should be avoided as it becomes coarse and bitter and more laxative in its action.

The nettle has two distinct healing parts: the herb, which is all the plant from the ground upwards, and the root. The root is an anti-prostatic agent and is used specifically to improve symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia (enlarged prostate).

Nettle herb is one of our greatest detoxifying plants. It increases urine output eliminating waste, especially urates, which makes it excellent for problems such as arthritis and gout; with its high and easily-absorbed silica content, it is used to help with connective tissue repair and regeneration. Its cleansing action helps skin problems such as acne, eczema and psoriasis.

Nettles can slow or stop heavy bleeding, especially heavy menstruation and due to its high iron content it will help with anaemia, which often accompanies chronic blood loss. Nettles also have an anti-allergenic activity making then effective for allergies such as hay fever, asthma and ironically, nettle rash (urticaria)! They are also hypoglycaemic and are effective for lowering blood sugar levels, making them a useful addition in the treatment of some types of diabetes.

Being a greedy plant, nettles’ extensive root networks take up large amounts of nutrients from the earth, which gives them a high content of iron, vitamin C, A, calcium, silica, histamine and chlorophyll for example. So a drink of freshly picked nettles brewed as a tea, make an excellent spring tonic at this time of year.

Nettles and people are old friends; as well as its many healing virtues, the stinging nettle is one of the most common edible plants. It has been used throughout time as a nutritional vegetable, even today it can be found in the most elite restaurants where it is having a revival in its popularity as a wild food and can be used in a number of ways. Its fibres are very similar to hemp and have long been used for making string, rope and cloth. In the Second World War, hundreds of tons were gathered in Britain for its chlorophyll and to make dyes.

It had been said that Roman solders brought their own nettle species with them called the Roman nettle - Urtica pilulifera, but the absence of Roman nettle seeds, and the abundance of common and stinging nettles seeds that the archaeo-botanists have found at archaeological settlements, suggests that Roman nettle was not cultivated here in Britain.

In old medicine, the nettle sting itself was used as a remedy for joint pain. The effected joint would be flayed by the nettle, which would draw the infection and pain away from the joint. I’m glad to say this is little practiced today.

In folklore, nettles are said to give courage in times of danger, save a house from lightning, cure dog bites and baldness. Nettle oil preceded paraffin and the juice will curdle milk in place of rennet. Fruit packed in nettles would last longer and the juice could be used to seal cracks in leaking tubs and barrels. Bunches of nettles were hung up to increase egg laying in hens, keep flies away from larders and frogs away from beehives.

This I think is one of the most pleasant ways to enjoy nettles. Salute!



Nettle Beer

100 nettle stalks (with leaves)
12 litres of water
1 ½ Kg sugar
50g cream of tartar
15g yeast

Boil nettles with the 12 litres of water for 15 minutes, strain and add sugar and the cream of tartar. Heat and stir until dissolved, wait until warm and then add the yeast and stir well. Cover with muslin and leave for 24 hours. Remove the scum and decant without disturbing the sediment. Bottle, cork, and tie down; leave to ferment for 4 days.
This is a light and refreshing drink perfect for warm summer evenings to come.
(from - Wild Foods by Richard Phillip)

Here is this month’s poem by Nadia Kingsley: To see more of Nadia’s works and projects visit her web site at   

Knowing Which Battles

Can you believe - how any leaf
let alone a maligned one

can harness a Star, how constant change
is behind evolution

or how, despite
dragging its rootmesh clear from the earth,

a section breaks off
to grow new plant - battle already lost?

Add swathes of nettle to bucket, add water, then
make doubly sure the lid is on tight.

Wear leather gloves to harvest, eat
speckled green soup with dollop of sour cream.



Arctostaphylos uva-ursi - Bearberry - Herb of the month for March 2016


This month herb is little known to most people in England; although still native to the UK, it is found in the Northern latitudes and high mountains of Europe, Asia and America. In the British isles it is common in Scotland, on heaths and barren places in hilly districts, especially in the highlands and can be found as far south as Yorkshire and on the hills of the north-west of Ireland.

This is an evergreen dwarf shrub with long rooting branches which form a dense mat. It has flat, leathery leaves which are the parts used for medicine, and can be collected throughout the year, but preferably in the spring and summer. Its clusters of whitish pinky flowers turn to red glossy berry-like fruits in the autumn and provide a food for grouse on the moorland. The latin names uva-ursi literally means bear’s grape and comes either from the notion that bears enjoy eating this fruit or from its very rough, unpleasant taste which might have been thought of as only fit for bears to eat.

Bearberry has been used medicinally for at least hundreds of years. Medical references for it are found in the 13th century in Wales and by the 18th century it was well used by orthodox medicine throughout Europe.

Today, Bearberry is widely and regularly used by modern herbalists. It is specifically used in the treatment of cystitis. Its powerful antiseptic and astringent effect on the urinary system make it a very useful plant to use for infections, gravel or ulceration in the kidneys or bladder. Its action will sooth, strengthen and tone every part of the urinary system. A very valuable plant indeed.

Native Americans use bearberry leaves mixed with tobacco and other herbs. When smoked in a sacred pipe, they believe it will carry their prayers to the Great Spirit. The leaves are also used for bluish-black dyes in Scotland and a grey and black dye in Norway and Sweden.

As this is such an attractive looking plant, you may like to try growing it. Its natural habitat is cool, so find a north facing wall or bank and grow on the top so it can naturally sprawl. It likes an acid medium, so will benefit from being buried in a tub of its own soil; this way it can be set alongside other herbs with an alkaline preference. Let's bring this little treasure into our gardens and hearts and get to know it a little better.

Nadia Kingsley again treats us with this month’s herbal poem. Enjoy !



like transmogrification or mandatory,
is one of my favourite words - not because
of its meaning but for how it rolls around
my mouth. And here it is again, in a description of
the Bearberry, so I finally reach for the dictionary
find its origin is from the Latin - that it means
to lie down, or to take to one's bed.

Uva-Ursi, or Bear's grape, is found on Yorkshire Moors
and trails its evergreen branches across the wilds of Scotland.
Culpepper said that it’s named either from the notion
that bears eat the fruit with relish or because its berries
taste so rancid - I can see the sense
of adding Branston's, but how do bears open all those jars,
or turn up on our Northern ground, in the first place?

Pictures of the plant show waxy-looking flowers,
gathered as bridesmaids, its fruit a letterbox red.
And I realise quite suddenly that unless I am transmogrified
into some kind of athlete, or the government makes it mandatory
for everyone to roam the moors, then lying in my bed
with books and the internet, is the closest I will ever get
to the wonderfully-decumbent plant that’s Bearberry.

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