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Nature Happenings # 11
A summer round up, featuring three flowery favourites.
Hello and welcome to our latest Nature Happenings! During the summer holidays, these posts will be less frequent than our usual fortnightly editions and so will take the form of a ‘round up’ of Nature Happenings, rather than focusing on just one thing. We hope to get back to our regular schedule in September.
We are working on a printed edition of our Digest and some other neat rewards for paid subscribers when we re-emerge. We have also been posting updates to Notes and sharing some videos over on Instagram, including this little Nature walk.
This edition features three of my favourite wild flowers and a couple of ideas of things to make and do with them. Let us know if you give them a go.
As always, we’d love to see and hear about your own Nature Happenings, anything you’ve foraged and made, celebrated or seen out in the wilds this summer.
Self-heal (Prunella vulgaris)
I’m sure that many people who are on a journey of discovery with Nature and wild things will have a particular plant, animal or other being that has somehow always been at the heart of that journey, something that feels like a friend.
For me, it’s self-heal.
One of the first wild flowers I learned to identify, self-heal is a fairly ubiquitous plant. A member of the mint family, it has a square stem, opposite pairs of oval leaves and a distinctive purple flowering spike. Once done flowing, the spike dries and retains a purple tinge before turning green. Self-heal grows short and stubby in areas that are mown or grazed but tall and erect in areas where it is left to grow freely. You can find it on craggy rock outcrops, lawns, meadows, woodland edges, verges, lowlands, highlands and even cracks in pavements.
Self-heal (also known as heal all), as its name would suggest, has a wealth of medicinal properties. It can be made into a lovely tasting tea that soothes sore throats and helps with fever. It can also be useful in healing mouth ulcers due due to its anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties. I try to gather lots in summer which I then dry and use in tea throughout the year.
For me, its most magical property is its ability to treat coldsores. Anyone who suffers from these nasty face blisters will know how horrible and painful they are. I’ve had them regularly since I was around 4. After doing some reading on self heal and its medicinal properties, I saw it had been tested for its effectiveness against the herpes virus (which causes coldsores) with some success. With this in mind, I made a lip balm. I infused a bunch of self-heal in olive oil, strained it and added beeswax to create a solid balm. To my astonishment, it has been the only thing I’ve ever used on coldsores that actually works. It seems to stop them in their tracks. I still get them, but if I use the balm in time, they are short lived and painless. So yes, I love self-heal.
If you’d like me to share this process to make your own, please email me and I’ll send instructions!
And if you know someone with coldsores who might benefit from this knowledge, do share this post with them too!
Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria)
Another favourite frothing in the hedgerows right now is meadowsweet. In fact, here in the west of Cumbria, there is more meadowsweet than I’ve ever seen (maybe because it’s so wet here!). Meadowsweet, also know as queen of the ditch (and possibly more favourably, queen of the meadow) grows tall with dark green opposite paired leaves and a frothy white flower head. It has a distinctively almond like smell, which can be quite overpowering. Well known for being used traditionally as a painkiller, due to the compounds in it which modern day asprin was based on, it can be used as a tea to help headaches and also infused into oil and used to help sore muscles and joints (we use this often in our house!).
Another thing to note, is the beautiful little seeds that look like swirls of green ice cream.
Because of its distinctive sweet flavour, it can also be used in cooking in a similar way to elderflower to flavour drinks or to make syrups. I’ve made a fermented drink with it for the last couple of years which is lovely on a warm summer’s evening (remember them?!). This year I added lemon, lime and water mint and the result is a sweet and zingy fizz. Here’s the method, should you want to give it a go:
To make Meadowsweet Fizz:
Sterilise a 1litre glass jar and dissolve 200g of unrefined sugar into 1 litre of water. Once sugar is dissolved add 10 meadowsweet flower heads, a lemon and a lime (cut in half and some of the juice squeezed into the mix) plus a hand full of water mint (or any mint) leaves. Cover the top with a muslin cloth and leave in a shady corner for around 3 - 7 days, stirring every morning to get the air into the mix to help with the yeasts. Once the mixture is fizzing (the flowers and fruit will float to the top), strain the mixture into plastic bottles and keep in a dark place for another couple of weeks. Check regularly and open the lids to let the air out occasionally (to prevent explosions - this is also why we are using plastic bottles) and have a taste. Once you are happy with the taste (it will lose sweetness the longer you leave it), pop it in the fridge and enjoy cold!
Hare Bells (Campanula rotundifolia)
I do enjoy making potions and medicines from plants and flowers but I am including this flower not for its usefulness, simply for its loveliness.
Hare bells are my favourite wild flower. This is partly because they remind me of holidays in the far north, where they are common, but also because they are the most delicate of things, their heads bobbing in the wind on hillsides, a joy to behold. Hare bells like dry, infertile habitats but will grow in lots of places. We see them all over the fells at this time of year. Hare bells are also an important source of nectar for bees, especially later in the year as they can flower until October.
Also known as witches thimbles, they have many links to folklore and magic, apparently allowing witches to shape-shift into hares to hide among the flowers. Known in Scotland as bluebells, they are a favourite of fairies and all kinds of potions and spells are associated with them. This makes them all the more fascinating to me and, I have just discovered, they are infact edible…but I’m not sure I’d want to eat the fairies favourite flower.
Do you see hare bells where you are? What’s your favourite wildflower and why? I’d love to know.
Well, that’s all for now, there are signs everywhere that summer is on the wane, flowers are turning to fruits, thoughts are turning to harvesting berries and nuts to keep us going through the autumn and winter months and robins are singing their melancholy songs. Summer didn’t really ever get going this year did it? Perhaps September will have some late summer sun in store for us. Whatever the weather, you can be sure Nature will be happening and we’ll be out there trying to soak it all in, and we’d encourage you to do the same.
Until next time, warm wishes,
Emma, Andrew and Benji