Monday, July 16, 2012

Making herbal medicines from the hedgerows

It's amazing what can happen when you drown a few common meadow flowers in half a bottle of vodka...

That's what we were doing two weeks ago with local naturopath, herbalist and clinician, Aine Mahony, but all in the interests of good health, you'll understand.

Irish hedgerows are riddled with health-boosting flowers, leaves and berries, and my bookshelves are riddled with books on it all, but somehow I'd never actually got past the 'reading about it' bit...

Deep fried daisies

Elderflower cordial   

Honeysuckle Honey

Can you blame me, though? Tinctures, salves, infusions, decoctions... it all sounds a bit apothecarial and, well, magic, doesn't it. Surely herbal medicine-making is more complicated than soaking a bunch of red clovers in the spirit of your choice; perhaps involving eye of newt, hazel-rod divining, pickling at precisely 24 degrees, and some kind of mantra?

L-R: elderflower, red clover, honeysuckle

But no: it's actually really, really easy. Our grannies and great grannies would have been well versed in the uses of herbs for everyday ailments, and none of them had the skillz of Heston Blumenthal (as far as I'm aware). For this beginner, a day of gathering and knocking up herbal remedies was as much a lesson in simplicity as science, thanks to Aine's friendly manner and extensive empirical knowledge: all we needed was a knife and chopping board, a blender, frying pan and a juicer.

 Mum and Dan picking

Mum with her swag of plantain

The gang picking in the field

In the end, we walked out with a bottle of plantain tincture for respiratory problems, daisy salve for bruises and thread veins, honeysuckle honey - primarily for tastiness, I think, sticky back succus for the lymphatic system, elderflower cordial - again, mainly for tastiness, red clover tincture for a thorough cleanse and dried nettle seeds to sprinkle on yer porridge... (they're full of Vitamin C, don'tcha know).

Anne with the elderflower cordial

Dan with the stickyback succus

Aine Mahony is a based in Kilkenny City ( and runs herbal medicine making courses in spring, summer and autumn. I'd definitely recommend a day out foraging with her!

ps: Purple vetch flowers taste like peas - sprinkle them in green salads, delish!!


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