Category Archives: Herbal infusion

A gentle sting in the tail

“Nettle tops eaten in the spring consume the phlegmatic superfluities in the body of man.” Nicholas Culpeper, The Complete Herbal and English Physician (1653)

Spring is here, but our enthusiasm to get out into the early sunshine, to bask in the yellow flora and the lime-green leaves and shoots peeping, popping and unfurling from the hedgerows, can have unfortunate consequences for those of us who are ill-prepared for this sudden increase in physical activity. Aching, tired and even pulled muscles will inevitably temper our initial excitement. If we heed the wisdom of nature around us— the Fiddlehead Ferns (Polypodiopsida spp.) gracefully unfurling, the oversized Horse-Chestnut buds (Aesculus hippocastanum) slowly revealing their palmate leaves —we can see that activity is should be gradually built up, with lots of stretching and resting in between exercise to allow our sleepy muscles time to catch up with the active mind.

As ever, our herbal friends may help us transition from the restful winter to the more active state. The young leafy greens are filled to bursting with their highest concentrations of goodness, and can provide a much needed tonic at this time of year. The Nettle (Urtica dioica) has to be the favourite in The Brew Room, and recently we have been out harvesting the first ‘tops’. Fresh Nettle shoots can provide continuous harvest if the top 10-15cm of tender new growth is trimmed regularly with scissors. Its high concentrates of calcium, potassium, magnesium, and iron are due to the Nettle’s long tap roots (the very ones that gardeners silently curse), which absorb more minerals from deep in the ground than their shallow-rooted neighbours. No small wonder that the ubiquitous Nettle has been used for centuries as the go-to herb to help with cramping muscles!

There are so many nutritive recipes available; we would urge the sweet-toothed to try Nettle Cake, or perhaps Nettle Crackers for lovers of all things savoury. Recipes for both can easily be found online. But today, we offer two of our favourite brews, which encourage regular imbibing of Nettle’s beneficial extracts.

Hot Springs

This infusion is perfect for enjoying at the end of a mizzly day or after an open water dip. Take time to inhale the aromas before sipping slowly and focusing on nourishing the whole body.

To make, assemble:

3 sprigs of Nettle tops

1tbsp each of minced fresh Ginger (Zingiber officinale) and Turmeric (Curcuma), both known for their circulation boosting and anti-inflammatory constituents

Freshly ground Black Pepper (Piper nigrum), to promote the absorption of ingredients

Place the ingredients into a large teapot or cafetiere, cover and allow to brew for ten minutes before straining.

Cold Springs

The following are all harvested locally, and they combine beautifully in an overnight infusion which you can keep in your flask for replenishing muscles during your spring activities.

Ingredients for a 500ml glass jar:

2 sprigs of young Lemon Balm leaves (Melissa officinalis), to stem inflammation and to refresh

3 sprigs of Nettle tops, to provide the nutritive benefits of vitamins and minerals

1 tbsp of Elderflowers (Sambucus nigra), to promote healthy joints

2-3 stems of Cleavers (Gallium aparine), to cleanse the lymphatic system

A slice of Lemon (Citrus limon) to taste

Place all the ingredients in the glass jar, cover and refrigerate overnight if possible. Strain and enjoy.

Fragrant Potpourri – true herbal aroma-therapy

With gardening duties wrapping up for the winter and freezers bursting with allotment gluts and berry harvest, it must be time to follow nature’s example and ease off the gas pedal a smidge?  Perhaps dust off the reading list and start planning some ‘herbal hygge’ evenings?  Making potpourri may not be the first thing that springs to mind, but perhaps some context will help to boost potpourri popularity in the garden class rankings. 

Potpourri from the 1980’s often comprised lurid coloured, dried offerings, doused with artificial fragrance and destined for bowls in the sitting room. However, the name pot-pourri came from 16th century France and referred to a ‘putrid’ or ‘rotten’ pot.  Herbs had been used around the body and home for many years, primarily to mask the stench of unsanitary conditions, but also to repel wee beasties and serious diseases. They were known as ‘strewing herbs’. 16C pot-pourri however, was largely an amalgamation of a season’s local flora preserved and presented in a perforated ceramic pot, or in a decorative dish.  

The creation of the annual ‘rotten pot’ involved harvesting petals at their peak from spring through summer, and placing them in a lidded jar until the autumn.  Salt would be sprinkled in between the layers of petals to aid both fermentation and preservation.  In the autumn, cinnamon, cloves and other spices were added to the mix.  The fragrant product  would be put in decorative bowls and garnished with fresh winter flowers.  The latter would serve to hide what was possibly a rather gloopy, grey mess.

The creation of potpourri developed  further during with the Victorian era with the addition of steam distilled essential oils.  Flowers were meticulously dried to preserve their beauty and fragrance and essential oils added to ensure the perfume remained sharp and fresh. Rose became a firm favourite because of its ability to retain both colour and aroma.

Making natural potpourri is a satisfying occupation and very possible now using our pine & larch cones sprinkled with pure essential oils blends.  One of my favourite for this time of year has to be sweet orange, cedarwood and clove. If you start collecting now, wonderful aromas will be firmly established in plenty of time to mask those ubiquitous brussels sprouts! We can also achieve wonderful aromas throughout the house with ‘stove top potpourri’ and create a delicious infusion at the same time. Please try the following warming winter recipe – it can either be decocted quickly within 30 mins or left to cook gently in a slow cooker.