Trees

Yew

The second tree that I have been journeying with recently is the Yew tree, Taxus baccata. Typically associated with the Samhain season, I have found myself really connecting and learning about this tree this Spring season with my wonderful book ‘Walking with trees’ by Glennie Kindred as my companion.

Like Willows, Yews are dioecious meaning that trees are either male or female. In the Spring the male trees produce an array of flowers covered with golden pollen. This pollen is carried by the wind to the smaller flowers of the female trees that will go on to produce the red berries in the Autumn.

Yew trees were deeply revered by our ancestors as the ‘tree of immortality’ due to their longevity and ability to regenerate. After the last ice age, around 80% of Europe’s forests were comprised of Yew. Fossil records provide evidence of Yew trees growing around 250 million years ago. With human evolution stretching back just 6 million years ago, there is no doubt humans evolved and lived around these fascinating trees from the very beginning. Known to live for thousands of years, a Yew tree only becomes classed as ‘ancient’ at around 900 years, compared with 400 years for an oak tree. Many of our ancient Yews have been lost in Britain. However those that remain often guard sacred sites, burial mounds and some were probably planted as markers for navigating by.

Yew trees are able to grow in the harshest, most barren and polluted lands and have survived many changes in the climate. They have some fascinating survival strategies including being able to slow down their growth and remain dormant for longer than a human lifespan. They are known to become hollow, to increase their strength, and the foliage that drops down inside the trunk provides a rich compost from which an aerial root can regenerate and grow a new tree inside the old one.

All parts of the Yew tree are poisonous (bark, leaf, sap and seed) other than the red flesh of the fruit that is wrapped around a poisonous seed. This is probably what earned the tree it’s more recent name of the ‘tree of death.’ Whilst it is important to be aware and respect their poisonous qualities, their ability for regeneration and survival under almost all conditions means for me, it is a tree to be celebrated too in this Spring season of rebirth.

Yews are a tree I cannot wait to spend more time exploring this year. Whilst I will not be using any parts of the physical tree for incense or medicine, I will certainly work with its energy and qualities in my own life when I feel in need of some perspective, inner strength and ingenuity.

Foraging, Trees

Willow

I feel very lucky to have received some wonderful books for my birthday this year, one being ‘Walking with Trees’ by Glennie Kindred (one of my favourite authors and nature connectors).

It has inspired me to form an even deeper connection with some of our lovely native and naturalised trees in Britain and I thought it might be nice to share some of my journeying here, starting with Willow a beloved tree all year round, but particularly special in Spring.


Willows are one of the first trees to grow in Spring, symbolising regeneration, new beginnings and letting go of the old.

There are over 400 species of willow worldwide but the most common to Britain are White Willow, Goat Willow, Crack Willow and Common Osiers or basket willow.

The trees are dioecious meaning they are either male or female, with the striking ‘Pussy Willow’ catkins growing on male Goat willows before the leaves grow. The female flowers develop with the leaves later in the Spring. Both the flowers and leaves are very important nectar and food source for many insects throughout the year.

It is thought that the the words ‘Wicca’ and ‘Witch’ were derived from the word ‘Willow’ and the tree has many ancient associations with healing, rituals and magic.

Traditionally Willow has been used as a pain relief, with the bark containing salicin, from which Aspirin was derived in 1899.

I love using Willow in any rituals connected with the Moon, releasing stuck emotions, old energy, welcoming the new, connecting with our intuition, welcoming Spring, emotional healing and lifting the spirits.

I burn both the bark and leaves, hang up bunches of Willow leaves and collect a few stems in early Spring to put in water and watch the catkins open.

Traditionally willow leaf infusions have been used for sore throats, toothe ache and helping to eliminate toxins from the body. The bark is used in treatments for rheumatism, muscle aches and stiffness and indigestion.


Willow is a wonderful tree to get to know more, growing near water she always offers a seat of peace beneath her branches to soften and watch the world go by. I look forward to walking beside her during the months ahead and sharing some more about her magic!

Botanicals

Bay

Just like the other aromatic herbs that we have covered in our herb explorations so far, Bay (Laurus nobilis) not only enhances the flavour of our dishes but helps us to digest them. Culinary herbs, such as Sage, Rosemary, Thyme and Bay all have properties that help stimulate our digestion and helps calm the stomach, easing gas and cramps. These herbs, including Bay also help to ease symptoms of coughs and colds.

Bay leaves have been used therapeutically for thousands of years. Like Lavender, Bay leaves contain Linalool a compound with relaxing properties when inhaled. Bay is also an antirheumatic and can help ease arthritic aches and pains.

Bay is associated with the Sun. Symbolically it represents triumph and victory. Thought to arise from Greek mythology, the laurel wreath, made of Bay leaves has long been used to crown successors from sports events to graduates. The term ‘laureato’ in Italian, referring to a student that has graduated. The evergreen is also thought to protect the home.


Ways to enjoy Bay

  1. Like the other culinary herbs, fresh or dried Bay leaves can be added to many dishes to enhance the flavour and help improve digestion.
  2. Steep a couple of Bay leaves in boiling water to enjoy its soothing properties. Leave for 10 minutes and enjoy as a tea.
  3. Burning dried Bay leaves can help calm the mind and body.
  4. Make a decoction of Bay leaves by gently boiling a handful in water for around 30 minutes and then add the water into a bath to help arthritic pain. Alternatively heat leaves gently in an oil such as sunflower to infuse and once cool enough, rub into sore muscles.

We always love to hear your favourite uses for herbs too, please feel free to leave us a comment.

When working with any plants it is important to do your own research to ensure they work for you. Bay is not recommended during pregnancy.

Botanicals

Sage

Onto another aromatic herb native to the Mediterranean, and now commonly grown in the garden; common Sage. The name of this plant’s genus ‘Salvia’ comes from the Latin ‘Salvare’ meaning ‘to save, or to heal.’ The plant has long been used medicinally with examples from Ancient Greece and Rome and throughout the Middle Ages where it was commonly grown around monasteries for its healing properties.

Even its culinary uses; teaming sage with rich foods (in particular meats) hint at its medicinal properties. Helping the digestion of rich foods, Sage is a tonic for the liver and aids with indigestion, bloating and flatulence.

Rich with antioxidants, the anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties of a Sage tea or gargle can be soothing for sore gums, mouth ulcers and sore throats. Its antibacterial properties have been shown to be effective at reducing plaque build up too. Teamed with Rosemary and/or Thyme they can be supportive allies for coughs and colds and make a clearing steam for airways.

Modern research has found Sage to be stimulating for cognitive function too. Compounds within common Sage have been shown to inhibit enzymes that breakdown neurotransmitters in the brain and research is ongoing into the support this may provide for individuals with Alzheimer’s.

Traditionally sage has been used to help alleviate some menopausal symptoms such as excess sweating and hot flushes.


Ways to enjoy Sage

  1. As a culinary herb Sage can be added to meals to support the digestion of rich foods.
  2. Sage tea is an easy way to enjoy its many benefits. Steep a teaspoon of dried Sage or a few fresh leaves in boiling water, cover and enjoy after around 10 minutes. Team with Rosemary for memory and Thyme for soothing sore throats.
  3. Cooled tea can be used as a gargle for sore throats, mouth ulcers or gum problems. You may also wish to add a tablespoon of Apple Cider Vinegar into your gargle too for extra support. A fresh leaf can also be rubbed directly onto a sore tooth or gum.
  4. Dried Sage is an excellent herb to burn for its cleansing properties. Using either single leaves in a fireproof dish or combing the leaves into a stick, burning Sage has long been a popular method for receiving its antimicrobial benefits.

We always love to hear your favourite uses for herbs too, please feel free to leave us a comment.

When working with any plants it is important to do your own research to ensure they work for you. Sage is not recommended during pregnancy or for individuals with epilepsy. It is also toxic in very high doses.

Botanicals

Rosemary

As another warming evergreen, Rosemary is a wonderful Winter ally and complements Thyme extremely well. Both of these herbs bring great benefits to our health, as well as attracting wildlife to our garden during Spring and Summer months.

The name Rosemary is derived from the Latin – Ros marinus meaning ‘dew of the sea‘ as it tends to grow in close proximity to the sea in its native area of the Mediterranean.

Rosemary is a circulatory stimulant that increases blood flow to the brain. It has long been recognised for its positive impact on memory and cognition. Various research has demonstrated that smelling Rosemary improves memory and performance in mental arithmetic.

The stimulating qualities also benefit the hair and scalp, increasing hair growth and shine and its wealth of antioxidants support skin, heart and joint health.

As a nervine, Rosemary can help ease tension in the stomach and stress related headaches, as well as supporting mental fatigue, stress and depression. In one study, workers who began drinking Rosemary tea regularly, reported feeling significantly less burned out compared with colleagues who didn’t drink the tea.


Ways to enjoy Rosemary

  • Rosemary adds a delicious touch to meals – we especially love it with roasted potatoes and a vegetable stew.
  • Rosemary tea is a simple way to enjoy its benefits. Steep a few stems in boiling water. It can be drunk alone or combined with Thyme for extra uplifting support especially for colds and respiratory illnesses.
  • Inhaling the steam of Rosemary can be both uplifting and energising and help soothe tension headaches.
  • Rosemary makes a wonderful hair rinse. You can either steep the Rosemary in boiling water and use cooled for a final rinse or infuse the Rosemary in apple cider vinegar for a few weeks, strain and dilute for an extra nourishing hair rinse.
  • Rosemary makes a warming joint rub, when infused in a nourishing oil and rubbed into aching joints and muscles.
  • Rosemary has long been used as an incense, it has a beautiful aroma and can be burned for protection, cleansing a space or in remembrance of a loved one.

When working with any plants it is important to do your own research to ensure they work for you. Rosemary is not recommended during pregnancy above culinary use and is not recommended for use when taking certain medications.

Botanicals

Thyme for tea

The Winter months can be a good time to really reconnect with some of our evergreen aromatic garden herbs. This month I have found myself particularly drawn to using Thyme, so thought it would be nice to begin a herbal journey focusing on it.

Thyme is thought to derive its name from the Greek words ‘thymos’ meaning strong and ‘thyein’ meaning to make a burnt offering, highlighting its ancient use as an incense.

Thyme is rich in the active ingredient ‘thymol’ which has powerful antiseptic properties. So much so, the compound has been isolated and used in high doses in a range of commercial products including medical disinfectants.

Thyme is a warming and dry herb that has long been used to help respiratory conditions such as bronchitis, laryngitis, tonsillitis, asthma and mouth conditions such as gum disease. Its astringent and decongestant properties support the clearing of excess mucous from the body.

It is also celebrated for its support of the digestive system, helping with indigestion, diarrhoea, gas and calming the stomach, particularly symptoms of nervous tension in the gut.

As a nervine, Thyme has been used to help support physical and mental exhaustion, relieve tension, anxiety and depression and externally this warming herb can offer relief for joint and muscle pain, cleaning and wound healing.

How I like to enjoy Thyme currently:


  1. My favourite way to enjoy Thyme is simply in a tea. Steeping a few stems in boiling water for around 10 minutes, I enjoy drinking thyme solo, or mixed with other herbs or a spoon of honey. You can also gargle with this tea when you have a sore throat.
  2. Thyme can also be effective when used for steam inhalation to clear airways and uplift our senses. Add thyme either solo or with other herbs to a bowl of boiling water. Allow to steep under a towel for 10 minutes. Then begin to gently breath in the steam with your head under the towel for up to 10 minutes.
  3. I love adding Thyme to a range of dishes including tomato sauces, to roasted vegetables and soups and stews.
  4. One of Thyme’s oldest uses is as an incense. It can be thrown into a fire, popped on top of a wood burner or left to dry and then burned to obtain the healing smoke. I like to add it in to smoulder sticks. My recent Winter Allies Smoulder Stick was woven with thyme and other evergreens.
  5. The other way I have used Thyme recently is in a multipurpose cleaner, which is simply a selection of evergreens infused in white vinegar, left for 2 weeks and then strained and diluted 1:1 with distilled water.


We would love to hear the ways in which you enjoy using Thyme. As with all plants it is always important to do your own research. Thyme and certain other herbs are not recommended for use in pregnancy.

Foraging

Elderberry Oxymel

On these damp and cloudy days, I feel Autumn’s presence strongly. These days feel just right for concocting healing oxymels for the winter months ahead.

The name oxymel comes from the Greek word ‘oxymeli’ meaning acid and honey. It is a traditional herbal extraction, using a vinegar and honey to extract and preserve the potent goodness from an array of plants, that can then be taken as a medicine.

Not only do you get the goodness of the plants you are infusing, but you also get the healing properties of apple cider vinegar and the honey themselves. I have seen the honey substituted for maple syrup for a vegan recipe too.

Our first oxymel of the year was made with some very early but ripe foraged elderberries. They are packed full of vitamin C and have a wealth of properties that support the immune system, helping ease coughs throughout the winter months. We also teamed our elderberries with anti-viral herbs and spices, including fresh thyme, sage, grated ginger and dried elderflowers, tumeric and cloves, but these could be substituted for what herbs and spices you have available.

We simmered about 3 cups of elderberries with a cup of water and our herbs and spices gently to release the juice from the berries. After around 5 – 10 minutes we strained the juice through a sieve, ensuring that we pressed all of the pulp to get as much juice as possible out of the berries, before allowing it to cool. We then mixed 1 part juice with roughly 1 part raw apple cider vinegar and 1 part raw honey and bottled. The ratio of honey can be adjusted if you would prefer a sweeter taste.


Botanicals, Foraging

Spirit of the South Smudge Sticks

We are currently in the process of converting a van into our very own travelling home. We are around half way through our build now with our kitchen in place and took our very first trip in it a few weeks ago.

Our first stop was a visit to family down on the south coast for a lovely few days together. We then headed out west, further along the Jurassic coast to explore.

The area is steeped in myth and legend and it wasn’t long before I lost myself with so many beautiful wildflowers along the way.

I felt called to create a smudge stick that embodied the magical essence I experienced as I explored the ancient landscapes of the south.

I gathered some flowering wood Sage, that was growing ferociously in a beautiful woodland. Combined with some ancient & magical wildflowers including Yarrow, Red Clover, Mallow flowers and Meadowsweet I wrapped them in a Mullein leaf and finished with flowering heather.

All of the chosen plants are well known in traditional medicine for their healing and supportive energy. This smudge stick is intended to offer a touch of magic, with plants that ground, protect and help you return to yourself. (Please note these limited edition smudge sticks have now sold out.)

*As of 20/08/20 we have changed the name of our sticks to ‘Smoulder sticks.’ You can read more about our decision regarding this here.

Botanicals

Yarrow and Rose bud Smudge Sticks

Yarrow feels especially abundant this year. This delicate yet mighty wildflower has been used extensively in herbal medicine due to its wealth of therapeutic properties. Ruled by Venus, Yarrow has also long been entwined with myth and magic. Perhaps most notably, the belief that if a handful of the plant was placed under a pillow, it would reveal a person’s future love mate within a dream.

Burning Yarrow is thought to bring courage, dispel fear and heal deep wounds. These qualities seemed to lend themselves to the creation on a Smudge Stick to encourage feelings of self love, connection and heart healing. Teamed with a whole rose bud to offer gentle nurturing and healing, Mallow flowers to protect and Lavender and wild Chamomile to ground, relax and help us to open our hearts.

This was a wonderful team of plants to work with. There are just two of these beauties now available in our Etsy shop.

*As of 20/08/20 we have changed the name of our sticks to ‘Smoulder sticks.’ You can read more about our decision regarding this here.