My medicine is seasonal and as such, I gather much of it as and when seasonal ailments hit. In the winter I can collect rosehips to make a deliciously warming and highly nutritious soup to help keep coughs and colds at bay or, if I’m feeling adventurous, I can dig up some horseradish root and turn it into horseradish vodka to do the same job. When the days start to lengthen and the sun starts to rise in the sky I head off to the entrance of the graveyard where two huge and ancient Elder trees – Sambuca nigra L – grow and I gather enough blossom to dry and make tea with for the summer. With a spoonful of local honey in each cup, I ensure that when my eyes start to each and my throat starts to tickle I don’t have to resort to tablets.
Come midsummer and I head to the middle of the woodland and start picking blossom from a large lime tree Tillia L. A tree that I know so well I could describe at what stage of its growth cycle it is in at any time, a tree I know better than I know my own brother. With just an hour spent picking from one branch, this one tree furnishes me with enough lime blossom to dry for tea throughout the year. Tea that helps my digestion after a meal whilst slowing down my racing and sometimes obsessive brain to ensure a restful night’s sleep.
Throughout the year I know where to find plantain Plantago L. not the banana-like fruit but the plant that grows freely through the world. A plant I used only yesterday, crushing the leaves and applying the juice to my sons recently stung thumb taking away the pain instantly. The autumn gives me enough hawthorn berries to turn into hawthorn leathers and tinctures to regulate my blood pressure. To paraphrase Charles Dickens, the forest gives to every time and season medicines of its own.
To top up this medicine cabinet I also grow a few herbs in my garden and leave many wild herbs, (plants that many call weeds), to seed and spread. Most of my ailments and, many of my family’s, are dealt with using something from either my woodland or garden medicine cabinet.
My accumulation of plant medicine knowledge has been gradual, happening over the course of around 15 years. It has been borne of careful research and conversations with my medical herbalist friends and other foragers. Yet what I am really doing is tapping into a knowledge base that has been with humans since the dawn of time and I believe one that will continue to the end of time too.