World Mental Health Day: A journey around the community gardens of Hackney

A few weeks ago we celebrated Urban Food Fortnight by creating a range of herbal tea blends using herbs pooled by the generous contributions from a number of community gardens within Hackney. Here we shine a light on these spaces and just how important they are for bringing people together to grow, share and learn together in the city. Many of us in the team have been influenced and inspired by volunteering and training programmes offered at many different community gardens and continue to feel the benefits as we put our learning into practise. Hackney Herbal itself was born out of Cordwainers Garden on Mare Street which sadly had to close due to eviction earlier this year.

Read on to hear about Amy’s journey around the community gardens in Hackney who donated to our recent collective harvest!

Beecholme Community Garden sits at the edge of Beecholme estate and Millfields Park in Clapton. It is a wonderful little garden, clearly loved and expertly tended by committed hands. Guided into the garden by a small figurine with a flowerpot hat, I’m welcomed like an old friend by Raul, a local resident and expert gardener, to admire the boundless varieties of herbs that Raul and his volunteers have propagated this season. They have an impressive array of Cuban oregano, Mexican tarragon, flowering blackcurrent sage, clary sage, lemon thyme, sweet cicely and sweet marjoram, to name a few. Their generosity is palpable and I’m given so many interesting plants for our new garden that I run out of space to hang plants off my bike! Raul lovingly snips …… and makes an inspiring, refined tea in a beautiful dark green teapot.  We enjoy it with homemade tomato and rose hip relish on butternut squash bread. Over hand picked tea and homemade savoury cake, I’m shown the mosaics that have been crafted from pieces of Victorian crockery found in the garden, and hear of the challenges in running a community garden. Beecholme Community Gardens is a special place with such a moving commitment to the people and plants, I leave feeling nourished and spoilt rotten! 

Wick Village Community Garden in Hackney Wick is between Gainsbourgh school on one side and the canals and Olympic Park on the other. Once sparse and nature filled, it now sits on the edge of the large new developments in Hackney Wick and beyond. The garden is an impressive feet of community resilience, built on a small, concrete space bordering the canal with no water source and lots of concrete. I’m welcomed by a number of residents who live on the estate and am lovingly shown around the bursting greenhouses, vegetable patches, fruit trees and a small selection of herbs by Julia. I’m moved by their stories of herbs and take away an interesting selection of what the residents call ‘Vietnamese cooking herb’, purple persilla (shiso), rosemary and lots of sage. As I Ieave, the residents are preparing the fire and discussing food options for the evening. I’m touched to hear that at least 5 of 7 nights a week, the bbq fired up, the fire is lit and a collectively made potluck dinner is shared among the community. What a fantastic example of how community gardens can bring people together in our increasingly isolated lives.  

Growing Communities Clissold site sits in the centre of the animal enclosure in Clissold park, somewhere between the birds and the goats. Many a talented urban grower has spent time digging, planting, poly tunnel mending and harvesting at Clissold. Like many community gardens, it too has been built by expert hands - namely Sophie who works easily and passionately on this very successfully inner city growing site. Clissold is a permaculture marvel, beautifully designed to grow salad for the veg box scheme it runs, among different herbs, fruits, vegetables and signs explaining permaculture principles. Generations of gardeners gain experience here and it’s often filled with little gardening hands, retirees, professionals, young growers and trainees, discussing salad varieties, harvesting for local restaurants and breaking bread together. Once again I’m struck by their generosity and come away with two huge boxes packed with enough rosemary, sage, calendula and lavender to fill our drying rack for weeks. 

The Castle Climbing Centre Garden is a large, impressive food growing garden among the busy roads between Newington Green and Manor House. It has a wonderful feel about it and buzzes in summer with climbers from the climbing centre it is attached too, skilled gardens and permaculturists, pizza eaters, families and passers by. I’m encouraged to take whatever herbs we need for our pooled harvest so come away with some succulent rosemary, calendula, sage and lavender. 

As I enter Dalston Curve Garden I’m greeted warmly with offers of tea and the use of any herbs I’d like, with fancy Japanese secateurs to do this with! Dalston curve garden is a haven of silver birch trees, herbs, flowers, plants and vegetables, glowing under dappled sunlight, or firelight in the evenings. It has become an important community hub for many groups in Hackney and hosts volunteers on Saturdays alongside all walks of life across the community. The wonderful hosts at Curve Garden offer sweet, succulent lemon verbena and various mints to the pooled herb blend and I come away with another bag full of herbal goodness. 

Volunteering

If you are interested in volunteering at one of the gardens here is more info. Please see the links for each space on how to volunteer as often you need to contact them and register first instead of just turning up!

Beecholme Community Gardens: Cuttings can be collected from here. Volunteer sessions every Wednesday 2-5pm and Sunday. https://beecholmegarden.wordpress.com/

Growing Communities: Volunteer sessions on Mondays, turn up at 10am on your first time for an induction. https://www.growingcommunities.org/volunteering-hackney

Dalston Curve Garden: Volunteer sessions on Saturdays. http://dalstongarden.org/volunteer/

The Castle: Volunteer sessions on Mondays (April - October) and Thursdays. Inductions are on Thursdays. https://www.castle-climbing.co.uk/Get-Involved

You can find your nearest community gardening project by having a look on Capital Growth’ s Big Dig Map: https://www.bigdig.org.uk/map/london/

Herbs in May

HerbsinMay-collage.jpg

HARVEST

So much going on at the moment! Plenty of Hawthorn blossom still around, and Elderflower now also in full bloom.

In the garden, leafy herbs like Mint, Sage, Oregano, and Lemon Balm are plentiful.

Chives have started flowering. The beautiful purple flowers make a gorgeous pink vinegar (simply infuse them in vinegar for a couple of weeks), and are also great added to salads, soups and other dishes. Thyme is also is blossom and the flowering stems are particularly nice in teas.

Also in flower are Valerian, Rose, Catnip, Common Mallow, Scented geraniums and Calendula. Chamomile buds are also starting to appear.

MAKE

Transform some of the springtime abundance into herbal treats to last all year around:

  • Make elderflower cordial or maybe get some elderflower wine going;

  • Make your own rose syrup;

  • Dry herbs to use in teas;

  • Make delicious oils by infusing pouring some into a jar with culinary herbs and letting it infuse for a few weeks.

IN THE GARDEN

You can start taking softwood cuttings of both shrubby herbs such as sage and lemon verbena, and herbaceous ones like mint and lemon balm.

If you haven’t yet, trim lavender plants, removing all of last year’s flower heads.

Keep an eye out for signs of pests and diseases. Early prevention is much easier than having to deal with an infestation later in the year.

Ensure plants, especially those growing in containers, are well watered. The best time for watering is either early in the morning or after sundown.

Visitors to the garden need water too. Deep dishes or bowls filled with water make a great bird bath, and will certainly be appreciated in these hot spring days.

SOW

May is a good time to sow almost any herbs you could think of. It's now warm enough for plants that need a little extra warmth to germinate, and it's not too late to start those that need a while to get established over the growing season.

Warmth-loving herbs like basil, rosemary, sage and thyme and are best sown indoors and transplanted when established, but others like coriander, dill, parsley, chives and spring onions can be sown directly into the ground or in containers outdoors.

Flowers like borage, sunflowers, nasturtiums, poppies, calendula and nigella can also be directly sown.

// Words Camila B //

Herbs in March

HerbsinMarch-collage.jpg

March marks the beginning of a new growing season. It’s a very exciting and joyful time in a garden, with seeds germinating, new plantlets coming up all around, early buds turning into blossoms, bees starting to come out, and all that glorious early spring sunshine!

HARVEST

The early Spring herbs (nettles, chickweed, cleavers, plantain, dandelion greens, etc) are very abundant now, and most other plants have popped up as well. This is the perfect time to enjoy them in salads, when the young shoots are tender, fresh and full of energy.

Spring is barely here, but there are a lot of flowers out as well - Magnolias, Primroses, Calendulas, Dandelions, Daisies and Violets are only some of the wonderful edible and medicinal flowers out at the moment.

MAKE

Enjoy the gorgeous flowers of early Spring:

  • Pickle Magnolia blossoms;

  • Infuse Primrose flowers (either wild or garden varieties) into a lovely tea that has relaxing and pain-relieving properties;

  • Explore the many ways in which dandelion flowers can be consumed - Use the petals in teas, salads or baked goods. Pickle them, ferment them (into wine), or even fry them!

IN THE GARDEN

  • Give Lemon Verbenas a good pruning.

  • Lift and divide overgrown clumps of perennials.

  • Pot up container-grown plants.

  • Top dress your pots and herb plots with some fresh compost.

  • Keep on top of weeds that might be competing (for space, sunlight and nutrients) with herbaceous plants that have started coming up, like marjoram, valerian, marshmallow, etc

SOW

As spring arrives, so does the sowing season! Now it is the perfect time to be starting new plants. For a higher success rate, start your plants indoors and transplant them to in a month or two once the weather is warmer.

INNER GARDENING

As we begin a new cycle once again, it is a wonderful time to acknowledge the seasonal shift into Spring and, having probably spent a large part of Winter indoors, reconnect with nature. As the Spring tonics like cleavers and nettle come through, they remind us that Spring is a time of cleansing, cleaning out and renewal.

When drinking some cleansing nettle tea or cleaver infused water this month, perhaps you could think about what else could be cleansed that is no longer serving you. An app on your phone you could do without? A judgement you could let go of? Maybe 5 items of clothing that no longer ‘spark joy’ to make way for something new?

It’s also a wonderful time to watch out for signs of Spring... observe the daffodils as they begin to make way for the opening of bluebells, begin to look out for and smell the blossom all over our streets or notice the change in brightness of the sunlight.

// Words Camila B and Amy B//

#IWD2019 // 5 of our favourite international women

In light of International Women’s Day, we’ve compiled a list of some international women who have inspired and influenced our work at Hackney Herbal, including the star of our movie screening tomorrow at MOTH Club, Juliette. There’s still time to grab a ticket here.

Juliette de Bairacli Levy

Photo:  Mabfilms

Photo: Mabfilms

“Juliette of the Herbs” is the name of the film and an affectionate nickname for its star, Juliette, who was a pioneer and is still today an inspiration to the many women who’ve followed in her footsteps and crafted their own careers and life long passion with herbs and the plant kingdom. For more than 70 years Juliette lived with the Gypsies, nomads and peasants of the world, learning the healing arts from these people who live close to nature, and learning from nature herself. Juliette’s life story is as colourful and exciting as her tremendous wealth of herbal knowledge. She is the author of several books on herbal medicine, including the first published work on veterinarian medicine, The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable.

Maria The Jewess

Photo: National Library of Israel

Photo: National Library of Israel

Maria is considered to be the first alchemist of the Western world. She is also referred to as Maria the Prophetess or Maria the Hebrew. She lived in ancient Egypt, around the first century CE. Maria is recognised for inventing a number of alchemical apparatus, one of which mimicked the process of distillation in nature and would become a modern staple in chemistry laboratories and apothecaries. In fact, we often use it in our Hackney Herbal workshops - the Bain Marie or ‘Mary’s Bath.’ We don’t know much else about Maria herself, but what a worthwhile invention!

Vandana Shiva

Photo:  www.straight.com

Photo: www.straight.com

Vandana is an environmentalist living in Delhi. She founded ‘Navdanya’ in 1991; a research institute which aims to protect the diversity and integrity of living resources, in particular native seed, the promotion of organic farming and fair trade. She has written more than twenty books, including “Making Peace With the Earth” regarding Indian social-ecological concerns and insights, with a big focus on the relationship between communities and nature. Recognised as an 'Environmental Hero' by Time magazine in 2003, Vandana has worked tirelessly to promote and defend biodiversity in agriculture.

Isatou Ceesay

Photo:  Luke Duggleby

Photo: Luke Duggleby

At the very forefront of recycling, long before any of us deemed it important, was Isatou. For nearly two decades, she has been educating women and making positive changes to tackle waste in The Gambia, founding her project ‘One Plastic Bag’ in the 90’s, which transformed waste into purses and bags. It might seem common now, but this was revolutionary at the time and inspired others to follow in her footsteps. Thanks to her efforts, not only has the amount of waste in The Gambia drastically decreased, Isatou has created a plethora of jobs for West African women and been able to provide them with a monthly salary.

Octavia Hill

Photo: The National Trust

Photo: The National Trust

We consider the National Trust one of the best things about the UK and Octavia is one of its three founders. She made a career out of improving welfare for others, particularly in campaigning for the need for open green spaces in urban environments, Octavia believed ‘a few acres where the hilltop enables the Londoner to rise above the smoke, to feel a refreshing air for a little time and to see the sun setting in coloured glory which abounds so in the Earth God made’. Just some of the fruits of her hard work include the opening-up of graveyards to the public, the saving of Hampstead Heath and Parliament Hill from developers. We have Octavia to thank for making it her lifetime mission to ensure that London’s rapidly decreasing green spaces could ‘be kept for the enjoyment, refreshment, and rest of those who have no country house’.

Compiled and written Abi Titterington-Lough


Herbs in February

HerbsinFeb-colleage.jpg

Spring might still be a month away, but the signs that it’s on its way are all around. The first leaves of trees are starting to appear and little plantlets are popping out of the ground everywhere.

HARVEST

A lot of the early spring herbs are already starting to come up - look out for the young shoots of nettles, chickweed and cleavers.

Like before, evergreens like rosemary, thyme and sage can be harvested in moderation.

MAKE

Many of the herbs around this time of the year have a powerful detoxifying effect, and make  a great tonic that’ll help our bodies prepare for the busier and longer days of spring and summer. Quantities and proportions are pretty flexible, simply gather leaves of any of the herbs listed below, chop them up and cover with apple cider vinegar. Let them infuse for 4 weeks and strain. You can then take this tonic straight, diluted in water, or as a salad dressing. Herbs that’ll work really well in a spring tonic include: Dandelion leaves, Nettles, Chickweed, Cleavers, Plantain, Yarrow leaves, Rosemary and Parsley.

IN THE GARDEN

Finish any jobs you didn't get around to doing in winter - clean pots and seed trays in preparation for spring, order seeds you want to grow, etc.

Take advantage of the beautiful weather we've been having and start to get things going in the garden - turn the compost pile, mulch trees and shrubs, make room for a new herb bed or make improvements to the garden - why not set up a rainwater harvesting system, or make a small pond or wetland?

Put some bird food out. Natural food supplies may be in short supply now and birds such as sparrows, blue tits and greenfinches will be grateful for the help.

SOW

It’s still a bit too cold for starting new plants outside, but you can get a head-start by growing seedlings on a windowsill and transplanting later on. Parsley, Dill and Coriander are all great candidates for a pre-spring sowing. Those will also tolerate growing indoors if you don’t have outdoor space to move them into.

// Words Camila B //

Herbs in January

Herbsinjanuary-collage.jpg

HARVEST

Winter is the quietest season for harvesting herbs, and it should always be done in moderation as plants grow a lot slower this time of the year, but you can still have your fix of fresh herbs:

  • Evergreens like sage, rosemary and thyme;

  • A lot of the spring herbs are making an early appearance this year, and if you look around, you’ll see cleavers, chickweed and nettles coming up;

  • If you have a bright windowsill, you can keep herbs going indoors.

MAKE

Make a plan for the year ahead. Think of what you’d like to grow this year - what’s the best way and best time to propagate it? What conditions does it like and where would you grow it?

What about those ‘weeds’ always growing in your garden and the edge of your pots - What are they? Are they edible, medicinal or useful in some way?


IN THE GARDEN

We’ve had a pretty mild winter so far, but are likely to have some frosty days ahead. If you haven’t yet, protect your perennials against frost and snow.

Plant bare root shrubs and climbers like roses, honeysuckle and hops.

If you’ve had a compost bin or compost pile going, check how it is doing and sieve some compost in preparation for Spring. If you don’t have your own compost going yet, but have room for it, why not get your own compost system going?

SOW

Have a little break from sowing seeds, and organise your seed collection and/ or seed wish-list instead. Spring will be here before we know it, and won’t it be great to have all those seeds ready to go then? Look up your local seed swop to meet other growers and exchange seeds. A couple coming up are Seedy Sunday in Brighton and the Incredible Edible Lambeth Seed Swap.

INNER GARDENING

This month we are resonating with a poem from one of our favourite writers…

The Cold by Wendell Berry

How exactly good it is
to know myself
in the solitude of winter,

my body containing its own
warmth, divided from all
by the cold; and to go

separate and sure
among the trees cleanly
divided, thinking of you

perfect too in your solitude,
your life withdrawn into
your own keeping

-to be clear, poised
in perfect self-suspension
toward you, as though frozen.

And having known fully the
goodness of that, it will be
good also to melt.

// Words Camila B //

Herb highlight // Rose hips

IMG_1096.jpg

Rose hips (Dog Rose)

Botanical name: Rosa canina

Native to:  Europe, temperate areas of Asia and North Africa

Rose hips are a wonderful source of vitamin C and are a brilliant fruit to help the body defend itself from infections. You will find them growing wild in hedgerows, thickets and wasteland so they are an easy herb to forage for. Hips - also known as the accessory fruit - contain the seeds of the plant and form after the successful pollination of the flowers. They contain tannins which mean they can have a mild laxative effect when eaten. 

One of the easiest ways to harness their rich vitamins is to make a syrup which can be enjoyed as a sweet nutritious treat but also as a remedy to boost your immune system.

Rose hip syrup

Put 500g of washed rose hips in a saucepan with 1litre of water and bring to the boil. Once boiling, turn off the heat and leave to infuse with a lid on for about an hour. Pour the liquid through a jelly bag or a sieve lined with muslin or a fine cheesecloth into a measuring jug (note the amount). Return the strained liquid to the saucepan and add in an equal measurement of sugar. If you have 700ml of water you'll need 700g of sugar. Stir in the sugar until dissolved, bring the mixture up to boiling and then simmer for about 10 minutes. Pour into sterilised glass jars or bottles. Enjoy diluted with hot or cold water as a vitamin C packed drink or take a spoonful regularly throughout winter to build your natural defences and keep colds at bay.

NB. Be careful to avoid the hairs around the seeds which can cause irritation to the mouth and digestive system if ingested. 

Herbs in December

Herbsindecember-collage.jpg

HARVEST

Now that most plants are going into hibernation for the winter, the fact that Calendulas flower throughout the year is more apparent than ever. Enjoy those lovely petals in teas, salads and soups.

Evergreen perennials like rosemary, sage and bay can also still be harvested in moderation.

MAKE

Use the herbs you gathered and dried over spring and summer to create tea blends and culinary mixes. It’s lovely to have them ready when you need them, and they also make great gifts! Here are some delicious ideas:

Teas:

  • Peppermint, Yarrow and Elderflower: classic combo to prevent and fight colds;

  • Chamomile, Lavender and Lemon Balm: relaxing blend, perfect for a nighttime cuppa;

Culinary herb mixes:

  • Thyme, marjoram, rosemary, savory, and lavender are the ingredients of the classic Herbs de Provence mix;

  • Oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme and parsley also makes a wonderful all-around herb mix.

Go foraging for materials like dried plant stems, pinecones, rosehips, and bits of holly (bonus if with berries) and make your own winter wreath.

IN THE GARDEN

December is a quiet month in the garden, giving us the opportunity to plan and prepare for the season ahead - tidying up storage areas, cleaning trays and pots that aren’t in use, sharpening tools and organising seed boxes are all surprisingly satisfying winter garden tasks.

Winter is also the time to work on deciduous trees and shrubs - take hardwood cuttings, prune established plants and plant or transplant new additions to the garden.

SOW

There isn't a whole lot of seed sowing going on in December and January, and Winter is not the best time to start new plants in general. An exception is bulbs, that can be planted now to be enjoyed next year. This includes garlic, that is normally planted between late October to late December for a Summer crop.

If you have a bright windowsill, leafy herbs like coriander, chives, basil and chives can be sown and grown indoors for winter use.

INNER GARDENING

Timing is key in the garden of our lives. While the garden may not look like much in the stillness of Winter, much is happening beneath the surface and come Spring, the planning and preparation we have done will bear fruit. As in the garden, it’s a wonderful time to plan and set new intentions for our lives and the seasons ahead; to get a clear idea of what we want, plant new seeds and weed out those that no longer serve us. What intentions would you like to sow the seeds of now, in the depth of Winter, trusting that when Spring comes, they will germinate and bloom? What in your life has gone into hibernation that you’d like to bring new vigour to in the new year? What would you like to put to rest, trusting that it is the right time to let go, knowing that this will cultivate a greater harvest next season?


Words Camila B & Amy B

Herbs is November

TOP L-R: FIRE CIDER, TURKEY TAIL MUSHROOM, VALERIAN, DANDELION  BOTTOM L-R: HORSERADISH, MARSHMALLOW, COUGH SYRUP, MAKING LEAFMOULD

TOP L-R: FIRE CIDER, TURKEY TAIL MUSHROOM, VALERIAN, DANDELION

BOTTOM L-R: HORSERADISH, MARSHMALLOW, COUGH SYRUP, MAKING LEAFMOULD

HARVEST

Plants are entering their dormant state now. We can see trees dropping their leaves and herbaceous plants starting to die back, but all plants, even if looking lush and green, are starting to slow right down. So, although it’s ok to still harvest from evergreens like rosemary, thyme and sage, do it in moderation, as they won’t be actively growing over the next few months.

Roots, however, are at their peak! As plants start to die back, they shift all their energy to the roots, which can be harvested now for optimal goodness. Dandelion, burdock, horseradish, valerian, marshmallow and elecampane are some examples of roots used widely in herbalism.

Now is also the time of mushrooms! Although technically not herbs, mushrooms are just as useful and amazing both for culinary and medicinal purposes. If you don’t have much experience with these wonderful gifts of nature, guided mushroom walks and forays are a great walk to start learning about the fascinating world of fungi.


MAKE

A lot of those roots we mentioned above are perfect ingredients for herbal preparations that help us stay healthy throughout winter, so make and stock up on herbal tonics and remedies such as Fire Cider and Marshmallow syrup.

IN THE GARDEN

The ‘growing season’ might be over now, but there’s still a lot that can be done in a garden:

Cut back perennials that have died down, but leave those with upright stems. Dried seed heads look beautiful in winter, and hollow stems provide valuable habitat for insects.

If you haven’t got a compost pile going yet, now’s a good time to set one up using the green waste generated by plants dying back and being pruned back.

It’s also the perfect time to start a leaf mould pile. Gather all those fallen autumn leaves in a breathable bag or a chicken-wire frame and let them be. In time they’ll rot down to a crumbly material which works great as a mulch and soil texture improver.

If growing in pots and containers, raise them off the ground (onto pot feet, crates or even a pallet) to avoid water logging over the next few (wet) months.

SOW

Although now is not really the right time of the year to start herbs from seed, if you have a sunny windowsill, you can still grow leafy culinary herbs such as basil, dill, chives and parsley indoors. They'll grow slower than usual, so try to be patient and enjoy their company as they grow.

Something really fun to try in the winter months is growing herbs as microgreens. Simply sow a small tray or container quite densely and harvest the whole plant while it's still pretty young. Microgreens are packed with nutrients and have the intense, concentrated taste of the original herb that is somehow quite delicate at the same time. A real treat!

INNER GARDENING

As the cold weather settles, the seasonal wheel has turned and there’s no doubt we’re moving from a balmy autumn into a cooler winter. The seasonal shift this time of year can be difficult for folks as the days are noticeably shorter and darker and 4:30 feels like 9pm! Low moods, feeling fatigued, irritable and uninspired are common in this transition. It can be powerful to remember that all life cycles through transitions and reflecting on the cyclical nature of things can help us keep half an eye on the bigger picture. Here are some questions to consider:

  • What cycles have you observed in nature over the past year? Perhaps you’ve noticed the leaves grow from buds into lush greenery to complete their cycle, yellowing and falling off? Have there been any particular herbs you’ve seen or grown from seed, watched flourish and harvested before they’ve gone back to seed?

  • What cycles have been completed in your life, work or relationships? Perhaps there’s been something you’ve been working on which you can now look back on and see has been resolved, understood or put down? Only for something new to come up?

  • Have you noticed any circles around you? Look out for circles in nature or cyclical movements in the turn of a bicycle wheel or stirring water in a pan.

During this transition we can trust that the wheel will turn once again and we are invited to enjoy what’s here now because it too will change. Thankfully ‘the one thing that is constant is change.’

Words Camila B & Amy B


Herbs in October

October arrives with the freshness of Autumn as the plants shift their energy from seeds to roots.

Clockwise from top right - Lavender seeds, Sloe berries, Dandelions, Parsley seed, Mint cuttings, Rose hips

Clockwise from top right - Lavender seeds, Sloe berries, Dandelions, Parsley seed, Mint cuttings, Rose hips

HARVEST

The berry season continues with some rose hips, hawthorn, and sloes still around.

Keep an eye out for mature seed heads, and save them either for consumption or for planting next year. Remember that in the wild, many plants rely on their dropped seeds for propagation, so if foraging, be mindful of how much you’re taking.

Now it is also the time to start harvesting roots. As plants begin preparing for the winter months ahead, they transfer their energy to the roots, so autumn is the perfect time to harvest medicinal roots like dandelion, burdock, elecampane, yellow dock, marshmallow and valerian. Some roots, particularly starchy ones, are better harvested once they have been exposed to the cold, so it’s a good idea to wait until the first frost to start digging.

MAKE

Have you heard of Dandelion coffee? This healthy coffee substitute is simply the dried and powdered roots of the common dandelion we see everywhere. Just like coffee, it’s pretty bitter and makes a delicious drink, but unlike coffee, it can be sourced locally and it’s free! It is also packed with nutrients and has an array of health benefits, improving gallbladder function and promoting healthy digestion.

If you had any fennel going to flower this year, you were probably left with a bunch of beautiful seed heads. A great and delicious way to use fennel seeds is to munch them as an after meal digestive. Herbalist Rosalee de la Forêt has a great recipe for a digestive treat using fennel seed and candied ginger.

IN THE GARDEN

Lift and divide overcrowded herbaceous perennials while the soil is still warm.

If you want to keep any herbaceous culinary herbs going throughout winter, lift and pot some of the plants up and take them indoors to a sunny windowsill. Alternatively, there is still time to take cuttings and get new little plants going.

Prune climbing and rambling roses once they've finished flowering.

Something to bear in mind this time of the year is the importance of insect habitats where our tiny friends can overwinter. Simple things like leaving the dried flower stems on the plants, or a couple of logs on the ground can make a huge difference and will offer shelter to dozens of different bugs. For an even bigger impact, you can build a ‘bug hotel’ using simple materials like twigs, dried leaves, straw and cardboard.

SOW

With the cold months approaching, now is not the best time to start new herbs from seed outdoors, but if you have a sunny windowsill, you can grow leafy culinary herbs indoors pretty much all year round. Coriander, parsley, dill and chives are some great options.

INNER GARDENING

Autumn is root time. As we’ve seen plants put their energy into their roots so they have a strong and stable foundation to blossom from in spring. We are the same: to grow, blossom and flow through life’s challenges we need secure roots and a solid grounding. This sense of stability and rootedness is found by feeling at home in our bodies and on the body of the earth. This can be difficult in a culture that prioritises thought and predominantly indoor lifestyles. Here are a few suggestions to connect with your roots:

  • Dance! Dance is one of the best ways to connect to your body and to feel your physical presence on the ground. Putting our attention and weight down into the legs and feet is instantly grounding. Swing your hips to the radio while making tea, put some music on that you love and dance in your room or go to a dance class. This is a guaranteed way to connect to the root of your body. Yoga is super supportive for connecting to the body too.

  • Get a massage. This is a wonderful way to feel the physicality of your body and to treat it with the love it deserves. There are many places to get reasonably priced massages at student clinics and community centres or you could do an exchange with a friend or partner.

  • Focus on your feet. By bringing energy to our feet we are strengthening our rootedness and the base on which we stand. Wiggle your toes in your shoes, stamp your feet on the ground, get a pedicure or rub some oil into your feet before bed.

  • Research your roots and find out where you are from. Ask family members about your grandparents or great grandparents and if there are any photos of them. As many great teachers have said, to know where we are going, means knowing our roots and where we are from.


Words Camila B & Amy B