Herb Highlight // Lemon balm

Botanical name: Melissa officinalis

Native to: S. Europe, Asia and North Africa. Naturalised in Britain.

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It's always a joy to see lemon balm springing back to life, a gentle reassurance that spring is definitely here! It is a herb that has always been associated with raising spirits and lifting the heart.The Arabian herbalist Avicenna (980-1037) said that Lemon balm "causeth the mind and heart to be merry". Recent research has shown that it can be an effective remedy for anxiety, depression and insomnia owing to its mild sedative properties. It's also a great herb for bees which go wild for its small white flowers and its botanical names is derived from the Greek word Melissa which means 'bee'. 

Our favourite way to enjoy lemon balm is in a hot infusion but you can also preserve it with honey or sugar to extend its short season. It can be enjoyed as a dried herb but it does lose some of its flavour during the drying process. Have a go at these simple recipes. 

Lemon balm honey

Fill a jam jar half full with fresh leaves and then fill with honey. Leave to infuse for 4 weeks and then strain. Use for deserts and cooking or have a spoonful in a cup of hot water with a slice of lemon. 

Lemon balm syrup

Dissolve 100g sugar with 100ml water in a saucepan on a low heat and then simmer lightly for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and add in a generous handful of fresh leaves. Leave to infuse with the lid on the pan for a few house or overnight and then strain out the leaves. Use to sweeten drinks.

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Herb Highlight // Pot Marigold

Botanical name: Calendula Officinalis
Native to: Southern Europe

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It's very easy to grow marigolds from seed. They grow happily outdoors either in a pot or in the ground and can also be grown indoors in a sunny spot next to a window. You can sow seeds outdoors in March or if you are keen to get going you can start them off indoors in February.

They are an annual plant - completing their life cycle in one year - and they drop plenty of seeds allowing new plants to grow in the next season. You can also collect some of the seeds at the end of summer to sow again the following year.
 
How to use


We mainly use our calendula to make an infused oil, the basis for all our herbal cosmetics. The flowers are rich in anti-oxidants (flavanoids) and these have a wonderful affect on protecting and restoring the skin. It is known as a vulnerary agent meaning it is useful for the healing of wounds. Calendula oil is very gentle and can be used to make creams and lotions to treat all sorts of skin complaints like eczema, stings and bites, psoriasis, scarring, stretch marks and nappy rash. Follow the guide below to make your oil which can be used directly on the skin or incorporated into another recipe.

To make an infused oil

1. Harvest marigold flowers in the morning on a dry day before they lose their volatile oils
2. Leave herbs to dry in a cool, dark place (away from direct sunlight) for 1-2 weeks to dry out
3. Pack the dried flowers loosely into a jam jar and cover with oil - sunflower, olive and almond oil all work well (about 15g herb to 100ml oil).
4. Leave on a sunny windowsill for 2 weeks to infuse
5. Strain out the flowers and store oil in a cool, dark place.

If you don't have a sunny windowsill you can also infuse your oil by placing herbs and oil in heat proof bowl set over simmering water. Heat for 30 minutes then leave to stand for 1 hour. Never let the oil boil.

 

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Wild herbs: taking notice this Spring

Spring seems to have snuck up on us this year, its sudden arrival marked by pink blossoms perching delicately on the ends of tree branches, as if they landed there overnight. And with them comes the happy reminder that everything passes – sometimes, it seems, in the blink of an eye! The appearance of spring’s subtle flowery scent on the breeze, and its dashes of warming sunshine which hold the promise of summer, are a nudging reminder to take notice of what’s going on around us. We’ve often been so busy filling up our calendars with our resolutions, plans and promises for the New Year that taking notice of these subtle but definite changes might have become a bit of a back seat passenger. It’s important to make space for taking notice, as it’s often within this space that insights, wisdom, ideas and creativity can emerge. In the spirit of this, we’ve come up with the perfect way for you to create space to take notice, and enjoy the gifts that spring carries with it.

Now the weather is milder, and plants are starting to unfurl, it’s a great opportunity to take your basket and boots out for a riverside stomp and clear away the cobwebs. Grab your map and plan a route that takes you along canal and riverbanks, or through areas of rich biodiversity. On your way, see which herbs you notice emerging. Make sure you bring your guide for identifying plants, some secateurs and a hot thermos of your favourite herb blend in case it gets chilly.

It’s the perfect time to look out for young stinging nettles, which are abundant in nutrients. Infuse these in some hot water and you’ve got the perfect fuel for your spring creations to come to life! Another plant to spot is early wild garlic, perfect for salads and making wild garlic pesto. Spread it on toast or add to pasta dishes for a garlicky, immunity-boosting kick (be careful, it’s potent stuff!) We like this recipe from the Permaculture magazine website. Cleavers (also known as goose grass) are also plentiful at this time. They help to remove toxins from the body and are very easy to spot – they’ll probably stick to your clothes en route, too so no need to pick! So get those wellies and waterproofs on, take some photos of your findings and share them with us @hackneyherbal – we’d love to see what you unearth.

Happy foraging!

Here is a guide for identifying our favourite three spring time herbs and some ideas for eating, juicing, brewing and stewing these nutricious wild herbs.

1. EAT

Wild garlic (ramsons) Allium ursinum

We like picking the leaves of these and adding them to salads or sandwiches for a nice hearty garlic kick. It’s packed with allicin which is antibacterial and antimicrobial, perfect for beating off those pre-spring colds.

2. JUICE

Cleavers (sticky weed, sticky willy, goose grass) Galium aparine

Abundant at this time of year and recognisable by its sticky character cleavers are best enjoyed in their fresh state. Add them to your water bottle to cold infuse or even better wiz them up in a blender for a juice that will help your lymphatic system,  aiding your body with the removal of toxins.

3. BREW of STEW

Stinging nettle Urtica dioica

Sometimes a bit tricky to pick if you haven’t come prepared with rubber gloves but well worth the stings. Bursting with vitamins A & C, iron, potassium, manganese and calcium nettle makes for an excellent brew. Try it as a herbal infusion or add it into soups and stews (which takes away the sting) for an iron rich boost.

Remember to always carefully identify wild plants before consumption using a foraging guide if you are a beginner. Also be mindful of foraging regulations in your area and never dig up a plant from its local habitat without permission. More useful tips here.

Soothing ourself with Marshmallow

Autumn is the time of year where we shift our focus to what is growing below the ground and for herb harvesters, this means digging up some roots. It’s also the time of year when the shift in seasons can bring us all down with irritating colds. Thankfully, there are a number of herbs at their prime right now and we can rely upon these to provide an antidote to the sorest of throats.

Common marshmallow – Althaea officinalis – is one of these herbs and is the key ingredient in our herbal cough syrup. The root contains high quantities of mucilage, a gelatinous substance that helps to sooth inflammation – and also the substance that they first made marshmallow sweets out of. To extract this we make a maceration from the freshly harvested roots (you can also used dried root) by soaking it in cold water for 8 hours or overnight.

Herbal Cough Syrup Recipe

25g of herb leaves eg. sage, thyme

25g marshmallow root

25g ginger root

1 litre of water

about a 1kg sugar

  1. Place the marshmallow roots in cold water and leave to infuse for 7 hours or overnight.

  2. Cut up the ginger and place into a saucepan and cover with water and bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes - this is a decoction

  3. Turn off the heat and add the herb leaves to the pan and infuse for 15 minutes

  4. Strain the mixture into a measuring jug. Strain the marshmallow and combine both infusions.

  5. Add the same amount of sugar as their is liquid (tip: if you have 850ml of water, add 850 g of sugar)

  6. Heat the mixture continually until the sugar has dissolved

  7. Allow to cool and then pour into sterilised bottles

Dosage: 1 tablespoon up to 6 times a day. Take on its own or dissolve a spoonful in a cup of hot water.