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Gather in Nature

Posted on September 2nd, 2015

photo 2The highlight of Robin and I’s recent trip to RawFest was, for us, the wild foraging walks. This was really tapping into nature in the raw, and learning things which we believe should be our birthright.

Foraging in the wild for herbs and medicine is to large extent a lost art in the UK, since the suppression of the witches and the demise of the Druids – who regarded plants as sacred. One of those who did most to preserve that knowledge was the 17thC botanist Nicholas Culpeper, who wrote The Complete Herbal and The English Physician. His great works and fascinating life have been the inspiration of our two walk leaders, Prem Hobden, and his assistant Gideon Allen, of HerbAlchemy.

These bright new souls are passionate about bringing this knowledge back – and to make use of it in producing herbal teas and tinctures made of such natural wild beneficiaries as nettle seed, pine needles, yarrow and burdock root. Their delicious ‘mocktails’ – mock cocktails –were perfect for RawFest, being a laid back alcohol-free festival celebrating raw food, nutrition and healthy happy times. Prem is also co-founder with Charlot Conway of Raw Ecstasy , and we are happy to say that they are launching HerbAlchemy at a ‘mocktail’ – mock photo 5cocktails – pop up party at Juice Tonic in Soho in September.  Get along to give a try to their high vibrational drinks and delicious raw treats that give you the feel good factor without the hangover!

On our walk, we encountered their enthusiasm directly. “Prem is the alchemist, and I am a botanist, so we complement each other well” said Gideon – however their respect and wonder at the power of plants – including many that are routinely disregarded as weeds and pests, such as nettles and chickweed – was equally shared. I was shocked to discover that Gideon is only 19 – and soon to depart for Edinburgh University to study botany. Charlot Conway recently won the Jack Wills Young Brits 2014 Award for young entrepreneurs. These young stars give me such hope!

Some of the plants we were introduced to would be easily found anywhere in our countryside and gardens, and are readily made into teas or tossed into a salad. These 5 were included:

  • Wood Avens – or Herb Bennet (geum urbanum) You can make a great chai tea with the root of this plant, which has a cinnamon-like taste. It contains quinine so is said to be a good calming restorative. And it’s anti-inflammatory. The word ‘geum’ comes from the Greek and means fragrant.
  • Pretty Herb Robert, which plants itself readily in borders and shady places, was named (it used to be called Saint Robert’s herb) after a French monk who lived in 1000 AD, who cured many people of various diseases using this plant. First Nations people are known to have used this plant both internally and externally for healing wounds, skin infections or eruptions. According to an article in The Healing Journal, scientists, herbalists, and botanists have discovered that Herb Robert grows especially abundant in areas that have high radiation levels (which include under hydro lines). It is believed that Herb Robert absorbs the radiation from the soil, breaks it down and disperses it.
  • Chamomile – this is a more well known herbal medicine, calming and soothing, but how many people can recognize it in its different photo 3varieties and use it directly to make tea or hair tonic? It grew plentifully in the grounds of Pylewell Park, a true stately pile, whose lovely estate on the edge of the Solent, near Lymington, played host to RawFest, and whose Arboretum and more ancient wood and fenlands were perfect for foraging.
  • Pine needles – pine trees have been considered sacred in many cultures (the Buddha is often portrayed with a pine cone on his headress). It is believed that pine can de-calcify the pineal gland. The needles contain MSM, which is great for joints and skin, while the pollen is enhancing to the immune and endocrine systems.
  • Nettle seed – the ubiquitous ‘weed’, nettle, is a powerhouse of health, and Robin and I are familiar with the value of nettle leaves in smoothies – but learning to harvest the seed was a new discovery. Gideon described it as ‘native spirulina’ – an adaptogenic, meaning it can be used by the body to support many different systems or cells according to need. It is claimed to be able to restore kidney tissue for damaged kidneys, as well as support the thyroid.

photo (1)Herbal tea elixir

Gideon demonstrated using our freshly picked raw materials – pine needles, nettle seed, chamomile and chamomile flowers – to make a restorative tea after our forage.

This is simply done by chopping them up, adding to boiling water and simmering for 10 minutes, then adding a squeeze of lemon juice and if wished, a drop of honey. It was delicious!