Cordials and wines from the country
There was a time when most people knew about the plants in the hedgerows. Not necessarily their botanical names as a lot of these plants would have had different local names depending on which part of the country you were from. People would look upon the plants as a natural outdoor chemist where they could get a cure for most ailments and a pick me up tonic for any time of the year.
Depending on the time of year these wild plants emit a unique fragrance that is as powerful as any photographic image for recalling times walking and playing in the country. They can induce a clean, protective feeling that stays with you forever. Some of these beautiful plants that bring the feeling of the country to your nose can be made into drinks, which are perfect for helping you keep cool in the summer and give a warming effect in the winter. Even now, most of these fabulous drinks are not available in the shops, so the pleasure is also on the picking.
Plants from the wild can be cultivated in the garden by replicating their environment but it’s very hard to improve on the plants own choice of soil. Therefore I would suggest that if you are picking the flowers, roots or leaves, to get them from places where they have self- set away from pollution and roads. Only take from areas with permission though, you don’t want to get chased off by an angry landowner.
Choose a dry, sunny day. Not too early or too late. The leaves and flowers will dry better and be less susceptible to damage if the dew has gone from them. Roots on the other hand can be pulled up better after a drop of rain as this make the soil looser.
Pick for the Future
Remember that if a plant is stripped of it’s leaves, seeds, flowers or roots, it will not survive to give you more goodies the following year. Only take small amounts from the plants, leaving them to flourish for future generations.
If you are not using the plant parts straight away, they can be stored in airtight containers after drying. Spread out your picked leaves or flowers onto newspapers then place in a well ventilated area and turned regularly. When the leaves or flowers are dry they can be easily stripped from their stalks and put straight into glass jars for storage.
Some flowers are perfect for making into wines. Agrimony, which grows on wasteland makes a very good wine, so does wild barley, clover, dandelion, gooseberry, honeysuckle, lime flower, meadowsweet, nettle, raspberry, rose hip and tansy. Wine can be made from anything really, but the difference is with these wild plant wines is that they are delicious and don’t tend to blow up in the wardrobe like the ones I made from Trebor Mints when I was a teenager.
One of my personal favourites, the nettle, is perfect for making a hearty soup in spring and gives us loads of goodness. Tasting similar to spinach when cooked, it gives up vitamin A,C, D, iron, potassium, manganese and calcium. Stinging nettle tea, on the other hand also helps to break down arthritis crystals and gout, has anti allergy properties against hay fever and asthma, helps to reduce eczema, shrinks enlarged prostrates and haemorrhoids, increases breast milk production and helps reduce heavy menstrual bleeding, which isn’t bad for a plant you see growing at the bottom of the garden.
Gorse is lovely, and abundant here. There’s a saying about the plant too “When gorse is out of bloom, kissing is out of season.” You’ll be pleased to know that gorse around here seems to flower all year. You will need to be very patient when picking the flowers though as gorse is very prickly. Gorse is seen as the poor relation to broom, which is said to have greater medicinal properties, but it does still have a multitude of uses. It has been used as fuel (you will know it burns well when the hills catch fire). The ashes can be mixed with clay and used as a substitute for soap. The crushed shrub has been used to feed cattle and makes for good milk. The shrub can also make an extremely effective hedge when closely cut. Back to the wine. With the price of alcohol rising in the shops, you could save money by making your own booze…
Here’s an old recipe for gorse wine.
1 Gallon of gorse flowers
2.5 lb sugar
1 gallon of water
Yeast. (Fresh yeast from the bakers if you can get it) or from a packet.
Boil the flowers in the water for 15 minutes. Strain through a flannel bag and add water to make up to the 1 gallon. Dissolve the sugar in the liquid and add the lemon and orange peel (removing the pith) and the juice. When this is lukewarm add the yeast, (fresh yeast can be spread over a slice of bread then placed in the bucket). Leave for three days in a warm place, stirring occasionally. Strain into a fermenting jar -fit an air lock to stop it blowing up (you live and learn) and leave until fermentation has stopped and the wine is clear. Siphon off into sterile bottles and cork. The wine will be ready for drinking after a few weeks, but like a lot of things, they can mature for the better with age.