Winter wellness

A nurturing and cosy Sunday was spent in the Village garden classroom, sampling herbals teas and making some potions to keep away winters chaps and chills. Although there was little above ground, few berries and flowers left as we head into the darkness of winter (although a small yarrow was still in bloom!), we still found much to discuss and harvested some Thyme from the plot to make this immune boosting syrup;

Elderberry and Thyme syrup

INGREDIENTS    (makes approx 4 cups)  change quantities as needed.     IMG_20160826_161650.jpg

1 cup elderberries (dried) or 2 cups elderberries (fresh)
3 cups filtered water
4 tablespoons thyme leaves   

1 cup honey (ideally local and raw)

Optional and delicious extras;    3 tablespoons fresh grated ginger, 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 1 teaspoon ground cloves

METHOD      Place the berries in a pot, add water and bring mixture to the boil. Add the thyme. Turn down the heat and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes, stirring occasionally until reduced by about half – you want the mixture to be fairly thick and unctuous.    Strain through a fine sieve or cheesecloth, pressing on the solids to release as much of the liquids as possible. Allow the juice to cool down from hot to warm. When the juice is still quite warm, add the raw honey and stir to combine.  Transfer to sterilised bottles or jars and pop it into the fridge. Should keep for approximately 6 months, although less if less honey used.

HOW TO TAKE     Once a day as a preventative: 1tblsp for adults; 1 tsp for kids. Do not give to infants under 1. Take 2-3 doses per day when sick. Also makes a lovely cordial, especially hot. On ice cream or pancakes. CAUTION Fresh elderberries should NOT be consumed raw, as they are slightly poisonous, so make sure the berries are cooked!

Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is an age old remedy for colds, flu and sinus problems. These dark clusters of berries are loaded with immune boosting goodness, have more powerful antioxidants that blueberries and cranberries and contain high levels of vitamin C. They are also a great source of vitamins A, B, protein, iron and calcium. It is no coincidence that these berries are ripe and ready for picking just as the season changes and winter bugs sneak up on us and making this syrup has become an autumn tradition in our household (the humble fork is an excellent tool for stripping the berries!)

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) contains high levels of the volatile oil Thymol, a substance with antiseptic, anti-fungal and antimicrobial properties. It is an expectorant and can be used to help combat coughs, colds, flu and is specifically useful for respiratory infections. Its is anti-spasmodic and can calm a hacking cough and soothe bronchitis.

We also used the vibrant orange calendula petals that we harvested from the plot as they grew in abundance at Summer solstice to make a gorgeous, nourishing infused oil, which we turned into lip balm for the winter months!

Calendula Herbal Oil    


Place flowers in a clean, dry glass jar. If using fresh Calendula, wilt it for 12 hours to remove most of the moisture (too much moisture will cause the oil to go rancid) before adding to the jar. Pour organic sunflower oil into the jar, making sure to cover the flowers by at least 1” of oil so they have space to expand. Stir well and cap the jar tightly.  Place the jar in a warm, sunny windowsill and shake every day.  After 4-6 weeks, strain the herbs out using muslin. Pour the infused oil into glass bottles, label and store in a cool dark place.

As we had a shorter amount of time, we used the Heat Method:   

 To prepare, follow step 1 from above, but place the oil and Calendula flowers in a bain marie (uncovered to let any moisture evaporate). Warm over low heat for 2 -3 hours. Once the oil has infused, strain out the herbs using cheesecloth and either repeat the process for a stronger, more medicinal oil or decant the infused oil into glass bottles. 

Basic Lip Balm Formula 

3 parts oil      1 part beeswax (for a softer lip balm use less)      1 part cocoa butter (optional & adjustable)   few drops of essential oils.
Add water to the bottom pot of your double boiler, and then pour your calendula oil into the top pot and place above. You can also create a makeshift double boiler if you don’t have one. The main thing is that the oil needs non-direct and even heat to prevent burning. Bring your double boiler to a low heat, then add in cocoa butter and beeswax. Once everything has melted, remove from the heat and when cooled a little add essential oils. Stir the mixture and slowly pour into each tin, and allow the salves to cool.
If vegan you can omit using beeswax to set the lip balm and simply infuse coconut oil.
Thank you to all who joined us for this inaugural course and to the AONB, who allowed us to offer places at a discounted rate.

Pestle and daughter are now hibernating a little, but planning a series of spring courses … join us to learn about incredible spring tonics that can be freely harvested as nature bursts into life and greenery again after the chill of winter; how our native plants can help shift the sluggishness of festive overindulgence, cleanse, nourish and renew our systems!

Please check the courses page for dates and how to book.

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