Rose Bay willow herb is also called Fireweed, as it is a pioneer species, which is one of the first to sprout after a fire. It was a common sight on London bombsites during the Second World War. In the 16th century John Gerard writes that it was a rarity in Britain, although he got some for his garden from a friend in Yorkshire.
  Seemingly the plant has now grown much more common all over the UK and Ireland where it is called Lus na tine or in English Blooming Sally, perhaps because it has leaves like the willow tree, of the genus Salix. It has often been remarked that the leaves actually look a little like those of the bay tree too. Some have referred to it as a “bothersome weed” as it spreads easily.
  It spreads by seeds which are attached to white hairs which have been used for stuffing, like kapok. These appear in autumn when the seed pod splits into four and ejects the hairs and seeds which are carried on the wind to new blooming places.
  Despite its apparent rarity, Culpeper used it in the 17th century for its antispasmodic properties for asthma and whooping-cough. An infusion of the leaves is used for these purposes. The plant is native to parts of Europe and southern Asia and also grows in North America, although whether it has been introduced or is a native species is open to debate.
  In Britain it was cultivated in Victorian gardens because of its spikes of pink-mauve flowers and perhaps it escaped from these gardens to become the prolific plant we have now. It can be seen along railway tracks with buddleias and in waste ground almost everywhere. The flowers, which are in bloom for about a month, are a haven for bees which collect the nectar and mice nest in thick patches of this plant so it is good for wild life in Britain.
  The leaves can be made into a tisane but have been used as an adulterant in some tea. The root can, like chicory roots, be made into a coffee substitute. It is a member of the Onagrariaceae family of plants, and is also known by the Latin name Chamaenerion angustifolium, although this is sometimes misspelled as Chamerion. The stems look red, and this has given rise to another name for this plant, Blood Vine, although it is an erect plant and certainly not a vine. It can grow to heights of between four and eight feet.
  The French Canadians of the Gaspe Peninsula call the plant ‘wild asparagus’ and eat the young shoots in the same way that you would asparagus. The roots are edible and can be boiled and eaten as you would a Jerusalem artichoke, or added to soups and stews. The leaves can be made into a tisane and these contain vitamins A and C as well as at least one of the B-complex vitamins, riboflavin. They also contain the mineral phosphorous.
  The powdered root has been used to stop internal bleeding, but the plant is mainly used now in tisanes- leaves and roots for diarrhoea, dysentery and stomach cramps, while an extract of the leaves may have anti-inflammatory properties scientists believe. A poultice of the leaves has been used in folk medicine for mouth ulcers and in Germany and Austria the Rose Bay willow herb has been traditionally used for prostate gland problems. The stems are edible and have laxative properties, apparently! A poultice of the peeled roots has been used to heal burns and other skin problems.
  It’s a very attractive plant and it seems to have health benefits too, as well as most of it being edible.


Ladies Bedstraw is also called Our Ladies Bedstraw, as it was once believed that it was one of the dried kinds of plants that were laid in the manger by Jesus’ mother Mary to make it comfortable for him. It is also known as Curdwort and Cheese Rennet as in the past it was used to curdle milk and process cheese. The yellow colour that Cheshire cheese was famous for was produced by this plant. John Gerard writing in the 16th century explains this, saying that the best Cheshire cheeses were made in Nantwich. Today the yellow food colouring is from annatto. The whole chopped plant is used for rennet.
  This plant was used in Nativity scenes in churches, dried, as we can see from this extract from the Red Book of Hengist and the works of the Physicians of Myddfai,
The bite of the spider, will not be found venomous, save from the feast of the nativity of the Virgin Mary, to that of her purification, and then by applying the yellow bed straw thereto bruised, the venom will be extracted therefrom.”
The Physicians of Myddfai also used yellow bedstraw for swellings :-
“For a swelling, the result of an injury. Take the juice of the yellow bed straw, the juice of the plantain, rye meal, honey and the white of eggs. Make into a plaster, and apply thereto.”
  More traditionally however, the plant has been used as a diuretic in the treatment of gout and other diseases whose symptoms include excess fluids in the body.
  Given that it has the name Bedstraw, you might guess correctly that it was used in the past to stuff mattresses with, as it is sweet-smelling, like freshly cut hay and is reputed to have insect-repellant properties. It is also said that if you put a sprig of this in your shoes if you are walking a long way, you will not get a blister. It is closely related to Sweet Woodruff, Galium odorata.
  This plant is native to Europe and western Asia, and is a common sight in waste land, and in fields. The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked, like spinach, and the seeds when roasted are said to make a good coffee substitute, like chicory or dandelion roots. (Coffee, of course is also in the Rubiaceae family of plants.)  In Britain the plant is in flower in July and August and can be collected then and dried for later use. The root leaves and stems produce a yellow dye which women used to dye their hair blonde in Britain in the Renaissance. It may be that in France men also made use of this dye as there it was called “Petit muguet” or “little dandy” and this was adulterated into another English name for this plant, Petty Mugget. The roots alone produce a red dye like that of Madder (Rubia tinctorum) to which yellow bedstraw is related as it is in the same Rubiaceae family of plants.
  The flowering tops have been used as a folk remedy for epilepsy and are thought to have antispasmodic properties. Culpeper writing his Complete Herbal in the 17th century believed that yellow bedstraw was good for all kinds of internal bleeding and for nosebleeds.
   An infusion or decoction of the plant has been used in the past to remove stones and gravel from the internal organs, although I don’t think it is used for these ailments today.
  The flowering plant used to be made into an ointment for skin problems and a powder from the plant can be applied directly onto the skin to stop itching and inflammation. A poultice of the chopped plant, heated can be applied to heal wounds and clean them too.
  The plant contains asperuloside which produces coumarin and it is this which is responsible for the smell of new mown hay which the plant emits. This can be further converted to produce prostaglandins which are hormone- like compounds that stimulate the uterus and affect blood vessels, so the pharmaceutical industry is currently very interested in this plant, although little research has yet been published on it.
  You can make a foot bath to relieve swollen or aching feet by boiling the stems and flowers in water. If you take a cupful of the herb and boil it in a couple of pints of water for half an hour, reducing it to a simmer after boiling point has been reached, then pour it into a bowl and add more hot water to cover your feet, you should feel a little better after a period of soaking your feet.

2 tbsps fresh flowers of Yellow Bedstraw
1 cup boiling water
honey to taste

Put the flowers in a large mug and pour the boiling water over them.
Leave to steep for 15-20 mins.
Strain and flavour with a little honey.
This is a useful diuretic.
This has Taste and is a Treatment).


Lentils were gathered by our prehistoric ancestors, and were one of the first cultivated crops along with wheat and barley. Their origins are a little obscure and there seems to be some debated as to whether they originated in the Mediterranean region or the Near East, in Syria, northern Iraq, western Iran, southern Turkey and northern Israel, as the Lens orientalis still grow wild in these regions. Some researchers such as Daniel Zohary believe that the Lens orientalis is the predecessor of the cultivated lentil (Lens esculenta or Lens culinaris).
  Lentils are members of the Fabaceae or Leguminosea family of plants so are related to the chickpea, pea, green bean, borlotti bean, and others. Lentils come in a variety of colours, red, brown, green, black, white, yellow and orange, but all contain large amounts of protein and make useful meat substitutes. They also contain vitamins A, C, E, and K, lots of molybdenum, amino acids including choline, B-complex vitamins, B1 (thiamin) B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), pantothenic acid and B6 (pyridoxine). They are rich in minerals, containing magnesium, manganese, copper, zinc, iron and calcium. They also contain Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids.
  The ancient Greeks were cultivating them in 6000 BC although they were deemed the food of the poor, as they were by the Romans, who made soups with them. Hippocrates (circa 460 – 377BC) prescribed lentils for liver problems and to keep old men virile (who would have thought that lentils would have been aphrodisiacs?). Interestingly modern research has shown that choline helps to rid the liver of fats, so helping it function more efficiently to get rid of toxins in the bloodstream.
  Aristotle (c.384-328 BC) ate lentil soup flavoured with saffron, which seems a bit wasteful, but saffron was thought to be a substance that promoted happiness, and with lentils thought of as aphrodisiacs, perhaps Aristotle had other things on his mind.
  Modern Greeks still eat brown lentil soup (φακες) especially during Lent, although it has never been a favourite of mine even when it is drenched in olive oil. They make a good fava though, but this is made with yellow split peas not lentils.
  In the Indian subcontinent lentils are common and eaten with rice or as in spicy soups. They are sometimes also incorporated into kebabs to eke out the meat. I love red lentils, soups, daals, lentil loaf, whatever; they have a nutty taste and go well with mushrooms.
  Lentils help to lower cholesterol levels and are a heart-healthy food. They can help to stabilize blood sugar levels and normalize blood pressure. Because they are low in calories and high in dietary fibre and folate, they are wonderful for people on a weight-loss diet as they prevent constipation and have anti-inflammatory actions so are good for irritable bowel syndrome sufferers and for people with colon problems. The vitamins and minerals they contain have powerful antioxidant properties so they can combat the scavenging free radicals which can cause damage to healthy cells and cause cancer.
  If you allow them to sprout, they make very nutritious bean sprouts for salads and stir-fries and you can do this by soaking them in warm water for about 12 hours, then leaving them to sprout for 5 days.
  If you grind dried lentils the flour can be added to cereal flour to make a protein-enhanced bread, and if you make a paste of lentils and apply this to old ulcerous wounds, it will cleanse them and promote new skin growth.

250 gr yellow lentils, soaked in water overnight
2 onions, sliced thinly
2 tomatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
4 green chillies, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 inch ginger root, finely chopped
handful fresh coriander leaves
1 tbsp garam masala (See recipe)
1 tbsp cumin seeds
salt to taste
4 tbsps oil

Put the lentils in a pan with 4 glasses of water, salt, chilli powder, turmeric, coriander seeds, onions and tomatoes along with half of the chopped chillies. Cook on a low heat for about ½ hour or 45 mins until the lentils are soft.
Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the rest of the green chillies, garlic and ginger. Fry these until they change colour, then put them in the daal and stir well to mix.
Sprinkle with coriander leaves and serve with chapattis, naan or other breads.
This has Taste and is a Treat.


Kohlrabi, like celeriac, isn’t exactly the most attractive vegetable but it deserves to be more popular than it is in the USA and Britain. Its origins are a little obscure, and some say that the first documented description of this vegetable was written by a European botanist in 1554. This may be so, but Pliny wrote about a vegetable that he called “rapa” in the 1st century AD. He also wrote about the turnip, which he called “napa.” During the year I spent in Italy I recall my boss being ecstatic when she could have kohlrabi on her pizza, she told me that this was grown in southern Italy, and was a delicacy in the region I was living in. This was cavoli rapa.
  What is undeniable is that kohlrabi was developed from the wild cabbage as was broccoli, brussel sprouts, turnips, red cabbage, kale, head cabbages and other Brassica family members. It was selected from cabbages that had good stems, and it is peculiar as it grows above ground, with its roots under the soil. Its name comes from the German Kohl for cabbage and rabi or rape for turnip, so it means cabbage turnip.
  Kohlrabi could have been spread throughout Europe by the Romans, but it might have been one of those crops that they kept to themselves. Whatever the case, it seems that this was developed in Germany and northern Europe and gained popularity in the 16th century. It is said that it tastes better after a frost, when it has been bletted, like sloes, for example. It has a taste which is sweeter than most turnips, and is reminiscent of a broccoli stem or perhaps white cabbage.
  You can eat this raw in salads, if it is sliced thinly or cooked (thinly sliced on pizzas as my Italian boss liked it), as a vegetable steamed, boiled and mashed or stir fried, in sesame oil. You can also eat the green leaves which are rich in vitamin A and carotenes, and these young tops can be cooked like spinach or used to make saag. They can be substituted for kale or collard greens too.
  Kohlrabi contains hardly any fat, is low in calories and has no cholesterol, making it ideal for people on a weight-loss diet. It contains more than the daily recommended dose of vitamin C per serving and also is rich in potassium. It also contains Omega-3 and-6 fatty acids, the minerals selenium, sodium (not much), manganese, copper, magnesium, iron, calcium, phosphorous and 11 amino acids. Vitamin A is also present in both the leaves and the vegetable.
  Kohlrabi contains isothiocyanate which is believed to help convert oestrogen in the body, and which seems to create a barrier against hormones associated with prostate and breast cancers.
  It is one of those unprepossessing vegetables that you can easily pass by in the supermarket, but it is very easy to prepare, and often, if it is young and fresh, doesn’t need peeling. Only peel the woody ones, and add them to soups and stews. Below is a simple Italian recipe to start you off on your acquaintance with this underused veggie.

Kohlrabi, cubed
olive oil
fresh lemon juice
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Boil or steam cubed kohlrabi until tender – try it after 10 mins.
Drain and dry on absorbent paper, then dress with olive oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper.
This has Taste and is a Treat.


Hollyhocks are the flowers that spring into my mind when an “English country garden” is mentioned. My great aunt had them in her garden in Worcestershire along with other typical English garden flowers, meadowsweet, poppies and for some reason a huge passionflower crawled up her door frame. These tall flowers are wonderful for children to play amongst and make for excellent screens in a garden. They attract bees and butterflies too.
  Hollyhocks are members of the Malvaceae family so are related to the mallow and hibiscus. They possess some of the medicinal properties of the Marsh mallow, and have been used as herbs to add to soups and stews, in China, although they are not very palatable. The flowers are edible, or at least the pretty petals are, which come in a range of colours. The plant is in flower from July through to the end of September, and seeds appear from August onwards.
  It is best to harvest the flowers in July and August when they are in full bloom and dry them on trays in warm air, at temperatures of 35º Celsius. These can be made into a tisane and used for mouth problems and sore throats.
  It is said that these garden hollyhocks were introduced into Britain from China via Palestine in 1573, but they were clearly known to mediaeval herbalists and to John Gerard, who refers to them as Malva hortensis (garden mallows). The plants originated in south-west and central Asia, and it is thought by some that the ancient Greeks used them for mouth problems, although it is more likely that they used the Marsh mallow and not the hollyhock.
  Mediaeval herbalist used them in this remedy for fainting spells or epilepsy perhaps, although it is highly toxic so don’t try it at home! They took hollyhock, wax, fennel, salt and mercury and steeped this mixture in water. This must have been a kill or cure remedy!
  Culpeper, writing his Complete herbal in the 17th century had this to say about them: -
“This species of mallows is of the nature of Common Marsh -mallows, but less mollifying; it is mostly used in gargles for the swelling of the tonsils, and the relaxation of the uvula. All the parts of the plant have a rough and austere taste, but more especially the root, which is of a very binding nature, and may be used to advantage both inwardly and outwardly, for incontinence of urine, immoderate menses, bleeding wounds, spitting of blood, the bloody-flux, and other fluxes of the belly. It is also of efficacy in a spongy state of the gums, attended with looseness of the teeth, and soreness in the mouth. Dried and reduced to powder, or boiled in wine, and partaken of freely, it prevents miscarriage,
helps ruptures, dissolves coagulated blood from falls, blows, &c., and kills worms in children. “
  In Tibetan folk medicine the roots and flowers are used for inflammation of the womb and the kidneys and to stop semen being discharged involuntarily as well as to stop vaginal discharge. The roots, which are starchy, are used to stimulate appetite.
  The flower petals can be used as a food colouring and the stems have been used in paper-making as they are quite fibrous. The root is edible and contains vitamin C and some B-complex vitamins, and some minerals such as iron, copper calcium and zinc along with traces of iodine which is unusual and puts it in the same league as laver bread (seaweed) and rock samphire, which grow close to the sea. You can eat the unopened buds too as you can those of the kachnar tree.
  The hollyhock has mainly been used in medicine for its ability to soothe the mucous membranes and used for bronchial and respiratory complaints. The roots are good for such problems.
  The seeds can also be used in a hot tisane and are said to help reduce the symptoms of fevers.
  The tisane below can be used as a wash for skin inflammation or to relieve mouth problems and sore throats. If you use the flowers alone, then steep them in cold water for a few hours so that they retain their potency. It can also be used to help in colds etc.

2 tbsps of freshly picked flowers
½ tbsps chopped dried root
½ tbsps seeds
2 tbsps chamomile or lemon balm, chopped
2 pints boiling water
honey to sweeten

Put the ingredients into a large pan and pour over the boiling water.
Allow the mixture to steep for 20 mins to ½ an hour and then strain and drink in small cupfuls, twice or three times a day.
This has Taste and is a Treat(ment).


Jet in its natural state

Like amber, jet is not a stone although it is classed as a semi-precious stone in jewellery –making. It has a long history of use as a jet necklace has been found which dates back to 13,000 BC. It was used as an ornament for jewellery in the Bronze Age and the Assyrians thought it a favourite of their gods. The Romans like the stone, and during their occupation of Britain after 55 BC, jet was sent from there to Rome.
polished jet
  Jet is the remains of prehistoric plants and is a kind of carbonized wood, or a type of coal. It consists of around 85 % carbon, around 10% oxygen, 1 % nitrogen and 5 % hydrogen. It is mentioned in the Anglo-Norman Sloane Lapidary which was written in 1243 and in that manuscript it says that a woman in labour should drink water in which jet has been placed to ease the pains of childbirth.                                                      
  The physicians of Myddfai had other ideas for its uses such as this one:-
 “If you would distinguish between a wife and a virgin, scrape some jet into water, and give it her to drink. If she be a wife, she will without fail pass water, but if a virgin she will not have a more urgent call than usual.”
jet mourning brooch
  Stones have been used for divination and healing as well as for protection, and jet, worn around the neck or in a purse or pocket has been said to protect from evil and was used particularly to ward off the evil eye. To the ancients it was “gagates” and the Exorcism stone.  It is said to be especially effective for Capricorns.
  New Age healers say that jet absorbs negative energy and stabilizes moods, but has to be cleaned each night in sea salt to keep it clean and able to function. They also use it to relieve migraines and pain at the back of the eyes, and believe it protects a wearer from violence.
  Traditionally it was believed that jet could cure fainting spells and that the person who could wear jet could control the four elements of earth, air, fire and water, so it could have been Prospero’s stone in Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest”.
  Queen Victoria popularized this stone as she wore jet while mourning for her beloved husband, Prince Albert. It is now associated with mourning and said to help in the grieving process.
  Jet is found in isolated patches, rather than in one definite place, like coal and may be found in pockets in rock. Whitby, in northern England is famous for its jet and a jet-jewellery business still continues there.


Wheat was the earliest cultivated crop which our hunter-gatherer ancestors grew when they began to settle. Archaeological evidence suggests that the earliest varieties were grown in the Near East (Syria, Iran, Iraq etc) between 12 and 17,000 years ago. These were Triticum monococcus (einkorn) and Triticum diococcum (emmer). There are around thirty thousand varieties of wheat grown today, and it is the most widely used grain. Women were the first agriculturists and cultivated chickpeas, rye and then einkorn and emmer, according to archaeological evidence from the Karacadag Mountains in Turkey. The ancient Egyptians believed that the goddess Isis brought them wheat and barley from Lebanon in the Fertile Crescent.
  Varieties of wheat include Hard Red Winter, Hard Red Spring, Soft Red Winter, and White wheat (which is actually yellow).
 It is a member of the Gramineae family so related to barley,oats and other members of the grass family. Bulgur wheat and couscous come from wheat, and have been processed a little, but still retain most of their nutrients as compared to refined white flour, which in the US is “enriched,”  although the iron and B-complex vitamins that are put back in to the flour are not as many as those extracted during the milling process.
  Durum wheat is used to make pasta, and wheat is the grain that is most used in the production of the foods we eat. It is the basis for breads, breakfast cereals, and is good when added to soups and stews in one of its forms.
  The part of the wheat plant that we eat is the kernel or seed or wheatberry, all different names for the same thing. It is made up of three distinct parts: - the endosperm, bran and germ. The endosperm comprises about 83% of the weight of the kernel and is the source of white flour. This contains protein, carbohydrates and iron, the four main B-complex vitamins thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid and fibre. Bran comprises 14.5% of the weight of the kernel and can be bought separately, and can be added to breakfast cereals and bread as well as soups and stews. This contains fibre and a little protein along with vitamins E and B-complex ones with trace minerals and phytochemicals which have antioxidant properties. Lastly the germ comprises 2.5 % of the weight of the kernel, and is usually extracted from flour because of its 10 % fat content which reduces the shelf-life of white flour. This is, however a very good source of B-complex vitamins and minerals and is included in whole wheat flour. The main minerals contained in wheat are calcium, copper, phosphorous, iron and zinc, manganese, magnesium and the amino acid, tryptophan is also one of the constituents.
  Whole grains are particularly good for our health and have been shown to have heart-protective properties as well as cancer protective ones as they contain good amounts of nutrients which have antioxidant properties. White flour, on the other hand is of little nutritional value compared with the whole grain flour.


The Guelder rose is native to Europe and North America and was introduced to Britain from The Netherlands, having been cultivated by the Dutch in the province of Gueldersland, hence its name. However, it was known to Geoffrey Chaucer, who called it the Gaitre-berie in his “Nun’s Priest’s Tale” in The Canterbury Tales. In this tale he suggests that it was a laxative along with ground ivy. It is a shrub which grows to between 5 and 10 feet high and is a member of the Adoxaceae family of plants. (Formerly they were in the Caprifoliaceae family.) This means it is related to the Himalayan Viburnums and the elder tree..
  It is commonly known as Cramp bark as the bark of the tree is used to alleviate spasms of various kinds in traditional systems of medicine across the world. It contains coumarins which affect the uterine muscles and help in menstrual cramps and childbirth. In centuries past the bark has been used in tisanes and decoctions for nervous spasms and asthma, convulsions, palpitations and for the heart.
  In Canada the berries have been used as a substitute for cranberries, as they have a bitter flavour which improves to a piquant one when used in jellies and preserves. It is known as the High Bush Cranberry, but it is not a relative of the true cranberry. The berries contain vitamins C and K but are not good to eat raw.
  The trees produce balls of white flowers, before the berries, and these give rise to the name, Snowball tree. Actually it resembles an elder, and the flowers from a distance can resemble those of the elder tree.
  It is the bark of the tree that is used in herbal preparations, and this is either collected in autumn, before the leaves turn yellow or purple, and then it is dried for later use, perhaps to be ground into a powder. Alternatively it is gathered in early spring before the leaf buds open. If you cannot take aspirin, you should avoid any medications made from the Guelder rose.
  The bright red berries provide winter food for birds, and a red dye can be prepared from them. A red ink can be made from the dried berries. The Russians used to make a brandy from the berries called nastoika which was used for peptic ulcers. In China the leaves re used as a purgative, while in Japan a vinegar extract from the berries is used to treat cirrhosis of the liver.
  In the Language of Flowers the Guelder rose symbolizes winter and old age, but in the Ukraine it is the symbol of the fight for independence (the blood-red berries) and a beautiful girl is compared to it, so it has particular significance, and is used as a motif in traditional embroidery.
  The decoction of the bark is potent and you only need to take a tablespoon in a cup of water 3 times a day for cramps. This is made from 1 ounce of dried bark to one pint of water boiled, then simmered for 15 minutes.
  Another remedy and tisane for stomach cramps is to take equal amounts (an ounce of each) of Guelder rose bark, angelica root, and ginger root and three ounces of fresh chamomile leaves and flowers. Pour a litre of boiling water over these and leaves to infuse for 30 minutes, then strain and drink a small cup three times a day.