After a year of growing, learning and harvesting, we came together in a session to create a batch of herbal fire cider. This herbal remedy is great for supporting the immune system, we use many simple kitchen ingredients that have antiviral, antibiotic, anti-inflammation and antimicrobial properties. Using something to hold the nutrients and preserve them we added apple cider vinegar to do this, ACV (apple cider vinegar), and some other kinds of vinegar have the ability to hold the beneficial nutrients in plants and store them for longer than they would if left in the plant.
ACV also can be purchased unpasteurised, this leaves it with a bacteria, sometimes called the mother, that is beneficial to internal processes and gut health. This, added with a list of different types of herbs and spices can help keep you feeling well, or support you in a time of feeling unwell with a common cold.
As a group, we chopped up many vegetables and herbs including, onions, garlic, ginger, chillies, black pepper, elderberries, horseradish, cayenne pepper, lemon, star anise, turmeric, cloves, thyme, sage, oregano and rosemary (and breathe). Everyone got to make a small jar, choosing some or all of the ingredients to fill it with, then we filled the jar with ACV and let it sit for around 4 weeks to infuse.
Another way it can be done a bit quicker is to heat very slowly over a number of hours, the heat can help the plants to release their nutrients faster, we tried both and both results packed a good punch, though the one we let sit for 4 weeks did seem a little better. Also, keep in mind with heat you could pasteurise the mother bacteria within the ACV and kill it off, but you could add a smaller amount of unpasteurised ACV once it has cooled and it may just grow back.
We then all helped chop up and measure out the rest of the ingredients we had and added it to around 10 litres of ACV and allowed that to sit for 4 weeks to infuse. As we made some with the heat method, we also bottled and labelled these ready to help the people that need it. This batch went off to the Mobil Apothecary who distribute herbal medicines to people who are in need of it on the streets, it was very popular and all went within a few hours.
Thanks to the time our helpers took to create such an amount of herbal medicine and to the Mobile Apothecary who distribute this on the street we were able to help some of the people in need.
A big part of a community herbal network is to teach and share knowledge around growing and using herbs for our own benefit and the benefit of others. We have enjoyed the time spent together in the garden so far, learning how to care for each plant and giving it what it needs, having conversations over plant pots, herb beds and cups of herbal tea and finding connections around the herbs.
A great herb for memory is rosemary, and it’s a good practice to smell it whilst learning, though having so many herbs to remember in the garden and so much information it’s nice to have a prompt. We were able to work with the amazing artist Susanna Wallis to create some beautiful signs for the herb garden. The signs have information about each herb, from how to grow to how to harvest and how to use, there are also some amazing illustrations to go with the signs.
To see more of these amazing works of art, come and visit us at the grow club garden in Barking Park or join our Herbal network mailing list by contacting email@example.com
The day for the community came upon us and we celebrated local groups and coming together, sharing fun experiences, chat and herbal teas cake. Lots of community groups came to hold stalls, run workshops and help us pick hops and have a great time, we were joined by the happy hoppers, the mobile apothecary, grow club, the good food collective and many more.
We connected with and supported other local herbalists who have been creating some brilliant herbal products, we then ran a tombola for people to win the products as prizes. We shared info about the herbalists and promoted them and people couldn’t believe how many local people were making things.
We had a herbal drinks demonstration, with information on how to make many types of drinks from herbs, which included teas, coffees, tinctures, syrups, fermentation, oils and vinegar. the herbs were picked fresh from the garden to make a tea, dandelion root was harvested dried and roasted for coffee, fire cider was made with a mix of herbs and spices, we steeped valerian and elderberry in alcohol for tincture and had elderflower in a cordial.
The day also consisted of hop picking, the bike corner, with a smoothie bike, service station and the wandering Londoner on his book bike. We had consultations with the national trust, arts and drinks workshops for children garden tours run by the grow club and stalls from local food collectives, the mobile apothecary and the grow club.
Now that we have made it to the end of the cycle, from planting the seed into seed trays to caring for them throughout their young life, repotting them when they come to size, and then harvesting their goodness, we are now going to use them for an amazing product.
We used 3 plants from our garden, Calendula, Plantain and Comfrey, all 3 of these have amazing benefits to the skin and can help soothe and heal many skin ailments. Calendula is anti-inflammatory and hydrating, Plantain is antibacterial and antimicrobial and Comfrey promotes rapid cell growth, we decided to create a skin salve to use on burns, cuts, scrapes, bites and rashes.
The process is easy enough to do at home and only a few easy to get ingredients, for this, we used Calendula flower, Plantain leaf, Comfrey leaf, extra virgin olive oil, organic beeswax and some lavender essential oil to top it off. We made an infused oil with the herbs by gently heating it until the properties were released and then mixed the oil with some beeswax to set it. If you want to see how we did it and give it go, have a look here
The best time spent in a herb garden is the harvest, this is a great time to connect closer with each herb and get to know the qualities better. There are different parts of the plant we harvest, some are the leaves, some the flowers, and some the root. Harvesting has been one of our favourite tasks over this growing season, and each week we fill up buckets of leaves and flowers to prepare for storage.
As we pick the herbs, the aromas start coming up and giving us an amazing sensory experience, we get to see the plants close up and notice all the intricate veins on the leaves or delicate petals of the flowers. We get to observe the growing area of the plants in the beds, how they are surviving and what else is living with and around the plant, this also gives us time to weed out any unwanted weeds to help support the ones we want.
The best way to store leaves and flowers is by first dehydrating them on a dehydrator, it can be done out in the sun in the heat of summer, but in the autumn/winter it’s best to dry indoors. Another great way to store the medical properties within the herbs is to use vinegar, oil or alcohol, the herbs need to be left to sit for around 4 weeks so the properties are fully extracted. Vinegar can be good to add to food to get your daily intake, as well as oil, but these will last for a limited amount of time, if you want to store to up to 3 years, above 40% alcohol is the best option.
As well as growing our own herbs in our gardens, we also shared knowledge about some medicinal herbs growing all around us, many highly beneficial herbs grow all around and are easy to identify. Most of these herbs are classed as weeds and people tend to keep fighting to eradicate them, but they have many uses and are free in the wild, just as long as you are sure they have not been treated with any chemicals.
There are many types of herbs that grow on streets, in parks and along canals, and many you have seen every day. Taking a walk in your local green space can be a tonic in itself, but I find the connection with nature deepens when you start to identify and pick local wild herbs. There is such an abundance of herbs that grow even in your local park, these include, dandelions, daisies, plantain, yarrow, clovers and nettles.
July was the start of the nettle seeds, in spring and summer we pick the young leaves of the nettle for teas and soups and tinctures, but when the plant starts to flower we cannot pick the leaves. A build-up of cystolith crystals containing calcium carbonate that will cause internal irritation to kidneys and urinary tract. The seeds however can be harvested once the plant has flowered, check out the info and harvest guide here Nettle Seed Info Doc
We went on our first field trip to another garden within our borough, we were invited to help consult on how the garden could be used for community groups in the coming future. This beautiful site, called Stoneford Cottage had been left to the National Trust by Mary White, a well known avid gardener who rubbed shoulders with the Queen.
The garden is situated in Dagenham and is a true hidden gem, it feels like walking into the secret garden when you pass through the gate, It seems to go on forever and has many aspects to it. It is a great garden for a herbalist and has a lot of potentials to help support and teach local people about herbs.
The group met and had a chat about their thoughts on a community green space, we then went on a tour of the garden and explored and spoke about all the herbs that were already growing in the garden, we found roses, calendulas, lavender, sage, plantain, raspberries and so much more. At the end of the day, we picked some rose petals, and some elderflowers and made some Stoneford herbal syrup.
In a previous update, where we shared an afternoon with the Mobile Apothecary making herbal vinegar, they showed us how to sow seeds. We took this lesson and in our growing session started to grow more calendula seeds, we sadly lost our first batch of seedlings sown on the training day to bad weather and high winds.
We managed to up our production scale and sow a lot more this time, making sure we wouldn’t lose them all, we sowed into the seed trays and cared for them until the seedlings grew. They had weekly watering and pest care and once they became too big for their trays we repotted them into pots, being mindful of just how delicate they can be.
Once repotted we shared small calendula plants within the community, people came along to our first open day at the pavilion where the herb garden is situated and took them home to grow on their windowsills, balconies and in their gardens.
We wanted to upgrade our community garden with some new beds to grow a selection of medicinal herbs, we made them accessible to anyone that came to help tend them over the next coming weeks. The beds were created at waist height so people that couldn’t bend down to a bed could still harvest, water and weed the beds easily.
Getting inspiration from the hugelkulture technique, which involves adding soil onto rotted down wood to help slowly release nutrients and retain water, we lined the beds with old sticks and pieces of wood then covered them with soil. It took considerably longer than expected to finish the raised herb beds with having issues with materials and physical labour to help build them due to ongoing issues with the lockdown.
We managed to get them finished with lots of help from volunteers from the Grow club, the Herbal Network and the Good Gym, we planted a whole mix of herbs into the beds including, calendula, chamomile, red clover, tulsi, oregano, planting, yarrow and many more.
We were joined at our site in Barking park by the Mobile Apothecary and members of the herbal network we started to build, in the session we visited some medicinal herbs in the garden and spoke about what we could do them.
The cold February day started with an introduction to community herbalism and what it is, they mention how important it is to bring people together to connect with each other and the land around us. Then to use the plants and herbs to create remedies and medicines to help people in communities to access herbal healthcare, you can hear more about it here
Everyone had a go at sowing some seeds into seed trays to use once grown, we started with calendula seeds and worked diligently with cold hands to put the seeds into each seed module, Shumaisa and Avneet then spoke about the wonders of calendula and how it a great medicinal herb to grow, listen to them give some great tips here
We visited the nettle bed in the garden and was shown how to handle them and the different ways we could use them. we also looked at cleavers and how they are a great spring herb, then we had a go at making some super simple nettle and cleaver vinegar, have a go here to see the tutorial.
The day finished with some delicious spring tonic water made simply infusing stinging nettles and cleavers in water overnight, this easy to make drink gives your system a great boost in the spring and tastes delicious.
We started the community herbal network by connecting to local women who have a lot of knowledge with herbs, we held a women’s empowerment month online event where we interviewed 5 amazing women about their connection with herbs and herbalism. There were speakers from community herb growing projects, to herbal cooking, self-connection with herbs and how herbs are used.
Rasheeqa and Izzy from hedge herbs spoke about their community herb project, connecting people to working with herbs, as well as their favourite herb, check them out at their herb growing site in Chingford here
Our very own community gardener Alice spoke about what and who brought her into herbalism and into working with communities in the garden, as well as how herbs connect her to the seasons, listen to her here
Kathy mason from the local community allotment Plantastic talks about her spiritual/religious connections to herbs and how she has been able to support friends with herbal remedies, hear her wisdom here
And last but not least, shumaisa from the Mobile Apothecary speaks about her experience of herbs in her childhood and how she can connect with culture and her roots, listen here
What is a Community Herbalism Network?
What we end up with will be influenced by those who wish to be involved. But there are a couple of starting points. From Spring to Autumn the network will plant, tend to and harvest herbs which we will make into medicines, teas and other wellbeing products that can be distributed to those who want and need them in the borough.
To do this we will:
– build new herb growing areas at the Company Drinks garden in Barking Park.
– support participants to grow herbs at home, either in their gardens or on their balconies
– connect with existing gardens and growing projects and support them to grow herbs
– create video and printed guides with tips on how to care for the plants at home and use them for home herbal first aid and wellbeing
– host workshops where we can meet in person where possible, share experiences, and learn about the uses, identifications, and histories of healing herbs.
– And of course, there will be harvesting and making workshops to turn everything we have grown together into medicines and other products for the community.
Whatever your experience, we would like to hear from you!