Friday 16 November 2012

Summer Foraging in the countryside

Fennel flower

Gathering herbs in summer
Summer is the hottest time of the year and has plenty of sunlight, but when it comes to foraging for wild foods it is the season in between spring and autumn, which means that the spring greens are past their prime and the fruits and nuts harvested in autumn are still not ready.
However, summer is a great season for gathering in the herbs that grow wild and drying them to preserve them for future use and some like St John's Wort are traditionally harvested at this time.

St John's Wort

St John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum) is commonly found growing in grassy places, woodland clearings and edges, roadsides, waste ground and railway banks and is in full bloom and full potency at midsummer when it can be collected on St John's Day, June 24. It is easily recognised by its golden yellow flowers starry 5-petaled flowers with conspicuous stamens and the flowering tops are the part of the plant that contains most of its active ingredient hypericin.

St John's Wort

St John's Wort has become widely known and used as Mother Nature's answer to Prozac and is on sale as a herbal tea or in other forms as a supplement from health stores and distributors of such products. It is also a remedy for anxiety and nervous tension, as well as having antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties.
Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) is a plant that may well also be found in places where St John's Wort grows and especially in fields and meadows but also on railway banks and waste ground. The Native Americans recognised its medicinal properties after it had been introduced to the continent and used it against cancerous tumours and skin diseases, as well as taking it during pregnancy and childbirth and as a general tonic and herb of purification.
The flowers are the parts that get used as an infusion and these can be collected and dried. Red Clover was once used to treat bronchial complaints and is also thought to be good for balancing blood sugar levels.

Common name: Wild Marjoram - Scientific name: Origanum vulgare
Photo by Leo Michels. Usage: Public Domain

Two aromatic summer herbs that can be used in cooking as well as for medicinal purposes are Wild Thyme (Thymus drucei) and the Marjoram(Origanum vulgare), both of which favour grassy places on limestone or a chalky soil.
Wild Thyme is a tiny little plant that you will have to get down on your hands and knees to gather and it grows in clumps among short grassland and on downs and heaths. It produces reddish-purple flower heads and is easier to find and pick when in bloom, which occurs between June and August.
The flavour and fragrant aroma of Wild Thyme is much milder than the garden variety but it is just as useful for flavouring savoury dishes. Richard Mabey awards it with an A category in his classic book for Free.
Marjoram is a much bigger plant and when in flower it is easy to spot clumps of it, especially as it usually has bees and other insects in attendance eagerly gathering the nectar from its pinkish purple flowers. This is a very aromatic and spicy herb that is excellent for adding flavour to food.
In Mediterranean cookery Marjoram has been much valued and made use of, although in the UK it has often been neglected for some reason, even though one of its local names is Joy of the Mountain. It is also known as Oregano.
Marjoram is prepared by collecting some flowering sprigs of the herb, hanging them to dry and then stripping the leaves and flowers from the stalks. Crushed up in this dry form it can be stored in airtight jars for future use.
Marjoram taken as an infusion is good for anxiety, insomnia, colds and chest complaints, indigestion and tension headaches. It has antiseptic properties too.
Another common summer herb is Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) and although it grows inland on waste ground and cultivated in gardens it really thrives on cliffs and other places by the sea. It can reach as much as 5 ft in height and is easy to recognise with its graceful appearance, feathery leaves and umbels of mustard-yellow flowers, which appear from June to October.
If you crush any part of the Fennel plant you will notice a strong smell of aniseed and its flavour is similar too. The seeds are collected later on in the autumn and are wonderful for adding to curries, stir-fries and other dishes as well as making Fennel herb tea but the leaves and stalks are gathered in early summer and hung up to dry.
Finely chopped Fennel leaves are good in salads, with parsnips, and even in apple pie and the herb is good with oily fish as well. The whole plant is edible and it really is one of the most useful wild herbs that can easily be found.
In fact, Fennel is such a versatile plant that Pliny listed it as being a remedy for no less than 22 complaints and it was one of the Anglo-Saxon herbalists' nine most sacred herbs. Fennel tea is good for the digestion and it can be used as a gargle for a sore throat and a mouthwash.
Fennel Tea
250ml/ ½ pint/ 1 cup of boiling water 1 teaspoonful of seed ½ thin slice of fresh orange or some grated rind
Crush the Fennel seeds slightly and place in a teapot and pour the boiling water over them. Cover and leave to infuse for 5 minutes.
Add the orange slice or rind for extra flavour, and then strain before serving.
Olives with Wild Marjoram
1 lb of pricked olives in a jar 1 cup of olive oil 1 teaspoon of Thyme 1 teaspoon of crushed peppercorns 3 teaspoons of chopped Wild Marjoram
Add the herbs and spices and olive oil to the olives in the jar, close it, shake well and store in a refrigerator for at least 2 days.
Serve the olives with red wine and cheese.

Common Mallow

The Common Mallow (Malva sylvestris) is often found growing in the same locations as Fennel and is another very useful herb that flowers from June through until October. Typically encountered on roadsides, on banks and on waste ground the Common Mallow stands out with its showy pink five-petalled flowers that are produced on stems that can be as much as 3 ft in height.
The leaves, flowers and seeds are all edible as well as having medicinal properties. The plant contains a lot of mucilage, which taken internally as an infusion reduces inflammation and is a treatment for coughs sore throats and bronchitis.
Young leaves and shoots of the Common Mallow contain vitamins A, B1, B2 and C and can be eaten raw in salads or cooked as greens. Unripe fruits can also be added to salads and the seeds are known as "cheeses," due to their shape rather than the mildly nutty flavour.
The Romans cultivated the Common Mallow as a culinary and medicinal herb and by the 16th century it had gained a reputation as a cure-all. In sufficient quantity it has a laxative action and so can help purge the body of toxins and disease.


One more easily found and wonderful summer herb is the Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria), which grows in damp places such as river and streamsides and by ponds, and flowers from June until October with frothy creamy-white flower heads. Meadowsweet has inspired poets Ben Jonson and John Clare, and the latter included it in his poem To Summer.
The flowers and leaves when dried smell of newly mown hay and can be added to pot-pourri or used to make a herbal tea. It can be used to flavour soups and stews but has medicinal properties too and is traditionally taken as an infusion for heartburn and gastric ulcers.

Lime Tree

Besides all the herbs described above that can be looked for in the countryside, there is another, which grows much closer to home and is definitely worth knowing about and that is the Lime Tree (Tilia x europaea), which can be found in many parks, gardens and along city streets. In June and July the delightful honeyed fragrance of this common tree perfumes the air and when they are in bloom is the time to harvest its flowers.
Made into a herbal tea, known as "Tilleul" in France where it has proved a very popular beverage, Lime-blossom besides tasting good is good for anxiety and insomnia because it has mild tranquillising properties as well as for treating high blood pressure. Dry the entire flower head along with its winged bract and make the tea without milk.
In early summer, before the Lime leaves get too old and tough, they can be eaten in sandwiches but make sure to wash them first and collect them from out of the way of roads and traffic fumes.
Summer is an ideal time for enjoying the countryside and rambling due to the longer hours of daylight and the warm and sunny weather. The fragrance and the many uses of the herbs found growing at this time of year are surely another of the many pleasures of the season.
Footnote: This article was originally published in Permaculture Magazine, number 48, summer 2006.
Copyright © 2010 Steve Andrews. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday 6 October 2012

Royce Holleman talks to Steve Andrews about Herbs Of The Northern Shaman

In this video, Royce Holleman talks to myself, Steve Andrews, aka The Bard of Ely, and interviews me about my book Herbs of the Northern Shaman for his Paranormal Palace Radio show.
Besides discussing the mind-altering plants described in this 2010 O-Books/Moon Books publication we also talk about edible plants, foraging, raw food, St John's Wort as an anti-depressant, flying ointment, the law and legal status of many plants, magic mushrooms, herbs in the Bible, Moses and his use of Calamus, artistic inspiration from hallucinogens, hummadruz, UFO author Jenny Randles, Arthur Shuttlewood and UFOs, Magic Saucer UFO magazine, Warminster, Atlantis, David Icke, ayahuasca, Prof Arysio Santos and Atlantis, the Vedas, tribal ways, Christopher Everard, Rastas, soma, Shiva, ancient religions, religious experience, Essiac cancer cure, Hulda Clarke, absinthe, Fly Agaric, and much more.

Edible plants like Dandelion are recommended as ones that can be found around the world and are one of several plants thought of as weeds that grow in lawns but are actually good to eat. Clover and the Daisy are two other edible weeds.

We talk about the late Professor Arysio Nunes dos Santo and his website and theories about Atlantis. I point out that Prof Santos believed that many psychoactive herbs, such as Salvia divinorum, were selectively cultivated and created by the people of Atlantis.  The professor also believed that Atlantis was located where Indonesia and the South China Sea are today.

I explain about my Amazon Kindle book Hummadruz and a Life of High Strangeness, and how I learned the term Hummadruz from Jenny Randles the UFO author. My book is an autobiographical account of my paranormal and spiritual experiences in the past.  Jenny used to write for Magic Saucer magazine, a publication intended for younger readers and published by Crystal Hogben.  I had a regular column in this too entitled Eco-space. 

Warminster and UFOs
The late Arthur Shuttlewood, who was the editor of the Warminster Journal and an author of several books about UFOs, was also a writer for this magazine. I talk about how Warminster in Wiltshire was once famous for being a place UFOs were frequently seen.

We discuss mind-altering plants mentioned in the Bible and how the prophet Moses was said to have used a “holy anointing ointment” that contained Calamus, a herb that is both a stimulant and a hallucinogen. I talk about how Chris Everard, the film-maker for the Enigma Channel and publisher of Feed Your Brain magazine, claims in his book Stoneage Psychedelia that religious books like this were inspired by ancient people who used hallucinogenic herbs for inspiration and visions. We go on to discuss ‘Soma’ and I point out that this was thought to be the Fly Agaric toadstool.

Royce asks me about herbal cures for cancer and I describe the Essiac herbal cancer cure and the very controversial late Dr Hulda Clarke and her treatments which involved the use of Wormwood. I also point out that this potentially dangerous herb was the main ingredient in Absinthe, an alcoholic drink that many great authors, poets and painters drank.
The video interview was intended to be just one hour but because I had so much to say it went on for nearly two.

Monday 10 September 2012

Bladder Campion - a common edible plant

Bladder Campion

An edible wild flower

Bladder Campion (Silene vulgaris) is a common wild flower in the Pink and Campion family (Caryophyllaceae). It has attractive white flowers carried in inflated bladders, hence its name, and it is of importance as an edible wild plant that can be gathered by foragers.
Bladder Campion grows in many parts of Europe, in the UK, and is also found throughout North America where it is often considered as a weed.

Bladder Campion described

Bladder Campion grows in grassy places and reaches 1-2 ft in height. It is a perennial plant that can often be found along the sides of pathways, roadsides and at the edges of fields. It is a dainty-looking wild flower when in full bloom.
In the UK it flowers between June and August and produces distinctive flower-heads that are easily identifiable due to the inflated calyxes that form the bladders which the plant gets it name from. After flowering its tiny brown seeds are contain in seed-capsules inside the bladder-coating which shrivels with age.

Bladder Campion in the kitchen

Bladder Campion has been a popular free food in parts of Spain and the leaves of the plant were even collected for sale as "collejas." The collectors were known as "collejeros" and they had to gather a sizeable amount of the greens to make their efforts worthwhile.

The young leaves and tender shoots are good in salads but older leaves are usually cooked by frying or boiling. They can also be added to soups, stews and omelettes.

Cooked chickpeas with Bladder Campion greens. Photo by Xufanc.

"Gazpacho viudo" (Widower gazpacho) is the name of a soup made in the La Mancha region of Spain. This gazpacho is made by stewing the leaves and it is served with flatbread. The reference to widower is because this soup was traditionally only eaten when times were hard and food was scarce.
Bladder Campion leaves and young shoots can be cooked with chickpeas to make a stew known as "potaje de garbanzos y collejas," with scrambled eggs as "huevos revueltos y collejas" and simply cooked and served with rice, or "arroz con collejas" as the dish is known in Spanish.
According to Wikipedia, the plant is popular too in Crete where it is called "Agriopapoula" (Αγριοπάπουλα), and the leaves and shoots are eaten after browning in olive oil.
Richard Mabey gives the Bladder Campion a B category as an edible plant in his forager's Bible Food For Free. This is an excellent book if you want to learn about the wealth of fruits, nuts, wild flowers, herbs and fungi that can be found in the countryside and are safe to use in the kitchen. And there is more useful information on foraging here.
Copyright © 2012 Steve Andrews. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday 8 September 2012

The Grey Dagger and Dark Dagger moths

Grey Dagger (Acronicta psi) by M. Virtala

The Dark Dagger and Grey Dagger
The Grey Dagger (Acronicta psi) and Dark Dagger (A. tridens) are two British moths that look almost identical as adults but very different as caterpillars. Both moths have curious black dagger markings on their fore-wings, hence their name.
The Grey and Dark Dagger moths are also found throughout Europe, the Near East and many parts of Asia. They are in the Noctuidae, a very large family of moths that are also known as "Noctuids", "Owlets" and "Millers." Many species look very similar and there is often confusion in identifying them.
Strangely the Dark Dagger is often the paler in colour than the Grey Dagger. But the real natural mystery is why the two moths look so alike and yet their larvae are so different?

The Grey Dagger

The Grey Dagger is thought to be the commoner of the two species but this is not certain due to the confusion with identification of the adult insects. The only way of determining which moth is which is by examination of the genitalia by an expert on moths.
The Grey Dagger's fore-wings are a pale to a blackish grey and the dagger-like markings are also thought to resemble the Greek letterpsi ψ and this is how it was given its scientific species name. The hind-wings are a dirty grey but generally not as pale and as white as those of the male of the Dark Dagger. The wingspan is 34-45 mm. The adult moth feeds on nectar.
The Grey Dagger flies in June and overwinters in the pupa stage in a fairly flimsy cocoon that is spun under loose bark. The caterpillars usually feed on Hawthorn but also can eat, Blackthorn, Plum, Pear, Apple, Sallow and Birch. It has also been reported feeding on Pyracantha and is often found in gardens with fruit trees and ornamental shrubs.
It is a pretty creature with a bright yellow line down its back, black-edged red spots along each side and a raised hump on ring four of its body. It is far more colourful than the rather dowdy adult moth although the adult's black dagger markings add to its charm.

Grey Dagger caterpillar in Public Domain

The Dark Dagger

The Dark Dagger moth is found in England and Wales, and though present in Scotland and Ireland is thought to be not at all common in either. It is also distributed throughout Europe from Fennoscandia to the Balkans and down into Italy and Turkey. The species is found as well in Russia and as far over as China, Korea and into Japan.

Dark Dagger by M. Virtala

The Dark Dagger flies in June and July, and in captivity a second brood in October is sometimes produced. The caterpillar of the Dark Dagger feeds from August to October and is found on Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Rowan, Buckthorn, Plum, Pear, Apple, Birch and Sallow.
It does not have such a high hump as the related Grey Dagger's caterpillar, nor does it have a bold yellow line down its back. The larva of the Dark Dagger is black with a broad reddish stripe along it back in the middle and one other on each side. The middle stripe is interrupted with white and has a small black hump on the fourth ring and another broader one on the eleventh. The caterpillar, like that of the Grey Dagger has numerous hairs sprouting from its body as well.

Dark Dagger caterpillar by Lilly M

Like the Grey Dagger it overwinters as a pupa in a silken cocoon that it spins under loose bark. It is reported that it can sometimes spend two winters in this stage.
The Dagger Moths are well worth looking out for although you are more likely to see the colourful caterpillars.
Copyright © 2012 Steve Andrews. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday 6 September 2012

Concert for Ocean Aid is an idea

Plastic rubbish on a beach

An idea based on Live Aid and Band Aid
I don't know about you but the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the appalling way the clean-up and stopping of the leak was handled really depressed me. I still cannot stop thinking about all the billions of sea birds, turtles, dolphins, fish and other marine creatures that will have lost their lives because of this tragedy, and the damage to the coast and marshland, as well as to the livelihoods of people who live in the States affected, is immeasurable.
Besides the ongoing ecological disaster, there is the very serious danger being caused by marine pollution by plastic. David de Rothschild sailed across the Pacific Ocean on 2009 on a catamaran made entirely from used plastic bottles and called the Plastiki. One of the main purposes of his expedition was to raise awareness of the pollution of the oceans by plastic waste.
All over the world people who are disgusted by what has happened to our seas are saying something must be done. I have been thinking deeply about it all and have come up with an idea based around the success in the past of the Band Aid charity single and the more recent Live Aid rock and pop concerts.

Ocean Aid the concert

The original idea for Band Aid had been hatched by Sir Bob Geldof, who with the help of Midge Ure, had assembled a collection of pop and rock singers to lend their talents to a charity single entitled Do They Know It's Christmas? It was recorded and released under the collective name of Band Aid.

Bob Geldof

It swiftly became a number one single. Singers involved included Bono from U2, Boy George, George Michael, Bananarama and Paul Young.
From this in 1985, Live Aid followed on and in 2005 there was Live 8. These massive charity concerts featured appearances by a host of internationally famous pop and rock stars and were screened worldwide so were seen by billions of people.
If such events could be organised to help benefit the starving and poor people of the world then why not a similar effort being made to raise awareness about the dangers to our oceans and to raise funds for their protection?
As to where the money raised would go that would have to be worked out. There are activist groups like Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd that work on marine environmental campaigns but there are many more organisations that are concerned with keeping the oceans as they should be. Perhaps a new one could be set up inspired by the growing need for something to be done to protect the oceans and their ecosystems?
It is not just plastic pollution and the British Petroleum (BP) oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that is killing marine life. Overfishing, bottom trawling and over-acidification of the seas are all wreaking havoc too. Because the water is becoming too acid coral reefs are disappearing and along with them go the complicated and very beautiful ecosystems of life that depend on them.
Anyway, having come up with the idea I did a bit of "Googling" to see if the term Ocean Aid was already being used. I was very pleased to find that a team of people have thought like me and that Ocean Aid 2010 had already been organised.
That doesn't stop a much bigger global event or series of concerts at stadium-sized venues to also happen though. An Ocean Aid single could be written, recorded and released and possibly to be followed by an album of songs written specially for it. The concert or concert series could all be recorded both as sound recordings and as visual footage that could be broadcast on worldwide TV and sold later as DVD releases.
Then there would be Ocean Aid merchandising. The possibilities are endless.
I am sure very many stars from the world of pop and rock music would be only too glad to be involved in this. Film stars and other celebrities could appear on stage at the concerts too as special guests.
It would of course be a lot of work organising all this that I have outlined here, but it has all been done before and to great success. I am presenting here the seed of the idea.
What is needed now is Sir Bob or someone else with the celebrity status and power to make this happen! Now are we going to make this happen? Who can help?
Ocean Aid links
·        David de Rothschild's supporters and fans on Facebook
Facebook site for David de Rothschild's supporters and fans
·        The Plastiki Expedition
The Plastiki, a boat made from 12,500 Plastic bottles, sailing from San Francisco to Sydney on a mission to showcase waste as a resource and highlight plastic pollution.

Wednesday 5 September 2012

How do spiders build their webs?

Garden Spider in web

So how do spiders do it?
I have been studying nature all my life and am still totally amazed by spiders. I am astounded by what they do. Their webs are a miracle I am sure you will agree?
There is a Garden Spider female with a web hanging over my balcony and I have wondered how she created it. The balcony is around 14 ft wide, and I know that having measured it, but somehow the spider has lines to both walls and another to the ceiling, as well as one to the balcony railings.
She is suspended in space with at least 6 ft between the one wall and the centre of her web. There is something like a 40 ft drop below into a car-park.

To weave a web

Apparently the spider puts out a line of silk that may be carried by the breeze to a nearby wall, trunk, twig, leaf or other solid surface. As soon as it hits the spider senses this and runs down it as well as creating another thread to make the connection stronger.
I have never seen this myself whilst observing spiders in the wild but have seen it captured on film in a presentation by David Attenborough so I know this is how it is done. It has been filmed in time-lapse and speeded up so we can view the process.
The spider creates other main lines below and to the side of the web and then starts filling in the rest of it around the central hub point. The spider uses as many as six different types of thread to create its work and there can be as much as 60 metres of thread in a single web. This is how the orb-weavers go about it and they make fantastic webs with intricate webbing and precision.
An orb-weaver can complete making a web within an hour after it has created the basic lines to hold it in place. Some orb-weavers make a new web every night.
Orb-web spiders make their webs under the cover of darkness for obvious reasons. They are a lot less likely to be seen moving about then, whereas in the daytime a hungry bird might spot them.
I love to see spider webs when they are covered in dew-drops. They look really magical glistening in the sunlight of an early morning, as if they weren't already magical enough!
In the UK there are lots of Garden Spiders about in late summer and early autumn. The females can be recognised by their larger size. They have a white cross on the back of their bodies too.
There are other types of webs including tunnel webs that do not appear so complex but the system of spinning a web is pretty miraculous I think even if some sorts of webs do not look as attractive to the human eye. And then there are spider types such as the Hunting Spiders, Crab Spiders and Wolf Spiders that do not build webs but rely on their hunting skills to catch their prey.

Tent-web spiders

In Tenerife where I am living we have a very common spider which is one of the tent-web spiders. Cyrtophora citricola tends to live in communities of males and females. They spin large sheet-like webs that they drape over foliage and hence the name "tent-web."

Tent-web Spider

The females spin cocoons in which they lay their eggs and these hang in the middle of their webs where they can stand guard over them.
This particular species, which is also found in the other Canary Islands and in Africa, tends to spin its webs in clumps of Prickly Pear cactus (Opuntia ficus-barbarica) and in the massive spiky leaves of the Century Plant (Agave americana). Living like this presumably offers the spiders some protection from predators and humans too! Many people are scared of spiders and kill them but I think they are amazing little animals!
Copyright © 2012 Steve Andrews. All Rights Reserved.