The name of The Herb Whisperer was given to me last year by someone watching me give one of my talks in the beautiful herb gardens at Samares Manor, and I smiled. I liked it because it’s true, I do talk to the plants, and I listen too. For me, it’s simply a natural thing to do, and I am at my happiest being amongst them. To be able to encourage other people to engage with and enjoy them is simply a pleasure.
We all know that herbs have been used for thousands of years as both food and medicinal sources, for dyeing materials, and last, but not least, for their wonderful scents. So it is a delight to have been asked to share some knowledge of them with you on a monthly basis. It is a part of my lifestyle to follow the seasons as they change, tuning in wherever possible to the rhythms of nature. November is the month that autumn comes to an end, and we roll into winter as the nights grow still longer and the days colder. Many of the plants are settling in for their winters rest, but there are still some berries around, and seeds being blown on the wind, plenty for collecting to use.
The seeds I am writing of today are fennel seeds – they are strongly aromatic and have been chewed to soothe the digestion and ease wind in the body throughout history in many cultures around the world. Some people will know that it was a main ingredient in gripe water that was given to babies to ease their colic. It is a fact too that they relieve anxiety – the link between a settled stomach and a calm mind has long been scientifically proven. So in today’s anxious times, drinking fennel tea or scattering fennel seeds over vegetables to roast, adding them to curries and so on, could be a helpful idea.
Many of the berries will have been harvested by now, (or eaten by the birds!), but it is this month that the berries on the myrtle bush darken to their blackest, ready to harvest. Myrtle has become one of my favourite herbs – an evergreen, the leaves can be dried and used like bay leaves, and the berries are commonly used in the Mediterranean to make jams or liqueurs, or dried, when they make a peppery spice. Dedicated to the goddess Aphrodite, and always associated with feminine love and beauty, I love how the deeply scented white blossoms of summer turn to the rich, black nutritious berries of late autumn. They are also used to make thick, dark cough syrups as they contain expectorant and antiseptic ingredients.
We all want to build up our immune systems at this time of the year, and two of the useful herbs which will still be there for picking in the garden are sage and thyme. Thyme can be used in all sorts of warming soups and stews, with roasted meats and vegetables. It is wonderful for bad chests and coughs, and can be bought as a cough medicine. Make a sage tea with honey and a slice of orange to soothe sore throats, scatter the leaves over roasted pumpkin and squashes – delicious. If you are lucky you may still find some rose hips to collect, and making rose hip syrup is simple, and a high source of Vitamin C. Taken by the spoonful each morning, or drizzled over yoghurt, pancakes or porridge.
So wrap up warm from the wind as the earth quietens down, and nourish yourselves with warm dishes enhanced with the seeds, berries and herbs that you find.
Words and images by Sally Roberts