Last Saturday I spent an afternoon amongst herbs, teas and folk tales. It was a perfect way to wind down after a really busy week: Spring was in the air but I felt tired and under the weather. Back to nature it was then, with an energising long walk across Hackney that brought me to the Kingsmead Kabin in Homerton, where a free series of wonderful workshops is currently taking place every week.
The last class was about infusions and course leader Nat Mady, who works at Hackney Herbal – a charity aimed at educating people on the wonderful uses of herbs and encouraging gardening and foraging – showed us how to blend some of the more common kitchen and garden herbs to make delicious herbal teas.
It was disarmingly simple, and since the result is also pretty, I now know how to present friends and family with a gift that is both cheap and personalised. Think of that friend who drinks too much, or that aunt who is constantly coughing…get blending, et voila’!
What I love about herbs, especially the most common ones that are still used widely in our kitchens, is the incredible amount of cultural significance attached to them. Take rosemary for example. I didn’t know that it encourages blood flow, which is why many of the tales associated with it point to memory and remembrance.
In ancient Greece, students wore rosemary garlands during exams, while in the 17th century English botanist Culpepper recommended it for “all kinds of cold, loss of memory, headache, coma”. In the Pharaons’ times, rosemary was placed in the tomb to remember the dead and this practice of tossing rosemary in the grave continued in Europe until the 19th century.
Memory also intended as sticking to a vow: rosemary has been used in weddings since the dawn of time, given to the bride and groom to dip in wine for their first toast or to the groom alone on his wedding night to ensure he remains faithful throughout his married life. In the middle ages the more affluent couples gave rosemary as a wedding gift. Sprigs were often dipped in gold to symbolize the couple would always remember their friends and family.
So after all this talk of rosemary, how could I forget to include it in my blend?
I decided to mix it with chamomile and lavender, both very soothing, calming herbs. You can steep the herbs into a pot, alternatively you can make your own tea bags. And it is super easy. Just cut squares of muslin, place a pinch of the herbs in the middle and tie with a piece of string. You can add a pretty tag which will also remind you what you put in it. And let your tastebuds and creativity guide you.
For my partner, who often complains of bad digestion, I want to make a lemon balm, fennel and nettle tea blend. The first two herbs are really fresh and aromatic and will hopefully disguise the slightly earthy notes of the nettle. From a medical point of view, all the three of them have detoxing quality. On top of that, lemon balm is great for digestion, fennel is a diuretic and nettle is a powerful liver cleanser and deeply nourishing herb. So here you go, boyfriend’s sorted, I am happy and regenerated and looking forward to more classes. Next in my plan is the foraging workshop. My friends at Edible Landscapes are running it so how can I say no?