The art of medicine consists in amusing the patient while nature cures the disease.
As Mrs Beeton might have said – “First, gather your herbs”. (Actually and disappointingly, Isabella Beeton’s Book of Household Management, first published in 1861, doesn’t have a rabbit pie recipe starting “First catch your rabbit”, so let’s just stick with might have said….)
First, gather your herbs….
I’m with Voltaire. Getting on our bikes and getting out in the spring air (I’d like to say “spring sunshine”, but that’s been a little scarce) to gather herbs is in itself a cure for whatever ails one.
We’ve been out for stinging nettles and horsetail – both so plentiful around here.
The nettles throng the edges of the bike-tracks, all the better to whack naked ankles if you carelessly swerve too close. A good pair of gloves and some secateurs – utu!
I laugh a bit at myself: in New Zealand I’ve gone to great pains (literally!) to get nettles to flourish. One established itself in my herb garden in Kapiti – of course right beside the little garden gate to attack passing legs – and threw a great crop of seedlings which I transplanted to less threatening parts of the plot just before we left. Perhaps it would be easier just to dry heaps more over here and take it back! And in case you worry about us starring in a Border Control reality show, everything we carry gets powdered and put into capsules, or steeped in 70% alcohol and made into tincture. Much safer all round. We amuse, but don’t perturb, our friends at the border.
The horsetail (Equisetum arvense) we haven’t found growing wild in New Zealand – which is not to say that it doesn’t, just that we’ve not stumbled across it yet. The one we want is the short version – the tall one doesn’t have the healing powers.
Here it has many local names – twenty-seven in Mani’s favourite herb book. Schachtelhalm is its formal German name, but around here we call it Katzenschwanz (cats-tail). Actually, make that 28 local names – I see Katzenschwanz isn’t in that list!
It’s such a valuable herb. I used to head for the herbal medicine shelves for it whenever my hair or fingernails needed a boost of silicon. But it does much more – building up tissue, boosting collagen production and so skin elasticity, works on everything from gout to smelly feet, kidneys, bladder … I think it earns its 28 names.
Said favourite herb book, Natürlich gesund mit Heilpflanzen by Bruno Vonarburg, who’s a lovely guy with the most wonderfully ancient apothecary rooms not far from here, also advises horsetail for tomato blight and mildew on roses. And we think that works too!
We’ve had that nasty late tomato blight around here for several years. Last year we sprayed ours with a tea from horsetail rotted in a bucket of water. Smells atrocious, but our tomatoes held out against the blight much longer than any of the neighbours’, and we got our full crop. This year, I’ve mixed the green herb into the potting soil, and we’ll see if that plus the ‘tea’ stops it altogether.
A bit further afield, and up more hills than I fancy even with the e-bikes, we’ve been in the forest.
In one clearing, we found so much lovely stuff. We gathered Kleines Immergrun – that’s the small periwinkle (Vinca Minor). I only see the large periwinkle (V major) in New Zealand, and sadly, since it grows so wildly there, the large one doesn’t have the medicinal benefits. Imagine if we could rip up all that pretty weed and turn it to good use. Meantime, Kleines Immergrun travels with us as both powder and tincture.
We picked Waldmeister (Asperula odorata) . It pleases me that the name ‘Master of the Forest’ should be given to such an inconspicuous herb, delicate, unshowy, honoured for its virtues not its bombast. Yes, I’ve probably been watching too much American presidential campaign coverage!!
And in the same spot, Storchenschnabel which we know as Herb Robert (Germanium robertianuum). That’s a wonder for skin problems, eczema, fungus infections and the like, and always in our cupboard.
In New Zealand we used to gather it on the Paekakariki Hill road – and then we found it in our own Kapiti Village bush-walk. There, it can look like a weed to the gardeners – instant death by spray-squirt – so before we left I transferred some into the safety of the herb-garden.
It’s quite a dance – working out what can we gather here in Switzerland but not there in NZ? What’s worth cultivating – or easier to carry? Here’s a last fine example.
In NZ, Mani was reading up on Mariendistel (Marian thistle, or milk thistle – Silybum marianum – my inner 3-year-old loves that Latin name). “I want that”. I went on line, found seeds for sale in Canada, contacted MPI over bringing them in – “No way”. We came to Switzerland, went to an old-favourite Hungarian town called Köszeg, and in the castle herb-garden, there it was, with a ripe seed head which was quickly snaffled. So at the end of last season here, I had three fine seedlings potted up.
Back to NZ. Back to the herb garden, where before we left I’d made a large dung-heap of horse manure and pea-straw to rot down in our absence. Growing out the middle… a Marian Thistle with its distinctive white veins. I now know why MPI don’t want any more brought in. They’re vicious! It’s the sharpest, strongest thistle-spike I’ve ever met. But since it had insisted on arriving, I grew it into a monster which had the neighbouring gardeners looking anxiously over the fence, and diligently harvested each thistle-head as soon as it was ripe but before it could fly. Heavy gloves and pliers extracted the seeds for Mani’s use, and three for next season had already sprouted before we left.
The things we do for love – and health.
Health is a cumulative experience of the mind, body and consciousness.