Tips from our herbalist: April

Tuesday 26 April 2016

Organic Herb Trading's Herbal Technician, Jane Wallwork-Gush, shares spring herb stories and tips.

In spite of a number of April showers, the weather is becoming warmer and spring is in full swing. The plant world is blossoming and the mood is of high energy and the joy of life. April comes from the Latin Aperio meaning to open or bud, and feels like a gateway month to the summer. The first wild greens are making their appearance and fresh leaf salads creep into the diet along with tonic soups and herbal infusions.

One of our most prolific herbs of the fields and roadsides is Nettle. Nettle tea is a superb spring tonic and also makes a rich fertiliser for the garden. When the Roman soldiers invaded Britain they found it cold and damp and used to beat their aching, rheumatic joints with handfuls of nettles! A less heroic application would be to make Nettle and Rosemary joint balm using macerated oils, beeswax and Rosemary essential oil. An effective and rather less painful remedy than stinging oneself! Folklore indicates that nettles were assigned to the element fire, and also to have protective powers against malign spirits and when thrown on a fire they can avert danger.

Dandelions are everywhere in the fields in April and make another invigorating tonic infusion combining well with Nettle. St. Georges Day fell on the 23rd of April and the best time to pick dandelions iss alleged to be after that date. Children play clocks with dandelions and although there are various versions of this time game, if you blow at the seed head the number left will show you the time. This is also an incredibly effective way of dispersing the seeds. The name comes from Dens leonis, which translates as ‘lion’s tooth’ and is a reference to the leaves. These young leaves make a pleasant and slightly bitter addition to a salad along with a few primrose and violet flowers.

Cleavers have many names ranging from Goosegrass to Sticky Willy in Somerset and Sticky Jim further north. The name Cleavers refers to its tenacious capacity to stick to your clothing and hair. It is sticky with burs and twines everywhere through the hedgerows. You could tell if your friend had an admirer by ripping it up and throwing it at your friend’s retreating back. If it sticks they have an admirer if it falls away hopes are dashed! If taken off and dropped, it will form the initial of the sweetheart-to-be. Cleavers make an excellent addition to a spring tea and have cleansing properties for the skin when taken internally, and the ancient Greeks used it to keep them alert.

Agrimony has been a popular domestic herb since ancient times. It is also known as Sticklewort and was a plant revered by the Druids for many properties and is favourably used in herb pillows to promote sleep. As a haemostatic, Agrimony was used to staunch bleeding wounds on Medieval battlefields and is still used today to treat cuts and ulcerations. It has astringent properties beneficial for cases of diarrhoea and is suitably gentle but effective for use with young children and the elderly. As a bitter tonic herb it aids digestion, sluggish liver and gall bladder and is a welcome addition to a spring tonic blend to cleanse and rejuvenate the system. To dream of future husbands one should sleep with Agrimony under the pillow as it encourages deep sleep and also banishes negative energies. It was once used to detect the presence of a witch…