Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) – a gift from the Gods

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) – a gift from the Gods

Yarrow is a pretty white flowering plant that is found far and wide all over the temperate areas of the northern hemisphere. Even at this time of year, its low lying feathery leaves can be seen at the base of last years brown and decaying flowering stalk.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) leaves Jan ’23, UK

Its Latin name derives from the ancient Greek story of Achilles which shows just how long this plants curative powers have been acknowledged.

According to the legend, the immortal sea goddes Thetis concieved the child with the mortal King Peleus, thereby ensuring that her son would be born mortal. As part of her efforts to render him immortal, Thetis dipped Achilles into a water bath of Yarrow in order to make him as invulnerable as possible. But – the heel she held him by never quite made it in to the Yarrow water. His heel remained his only vulneralbe point and he went on to be killed in the Trojan wars when an enemy arrow struck his heel.

It is little wonder Thetis chose Yarrow as her herb protector of choice for her beloved son as it is an all round healing superstar. It has a tonic effect on pretty much every system and organ in the body in some way, being particularly adept at wound healing and stopping blood loss and putrefaction.

Yarrow in long grass

Yarrow flowering in a grass meadow

In magical work it is seen as having very strong powers of protection and this can also be applied to the body where it acts as a protector against all sorts of infectious diseases and protecting the heart and circulaory system.

Yarrow has so many medicinal uses applicable to a very wide range of health issues. Have a read of what else this easy to find little plant can help you with here on the main Wild Pharma website.

Green Treasures In The Depths Of Winter

Green Treasures In The Depths Of Winter

Winter Solstice approaches, the ground is frozen, the temperature has plummeted yet even now in this frozen weather there are some very useful plants that make good eating and good medicine.

I suspect that everyone who has a garden (however tiny), a yard, window box or even just an outdoor plant pot will have at the very least one species of wild edible plant growing. This irrepressible little plant is the Hairy Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta), a tenacious little plant that stays alive through the hardest frosts and even when blanketed with snow. Its easily identifiable by its small rosette of leaves close to the ground and small flower stalk with long thin seedpods sporting tiny white flowers at their tops. Its close cousin the Wavy Bittercress (Cardamine flexuosa) has slightly curvy stems that can kink in any direction and is the perhaps the easiest way to tell them apart.

Hairy Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta)

This little plant will be very familiar to any who work their patch, most viewing it as a pesky little weed that gets everywhere. Personally, I always leave an area in my veg patch where it is allowed to proliferate between larger crops as it makes a decent ground cover of sorts and that way I am assured of a constant supply.

Both hairy and wavy bittercress make good eating and have a mild cress/rocket/watercress flavour. All parts of the plant can be eaten (leaves, stalks, seed pods, seeds, flowers, even the root!) and they provide a little kick of warm peppery spice when added to salad mixes, sandwiches (delicious with egg mayonnaise) or just as a snack whilst gardening. It makes a great substitute for basil to make a  fresh pesto when whizzed up with the usual pesto ingredients. The delicate little leaves would make a nice addition to any microgreen salad or garnish too. Cooking dampens that cress like flavour somewhat but it is still nutritional and medicinal when added to soups, casseroles, stir fries and the like.

The leaves are rich in vitamin C which is a powerful antioxidant and welcome immune boost in the darker, colder months. They contain a decent amount of fibre and Beta-carotene too, along with calcium and magnesium.

Best of all, being a member of the Brassica family (think cabbage, broccoli, rocket, mustard, horseradish etc) they are also a great source of Glucosinolates. These are sulphur rich compounds found in most of the Brassica plants and are gaining favour for their potent anti-cancer properties, immune stimulation, free radical scavenging abilities. They effectively inhibit division of unhealthy cells (thereby helping to prevent cancers) and also cause the death of active cancer cells. Sulphur compounds are also excellent for lung and skin health.

I can honestly say that I have never seen a time of year when it isn’t growing. Today in my veg patch it is present in all stages of development. Some are just a basal rosette of leaves, some are actively flowering whilst some have produced seeds and are just waiting for the slightest breeze or touch so they can explode the next generation around the area. It has a 12 week life span so its unlikely you will ever be without it. A little treasure of a ‘weed’ indeed!

Roots of Power – The Mighty Solomons Seal (Polygonatum spp.)

Roots of Power – The Mighty Solomons Seal (Polygonatum spp.)

Solomons Seal is one incredible plant, one I would never choose to be without, either in my Herbal Medicine cupboard or in my garden.

The intriguing root of this gorgeous Spring plant holds some deep and potent healing within it. It has an affinity for the joints, bones and connective tissues as well as the heart, lungs, spleen and kidneys. It brings moisture, flexibilty and calmness to the whole body in a gentle yet profound way and has been improving chronic conditions for centuries.

Solomons Seal flowers

Find out its full range of medicinal benefits here

Rowan berries – a nutritional gift from the woods and hillsides

Rowan berries – a nutritional gift from the woods and hillsides

The graceful Rowan tree (or Mountain Ash as its also known, latin name Sorbus aucuparia) is laden with fruit at this time of year, yet this bountiful harvest of scarlet ripe red berries is mostly overlooked by us humans.

The magestic Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia)

This may well be due to its flavour. Pick one and eat it straight from the tree and your taste buds will first encounter a slight sourness followed by a mildy unpleasant bitterness and astringency. This bitterness is mellowed with the frosts, so its possible to cheat by freezing them for a few days. Even then they are not excatly sweet and delicious, so why bother to harvest them?

The simple answer is for their nutritional content and medicinal actions.

Rowan berries contain twice the vitamin C of oranges, vitamin E , beta carotene, potassium, flavanoids, fibre, polysaccharides and xylitol (a useful sugar substitue for diabetics) amongst others. Even the bitter flavour elicits a physiological response in the digestive system which helps to tone the whole alimentary canal and improve immunity.

They have been shown to enhance the efficiency of chemotherapy and have promising anti-tumour properties too. They contain phytonutrients that act as an anti-inflammatory in the body, promote healthy blood vessels and blood flow, protect the heart and can be used as an astringent gargle for afflictions of the mouth and throat.

Bunches of ripe berries

So whilst we may not be grabbing handfuls of gorgeous berries and eating them raw like strawberries or red currants, there are still many quick and easy ways to include them in the diet and enjoy their nutritonal and medicinal goodness.

The Scandinavians and Russians have held the Rowan berry in high regard for centuries and have created many tried and tested recipes. They use them where we might use cranberries and often make a jelly to accompany winter meat dishes. To make a jelly, use equal parts Rowan berries to sour apples, simmer until the fruits are soft, strain through a sieve and return to the boil with the same weight of sugar as berries used. Add the juice and/or zest of half a lemon and some cinnamon, ginger or any other flavour you like. Taste your jelly before deciding to bottle it and add make a few taste tweaks if needed. Hopefully, you will have a delicious and beautiful looking nutritional powerhouse of a jelly.

After some fun (and a few frowns!) experimenting with the berries I have decided that, for my palette, the flavours needed to enhance them and distract from the bitterness include sour apples (crab apples are perfect as are cookers), orange, cinnamon, star anise, ginger etc, warm flavours with natural sweetness and sour sharp flavours that compliment the bitterness. I tried a few herbs like thyme, mint, rosemary etc but for me they tasted unpleasant but you may find otherwise.

Store your berries in the freezer and then take what you need for each culinary adventure. You don’t need to use them all in one go and they do get better tasting the longer they freeze. Simply add a few to smoothie mixes, make teas from the fresh or frozen berries (sweeten with honey, cinnamon etc), make turkish delight, dry the berries and powder them then add to cakes or baking mixes, put them powdered into empty capsules and use as a supplement, add to ice cream or sorbet mixes. Even though they would be too unpalatable for most people to gorge on, avoid eating more than a small handful of raw berries as they can give you a touch of indigestion.

Have a look at this beautiful blog post full of delicious ways to use Rowan berries.

Septembers Biome Box offering

For customers of the Biome Box, your Rowan berries have been carefully selected – the ripest and juiciest we could find – and harvested from a variety of Rowan trees growing in different locations around our local area in Sussex. This way, each bag of berries will contain an even wider range of phytonutrients. Animal grazing and other plant pests of the Rowan cause each individual tree to manufacture defence chemicals designed to ward off a particular threat. These defense chemicals, targeted to destroy or slow pest attacks are actually phytonutrients to us!

Personally, I have always known Rowan as ‘The Witches Tree’ , associated with magical protection and the female essence, the tiny pentagram at the base of each berry hints at its hidden power. May you always be protected from harm after consuming these special little berries!

The pentagram

Sloe Down To Notice The Blackthorn

Sloe Down To Notice The Blackthorn

The very beautiful 5 petaled Blackthorn blossom…..

The hedgerows are glowing right now with the enchanting white blossoms of Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa).

The dense little flower clusters are generously arranged all over the bare branches and stems and shine out form the hedges, a beacon announcing that the darkness of Winter is over and the fresh new growth of Spring is underway.

In magical folklore, Blackthorn is associated with the dark aspect of the triple Goddess, the Crone, the dark of the moon. With her tangled branches and fierce thorns, its easy to see why she is connected with difficult phases of life, struggle, strife, clouded judgement. Yet she acts as guardian of the threshold between Winter and Spring, between life and death – new life born from the death of the old life, new insights and lessons learned from the pain of suffering. Read more about her ancient magical associations here.

As well as being a treasure trove of food for foraging insects and animals, she also has some goodies to offer us humans too, apart from being a sight for sore eyes! The flowers have a mild *almond like taste (see caution below), are rich in polyphenols and other therapeutic substances and in small quantities are edible and medicinal. They can be made into a tea to help gently move the bowels, improve the appetite and benefit the stomach, soothe inflammation and irritations in the mouth, gums and throat when used as a gargle, act as a diuretic, help with eruptive skin conditions and a few can be added to Spring Tonic herb teas for ‘blood cleansing’ as the old herbals call it. For this, use 1 teaspoon of fresh blossoms per cup and take 1 cup daily for 3-4 days.

The flowers have a long tradition as a remedy against some cancers even.

They can be candied and used as cake decorations or made into a wild and delicious almond flavoured syrup, for gorgeous recipes, look here and here.

But of course, most will value this plant for the darkly beautiful berries that come in October, the vital ingredient in Sloe Gin. So even if you have no need or use for the flowers, it is well worth remembering where the Blackthorn trees are, especially when they are stand alone trees, these will be heavy with fruit bearing branches in October.

turn into these dark juicy Sloe fruit

*Caution is needed when using the flowers or leaves due to their amygdalin content, a chemical that ends up as cyanide in our bodies. Don’t be too alarmed by this however as so many of our edible fruits do too, mostly in the flowers and stones (Cherry, Peach, Apples, Apricot, Plum etc). In small doses it actually improves respiration, in larger doses it does the opposite.

Here is a link detailing why and how to make a magical flower essence from blackthorn flowers


The parasitic tooth fairy of the woods – Lathraea clandestina

The parasitic tooth fairy of the woods – Lathraea clandestina

Purple toothwort (Lathraea clandestina) is a beautiful, unusual and quite rare plant that hides in shady damp places among the roots of trees (hazels, alders, willows, poplars etc) and has just begun to flower now, at least in East Sussex. It was introduced into the UK in the late 1880’s from mainland Europe but has escaped into the wider environment where it is now quite at home.

The exposed roots really do resemble molar teeth which is how it supposedly gained its common name. The flowers have no above ground stem instead emerging directly from the soil and once they have fulfilled their purpose, they dive back underground until the following Spring so you need to be quick if you want to get acquainted with them. Having no leaves at all, the plant contains no chlorophyll so can’t photosynthesize but instead is entirely parasitic, depending on the roots of its host tree to provide it with both nutrients and water.

Purple toothwort ( Lathraea clandestina)

The nectar has a very particular chemical make-up, rich in sugars, strongly alkaline (pH 11.5!) and contains ammonia. It is believed that the nectar has chemically evolved to specifically attract bumblebees – its pollinators – whilst deterring unwelcome pests such as ants and birds which can’t pollinate but would otherwise take a free meal. I haven’t tried it (yet!) but the flowers are said to produce a burning sensation on the tongue.

After an extensive search through my books and the internet, I cannot find any solid medicinal or edible references (other than the odd rumour of being used somehow against toothache) except for use as a homeopathic remedy which suggests its use in those who could be described as “weakling, soft, friendly, communicative. Needs help from others, cannot be independent because he is too weak. Feels dirty. Too tired to wash his dirt off. Uses his friendliness to get friends and help, to be able to ask for help”.

However, a quick search of its chemical constituents leads to information on some interesting components that it shares with other plants that certainly do have medicinal applications. One substance, aucubin, is present in many plants besides Purple toothwort including Plantain leaf, Devils claw, Cleavers, Mullein and Agnus castus . Aucubin has “antioxidant, anti-aging, anti-inflammatory, anti-fibrotic, anti-cancer, hepatoprotective, neuroprotective and osteoprotective properties”. Two other components, acteoside and isoacteoside have also been identified – both of which are thought to be responsible for antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory actions in other medicinal plants.

Flowers emerging from teeth like structures

Perhaps one day its full range of medicinal possibilities will be identified. Whatever its physical properties may or may not be, it certainly lifts my spirits whenever I see it. A strange, slightly sinister and mysterious presence in the woods, especially when I come across a blanket of deep purple flowers nestled around the tree roots. To me it is a reminder that even in the darker, colder, wetter months, nature is getting on with her business providing food for early bumblebees and bringing much needed mystery, beauty and drama to the woods.

Sage (Salvia officinalis)- salvation from the herb garden

Sage (Salvia officinalis)- salvation from the herb garden

Sage leaves (Salvia officinalis)

Sage is very aptly named. Both its Latin name (Salvia – to heal, to save) and common name (Sage – wisdom) allude to our ancestors deep appreciation and knowledge of the healing qualities of this plant. Once prized as an excellent tonic to sharpen the memory, enhance mental faculties and soothe the nerves, one quote from medieval times asks “Why should a man die whilst sage grows in his garden?”.  An old English equivalent states ‘He that would live for aye, must eat Sage in May.’

Many will know sage as a stuffing or seasoning for fatty meats or ‘rich’ foods but few will know why – it is the perfect choice given how it enhances all digestive processes but particularly the efficient metabolism of fats. Yet sage has a long history of medicinal use including fevers and infections, drying up milk supply ready for weaning, reducing hot flushes and sweating, promoting proper blood circulation and wound healing.

Its interesting how many powerful healing plants fall out of favour as medicines but still cling on as culinary herbs. With such a wide spectrum of health applications its time to promote sage from the herb rack in to the medicine cabinet.

Further information on the many medicinal uses of sage, how to prepare it and correct dosage can be found on our main website here.

Sweet violet (Viola odorata) – a lowly plant with lofty curative powers

Sweet violet (Viola odorata) – a lowly plant with lofty curative powers

Sweet violet flowers and leaves have been in use as a medicine around the world for centuries and prized for their various therapeutic properties. They may be small but they are very impressive with their exquisite beauty, intoxicating fragrance and plethora of medicinal actions including mild sedative, moistening, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antioxidant, diuretic, anti-cancer, decongestant, antihypertensive, anti-lipemic (reducing blood lipids/fats), diaphoretic, pre-anesthetic, antipyretic, anti-fungal, mildly laxative as well as having positive effects on body-weight reduction.

It’s a great herb for children suffering from coughs, the onset of a cold, fevers, restlessness and temper tantrums and is also rich in nutrients like vitamins A and C. It is a gentle acting plant, no forceful drama yet powerful and thorough in its healing.

Violets in a shady hedgerow


This plant has inspired love poetry for centuries and now it seems medical science is also falling in love with sweet violet, evidenced here by the sheer volume of scientific studies it has spawned.

Find out exactly what sweet violet can achieve and how easy it is to use as a medicine at home here.


“Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it” (Mark Twain).

Slippery Elm (Ulmus rubra/fulva) – first aid, band aid, all round good healing aid

Slippery Elm (Ulmus rubra/fulva) – first aid, band aid, all round good healing aid

The inner bark (the layer beneath the rough outer bark) of this particular elm tree is one of the most soothing and healing herbal agents for any and every kind of mucosal or skin irritation I have ever encountered. It coats, soothes and heals membranes and has anti-inflammatory, immune stimulating and emollient or moisturising properties. The clinging  and coating mucilage protects damaged or irritated membranes and allows healing to take place uninterrupted thanks to its protective coating. It is rich in soluble fibre and has a decent nutritional content including vitamins C & E,  B vitamins, calcium, starches and sugars.

Slippery Elm (Ulmus rubra/fulva) powder

Read more about this incredible remedy and its’ many medicinal applications here

Red clover (Trifolium pratense) – therapeutic offerings from the meadow

Red clover (Trifolium pratense) – therapeutic offerings from the meadow

Unlike some medicinal plants, these flower heads may not have a list of medicinal actions as long as your arm – but what they do, they do incredibly well. If thinning the blood and improving the elasticity of all blood vessel walls weren’t enough, they have hormonal constituents (phytoestrogens) that can greatly help with menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes and bone density loss. Add to this a strong history of treating chronic skin conditions, beautifying the complexion and an excellent reputation for helping  to treat a variety of cancers.

Red clover (Trifoilum pratense) in an Alpine meadow

The plant needs little description as it is so recognisable and is  incredibly easy to find, harvest and use. To find out what else these gorgeous flowers can do, including dosage and cautions, visit the Wild Pharma  ‘red clover’ page.