As an Australian herbalist I am excited to learn more about the way herbal medicine is practiced in other parts of the world. Now that I am lucky enough to call the United Kingdom home for a while, I have been scouting around for ways to connect with other practitioners and herbal enthusiasts. Via the excellent hub provided by the Herb Society website (www.herbsociety.org.uk), I came across Sarah Head and the Springfield Sanctuary in the Cotswolds (www.springfieldsanctuary.co.uk).
Sarah is the best type of herb enthusiast – one that loves sharing her knowledge as much as gathering it. A practical herbalist, Sarah runs two herb gardens, gives tours, talks, and workshops and offers herbwifery apprenticeships. She invited me along to a herb workshop last weekend, with promises of herb identification and the experience of making a bramble root vinegar.
I caught the train out of London with two of Sarah’s herbal apprentices, wonderful women whom it was a pleasure to meet. We were met by Sarah at the station and our first glimpse of the sanctuary was driving in through a classic Cotswolds dry stone wall, much older than I am I’m sure. The land is gorgeous and the view…
We began with a cup of nettle and cleavers tea, fresh picked from the garden, while we waited for the other apprentices to arrive. Then Sarah gave us a tour of the herb gardens, showing us specific medicinal plants and trees and discussing their use. We saw Ginkgo and Cramp Bark trees, Sage and Mullein, St John’s wort and Wood Betony, amongst many more. It was the first week of Spring and many plants were not in flower, but it was still such an important process of recognition and a treat for this herbalist who’s training has been heavy on the theory but lacking in actual contact with the plants themselves. We smelt, felt, and tasted herbs, until I actually felt a little light headed!
Then it was time for the hard work. All I knew was that we were clearing a bramble patch and making a medicinal vinegar from the roots. Not entirely sure what I was doing, I set out to help the others. Brambles are blackberry plants with long running thorny stems which love to cover an area send down new roots. This can suppress the growth of herbs and other plants. So we got out the forks and dug them up. I was aided in pulling up what I thought to be a very impressive root bundle which I lovingly cleaned and washed, along with piles more, ready for the vinegar.
The cleaning of the roots took some time, so we set up an assembly line which ended with a line of clean glass jars and lots of snipping. When the jars were finally full we topped them up with cider vinegar and pushed the roots down in the jar to get rid of any air bubbles. Now all that remains is keeping the jar in a dark place for 3-6 weeks before straining into a labelled bottle.
Bramble roots (Rubus fruticosus) contain tannins which are usually associated with an anti-microbial action and are astringent. This makes bramble root vinegar useful in cases of diarrhoea, with a recommended dose of 1tsp sipped slowly in a little water or tea with honey. Some other uses I have come across include topical use as a mouthwash or a douche for thrush, due to mucous membrane healing properties. Lots to experiment with!