A Day of Harvest

We live in interesting times, more and more of our lives are becoming regulated by authorities. This year in theUKthe EU Herbal Directive will become mandate.  This means large Pharma companies keen to reduce (if not irradiate) peoples’ choice to go for the alternative when it comes to personal health care will be our only option.  Small herbal companies will be legislated out of existence and many of the herbal products so freely available now will disappear from the market.

I am not an expert on the new legislation, and in many ways I understand the reasoning and just think it’s been poorly executed I don’t however know the full extent.  Will I still be able to purchase Frankincense for example? What about culinary herbs?

I’m not sure on the answers and time will undoubtedly tell but I for one am not a Witch who rests on his hind quarters waiting for thw worst to happen.  Out in the wilds, and in my garden are plenty of herbs and natural products which can easily see me through most magical, ritual and healing requirements.  We are, in effect being taken back to the good ol’ days when if you didn’t grow it yourself, or couldn’t at least harvest it locally, you went without.  There was no internet shopping and overnight delivery.

Of course growing your own and harvesting locally not only ensures supply but has the added advantage of bring us closer to the green world, we directly connect with the land we live on, and we can be certain how and when our ‘raw materials’ were grown and harvested.  This is actually the biggest motivation for me, recent legislative changes are an added catalyst.

Yesterday the Sun was shining and the moon waxing although hidden; High Summer has clearly arrived here in Kent and the downs were practically shouting through my windows, seducing me into the woods and fields to exploit the rich bounty the hedgerows and undergrowth have to offer.  me (and my significant other) ventured off around noon.  The sun was high and hot, the air had the distinct summer scent of lavender, roses, ripening fruit and the sound of crickets in the tall grass was deafening.  Sensory overload…perfect for ‘entering the Twylite’ and affirming our connection to the land that sustains us.

Every time I go out on these expeditions I discover another plant, another little green thing which grows in the area.  In this picture alone there are dozens of species.  Prize to anyone who can name them all

I was stunned at how much White Bryony (Bryonia alba) was creeping all over the place.  Hard to distinguish for an amateur like me until its berries ripen.  There was Yarrow (Achillia milefollium) hiding in the lower levels of the undergrowth…I was expecting golden yellow heads but white seems to be the preferred colour choice .  Next on my list was Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) with its tall red stems crowned in white bearded glory and next to her grew St Johns Wort, (Hypericum perforatum) perfect for staving of those winter blues, no wonder with its radiant sun yellow flowers and cheery disposition!

St Johns Wort


Cinquefoil - Silver weed

Pure White Yarrow

Amongst the short grassy paths which lead through the trees a hundred silver hands reached out of the ground, like the ghosts of those who walked the ways before, in fact it was the beautiful, almost iridescent fronds of Cinquefoil (Potentilla anserina) or Silver weed (no explanation needed of where this name comes from).  Flanking the same paths grows Willowherb (Epilobium sp.) in great swathes of pink, these tall regal ladies will soon shed there seeds sending masses of tiny fluffy seeds into the air, one of my favourite sights of Summer’s end.

We stopped in a field of Broad beans for a rest and a Cigarette break only to find we were sat amongst a veritable carpet of Field Chamomile (Anthemis arvensis), a real surprise and a delight to see as it grew around the broad beans, nestled in between great clumps of Kentish clay and flint.  We pondered the prospect of Global warming for a while, what would it mean for all these wonderful plants and trees, what will be growing here in 200 years time we wondered?

Field Chamomile

We carried on, collecting some stray pheasant feathers and a good sized bag of Crab apples and Rowan Berries on the way (Recipe for Crab apple and Rowan Berry Jelly to follow).  Before heading home for a much needed brew.

The herbs I collected now hang happily in the kitchen where the air circulates and its warm enough to dry the delicate leaves slowly.  It never fails to bring a smile to my face when I see a few good bunches of herbs drying in the kitchen.

Happy Herbs

It was a lovely day, very productive and I got home feeling alive, invigorated, like I had been visiting an old friend after years of absence.  Later I went off into the garden to tend the plants growing there and feeling inspired I managed to talk the other half into digging out a new border…ready for me to fill it!

Here are some hints, tips and suggestions which so far have seen me well on the path to harvesting from nature:

1.)    A basic ‘tool kit’ is invaluable.  I have my little hand made satchel which I keep stocked with a small box of oatmeal or bonemeal for offerings, a trowel for harvesting roots or bringing whole plants home, bags of various sizes, a couple of small jars, a small reel of gardening twine, secateurs or pruning shears for hard wood and a small junior Hacksaw for staffs / wands etc.  I also take my working knife with me which I cut the bulk of my herbs with….it also digs and furrows but is not heavy duty.  Its vital to do as little damage as possible!

2.)    Get yourself a really good A-Z or ‘Eyewitness’ guide to wild plants and fungi.  I am fortunate enough to have an iPhone and there are some very good aps now which will help you identify your local Flora (and Fungi).  Failing that take pictures and look for them online.

My Kit Bag

3.)    Don’t eat anything you harvest until you are 110% sure what it is.  If in doubt leave it out! By all means create oils and incense and charm bags but don’t use internally or even topically (applied to the skin) until you are certain….there are some highly poisonous things growing in them hedgerows and they are usually the most pretty and alluring! Take it from someone who decided to munch on laburnum seeds when he was a youngster….Nasty (yet lucky!)

4.)    Get hold of a good Magical Herb guide which, if you are a complete novice, will get you started. There are hundreds out there…some better than others.

5.)    Now throw away your ‘good’ Magical Herb guide.  For green magic you need only intuition, time and patience.  The plants and objects you find out in the wild (and garden) will teach you everything you need to know.  Once you have basics down (e.g. planetary and elemental rulers etc) then you don’t need anything else.

6.)    If possible grow as much as possible from seed…nothing will teach you more about a plant than watching it grow, and nothing will build a stronger relationship to a plant than growing it yourself.  This isn’t always possible, if not go out and study plants throughout the seasons.  Pick 5 plants a year and focus on those looking for seedlings in spring, seeing where and how they mature, observe the flowers…what do they look like?  What pollinates them?  What’s living on them, what’s living around them?

7.)    Never take more than you need.  The old axiom “less is more”  is so true than when it comes to harvesting.  Anything harvested personally, at the right time will always be more potent anyway.  Take only what you need.  I often worry that I won’t have enough to get me over the barren winter months.  If it’s a plant you consider a staple (like St Johns Wort for me in the winter) grow it yourself in abundance.  The key is to make as little impact as possible.  Furthermore waste nothing, look after your finds, its no good going to all this effort and then leaving them to rot.  Dry herbs well, store them in airtight containers and they will last a good while.  We live in the 21st century, we have freezers, refrigerators and all manner of plastics, gizmos and gadgets…use them!

8.)    Be Respectful.  No one is expecting lengthy rites and rituals every time you cut a leaf of a plant or find a feather or take some soil but at the very least acknowledge what you have taken.  A plant loosing a few stems may not seem a massive sacrifice, but it is a sacrifice none the less…how would you feel if I, a complete stranger, came along a shaved off half your hair? A simple yet effective way to do this is to approach the plant or place respectfully and slowly, hold it, touch it, interact and commune even if it’s only for a moment.  In your mind (or out loud) tell the plant / place what you are doing, why you are doing it.  Ultimately a static being can’t resist or run away so no matter what you can still take what you want right?  To answer that, again I ask…how would you feel if a surgeon took off an arm whilst removing your appendix just because he could?!

Thought so…be respectful and always leave a small token of compensation as an offering (I       use oatmeal or bonemeal).  If you take a whole plant (or you need the root) even consider leaving a replacement cutting or seedling in its place.

9.)    Push your limits! So you have come across something you haven’t a clue what it is.  You can’t find it in your A-Z and you’re stumped.  You might resign yourself to ignoring this little creature.  Or you could expand on point 5 above.  So you can’t find what it is…what do you think or ancestors did before the days of taxonomy? This could be THE plant for you! Why not create your own name? I personally HATE Latin Taxonomical names…I remember Beardwort, Pilewort, Mugwort, Wormwood, Lady’s Mantle a lot easier.  If it hasn’t got a ‘folk name’ make one up based on what you learn of your new discovery!

10.) Finally and most importantly have fun!  If you have no interest in getting your hands dirty, wading through patches of bramble just to get a few leaves or feather or twigs or stones, if you have no interest in growing things then forget everything I’ve said…you do after all only get out what you put in…shit in…shit out…simple!


(Update 10/08/11: It has since been pointed out that what I label as Cinquefoil in this blog (Potentilla anserina) is not cinquefoil at all.  Whilst they are of the same Genus, true Cinquefoil is in fact a different species P. reptans)

This entry was posted in Gardening, Herbalism, Kitchen Witchery, Traditional Witchcraft, Wortcunning. Bookmark the permalink.

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