Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Honeysuckle Honey & Honeysuckle Vinegar

After the fragrance of the honeysuckle wine made on Saturday evening, I decided to try my hand at making more herbal goodies with the wonderful fragrant honeysuckle from the garden, and this time honeysuckle remedies seemed like a really good idea. However as the fragrance is only in the flowers from early evening I had to wait until tonight to pick the flowers I needed. I thought I was going mad this afternoon when the honeysuckle smelt of absolutely nothing, so if you're going to try this, make sure you wait until your honeysuckle is at its most fragrant in the evening.

The honeysuckle honey recipe is from Julie Bruton-Seals book Hedgerow Medicine: Harvest and Make Your Own Herbal Remedies and its really easy to make, fill a jar with honeysuckle flowers, pure on honey (I used 3 parts acacia honey to 1 part orange blossom honey, because that's all I had in) and leave it in a sunny window for two weeks, (remember to press the flowers down into the honey if they rise above the surface or they'll go brown) after the two weeks are up, strain the honey from the petals and bottle and label it, its a perfect remedy for sore throats. Dosage is 1 teaspoonful as needed or three times a day.

Because I'd had some success with the lavender, rosemary, lemon verbena and sage vinegars I made last year I decided I;d try using honeysuckle flowers and make a honeysuckle vinegar. I thought I could combine it with the honeysuckle honey to help with winter sore throats. It can be used cosmetically as an astringent toner for the skin, or it can add a floral kick to salad dressings, or I could maybe add a splash to the mop bucket like I do the lavender and rosemary vinegar. The scent of the honeysuckle is really strong, I filled my jar three quarters full and then poured in enough cider vinegar to cover the petals, a quick stir to make sure there was no air bubbles, and as I put the lid down it already smelt wonderful.

I'm going to have a try at drying some petals for pot pourri next, and maybe see if I can make an infused oil with more of the fresh flowers. I can't wait for the lavender season to begin, I'll try the same floral honey method with the lavender and see what happens. This year I'll be making a huge supply of the lavender vinegar as its wonderful stuff and really easy to make.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Lavender Lemonade

This is a wonderfully different summer drink to try, and really easy to make, you can make a still or sparkling version to suit your taste. It definitely tastes better served chilled whichever version you make.

Ingredients

1 tray ice cubes (for serving)
40g Fresh Hidcote Lavender Flowers
500ml boiling water
150g white sugar
Juice of 8 lemons
1250ml cold water

Method

Place the lavender into a bowl, and pour boiling water over it. Allow to steep for about 10 minutes, then strain out the lavender and discard. Mix the sugar into the hot lavender water, then pour into a 2 litre capacity jug.

Squeeze the juice from the lemons into the jug, getting as much juice as you can. Top off the jug with the rest of the cold water, and stir. Taste, and adjust lemon juice or sugar if required.
Serve in tall glasses over ice, decorated with lavender sprigs (optional).

Tips - For a sparkling version make up as directed but use sparkling spring water instead of still. For adults you can use the lavender base to make a wine cooler, top up with sparkling wine instead of water.

Note: You can use any kind of angustifolia lavender, but only Hidcote lavender will colour your lavender lemonade a pinky purple colour. Don't use French lavender or any of the resinous piney scented lavenders as the resulting lemonade will not taste very nice.

Lavender Biscuits

Makes 18-24 (Depending on size)

100g Butter
50g Caster Sugar
175g Self Raising Flour
1 Tsp Lemon Zest
2 Tbsp Fresh Lavender Flowers

Method Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the flour, lemon zest & lavender flowers and knead well until the mixture forms a dough.

Gently roll out on a lightly floured board. Scatter the flowers over the rolled dough and lightly press in with the rolling pin. Cut into small rounds with a biscuit cutter.

Place biscuits on a greased baking sheet and bake in a hot oven 450F/230C, gas mark 7 for 10-12 minutes until golden brown and firm to the touch. Remove at once and cool on a wire tray.

You can use the lavender you grow in the garden to make these biscuits. I'd recommend using English Angustifolia Lavender's such as the Munstead or Hidcote varieties as they have a sweeter flavour and aroma. The French aka Butterfly and Spanish Lavenders (L. stoechas), have a more camphorous aroma and are not as appetising in my opinion. I've tried using French Lavender and it was a little too medicinal for our tastes, so I stick to the sweeter angustifolias now. You can use the finely chopped leaves of lavender as well if you’re short of flowers. Best time to harvest the flowers from the garden is just as they begin to open in the summer, use them fresh or dry them for winter use. You can use the flowers to scent sugar, I do this myself and use it when baking and making custard.

If you can't grow your own, good suppliers of Culinary Grade 'English' Lavender are: -

Norfolk Lavender
The Hop Shop
who also make a rather nice Lavender Grey tea blend.

The Great Goji Berry Con!


Everywhere these days some product or other is having 'Tibetan' or 'Himalayan' goji berries added to it, its even being put in chocolate now! Goji berries are being marketed as a wonderful super food that can help cancer patients with reduced white blood cells after chemotherapy, allegedly. There is no real evidence to support that claim as yet, or indeed any of the other claims being made by the online health shops that jump on the band wagon to make a pretty penny out of the latest health fashion.

But everywhere its being marketed as a super food, and people are falling for it in droves because its being marketed with the mystical influence of Tibet and Himalaya! Why because something is linked to eastern mysticism are we more inclined to buy it? Are we that gullible that we need to swallow added mysticism with our herbs, because it will do us more good? I don't doubt this herb has healing properties, but I am cynical about the claims being made about it, with no evidence to back it up.

Until this week I knew very little about the goji berry, aside from the fact that we'd mistakenly bought a pack a few months ago, in a rush to get out of the health food shop on route to somewhere else. We were actually after a packet of cinnamon coated cranberries! Si tried them, as did I and we weren't impressed. So we were happy to never touch them again, I don't care how much something does me good, if it tastes as nasty as that I won't take it unless I really, really have to! But then I recently got a wonderful book by Julie Bruton-Seal & Matthew Seal called 'Hedgerow Medicine' and I was stunned to discover that the goji berry has been a naturalised plant in the UK for over 250 years!

Please note most places sell it as goji berry, they never tell you the name its commonly known as in the UK, which is Lycium, or its Latin name Lycium barbarum syn Lycium chinense. And wonder of wonders now I know it can be easily grow over here, the fact that some of the health shop packs just say goji berries and don't say where the country of origin is, makes me even more cynical, how many people think they're getting mystical tibetan berries for their hard earned cash?

No country of origin leaves the gullible shopper to make the tibetan connection for themselves and who wouldn't after all the media hype, with the additional veil of not knowing goji's grow in the UK. It can be found in the wild in Lincolnshire, the midlands and various coastal areas in the UK.

I partly feel stupid, a few weeks ago Joe Swift one of the Gardeners World team planted some goji berry plants on his new allotment on the programme. And I sat there in the goji darkness (in my pre Lycium days) wondering how on earth he would manage to grow these exotic plants from the Tibetan mountains, in London, on an allotment! Now I know they'll grow easily in the UK, because they already do, pssst I wonder if he knows?

Incidentally did you know that as from April 30th 2008 the UK government has banned the import of lycium plants, its okay to import the berries and seeds but not the plants, so all the plants being sold in the UK from now on will have been raised in the UK (see DEFRA - Prohibited Import of Goji Plants) and if the plants are being raised over here, will we see more commercial goji berries farms cropping up, and will that mean that the price will go down? The cynic in me doubts it, but if the price does come down, I wonder what that will do to the goji's super food status?

The story of how the goji berries got into the UK is down to a chap called Archibald Campbell who was the Duke of Argyll (1682 -1761), and around the 1730's he had some tea plants imported to his home, the full story can be read in Julie & Matthew's book. What I do now know about Goji berries aka also Duke of Argyll's Tea Plant, Chinese Wolfberry, Box Thorn & Matrimony Vine is that it has antioxidant properties, its full of beta-carotene, is high in iron and riboflavin (B2) and has goodly amounts of selenium and vitamin C, it can also help to promote a healthy gut flora. I'm tempted to have a go at growing my own and seeking them out in the wild to wildcraft, makes me wonder how many other 'wonder products' the public get sold under some other name actually grow in this country. Incidentally the flowers of the Lycium are really pretty making yet another good another reason for growing it, but left to its own devices it can take over the garden so be warned.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Honeysuckle Wine


Today I went to one of Sarah's wonderful workshops at the Sanctuary, I always come home from her workshops inspired to try things out and it gives me a renewed incentive to get on and make things. Before going to Sarah's winter workshops last year, the only herbal remedies I made for myself were the obvious ones, like peppermint tea. But since the workshops I've made tinctures and herb vinegars and over the next few weeks I'll be progressing to infused oils and salves.

Inspired once again I decided to stop talking about what I'm going to do with the honeysuckle in the garden and actually get on with it. When we came back from the cinema a couple of nights ago, the scent of the honeysuckle in the garden as we walked up the path was breath taking. I couldn't decide whether to make a vinegar with the flowers, or pick 2 pints of them and make wine. Then there's a recipe I'd like to try using honeysuckle from the new Hedgerow Medicine book I got this week, its honeysuckle infused honey, which is good for sore throats.

I thought that if I pick the honeysuckle bare I'd have no sweet scentual delights (yes its a deliberate spelling mistake, I like mixing sensual and scent together to describe some aromas!) to tantalise my nose and the birds won't get the berries! Maybe I can do a deal with nature, one year the honeysuckle makes herbal delights for the house, and me and the next the wildlife reaps the delights? But I didn't have to worry, we went out and picked 3 pints of flowers for the wine and got the wine started, it smells wonderful, and the honeysuckle is still smothered with flowers, so tomorrow I'll pick the flowers to make the vinegar and the honey and there will be plenty left over for the birds and bees and to delight my nose for another month if I'm very lucky :)

For anyone that is interested here's the recipe for my honeysuckle wine... This is one of the first wines I ever made. My hobby started back in 1991 after watching a TV programme called 'Fruity Passions' on the BBC. It was a beginners guide to country wine making, the presenter was a lovely lady called Margaret Vaughan whom I recently had the pleasure of meeting. The programme took my interest in flowers and herbs to a new dimension and I've been a country wine maker ever since, as the line of demijohns up our stairs demonstrates. The recipe below is my variation on the recipe from Margaret's book. Her version was given to her by 'Mrs Smith', a lady from her village who was known for curing asthma and freckles with her honeysuckle wine.

Ingredients

• 3 Pints Honeysuckle Flowers
• 3lb White Granulated Sugar
• 1lb Sultanas, washed & chopped
• 1 Lemon (Juice of)
• 1 Orange (Juice of)
• 2 fl oz Earl Grey Tea brewed strong (use 2 tea bags and let steep for 10 minutes)
• 6 Pints Water
• General Purpose Wine Yeast

You can decrease the amount of sugar to 2½lb if you prefer a dry wine. Using half white and half golden granulated sugar adds a rather unusual taste to the wine

Method

• Using only the flower heads rinse them under the tap and shake off as much water as possible (I use a salad spinner to dry them).

• Once dry add the honeysuckle petals to you wine fermenting bucket with the sugar, sultanas, orange juice, earl grey tea and the lemon juice.

• Add the boiling water and stir the wine until the sugar has completely dissolved.

• Activate the wine yeast following the instructions on the packet and once the wine must is cooled add your yeast starter.

• Cover the wine and leave it for 4-5 days depending on the room temperature, the warmer the room the quicker the ferment.

• After the 4-5 days strain your wine into a demijohn. If you don't have enough must to fill the demijohn to the neck then top it up with cold boiled water.

• Leave the wine to ferment for approximately 3 months. By then it should be clear and ready for bottling.

• This wine will end up medium sweet with a wonderful floral aroma and will be a light golden colour. Leave to mature and take out the following year when the honeysuckle blooms.