How Fresh Air Can Cure The Blues…

beautiful ocean sunset

There has been many a time I have stood in a place of nature and been awestruck by the beauty of my surroundings. In such moments nature has a way of instilling humility. Time and again my problems and concerns have faded to nothing as I feel the vibrant energy of the place sweeping through me. The experience, having delivered temporary reprieve from my internal dilemmas, allows me to return to my day refreshed, invigorated, and clear headed, with everything back in perspective.

It is hard not to have feelings of awe in nature when surveying a beautiful scene. Taking a walk outside, even just to the local park, helps lift ones spirits when one is feeling down, especially when you stop and just sit, paying special attention to a trail of ants, or an attractive flower. Nature draws you in, and gives you a moment of pause, of peace. In that moment, when you are drawn to start looking at, and feeling, something else, your focus on what has been bothering you drops away.

The same is true with anger. There are many times I have stormed off in a huff, walking away from an argument, retreating to my allotment. When I arrive after an altercation my urge is to yank out weeds muttering under my breath, and yet straight away I see the violence in this and my temper begins to abate. Within ten minutes I have calmed right down, and within thirty I can clearly see both sides of the story. A space opens up in my mind and becomes filled with understanding, ways to moderate my behaviour, change my approach, or even a potential resolution.

allotment scene

Why does this peace and calmness descend? What is it that touches us so deeply and transforms our mental state so rapidly and radically? It is the touch of the wild. We were born wild and inside of us, at our core, we will always remain wild. Nature is a part of us, and we a part of it. In our busy modern lives, where we barely take a breath of fresh air from Monday through Friday, we lose our essential connection; pressure and anxiety start to build. Without food your body goes hungry, without daily connection to the wilds of nature your spirit goes hungry – it’s as simple as that… 

My solution is to Rewild Yourself! To make a conscious physical connection to all that is wild and natural on a daily basis – standing outside with your morning cuppa breathing in fresh air and watching the clouds, walking barefoot in the park on your lunch break – you don’t have to live in the wilds to connect with them.

It is also essential to acknowledge the wild spirit in the wider than human world. We, humankind, are not alone we are part of a huge all encompassing energy matrix – don’t isolate yourself from this – acknowledge it. Talking to the birds and the trees, the wind and the sea, will draw you back in and deep down inside you will rebalance as your wild self will know it is surrounded by kin, that it is home…

Just some thoughts – a few days late for Blue Monday perhaps, but useful to remember whenever the blues hit!

If you would like to read more about my approach I recommend my book Rewild Yourself: Becoming Nature ~ or if you feel ready for a natural life changing process filled with easy steps to transform your life then maybe you should consider registering for Sacred Ecology: A Rewilding Apprenticeship which begins April 20th 2017. Either way ensure that you make time to feel the wind in your hair and the cold fresh rain on your face every day 🙂

Forget not the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair” Kahlil Gibran 

“Bee”sotted with Bees

This post is the third and final guest post from one of the guest tutors on the rewilding apprenticeship I am running this summer. This entry is from the lovely Brigit Strawbridge. I first met Brigit a short while after she wrote a fabulous review for my first book The Medicine Garden back in early 2010. Brigit invited me to give a series of talks on the top deck of her Big Green Bus at the Malvern Spring Gardening show. Despite the rainy windy weather outside it was cosy and fun on the bus. We have been friends ever since and I am really delighted that she will be coming to share her great knowledge with us on the apprenticeship.

Brigit Strawbridge

Brigit Strawbridge, Bee Ambassador

I have to admit to being just a little obsessed with bees. In fact it’s probably fair to say I’m quite ‘bee’sotted. Bees have fascinated and enchanted me since my childhood, but it is only since the media started reporting on bee decline some years back that I fully appreciated the magnitude of their importance as pollinators – and how much I had always taken these amazing little creatures for granted.

Since then, I have been campaigning, talking and writing to raise awareness of the importance of bee diversity, the ways different species access and pollinate different flowering plants and the myriad reasons for the declines in bee diversity, range and population. I firmly believe that if we get it right for bees we will, in turn, get it right for all life on earth.

 

My approach when I first started looking into this issue was to focus on the

A Nitidia Male Bee

A Nitidia Male Bee

 

importance of bees to the human food chain and the pesticides that were contributing, in part, to their decline. I read, watched and digested everything I could get my hands on, learning more and more each year till both my head and my home were full to bursting with information: facts and figures; names of bees; types of pesticides; scientific reports; lists of this and that; and goodness knows what else.

This was all well and good, but in my rush to assimilate the kind of information I thought I needed to help me understand and pass on what exactly was going wrong, I almost missed out on understanding the most important thing of all – i.e. the bees themselves, their beauty, their behaviour and their intrinsic worth.

Once this dawned upon me everything began to change as a whole new and incredible world began to unfold…..

B lapidaries bee in harebell

B lapidaries bee in harebell

 

Instead of reading books and spending time researching on the computer I now started to spend more and more time outside watching and listening to bees. I learned to recognise certain species and individuals by the sounds of their different buzzes; came to know what time of day I might be likely to find certain bees on certain plants; worked out how to tell male bumblebees from female bumblebees; could hear with my eyes closed when bumblebees were collecting pollen from the welsh poppies in my garden rather than aquilegia growing next to them; and began to guess from the shape, colour and size of certain flowers which bee (or other pollinator) I might to expect to collect pollen from that flower. It soon became obvious that I was learning things from the bees that I could never have learned from books.

I became more and more interested in the interaction between bees and flowering plants, which in turn led me to be more curious about the way the two must have co-evolved and adapted, physiologically and behaviourally, over the millennia. This, in its turn, reminded me of the awe and wonder I had felt as a child each and every time I made a connection between one aspect of the natural world and another. I was essentially, through the bees, beginning the process of reconnecting and rewildling.

I still campaign, talk and write about bees and their decline, but my focus has now shifted. I still want to share my newfound knowledge about bees and other pollinators with anyone and everyone who will listen, but more importantly I want to share my love and awe of these fascinating and delightful beings, together with the insights and understandings they have gifted me. My hope is that in doing this I might inspire others to fall in love, as I have, with the bees who visit their gardens… in which case they will start doing whatever they can to help ensure their continued survival for it is in our nature to want to protect that which we love.

I am delighted that Rachel has invited me to be a guest tutor on her wonderful Rewilding Apprenticeship later this year and cannot wait to share my love, knowledge and insights with you.

As you can tell from her writing Brigit has a great passion and I can’t wait to learn more from her on the day she will spend sharing her knowledge with us on the rewilding apprenticeship.

Brigit has her own blog and can be found on twitter @B_Strawbridge

Tropical Fruit on the Branch

As much as possible I love to grow my own food, that which I do not manage to grow myself I like to at least source from local producers. This leaves me eating fresh fruit and veggies grown within my local climatic conditions. So when I take a trip I always delight in the different fruits that are available and that I never buy at home.

Last year ended for me with a few weeks in Cambodia and I was very happy to not only eat some delicious tropical fruit but also to see many fruits actually growing. Seeing a plant grow gives me an opportunity to learn more, to deepen my relationship with the food it produces. If I get the chance I like to sit with the plants, to talk to them, to listen to them and maybe fall in love with them, even just a little bit.

The following are a few of the tropical fruit plants that I saw growing for the very first time on this trip…

star fruit (Averrhoa carambola)

Star Fruit (Averrhoa carambola). A waxy fruit that is not particularly tasty, in my opinion, but I had to add it as it looks so cool, especially when sliced giving a bright yellow star on your plate

Star fruits are high in fibre, vitamins B complex & C, minerals including potassium, phosphorus, zinc & iron. When vitamin C appears alongside iron the iron is more easily absorbed and so can help treat or prevent the occurrence of anaemia.

 

Jack fruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus)

Jack Fruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus). This is a bit of a crazy looking fruit and huge in size, you certainly wouldn’t want one to fall and land on your head. The yellow flesh inside the rough outer skin is easy to separate into smaller chunks as each piece of flesh covers a stone sized seed. It is very tasty and not as rich or creamy as durian so can be easier to eat in quantity.

Jack fruits are high in fibre, vitamins A, B complex & C, minerals including magnesium, calcium, iron, potassium, phosphorus, copper, zinc, manganese & selenium. The magnesium helps with the absorption of calcium to keep bones strong and healthy.

 

fresh green peppercorns (Piper nigrum)Fresh Green Peppercorns (Piper Nigrum). These pea sized round green fruits when fully mature are left to dry and become the more familiar black peppercorns that sit in pepper mills across the planet. Eaten fresh they are delicious with a much more delicate spicy bite than their older dried brothers. Are they really a fruit? I don’t actually know but I had to add them in here as for one it was great to see some growing on the vine but also because these ones in particular are renowned worldwide for being the best and most tasty peppercorns available, Kampot pepper, they did not disappoint.

Black pepper is well known for it’s medicinal qualities but even these young fruits prove high in vitamin K and iron. In addition they aid digestion and help fight bacterial growth in the intestines.

papaya (Carica papaya)

Papaya (Carica papaya). I enjoy papaya both when it is still green, especially as part of the spicy raw Thai dish som tam, but also when the flesh is soft and ripe and orange. When ripe they are delicious with a little squirt of fresh lime, a perfect start to a day in the tropics.

Papayas are high in fibre, vitamins A, B complex, C & E, minerals including calcium and iron. Eating fresh raw papaya helps replenish the good bacteria in your intestines, helps with digestion, helps maintain the immune system and has anti-inflammatory properties.

 

passion fruit (Passiflora edulis)
Passion Fruit (Passiflora edulis).  I go crazy for the tart insides of this fruit. The little slime covered seeds can be eaten with a spoon straight from the skin or as I discovered on this latest trip blended with a bit of ice to make a somewhat crunchy fresh fruit shake.

Passion fruit is high in fibre, vitamins A & E, minerals including potassium, iron, copper, magnesium & phosphorus. Vitamin E is essential for eye health while potassium helps regulate heart rate and blood pressure.

 

Each one of these fruits will help your body maintain a healthy immune system, keep you fit and strong whilst protecting you against a variety of conditions. Of course each one is unique in its composition and thus its role in your health but as you eat fresh, raw, local fruits (wherever you are) you set your body up with the nutrients it needs to stay strong and avoid the development of many diseases and conditions that are becoming all too familiar to those following a more heavily processed diet.

And now one for fun! Does anyone know what the following “fruit” is? It is not eaten in Cambodia and although it grows there no one I approached seemed to know what it was, even its name – do you? Either way, I’m sure you’ll agree it’s a plant of great beauty 🙂

2015-12-02 17.13.44.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why I Love Rain

Let me qualify the title of this post, or perhaps just add “in moderation”! I don’t love it when it rains for days on end, when the sky is battleship grey and everything is damp, in that sense I am the same as most other people. However, every now and then, I do so love a good blast of the wet stuff. It is not just because I am a lazy gardener and a decent cloud soak means no need for the watering can for at least a few days. It is because something beyond my conscious mind recognises the nourishment that rain is, the fact that it is a source of life, without it we would not thrive, we would not live.

roof tops of Siem Reap, Cambodia

roof tops of Siem Reap, Cambodia

When it has been dry for a long spell and the rain starts to gather over a distant horizon I start to get excited. I love that you can smell approaching rain as well as see it. A few years ago I was in Siem Reap, Cambodia at the tail end of the rainy season and what amazed me there was that you could hear it coming! The downpours were heavy and many of the roofs in town made from tin and so you could hear the thunderous deluge as it moved in closer from the edge of town, that was worth getting excited about!

One of my favourite places to experience rain is the desert. When I lived in New Mexico the earth was often parched, not much more than sand and dust. Occasionally I would notice the sudden presence of big black clouds rolling down the I-25 from Santa Fe, and the smell, it was so very strong, scented with approaching dampness. Of course the dramatic skies were also very beautiful adding even more theatre to an already dramatic environment.

view from my window of plants singing in the rain!

view from my window of plants singing in the rain!

Despite all my travels there is no place like home. It has been a long dry summer. Those that spend most of their days indoors may disagree but I garden, I am outside everyday, and certainly here in Gloucestershire it has been dry. So when the rain does come I celebrate. I can feel the energy of the plants in my locale rising, being around them after a good cloud burst you can practically hear them sing.

When the breeze picks up and the first misting of moisture arrives I love to stand and catch the breeze in my hair, the moisture on my skin. It is enlivening, it makes me feel vibrant and wild. To step it up a notch is to go outside and stand barefoot when the raindrops are plump and falling thick and fast. Most other people at this point run for shelter. I recommend pausing for a moment or two to feel the fat velvety rain kiss your face, caress your skin.

I talk about taking a shower in the rain in chapter 6 of my latest book Rewild Yourself: Becoming Nature There I talk of rain appreciation of the highest order, an activity for which you need a degree of seclusion or privacy to undertake without unintended consequences, but worth it nonetheless.

Without water, like plants, we shrivel and die. Next time it rains go outside intentionally, feel that rain on your skin, feel it nourish, feed and awaken you. It is one of Nature’s gifts, it is part of Gaia, part of you, love it! ❤

Make Rooting Hormone From Willow

I have two beautiful lavenders by my front door which I have decided to take some cuttings from. To give them the best start in life I decided to make a rooting hormone for cuttings from willow.

It is so simple, and an incredibly sustainable, organic, permaculture, environment friendly way to encourage cuttings to root. All willow varieties (Salix spp.) contain indolebutyric acid (IBA) a naturally occurring chemical which is a plant growth regulator. What this means is that when a fresh cutting comes into contact with it roots will be encouraged to grow.

As I said the process to make the extract is very simple:

collecting willow twigs

collecting willow twigs

1. Collect some fresh willow twigs, and cut into lengths of 5-10cm.

 

 

 

 

willow twigs soaking overnight

willow twigs soaking overnight

2. Place in a pan and cover with boiling water. Use 1/2 a measuring cup of twigs per litre of water.

3. Leave the twigs to infuse over night and then strain the mixture.

 

 

 

willow rooting hormone

willow rooting hormone

4. Bottle the liquid up being sure to label clearly with contents and date made.

5. Store in the fridge for up to two months.

 

 

 

 

lavender cuttings soaking in willow extract

lavender cuttings soaking in willow extract

To use: soak your cuttings overnight in a glass of the mixture, and then watch with pleasure as your cuttings take, and grow fabulous roots! It is the IBA which is the active ingredient absorbed by the cut stem or leaf; cleverly it not only encourages root growth but also inhibits fungal bacterial and viral disease. A very useful mixture to have at the ready in the fridge door.

For more great sustainable, permaculture, organic, ideas for how to make the most of plants growing in your neighbourhood grab a copy of 20 Amazing Plants & Their Practical Uses.

Stinging Nettles & Raised Beds

stinging nettleWell I am in a fabulous mood right now as I have just charged up with a delicious fresh nettle infusion. I had forgotten how tasty stinging nettle is when fresh, it is nothing like the taste of a shop bought nettle tea bag I can assure you. It is really simple to make, for every mug full take a couple of fresh leaves, cover with hot water and leave for 10 minutes or so to brew and cool before drinking. Now is the time to start drinking regularly if you suffer from hayfever as stinging nettle helps allay the symptoms, the sooner you begin the more effective it is.

Really I wanted to make this post to announce that as of last week my weekly allotment column has returned to Stroud Life, and to share last weeks words with you:

The sun of the last few weeks has seen me and many others back at the allotments after a long, dreary and damp season of avoidance. With just a little weeding I am already sowing, and as I do so, have noticed all the activity of other plot holders, digging, and digging.

Many people are growing from raised beds, however looking at the size of most peoples beds I notice they Well proportioned raised bedsare not maximising the potential of this system. A bed that is never trodden upon and has generous layers of organic matter layered upon it to protect it and feed the soil over winter, does not need to be dug. Beds 1.2m (4ft) wide, any length, with a path between them that you can comfortably kneel on (for most people this will be around 60cm (2ft)) are optimal. The middle can be reached from either side, so plants can be packed tighter as you don’t need to leave space to tread, meaning, despite the wide paths, you can still grow just as much.

Each teaspoon of soil contains 10 million bacteria and 1 million fungi, digging damages this amazing microscopic ecosystem. Treading on soil before digging and during planting, and harvesting, compacts it. My patch has not been dug for 10 years and the soil is rich, crumbly and really productive.

If you are thinking of turning your growing space over to raised beds I highly recommend using the dimensions I have suggested, then you too can get ahead with your sowing while everyone else sweats and toils in the spring sun!

 

So those of you out there thinking of making raised beds now there is no excuse for not getting the dimensions correct 😉

For those of you who live in Stroud this weeks paper is out today in which I continue my ongoing aspaagus saga.

If you would like to know more about stinging nettle and its huge array of medicinal properties or hundreds of  other uses it features in both of my books The Medicine Garden and 20 Amazing Plants & Their Practical Uses.

 

20 Amazing Plants & Their Practical Uses

20 Amazing Plants front CoverMy second book was published in June 2011, throughout its writing the title had been Plants the Ultimate Renewable Resource, however, as is often the way with publishers when it came to the moment of publication they chose to change the title, it became: 20 Amazing Plants & Their Practical Uses. Changing the title meant a rewrite of some paragraphs within the introductory chapters and the conclusion, but fundamentally the message and main body of content remained the same, plants are the ultimate renewable resource!

Oil reserves will not last forever, we need renewable resources; plants can be managed to provide us with exactly that. By growing the 20 plants discussed in my book you would be able to build, furnish & decorate your home, and feed, clothe and medicate yourself! There have been plenty of books written about the uses of plants but many of them centre on the plants you can grow in the tropics, especially in Australia the birth place of the permaculture movement. So I felt it would be useful to pick some especially useful plants that can grow easily and well in the temperate zone.

Still it is important to recognise plants as beyond just a resource to be exploited by humankind, pehaps more as a living relation. The following is an extract from chapter three, working with plants and their inherent resources:

It is not only during the growing of the plants but during the processing, the making of something with the plant material, be it a chair or a loaf of bread, that I encourage you to be conscious and present.  When you have your harvest in your hand get to know the materials, touch them, feel them, smell them.  Close your eyes and explore with your hands, feel the material, experience it’s texture, it’s strength, it’s character.  In this way you will get to know and understand the material, you will be inspired as to new possibilities of how you can work with it and what you can create.  When working in this way with the material it takes on a life and an energy and becomes a living being that you can work with touching, feeling, sensing at all times.  As you give yourself to this process and the material yields under your direction something invisible is exchanged between you, somehow you become very much a part of that chair, that bread, and it too becomes very much a part of you.  Whatever it is you are making will absorb some of your (the makers) energy.  As a result your relationship with the raw material, the living plant, deepens irrevocably, your soul is enriched and the separation, cast by the current cultural paradigm, between yourself and the rest of the natural world narrows slightly.  It can be your little secret, your special relationship as you pass the chair you made and lovingly brush your hands across it, or say a prayer of gratitude as you eat your freshly baked bread.  The next time you are in the presence of the materials origin, the plant itself, a smile touches the corners of your lips as you silently yet wholeheartedly greet that old friend, admire its beauty and fuss around it lovingly as the bond grows ever stronger.  Whatever you produce will be more sympathetic to the nature of the material, and ultimately more beautiful as a result.

20 Amazing Plants e-book coverIf you enjoyed that extract you may be interested to know that 20 Amazing Plants & Their Practical Uses is now available as an ebook.

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