Tuppenny Barn is non-profit smallholding, not far away from me, that focuses on sustainability, organic food, community and education. Up until now I have not had the opportunity to visit and when I saw there was a Hedgerow Medicine course earlier this month, I grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
The course is run by Christine of Hedgerow Apothecary and we began by taking a walk around the site. It was typically British weather with blazing sunshine one minute and dark clouds on the horizon the next but we set out hoping to dodge the raindrops and we started in the herb beds.
On the way round, as well as teaching us about the uses of the plants, Christine taught us about the folklore behind them as well.
First u[ was the woven willow hedge. There is much myth surrounding the willow. It’s used to make wands and perhaps where the name Wicca for witchcraft comes from. The bark can be chewed to relieve headaches as it contains Salicylic acid a component of aspirin, so there’s science behind it too.
Borage was used by the Romans for courage and they’d pin it to their chests before going into battle. The flowers are beautiful and can be used to decorate cakes. They are apparently great in your Pimms.
Lavender is used to ward off evil spirits and protects your home from witchcraft. The smell of lavender was particularly important during the plague in the seventeenth century. Lavender has many properties and is great for relaxation. It was often given to women in labour to give them courage. I noted that the men kept the borage to themselves!
Next up the orchard and apples contain a natural antihistamine. If you cut them horizontally they contain a star or pentagon. This gave them special meaning and if you could find a branch with buds, leaves and fruit on it, it would be placed with the dead in their coffins to guide them to the underworld.
In the hedgerow, brambles are great for the circulation and we filled up our jars to make bramble vinegar, but be careful because if you pick brambles after Michaelmas day they are soured as the devil came down and urinated on them. They are also known as lawyers as once they get their hooks in they don’t let go. Bramble arches are thought to bring new beginnings and health.
The Elder repels flies and is the home of the witch. You must ask before picking the elder flowers and berries. We stopped here for berries for the Elderberry Rob.
As well as the plants in the hedgerow and orchard the centre have beehives to make their own honey and it’s delicious! Here we learnt a little about bees and how they are kept.
Inside the centre we had tea and homemade apple and blackberry cake. Christine talked us through how to make Elderberry Rob and Blackberry vinegar. We had a jar/bottle of each to take home with us.
Resources had been laid out on the table for us to look, with some examples of the plants we had been talking about. We were able to ask Christine questions about the plants around us and there was plenty of time for a chat and chance to consolidate some of the knowledge.
This was a fantastic morning and I’d highly recommend Tuppenny Barn to anyone able to visit. It’s a wonderful place with a lovely community feeling. There was so much more Christine taught us and this is only a fraction of what we learnt in the three hours. This could easily have been a full day course. As well as the rob and the vinegar, I also took some honey home which Beany is loving on toast!
When I got home I went straight out and picked more blackberries and elderberries to make vinegar and rob with. It’s great to have the confidence to go out and find these plants and make something with them. The vinegar will be really yummy to dip bread in or on salads, and the Rob is great for colds or hot toddy in the winter. Yum!
You can find out lots more about Tuppenny Barn here and if you’ve visited the centre, I’d love to hear about your experience. Is there a similar place near you? Don’t forget to let us know below!
A quick note: No part of this post is intended as advice. I am not an expert and if you intend to pick herbs and plants yourself you must be very sure you know what it is. I was once told, ‘there are old foragers and bold foragers but never old, bold foragers’.
As always with foraging follow the countryside code, do not take the root of the plant, only take what you need, do not strip a plant bare, leave some for the animals and for the plant to grow healthy again next year.