Please excuse the lack of posts but with the good weather the folk of Le Marche are pruning like there’s no tomorrow. Today the heavens have opened which gives you time to take a breather and think about something other than olives!!
There are myriads of useful plants and trees around us in the countryside and in gardens, a lot of which get overlooked in favour of more popular species. Today I wanted to write about my personal favourite and one commonly referred to as the “country medicine chest”, the Elder or Sambucus Nigra. In times gone by people would plant an elder on new plots of land before they even started to build their house on it so that it could be ready for when they lived there.
All parts of the tree can be used and have been since the times of ancient Egypt. However, all parts of the plant have the capacity to poison if not processed properly so follow your recipes to the letter to avoid unpleasant visits to the hospital!
Starting with the flowers which are highly anti-catarrhal, if you pick them when they are in their prime and dry them carefully and away from sunlight they will provide you with a useful remedy for colds in the winter, mixed with the dried flowers and leaves of yarrow, mint and camomile and made into a tisana (discard all flowers and leaves before drinking) and you can use raw honey to sweeten it.
The berries, (note, which are never eaten raw) are vitamin C rich and if you freeze them in the summer you can stew them with apples in the winter to make delicious desserts that are protecting you from coughs and colds.
Although in times gone by the leaves, bark and roots were commonly used in home remedies for everything from skin complaints to headaches, it is not recommended nowadays. Your vegetable plot will welcome the tree’s properties however and if you want an effective insecticide that is supplied by mother nature herself you need to collect a kilo of leaves and simmer in 7 litres of water for 30 minutes. Make up the water lost in steam, strain it and spray. If you add 5ml of coconut oil or 10g of pure liquid soap per litre the spray sticks to the plant better and is therefore more effective. Don’t forget to label the bottle as poison and keep it away from small children!
Focussing on something more positive than human and plant ailments I leave you with my favourite recipe using elderflowers and this is all about lazing under the trees in the heat of the summer with a cool refreshing drink and remembering what life is really about…
For every ten large heads of elderflowers you need 900g of sugar, 600ml of boiling water, 1 lemon and (from the chemist) 30g of citric acid granules.
Wash and drain the flowers. In a large bowl stir the boiling water into the sugar and stir until dissolved. Add the citric acid and stir. Add the flowers and the lemon which has had the peel grated in first and then sliced up. Put a plate over the bowl to cover it and leave for 24 hours. Strain through a clean muslin or tea-towel and squeeze to get every drop out. Bottle in sterilized bottles and keep in the fridge. Use as a syrup and add (preferably cold, sparkling) water to taste. Ice cubes with borage flowers in make it a drink fit for a queen.