Today’s Treasures – The Herb Garden

Today’s Treasures

The Herb Garden is my favourite place to sit and dream.  As you can see, it’s not just herbs – there are a few wild flowers as well – the foxgloves just come and go as they please, setting seed in the most unlikely places – and there are poppies in every corner of my garden.

Herbs are so versatile – some have pretty flowers like thyme, borage and hyssop – all of course have definitive scents – lavender and lemon balm, sage and tarragon, fennel, basil and coriander.

They make delicious flavours for the simplest meals – tarragon chicken, rosemary lamb, garlic and parsley bread, chopped chives with potato salad, mint sauce, sage and onion stuffing.

I love experimenting with herbs – my latest success was potato wedges roasted in olive, sunflower and groundnut oil sprinkled with a mixture of herbs freshly picked and chopped.  Traditional horseradish sauce made with freshly chopped horseradish root, salad cream, fresh cream, mustard powder and a hint of cayenne pepper is divine.

Mint sauce made with apple mint, vinegar, cabbage water and a spoonful of sugar makes even the blandest cabbage delicious.  Cooked carrots fried in a little butter with chopped lovage leaves give a continental twist to any meal.  Fresh basil livens up any pasta sauce – sprinkle curry with coriander leaves just before serving for a more authentic taste.


Herbs also have healing properties – you don’t need to buy expensive packets of herbal tea – you can make your own by simply pouring boiling water over leaves of your choice.

Hyssop tea is good for maintaining healthy blood pressure – whether it’s high or low it helps stabilise it.  Peppermint tea helps digestion and soothes an upset tummy.  Chamomile is calming, sage is stimulating, fennel is relaxing.


You can add the flowers and leaves of calendula, nasturtium and borage to salads to add colour as well as flavour.  Borage flowers frozen into ice cubes made an attractive addition to summer drinks. Mint is an essential ingredient of any Pimm’s cocktail.  Poppy seeds can be added to cakes and cookies – and sprinkled onto bread rolls.

Wherever I am, I will always have a few pots of soothing, fragrant, healing herbs on my windowsill.

Published in the July edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

Was it a polecat? A fox? Or an Owl?

Last week was very sad.


When you go out in the morning, you never know what you are going to find.  Sadly, these few bits of white fur are all that is left of Holly rabbit and her six babies – just one week old.  Something had got into her pen overnight and taken all Holly’s babies AND Holly rabbit!  I am guessing it was a polecat as it had ripped a hole in the wire at the bottom of the pen.  It might have been a fox but a fox would easily have jumped into the pen, not made a hole in the wire.  We also heard an owl in the night which is quite unusual as we live so near a main road.  Whatever, Holly has gone and so have her tiny babies.

Happily Eny rabbit and her kits are all OK – Eny is a more aggressive and protective rabbit – she gets really cross if the cats go anywhere near her and she runs at them.  So Eny has to be shut in her hutch at night now which she doesn’t like at all – and tries to hide under the hutch – I keep telling her that won’t protect her and her babies from whatever got Holly but she’s not impressed.

It was so sad, Holly was my favourite rabbit and loved being cuddled.  But there’s always something to cheer you up.  Wandering around the field looking for clues as to what happened I came across these poppies growing in the ashes of last year’s bonfire night.


Often you don’t have to go very far to find Today’s treasures

Often you don’t have to go very far to find Today’s treasures

June is a delicious month, a time of strawberries, new potatoes flavoured with apple mint, and the first broad beans melting with butter.  And the gardens are alive with colours – yellow flag irises decorate ponds, azaleas brighten up patios, rhododendrons mist the hillsides with a purple haze and poppies startle you with their brilliant red blooms.

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Butterflies and damselflies flex their wings and the heady scents of honeysuckle and wild roses fill the hedgerows.  Bees are busy investigating every single foxglove flower and the buttercups dance their golden heads in the summer breeze.

The bird table is alive with hatchlings, families of blue tits and great tits vie for space on the feeders – and the swallows return from far off places, wheeling and diving across our skies.  Alas, gone are the times when the cuckoo called across our fields and the skylarks sang high above our heads – we need to go further into the wilds of Wales to hear these birds now, but we get more visitors to our bird table – goldfinches, nuthatches and great spotted woodpeckers love peanuts and sunflower seeds.

June is also the time to make elderflower champagne (not really champagne – and in fact not alcoholic at all if you drink it soon enough – but it tastes delicious).  Iced elderflower cordial is the perfect complement for summer lunches – these traditional recipes were handed down to me by two elderly aunts – handwritten on yellowing paper, now immortalised on my website:  visit

So quite often, you don’t have to go very far for Today’s Treasures, you can always find something new in your own back yard – a blackbird’s liquid notes heralding the dawn, daisies opening up their petals to the sun’s rays, a glimpse of the first wild rose, the sweetness of strawberries, or honeysuckle’s saturating scent – stimulating all our senses.  As our very own Shropshire A.E. Housman said:  “What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?”  Take a moment to enjoy Today’s Treasures.

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Published in the June edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

Poppy Seed is it safe to eat?

Poppy Seed – is it safe to eat?

The opium poppy, papaver somniferum, family Papaveracae, is the species of plant from which opium and poppy seeds are derived. The Latin botanical name somniferum means the “sleep-bringing poppy”, referring to its sedative properties.

I have always wondered if it’s safe to eat poppy seeds from the garden so I did some research. Evidently the seeds contain very low levels of opiates and the oil extracted from them contains even less. Poppyseed oil has many uses and poppy seeds are used as a food in many cultures. Poppy seeds are rich in oil, carbohydrates, calcium and protein.

The opiate drugs are extracted from opium. The latex oozes from incisions made on the green seed pods and is collected once dry. Tincture of opium or laudanum consisting of opium dissolved in alcohol or a mixture of alcohol and water, is one of many unapproved drugs. Laudanum was historically used to treat a variety of ailments but its principal use was as an analgesic and cough suppressant until the early 20th century.

Poppy seed is mentioned in ancient medical texts from many civilizations. The Minoans a Bronze Age civilization (around 2700 BC) on the island of Crete, cultivated poppies for their seed, and used a milk, opium and honey mixture to calm crying babies. Poppy seeds have long been used as a folk remedy to aid sleeping, promote fertility and wealth, and were even once believed to have magical powers of invisibility.

Morphine is the predominant alkaloid found in the cultivated varieties of opium poppy. In some countries it is illegal to grow poppies although generally poppy seeds as a food are allowed. In the UK there are no restrictions on growing poppies, only for extracting opium for medicinal products.

Ripe seed from both the opium poppy and corn poppy (papaver rhoeas) does not contain harmful substances and can be used as a spice in curries and sprinkled on bread and cakes.


So now I feel reassured that I can safely collect poppy seed and sprinkle it on my home-made bread, sausage rolls and mince pies.

Poppies in November

Poppies in November


It’s time for bonfire night but I’m still picking sweet peas, the nasturtiums are going strong – and the poppies are still in full flower, brightening up the garden on these musty, misty mornings.  It’s just as well we had an Indian summer as the runner beans were planted so late, due to a very cold and wet May, that I doubted we would be picking any beans at all.  So maybe the seasons are moving – and we should plan summer holidays in September next year?

Whatever, I have really enjoyed picking sweet peas right through October.  I put some in the lounge where I sit in the evenings but also some on the window ledge near the sink – where I seem to spend an awful lot of my time.  I do really enjoy cooking vegetables I have grown myself – they taste much better and they are so much fresher – but it is more time consuming than preparing clean, bug-free supermarket varieties.

The rabbits are also enjoying the long season as they get a nasturtium leaf (and sometimes a flower) every day.  As the Nasturtium Flower Fairy says, as soon as the frosts come, the nasturtiums are “… gone willy-nilly, umbrellas and all”.

nasturtiums in October

Nasturtiums in November

The Song of The Nasturtium Fairy is from ‘A Flower Fairy alphabet’ by Cicely Mary Barker


Poppies will grow anywhere

Poppies will grow anywhere


Poppies will grow anywhere but they need bare soil that has been turned over recently to germinate – which is why they grow so well in cornfields.   We now have two ganders and one drake which are obviously not very productive so I need to think about some mates for them. We inherited the geese and the sensible thing to do would be to get two female geese and have one of the ganders for Christmas but, as with all livestock, it’s not easy to make difficult decisions and the more you put them off the harder they become.

We bought the drake to keep the duck company – and so we would have some fertile eggs if the duck went broody – but then the fox got Jasmine so we were left with one duck again. To make matters worse Drake started chasing the hens but I had to move them to a safer place out of reach of the fox anyway. Now winter is coming and I need to move the hens back into the hen house so need to decide whether to get two ducks to keep Drake happy or – well the only other option is to find a new home for him as once something has a name it’s impossible to eat it!

Remembrance – Poppies

Remembrance – Poppies whose roots are in man’s veins drop and are ever dropping, but mine in my ear is safe, just a little white with the dust.

Break of day in the trenches (1916)

Isaac Rosenberg

So many people died so that we could live in freedom.  We can look at poppies now with peace and hope, not war and fear, treasure these sunny British poppy fields and enjoy their tranquility.