As I write I can hear the wind whistling round the house, entering through old wooden windows and gaps in the giant beams that have offered stability to this crooked little wooden house for 500 years or more. Outside the trees are shaking, the blossom prematurely falling and the stems of flowers are bending to survive the seasonal onslaught. It is wild. Elemental. A time of change, a seasonal shift.
After a winter of damp days and cold nights, the advent of Spring is so welcome. For those of us that work with plants, it is the moment that seeds must be sown, plans hatched during the winter must be put into action, beds cleared and made ready, tools sharpened and collecting baskets brushed clean of all the debris that accumulates during their annual dormancy. I begin to feel alert, awake and ready for a spring clean.
I rarely talk about the plants that are wild at the farm, that colonised the ground long before I came along with Roses, Lavender and Calendula demanding that they share the soil or indeed give up their place for their cultivated counterparts. But these plants, this wild nature is every bit as important as the other.
On an organic farm, there are no pesticides and herbicides to kill unwanted plants, where they are not wanted mypex is laid in sheets to suppress their exuberance and for all other areas they are accepted as part of the plant culture of the farm. Their value appreciated as forage for us and the bees, a vague distraction for rabbits and as a ground covering, green manure.
For the last 10 days we have been harvesting their bounty, what Manley Hopkins described as “…weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush…” We have picked crates of nettles, chickweed, dandelion leaves and roots, cleavers and plantago. These are the green plants of spring, the first to push up through the soil and seize their territory, announce their vigour. They are also the herbs that offer us a spring clean both internally and externally. Jessica Seaton described it as ‘Hedge Food’ – a perfect description. These are the herbs that cleanse the blood, renew the kidneys, detoxify the liver. They also offer unrivalled benefit for the skin, treating eczema, psoriasis and other skin complaints – nature’s treasure.
We pick them, dry some, tincture others, macerate many giving us a year-long store of fantastic, healing potential. Embrace the weeds, make them into soup, brew them into teas, leave some for the bees and butterflies and glory in their joie de vivre. Rather than seeking to destroy them, utilise them – they offer us so much and demand so little in return.