Medicinal Uses of our native plants!

Recently I was asked whether I could do a post specifically about the medicinal uses of our native plants!

Unfortunately, the use of herbs for medicine, on the British Isles, as well as in Western Europe civilisation is very limited! We all seem to be depending on the pharmaceutical industry, which is very sad as surely many cultures and people in the world still depend on their native plants for everything, especially food and medicine!

There are very few Herbalists nowadays even in my area of the Midlands and people rely on the NHS far too much. Eating healthy and plenty of exercise do help but we can’t avoid stress and polution.

According to Wikipedia: ‘The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 80 percent of the population of some Asian and African countries presently use herbal medicine for some aspect of primary health care’

For the purpose of this post I like to highlight and I have used two good books on the subject which I recommend if you like more detailed information:

  1. The Medicinal Flora of Britain and Northwestern Europe compiled by Julian Barker.
  2. Hedgerow Medicine by Julia Bruton-Seal & Matthew Seal.
  3. I also have used Wikipedia as well as the website of The 38 Bach Flowers with thanks!

Number 1 is a wonderful book; not just a flora with several keys for identification purpose of (medicinal) native plants but a proper account on all their uses.

It is a good reference book for perhaps the serious amateur and the professional Herbalist.

The plant entries are divided in the dicotyledons under families 1 – 78, which highlights and describes all the 1-453 species of those families + their medicinal uses. Next come all the monocotyledons with family 79 – 85 and species 454 – 507.

As this book was published in 2001, some of the family names and positions have been altered in the more recent flora’s under the  APG IV system of flowering plant classification. This is mostly a molecular-based, system of plant taxonomy for flowering plants (angiosperms) being developed by the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (APG).

To keep this post in line with my usual posts I will list the families in the order of the Medicinal Flora by J. Barker in the contents.

The book concludes with an index to therapeutic indications for internal as well as external herbal medicines.

Number 2: ‘Hedgerow Medicine’, describes in very well written chapters, 50 common ‘hedgerow plants’ to create your own safe medicines.

But please refer to these books or preferably an experienced herbalist if you need more medical help! This post is purely educational as to give an indication of our ‘wonderful weeds’ and their uses as a medicinal plant.

The 50 plants described in Hedgerow Medicine are placed behind the appropriate family below.

I’ve used the original headline/summary of the plants as copied from the book with thanks from the Publishers, Merlin Unwin Books, who allowed me to use this excellent information! Please buy a copy for yourself as you’ll find it is well worth it!!

All the 100 or so families from the Medicinal Flora are below in the contents and 30 of those families are highlighted with links. The Rosaceae (Rose family), Lamiaceae (Dead-nettle family) and Asteraceae (Daisy family) have the most medicinal plants in the Hedgerow Medicine book.

I’ve also added a link to my wonderfulweed chapter on the family and all its uses if I’ve already got a post on it! The page with all the plant families in the B.I. can be found here.

Contents:

DICOTYLEDONS:

  1. Salicaceae or the Willow & Poplar family: Willow (Salix alba & S. fragilis)
  2. Myricaceae or The Wax Myrtle & Canleberry family
  3. Juglandaceae or The Walnut family
  4. Betulaceae or The Birch & Alder family (incl. Corylaceae or Hazel & Hornbeam family): Birch (Betula spp.)
  5. Fagaceae or The Beech, Oak and Chestnut Family: Oak (Quercus robur, Q. petraea)
  6. Ulmaceae or The Elm family
  7. Moraceae or the Mulberry family
  8. Cannabaceae or the Cannabis and Hop family: Hops (Humulus lupulus)
  9. Urticaceae or the Nettle family: (Stinging) Nettle (Urtica dioica), Pelitory of the Wall (Parietaria judaica)
  10. Loranthaceae or the Mistletoe family also Aristolochiaceae or the Birthwort family
  11. Polygonaceae or the Dock and Sorrel family: Curled dock (Rumex crispus)
  12. Chenopodiaceae or the Goosefoot family
  13. Portulacaceae or the Purslane family
  14. Caryophyllaceae or the Pink and Carnation family: Chickweed (Stellaria media),
  15. Nymphaeaceae or the Water Lily family
  16. Ranunculaceae or the Buttercup family
  17. Berberidaceae or the Barberry family
  18. Lauraceae or the Bay Laurel & Avocado family
  19. Papaveraceae & 19 A: Fumariaceae family or the Poppy & Fumitory family: Red poppy ( Papaver rhoeas)
  20. Brassicaceae (Cruciferae) or the Cabbage & Mustard family: Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana), Shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris)
  21. Resedaceae or the Mignonette family
  22. Droseraceae or the Sundew family
  23. Crassulaceae or the Stonecrop family
  24. Grossulareaceae or the Currant & Gooseberry family
  25. Rosaceae or the Rose family: Agrimony (Agrimonia eupatoria), Blackberry (Rubus fruticosus), Cherry (Prunus avium), Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna & C. laevigata), Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria), Raspberry (Rubus idaeus), Wild Rose (Rosa spp.)
  26. Leguminosae or the Pea-Flower family: Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)
  27. Oxalidaceae or the Wood-Sorrell family
  28. Geraniaceae or the Geranium family
  29. Linaceae or Flax family
  30. Euphorbaceae or the Spurge family
  31. Rutaceae or the Rue or Citrus family
  32. Polygalaceae or the Milkwort family
  33. Aceraceae or Acer family
  34. Hippocastanaceae or The Horse Chestnut family: Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum)
  35. Aquifoliaceae or the Holly family
  36. Celastraceae or the Spindle tree family
  37. Buxaceae or the Box family
  38. Rhamnaceae or the Buckthorn family
  39. Tiliaceae or the Linden/Lime tree family: Lime, Linden (Tilia spp.)
  40. Malvaceae or the Mallow family: Mallow (Malva sylvestris)
  41. Thymelaceae or the Daphne family
  42. Elaeagnaceae or the Oleaster & Sea Buckthorn family
  43. Guttiferae (Clusiaceae, Hypericaceae) or the St John’s Wort family: St John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum)
  44. Violaceae or the Violet family
  45. Cistaceae or the Rock Rose family
  46. Cucurbitaceae or the Gourd, Courgette & Melon family
  47. Lythraceae or the Loosestrife family
  48. Onagraceae or the Willow Herb family: Rosebay willowherb (Chamerion angustifolium), Willowherb (Epilobium spp.)
  49. Hippuridaceae or the Mare’s tail family
  50. Cornaceae or the Dogwood family
  51. Araliaceae or the Ivy family
  52. Apiaceae (Umbelliferae) or Carrot /Parsley family: Sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata)
  53. Pyrolaceae or the Wintergreen family
  54. Ericaceae or the Heath/Heather family: Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus)
  55. Primulaceae or the Primrose family
  56. Plumbaginaceae or the Sea Lavender family
  57. Oleaceae or Ash/Privet/Lilac & Olive family
  58. Gentianaceae or the Gentian family
  59. Menyanthaceae or the Bogbean family
  60. Apocynaceae or the Periwinkle family
  61. Rubiaceae or the Madder/Bedstraw family: Cleavers (Galium aparine)
  62. Polemoniaceae or the Phlox family
  63. Convolvulaceae or the Bindweed family
  64. Boraginaceae or The Borage/Forget-Me-Not family: Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)
  65. Verbenaceae or the Verbena family: Vervain (Verbena officinalis)
  66. Lamiaceae (Labiatae) or the Mint or Thyme family: Mint (Mentha spp.), Self-heal (Prunella vulgaris), White deadnettle, Archangel (Lamium album), Wood betony (Stachys officinalis)
  67. Solanaceae or Nightshade family: Goji berry (Lycium spp.)
  68. Scrophulariaceae or the Foxglove/Figwort family: Mullein (Verbascum spp.)
  69. Globulariaceae or Globularia family
  70. Acanthaceae or Acanthus family
  71. Orobanchaceae or the Broomrapes
  72. Lentibulariaceae or the Bladderwort & Butterwort family
  73. Plantaginaceae or the Plantain family: Plantain (Plantago spp.)
  74. Caprifoliaceae or the Honeysuckle family: Elder (Sambucus nigra), Guelder rose (Viburnum opulus), Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum)
  75. Valerianaceae family or the Valerian family
  76. Dipsacaceae or the Teasel family: Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum)
  77. Campanulaceae or the Bellflower & Lobelia family
  78. Asteraceae (Compositae) or the Daisy family: Burdock (Arctium spp.), Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara), Dandelion (Taraxacum agg.), Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), Wild Lettuce (Lactuca virosa & L. serriola), Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
  79. MONYCOTYLEDONS:
  80. Alismataceae or the Water Plantain family
  81. Hydrochaitaceae or Frog-Bit family
  82. Liliaceae or the Lily family: Ramsons (Allium ursinum)
  83. Amaryllidaceae or the Daffodil family
  84. Dioscoreaceae or the Yam family
  85. Iridaceae or Iris family
  86. Poaceae (Gramineae) or the Grass family: Couch grass (Elytrigia repens)
  87. Araceae or the Aroid/Arum family
  88. Typhaceae or the Reedmace/Bulrush family
  89. Cyperaceae or the Sedge and Reed family
  90. Orchidaceae or the Orchid family

LOWER PLANTS & GYMNOSPERMS:

SPERMATOPHYTA OR GYMNOSPERMS

  • CONIFEROPSIDA or Conifers
    • Pinaceae or Pine family
    • Cupressaceae or Cedar family
  • TAXOPSIDA
    • Taxaceae or Yew family

GNETOPSIDA

  • -Ephedraceae
    • Gingkoaceae or Maidenhair tree
Continue reading “Medicinal Uses of our native plants!”

The Primulaceae Family in the British Isles (and their uses).

Primroses and Lesser Celandine are a sign of Spring! (Picture by Mike Poulton)

The Primroses and Cowslips have been in flower for quite a while now, they are a welcome sign of spring! Many in this family are attractive enough as a garden plant but I will also write about any other uses.

There are 5 known genera with several species in most genera:

  1. Primula spp.
  2. Hottonia palustris or Water-violet
  3. Lysimachia spp.
  4. Cyclamen spp.
  5. Samolus valerandi or Brookweed

Pictures by Mike Poulton, Matt Summers, Rudi Pilsel, Andy Purcel, Simon Atkinson, Chris Westhall and Wikipedia.

Sources of information from Plant Atlas Online (information about habitat), Wikipedia, Plants for a Future (PFAF) and other websites. Links are given. Large size names are plants which are native. The small size names are neophytes or archeophytes.

In the Contents, behind the name FBBC is added if the plant in question occurs in the Flora of Birmingham and the Black Country.

Medicinal Uses are given according to the Medicinal Flora of Britain and Northwestern Europe by Julian Barker. But take note that this is an educational blog and not a herbal self-help guide!!

Contents:

Primula native species are:

Primula vulgaris or Primrose FBBC
P. veris or Cowslip fbbc

Medicinal Uses according to the Medicinal Flora of Britain and Northwestern Europe by Julian Barker.

P. elatior or Oxlip fbbc
P. farinosa or Bird’s-eye Primrose
P. scotica or Scottish Primrose
P. × ⁠polyantha (Primula veris × vulgaris) or False Oxlip fbbc

Primula ‘neophytes’ or garden escapes are:

  • P. auricula or Auricula
  • P. florindae or Tibetan Cowslip
  • P. japonica or Japanese Cowslip
  • Primula pulverulenta or Mealy Cowslip
  • Primula sikkimensis or Sikkim Cowslip
  • P. x pruhoniciana (P. vulgaris x P. juliae) or Hybrid Primrose FBBC
Hottonia palustris or Water-violet FBBC
Lysimachia: native species are:
L. arvensis s.l. (was Anagallis arvensis)or Scarlet Pimpernel FBBC
L. europaea (was Trientalis europaea)or Chickweed-wintergreen
L. maritima (was Glaux maritima) or Sea-milkwort
L. minima (was Centunculus minimus) or Chaffweed
L. nemorum or Yellow Pimpernel FBBC
L. nummularia or Creeping-Jenny FBBC
L. tenella (was Anagallis tenella) or Bog Pimpernel FBBC
L. thyrsiflora or Tufted Loosestrife
L. vulgaris or Yellow Loosestrife FBBC

Lysimachia ‘neophytes’ and ‘archaeophyte’ are:

Cyclamen:

  • Cyclamen coum or Eastern Sowbread
  • Cyclamen hederifolium or Sowbread FBBC
  • Cyclamen repandum or Spring Sowbread

Samolus valerandi or Brookweed

Continue reading “The Primulaceae Family in the British Isles (and their uses).”

The uses and misuses of Pennywort (Hydrocotylaceae)!

This week a post about a pennywort which is causing a problem to our waterways!

H. ranunculoides or Floating Pennywort on Stourbridge Extension Canal in September, 2008 (by Mike Poulton)

The Pennyworts are in their own family: The Hydrocotylaceae or Pennywort family according to Stace.

The family is in between Araliaceae (number 143) and Apiaceae (number 145).

Many authorities, including R.B.G. Kew and the R.H.S., however classify it in the Araliaceae!

But Stace writes: ‘Differs from Apiaceae and Araliaceae in its distinctive habit and presence of stipules, and from Apiaceae in its fruits without oil bodies (or carpophore); appears anomalous in either family’.

From Wikipedia: The genus Hydrocotyle has between 75 and 100 species that grow in tropical and temperate regions worldwide. A few species have entered the world of cultivated ornamental aquatics.

There are 4 species in the B.I. according to Stace and only one is native and the other three are introduced. The Floating Pennywort can cause a major problem in our waterways!

Pictures by Mike Poulton, Matt Summers and Wikipedia Commons. Links on Scientific Name from the (online) Plant Atlas 2020 and links on Common Name from Wikipedia or other source. See next page.

Information about habitats and uses also by various sources above and colour-coding is blue background for habitat, wildlife and interesting information. Green for uses and pink for medicinal uses or threat to our waterways.

Contents:

Hydrocotyle vulgaris or Marsh Pennywort

H. ranunculoides or Floating Pennywort

H. moschata or Hairy Pennywort

H. novae-zeelandiae or New Zealand Pennywort

Centella asiatica or Asiatic Pennywort and Gotu Kola

Continue reading “The uses and misuses of Pennywort (Hydrocotylaceae)!”

Mistletoe and its mysteries and uses!

A ‘Mistletoe’ tree (picture by Mike Poulton)

A dear friend suggested writing about this obscure plant: the Mistletoe, after seeing an appletree absolutely loaded with it!

He sent me a picture and then sent some more after he asked the householder to take a few close-ups and then he got kindly invited into his garden.

There were three apple trees in the garden: two covered in both male and female plants of mistletoe. Neither appeared to be suffering in any way and according to the householder, both are producing fruit. The third tree however, which he said has never had any mistletoe growing on it, had recently died!!

That is a bit of a mystery as surely it should have been the other way round?

The mistletoe is semi-parasitic (or hemi?) but also has some other interesting facts which you can read on the next page.

The mistletoe belongs to the Santalaceae or Bastard-toadflax family and the only one other member growing in the B.I.: Thesium humifusum or Bastard-toadflax will also be discussed!

Information and links from various websites and the Medicinal Flora of Britain and Northwestern Europe by J. Barker. The information on habitat and the Scientific Name link is from the Plant Atlas 2020 online. An interesting information sheet about the biodiversity of mistletoe in the U.K. was also used with thanks. See for the entire article: www.mistletoe.org.uk.

Pictures with thanks from Mike Poulton, Ian Trueman as well as from Wikipedia Commons.

Contents

Santalaceae or Bastard-toadflax family

Thesium humifusum or Bastard-toadflax

Viscum album or Mistletoe

Biodiversity value of Mistletoe

So which birds do take mistletoe berries?

Mistletoe abundancy in B.I.

Culture, folklore and mythology

Other Uses

Continue reading “Mistletoe and its mysteries and uses!”

The St. John’s Wort family or Hypericaceae and their uses

Flowers and Fruit are both attractive in Hypericum sps. Here H. androsaemum or Tutsan (by Mike Poulton)

The family Hypericaceae has only one genus: Hypericum and the most useful plant in this genus is the St John’s Wort or Hypericum perforatum.

But there are other species with medicinal uses as you can read on the next page and many shrubby Hypericums in particular make good garden shrubs with simple yellow flowers and often attractive fruits. These are often arrived on the B.I. as a garden shrub and then spread succesfully in the wild.

The herbaceous Hypericums are pretty wildflowers too, worth growing in an ornamental border and also as I found out from this blog that their pollen is good food for bees:

“I love Hypericum shrubs.  I adore the cheerful yellow flowers and the berries afterwards (the seeds inside the berries are eaten by some bird species).

It can be quite comical to watch bees, especially fat bumble bee queens and large workers, landing, and almost bouncing on the stamens, which on some varieties are rather long – these are specimens I advise selecting for a bee garden.

Most often, I tend to notice honey bees and bumble bees on the flowers, although some solitary species may also be observed.  Other pollinators like Hypericum too; especially hover flies.

The Plant Atlas 2020 online describes 19 species of Hypericum + 1 hybrid and 2 subspecies of Hypericum maculatum. You’ll find all the species on the next page and the descriptions of the more common species.

Information is used from the Plant Atlas Online mainly on the habitat of the plant and the link on the scientific name gets you to this website page. Pictures of the plant can often be found in the Gallery of the website. The link on the common name gets you to Wikipedia or any other often UK website. Pictures by Mike Poulton or Wikipedia Commons. A special thank you to https://cambridgewildflowers.blogspot.com/ where you can find good descriptions and pictures of the various Hypericums.

Blue background for the habitat and wildlife notes. Green background for various uses and pink background for medicinal use. FBBC added behind name in Contents if plant is mentioned or found in the Birmingham and Black Country Flora.

In Stace the genus Hypericum is subdivided into 9 sections; each section having things in common, mostly in the way the plant looks.

Contents:

Section 1 Ascyreia:

Hypericum calycinum or Rose of Sharon FBBC

H. pseudohenryi or Irish Tutsan FBBC

H. forrestii or Forrest’s Tutsan

H. x hidcoteense or Hidcote St John’s Wort FBBC

Section 2 Androsaemum:

H. androsaemum or Tutsan FBBC

H. x inodorum or Tall Tutsan FBBC

H. hircinum or Stinking Tutsan FBBC

Section 3 Inodora:

H. xylosteifolium or Turkish Tutsan

Section 4 Hypericum:

H. perforatum or Perforate St John’s Wort FBBC

H. maculatum or Imperforate St John’s Wort and FBBC

  • H. maculatum ssp. maculatum
  • H. maculatum ssp. obtusiusculum

H. x desetangsii or Des Etangs’ St John’s Wort FBBC

H. cereticae (H. perforatum x H. undulatum) or Hybrid St John’s Wort

H. undulatum or Wavy St John’s Wort

H. tetrapterum or Square-stalked St John’s Wort FBBC

Section 5 Oligostemma:

H. humifusum or Trailing St John’s Wort FBBC

H. linariifolium or Toadflax-leaved St John’s Wort and

H. × caesariense (H. humifusum × H. linariifolium) or Caesar St John’s Wort

H. olympicum or Mount Olympus St John’s Wort FBBC

Section 6 Taeniocarpum:

H. pulchrum or Slender St John’s Wort FBBC

H. nummularium or Round-leaved St John’s Wort

H. hirsutum or Hairy St John’s Wort FBBC

Section 7 Adenosepalum:

H. montanum or Pale St John’s Wort

Section 8 Elodes:

H. elodes or Marsh St John’s Wort FBBC

Section 9 Spachium:

H. canadense or Irish St John’s Wort

Continue reading “The St. John’s Wort family or Hypericaceae and their uses”

Myrica gale or Bog-myrtle and its uses

Myrica gale or the bog-myrtle in early March growing wild at the Dyfi Osprey Project in Wales.

Myrica gale or the Bog-myrtle, Sweet willow, Dutch myrtle, and Sweetgale which are its other common names is a fascinating plant in the Myricaceae family.

This is the only native species of this family, but there occurs one other introduced species in the British Isles:

M. pensylvanica or Bayberry is an introduced species from E.N. America and is also naturalized in a few places in the B.I.

Pictures are by Matt Summers and information + pictures mainly from Wikipedia. The links on the scientific name take you to the Plant Atlas Online 2000. The link on the Common Name is mainly from Wikipedia.

Continue reading “Myrica gale or Bog-myrtle and its uses”

My Adventure at ‘Marroncello’, Tuscany, Italy. Part 2: October 2023

Marroncello Farm house.

A Work and Culinary Holiday from October 4th to November 1st, 2023

Also see ‘Marroncello’ in February 2023 for some more background info.

This is all about my stay at ‘Marroncello’ with my friend Esther, who I’ve known for nearly 30 years. She and her partner Thomas look after the land surrounding a 300 year old traditional Tuscan farm house. The land on which they live and work amounts to about 5 Hectares and the vegetable crops as well as the herbs for their business are grown on terraces or in the valley. Many different sorts of useful ‘fruit’ trees are also grown. The house is located at 530 m and can be reached by a 700 m long track on foot or by tractor!

Native trees consist mainly of Oak along with Ash, Lime, ‘Sorbo’ and Juniper.

Marroncello means: a small orchard with Sweet Chestnut trees. Apparently there is still a small stand of them much higher above the house.

When Thomas ‘found’ the property it had been derelict for 50 years!

I stayed for 4 weeks helping along with all the jobs to be done at this time of the year and enjoying the much more natural and simple way of life in very beautiful surroundings!

I love all the plants including the ‘weeds’ that grow everywhere. It has been a bit of a puzzle to identify some of them without flower, so I will have to go back at some point in spring or early summer to see those flowering, as it will make identifying a bit easier!

I have used mainly my own pictures, but I have also used several from Wikipedia Commons with much gratitude.

Follow the links in my contents page for easier reading, the different colour backgrounds are ‘blue’ for general interesting information, ‘green’ for different uses and ‘pink’ for medicinal uses.

Introduction

‘Wurdies’ and Hildegard von Bingen

Day 1: Thursday 5th October

Weeding in the potato terrace; burning of plum branches; lunch and peach leaves.

Day 2: Friday 6th October

Violas in the valley; Noticable weeds; Caprese and ‘East’

Day 3: Saturday 7th October

Spelt bread, International Market in Arezzo and Chantarelles.

Day 4: Sunday 8thth October with temperatures to 30C!

‘Chiesa di Sant`Agata alle terrine’; Perennial Pepperweed or Dittander; Fennel tea and Rue

Day 5: Monday 9th October (with temperatures to 25C at 2pm)

Weeding viola; ‘Alsem’ or Wormwood; Spelt coffee; Lesser Galangal; Parasol Mushroom; Grass snake; Perpetual Spinach; Buckwheat.

Day 6: Tuesday 10th October (with temperatures to 28C)

to Arezzo; Orzo; Peach leaves and Drying shed; Dormouse or ‘Zevenslaper’

Day 7, Wednesday 11th October (21 C at 12.35pm)

Semolina; Cornelian cherries; Sweet chestnuts

Day 8, Thursday 12th October (24 C at 14.30)

Florence Fennel;

Day 9, Friday 13th October (20 C at 13.00)

Rocket or Rucola; visit to Arezzo.

Day 10, Saturday 14th October (22 C at 4pm)

Visit from a friend and some weeds around Marroncello

Three wildflowers from the Deadnettle or Mint family:

  • Lesser Calamint
  • Wild Basil
  • Red Hemp-nettle

Day 11, Sunday 15th October (my brother Ber would have been 64 today..)

Ankle problem; Church visit; truffles…

Day 12, Monday 16th October 14C and cloud + sun!

Sila

Day 13, Tuesday 17th October (12C at 9.45)

Homemade pizza; Bermuda grass; Green Bristle-grass; St John’s-wort

Day 14, Wednesday 18th October (15 C and rain today!)

Egg-white treatment; lavender bags.

Day 15, Thursday 19th October (15 C and a bit of sun as well as rain)

Kaki or Persimmon

Day 16, Friday 20th October (22 C and a very stormy night!)

Bay berries picking and cleaning, a Praying Mantis and a Violet Carpenter Bee.

Day 17, Saturday 21st  October (15 C at 9 am and lots of rain in the night!)

Rain is finally here!

Day 18, Sunday 22nd October (only 10 C in valley this morning, 16 C at 2 pm and sun with cloud.

Visit to ‘Chiesa di Sant`Agata alle terrine’; Olive trees; Tuscan Cypress; wild boar.

Day 19, Monday 23rd October (9 C this morning, 25 C in Arezzo in the afternoon)

Day 20, Tuesday 24th October (17 C in the day and a strong south-westerly wind called Sirocco in Italy)

Day 21, Wednesday 25th October (13 C in morning and 25 C in Arezzo!)

Marrubium terras, ‘Sorbo’, to Arezzo

Day 22, Thursday 26th October (13 C in morning, rain during night)

Day 23, Friday 27th October (rain and hard wind in morning but 19 C in afternoon and sunny/windy)

3 wreaths from Clematis vitalba or Old man’s beard 

Day 24, Saturday 28th October (11 C this morning but sunny day mostly. Beautiful view of Orion and nearly full moon setting in the west!)

Honesty as kindling..

Day 25, Sunday 29th October (sun and cloud today and 16 C)

An evening lift to Rome…

Day 26, Monday 30th October (sun and very warm in Rome!!)

In Rome: Jasmine, bloodletting and a long trip back to Marroncello.

Day 27, Tuesday 31st October (mixed weather: early rain, blue sky at 9am and overcast in the afternoon)

An outing to Monte Dogana.

Day 28, Wednesday 1st November: last day in Italy! (Misty and 9 C at 8 am)

Some more native weeds around Marroncello Conclusion

Continue reading “My Adventure at ‘Marroncello’, Tuscany, Italy. Part 2: October 2023”

My Adventure at ‘Marroncello’, Tuscany, Italy. Part 1: February 2023

This is a report of my time at ‘Marroncello’, a 300 year + farmhouse in Tuscany, Italy:

From Sunday 29th January to Monday 20th February 2023

Marroncello House front view

After spending just a week back in April 2019 with my friend and former classmate, Esther, I decided I would like to spend a bit longer this time.

In 2019 it had just been to get a flavour of what I imagined was a very down to earth and romantic way of living up in the beautiful oak-wood clad hills near Arezzo in Italy.

Before that week I had only been corresponding with Esther since the 1990’s after having both completed a course in Biodynamic Agriculture, back in the Netherlands. I left for Britain and she ended up in Italy!

It all sounded an idealistic way of living to me. Something I’d always envisaged myself doing one day; living in a beautiful place and as much with nature and self-sufficient as possible!

But the Covid virus prevented all the travelling after that first visit in 2019 and only this year I finally managed to get out there again. Late winter was perhaps not the ideal time to travel but with too many responsibilities from spring onwards I decided; it is now or never!

I had been spending 3 weeks with family back in the Netherlands before in January and then took the FlixBus all the way from Amsterdam Sloterdijk to Florence with a bus-change in Verona. It is a trip I am not likely to do ever again as it is extremely long and tiring! I left Amsterdam Sloterdijk at 3pm on Saturday 28th and arrived at Arezzo train station 24 hours later, 3pm, Sunday 29th January.

Esther picked me up opposite the station with her faithful Citroen transport.

Esther’s faithful Citroen van and scooter parked in the valley.

My entire stay can be summoned up in short by saying that this is a good, peaceful way of living but not really for the faint hearted and for people who need lots of entertainment or an easy, lazy way of living! Basically it is a very natural way of living with going to bed early and getting up early as well. The days are busy with jobs/ necessary things to do at that moment, but with plenty of breaks and good, honest food, mostly all fresh vegetables from the garden and bread made by Esther. Other items are bought on the local market in Arezzo or brought over from Germany by Thomas, Esther’s partner, who travels frequently between the 2 countries to run his wholesale business in Herbal produce and mixtures.

The house is a typical 300 year + old Tuscan Farmhouse and was found by Thomas nearly 40 years ago in a much dilapidated state. Trees were growing in it!

For a while, whilst he was doing it up, he lived in a small wooden house a bit higher up the hill; this is still being used for temporary accommodation for casual labour and friends/family alike.

The water comes from the stream which runs passed their house and is piped from about 700 metres above by gravity through a thick plastic pipe.

The electricity is through the Solar Panels fixed on the outbuilding of the bathroom/conservatory next to the typical Tuscany type roof with clay tiles. Occasionally a small generator is used to facilitate a washing machine and ironing!

The roof from above with the Solar Panels.

The heating in the kitchen, (2) bedrooms and bathroom (this has a boiler to produce hot water), is by ovens fired with the copious oak wood logs in an around their estate.

The kitchen and wood stove with ‘Zwartje’ (= Blackie) the cat!

There are about 3 hectares (6 acres) of land around the house and up the hill which is being used for crops and fruit trees and also has a stable + yard for their 26 year old stallion called ‘East’. There is a large shed for drying various herbs in the season, a work shed, a polytunnel and various other small sheds for storing hay or other materials.  It is a steep hillside so the land has been made more easily accessible by making terraces into it.

The sun does not hit the house and parts of the land until mid-late morning, when it comes round the hill in the east. I was fascinated by the growing ‘sun-line’ on the hills opposite each day in the morning until it was also shining on us at the house!

The Sun-line on the hills opposite at 9.35am.

The hills around are covered in mainly gold-leaved oak, with the occasional evergreen of Italian cypress, Juniper or Pine.

The gold will slowly give way to the vivid green of spring foil I imagine… But that is another time!

The soil is a well-drained, grey/brown, sandy loam with plenty of shale like stone which is the base rock you can see occasionally on the badly worn tracks around. Heavy rain, just before I came, washed a lot of the surface away and made bad gullies, which were more awkward to walk on especially for East!

Introducing East in his cosy stable……

Many different types of (fruit) trees and crops have been grown during the 40 years Thomas has lived here and about the 25 years that Esther has been there. They aren’t all easily established as the soil has to be improved and maintenance such as watering and weeding is not always easy with so many tasks to do each day and not having enough people and time to do this!

I spent several days of my 3 weeks with weeding and pruning of some of the fruits and ornamentals (such as roses). Weeding of brambles and scrub was done with a pickaxe rather than a hoe on the stony slopes! They were often cut off with a sharp sickle first. It was all new to me; having worked my entire life mainly ‘on the flat’.

All the jobs took so much longer to do! Climbing up and down the hill all day long sapped a lot of energy!

This is why Esther made sure we had 3 good meals a day and several tea breaks! We needed it!!

It is also very much living with the weather:

 There were frosts on most nights during my stay and one night it had been severe enough to burst the thick water pipe in the woods so that cut off our water supply! First we had thought that the water had just been frozen in the pipe, but when the water did not come after several days without frosts, we went to investigate and walked about 300 metres into the woods along the pipe. Suddenly Esther saw a water jet through a burst, explaining our lack of water!

The stepladders into the woods where you can follow the 700 metre long water pipe!

It was fixed the following day with another length of pipe and the help of a part-time worker, Rita, who lives in a beautiful mountain village about half an hour away.

The water can also be in short supply during a dry summer. Not just by the fact of no rain but also because the wild boars, which live in the woods, bite trough the pipe, in order to get to the water!

Solar energy is only there when there is enough sunshine!

 Wood to heat the stoves is not ‘free’ as some of the casual labour had pointed out to Esther, but has to be cut first and then into logs and smaller sizes to fit the various stoves. In the cold months especially this can be a major task each day.

Also kindling needs to be gathered. A good kindling is made with the dead stems of Spanish/Rush Broom or Spartium junceum, which grows everywhere around on the dryer slopes. Also pine cones and dried peels of tangerines are used as firelighters!

Some flowering bushes in Salagou, Hérault, France (by Michel Chauvet in Wikipedia)

This interesting Broom is also used in other ways I learnt here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spartium

Spartium junceum, known as Spanish broom, Rush broom, or Weaver’s broom, is a species of flowering plant in the family Fabaceae and the sole species in the genus Spartium. It is closely related to the other brooms (Cytisus and Genista).

The plant is used as an ornamental plant in gardens and in landscape plantings. It has gained the Royal Horticultural Society‘s Award of Garden Merit.

In Bolivia and Peru, the plant is known as retama, (not to be confused with the genus Retama) and has become very well established in some areas. It is one of the most common ornamental plants, often seen growing along sidewalks in La Paz.

Retama has made its way into the ethnobotany of the indigenous Aymara and Quechua cultures.

The plant is also used as a flavouring, and for its essential oil, known as genet absolute. Its fibers have been used for cloth and it produces a yellow dye.

Then there is the toilet!

The toilet with the view!

This is a fabulous ‘throne’ situated further away and above the house. Made of wood and looking out towards the neighbouring hills it is a bit of a climb to sit, stare and do your business; but it works and is so simple and clean with just a sprinkle, or two, of some brown oak leaves, waiting patiently next to the toilet. ‘It’ all collects in a large bucket, which needs to be emptied when it is full, further along the terrace, near the woods, to break down into harmless organic matter.

Organic waste from the kitchen is also dumped onto a heap on a lower terrace. This can eventually be used to improve the soil for the crops.

So the above is a little description of the workings in this peaceful home of Esther and Thomas.

I decided to lengthen my stay to 3 weeks in order to be a helping hand for Esther as she is mainly trying to manage everything by herself most of the time! Thomas spends a lot of his time in Germany to keep their business going. There are occasional/seasonal workers in the growing season, when needed.

It was a wonderful experience for me to spend these 3 weeks with Esther in these beautiful surroundings. I had been extremely lucky with the weather. Only a few days were overcast but dry and the rest was sunny or slight cloudy. The sky at night also was a sight to behold: Orion, the Moon, Venus and Jupiter were clearly visible most nights! Temperatures were varying to frost at night and early morning and then to spring and early summer temperatures during the day!

Esther having a well-deserved break with ‘Loekie’ the cat!

Some more pictures ….

Asplenium onopteris or Western Black Spleenwort is one of the several ferns at Marroncello.
Helleborus foetidus or Stinking Hellebore
Sarcococca confusa or Winter Box is a lovelely sight and smell on a winter day!
Xylocopa violacea, the violet carpenter bee loved the Sarcococca.

The Nightshade Family or Solanaceae and its many uses

Attractive hedge plant from the Solanaceae: Lycium barbarum or Duke of Argyll’s Teaplant with young and old flowers (by Matt Summers)

The Solanaceae or Nightshade family is a family with edible as well as poisonous members. It is therefor a fascinating one with 11 genera described in Stace of which many are neophytes.

Neophytes were introduced to these shores after the discovery of the New World in c.1550 on purpose as an ornamental or food plant. But many are also arrived accidently through wool shoddy, and in more recent years with oil-seed, bird-seed and agricultural seed.

Extract from PDF all about Wool Shoddy:

“On enquiry he found that wool waste (“shoddy”) was unloaded at the sidings and delivered to local farmers for use as a manure, and when this was followed up foreign weeds were found to be plentiful in their fields. By 1952 he had found 112 species of wool aliens in Bedfordshire (Dony, 1953) and was in touch with the firms near Bradford that despatched the “shoddy” -in that year he went to Yorkshire and in Bradford, Morley, Heckmondwike and Kirkheaton found over 40 species.”

The Wild Flower Key describes just the 5 best-known species in the Nightshade Family:

  • Lycium barbarum or Duke of Argyll’s Teaplant
  • Datura stramonium or Thorn-apple
  • Hyoscyamus niger or Henbane
  • Solanum dulcamara or Bittersweet
  • Solanum nigrum or Black Nightshade
  • Atropa belladonna or Deadly Nightshade
The 5 best-known Solanacea on Plate 61 from ‘The Concise British Flora in Colour’ by W. Keble-Martin

Pictures with gratitude from Mike Poulton, Matt Summers and Wikipedia Commons. FBBC added behind the common name below in the contents when the plant is described in the Flora of Birmingham and the Black Country.

Warning:

Please note that this is an educational blog and not a guide for medicinal use. All plants in this family are poisonous!! Many poisonous plants are however also often employed as medicine in a much reduced amount of course.

Contents

Lycium barbarum or Duke of Argyll’s Teaplant FBBC

  • L. chinense or Chinese Teaplant FBBC

Atropa belladonna or Deadly Nightshade FBBC

Hyoscyamus niger or Henbane FBBC

Nicandra physalodes or Apple-of-Peru FBBC

Datura stramonium or Thorn-apple FBBC

  • D. ferox or Longspine Thorn-apple FBBC

Salpichroa origanifolia or Cock’s-eggs FBBC

Alkekengi officinarum or Japanese-lantern FBBC

  • P. peruviana or Cape-gooseberry FBBC
  • P. ixocarpa or Tomatillo
  • P. philadelphica or Large-flowered Tomatillo
  • P. pubescens
  • P. angulata

Capsicum annuum or Sweet Pepper

Solanum spp

  • Solanum nigrum or Black Nightshade FBBC and
  • Ssp. nigrum + Ssp. schultesii
  • S. villosum or Red Nightshade
  • S. scabrum or Garden Huckleberry
  • S. chenopodioides or Tall Nightshade

S. nitidibaccatum (syn S. physalifolium) or Green Nightshade FBBC

  • S. sarrachoides or Leafy-fruited Nightshade
  • S. triflorum or Small Nightshade

S. dulcamara or Bittersweet FBBC

  • S. tuberosum or Potato FBBC
  • S. lycopersicum or Tomato FBBC
  • S. laciniatum or Kangaroo-apple
  • S. carolinense or Horse-nettle
  • S. sisymbrifolium or Red Buffulo-bur

S. rostratum or Buffulo-bur FBBC

  • S. chacoense or Chaco Potato and locally known as ‘Jack Hawkes’ Potato FBBC
  • S. nitidibaccatum
  • S. pseudocapsicum

Nicotiana rustica or Wild Tobacco

  • N. sylvestris or Argentine Tobacco FBBC
  • N. tabacum or Tobacco
  • N. alba or Sweet Tobacco
  • N. x sanderea or Garden Tobacco FBBC
  • N. forgetiana or Red Tobacco

Petunia x hybrida or Petunia FBBC

Continue reading “The Nightshade Family or Solanaceae and its many uses”

The Dogwood Family or Cornaceae and their uses!

Attractive combination of stems: Cornus alba in front of Silver Birch in Walsall Arboretum Extension (by M. S.)

After finishing my last post I’ve decided to pick a rather good looking family in the winter time and that is the Dogwood Family or Cornaceae.

It however consists of only one genus and has only two native species, the other three have been introduced .

Several of the species are eye catching with their coloured stems and one Cornus is also flowering at this time of the year! Recently I’ve stayed with my friend near Arezzo, Tuscany, in Italy where many grow in the wild!

Pictures by Matt Summers (M.S.) and various contributers of Wikipedia Commons. FBBC added behind the Common name if the plant occurs in Birmingham and Black Country area.

Contents:

Cornus sanguinea or Dogwood FBBC and – Ssp. sanguinea – Ssp. australis

C. sericea or Red-Osier Dogwood FBBC

C. alba or White Dogwood FBBC

C. mas or Cornelian Cherry

C. suecica or Dwarf Cornel

Continue reading “The Dogwood Family or Cornaceae and their uses!”