Autumn and Winter Wild Food and Medicine 2014

Today the leaves were scuttling along the road as the wind played tug of war with the bare tree branches overhead...
Autumn is nearly over and we prepare ourselves for the colder months ahead, the months that we so often get sick, run-down, tired, emotional and fatigued. In winter it somehow seems like we cannot keep on top of things like we do in the warmer months... and this is when certain herbs come in handy.

This morning I was driving to hold a workshop on these very herbs, and to aid others in gaining their own sense of empowerment to start making home based medicines.

The class had a very lovely Sunday pace, and soon we were all chatting about our various passions that had brought us to the little community house in the hills to learn and share all things food and medicine!

Plants which grow and give their energies in the Autumn and Winter include:

Taraxacum officinalis

Dandelion is called so due to its French name 'Dent-te-lion' which means 'tooth of the lion. This is due to its leaf shape, which is simple, unlobed, and not separated into leaflets. The arragment of leaves is basal, meaning they all grow from the base of the plant.
The leaf blade has lobes, and is serrated. The leaves are hairless, especially note that there is no hair growing along the midrib. Unlike Chicory.
An interesting fact is that the Dandelion flower head is composed of many tiny flowers- each 'petal' is actually a flower in itself, with both male and female reproductive parts. These are called ray flowers.
Each flower then produces a fruit, which is what we see as the seed, with a delicate parachute attached to each one. This parachute aids in seed dispersal, something this plant is very good at!

Dandelion has a long tough taproot, which is what is mainly used for medicine during the Autumn and Winter months. This is due to the amount of sunlight available at this time, which causes the plant to put most of its energy (sugar) stores into the root, rather than wasting too much in the leaves, which do not have the ability to photosynthesize nearly as much.
The root needs to be harvested with a fork and some patience!

Dandelion Root Constituents:
Sesquiterpene lactones (anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects)
Phenylpropanoids (inflammation-modulation)
Triterpenoid Saponins (Adaptongenic - aids with stress regulation and strengthens adrenals)
Polysaccarides (complex carbohydrates)
Inulin (a class of fibers known as fructans)

I find Inulin to be one of the most fascinating things about this plant. Both inulin and the lactones present in the herb are responsible for the white sap.
Its action as a bitter digestive are due to the amount of lactones present, which impart a bitter taste and increase bile secretion, stimulating the liver and gall bladder.
The inulin gives prebiotic and demulcent properties, meaning that it lines the gastrointestinal tract and unlike most carbohydrates, inulin is non-digestible. This allows it to pass through the small intestine and ferment in the large intestine. Through the fermentation process, the inulin becomes healthy intestinal micro flora (bifidobacterium).

Said to have effects on the lymphatic system and lymphocyte populations in the body, strengthening the immune system.

Diuretic (promotes urine), Tonic (tones digestive organs), Hepatic (strengthens liver), Cholagogue (promotes discharge of bile) and Digestive.

Root is mainly used in tinctures (alcohol based medicine), vinegars or as a coffee substitute by roasting. 
The leaves are used in medicine also, but can also be eaten in salads, pies, omelette's and quiches and stir-frys.

Rated one of the 5 most nutritious vegetables in the world! Hows that for a SUPERFOOD?!
And... it grows EVERYWHERE, is FREE and strengthens home resilience and food security!

Nettle Urtica urens

The leaves are simple lobed or unlobed but not seperated into leaflets. The arrangement is opposite, meaning there are two leaves per node along the stem,which change direction at each node.
The leaf edged are finely serrated, and the flowers are radially symmetrical (there are two or more ways to evenly divide the flower).

The nettle root is best harvested at this time of year also, for the same reasons discussed about dandelion, although nettle does not have a large tap root like the dandelion. It is now in medicine used more than the aerial parts of the plant.

18 different phenolic compounds, and 8 different lignan components (lignan is what bark on trees is composed of and what fungi like to feed on!), flavanoids, glycosides, silica and amino acids (to name a few!)

Actions: Diuretic (is said to decrease obstruction of urine flow, and also decrease the need for night time urination), strengthens the uterus and pelvic floor, strengthens prostate (is now used in the treatment of benign prostate hyperplasia - or enlarged prostate) and is a hormone modulator (thank you to one of the class participants for telling me this, as I was unaware!)
The root is mainly used in extracts and tinctures for medicine, but can also be used as a strong infusion.
The nettle is most famous for its bright green and delicious soup! I love to sautee it in a little bit of water and garlic, and then pour fresh olive oil over it when done... Mmmm!
It is a punch in the face of GREEN chlorophyll amazing! Our bodies scream for this, and nettle leaves help to tonify and nurture the internal organs... so don't be put off by the sting!

Viola odorata 

The leaves are simple, lobed but not separated into leaflets and arranged with each leaf growing from the base of the plant (basal). The edge of the leaf has soft teeth, which are serrated in the opposite direction to make the leaf edges look 'bubbley'.
The flower is bilaterally symmetrical (can only cut the flower in half one way to achieve symmetry). There are five separate petals and sepals.
One amazing fact about the violet plant is that the purple flowers are not actually true flowers- in that they do not have reproductive parts and produce a seed. The seeds are produced in little round capsules usually hiding under the leaves in the Autumn. 

Salicylates, saponins (what is responsible for the lather we get from some soapy substances, depending on the concentration), alkaloids (violene), flavonoids, essential oil, beta-carotene, vitamin C.
One of the constituents this plant is known for is its mucilage- the substance that gives the slippery slime like effect when chewing a violet leaf. This is its medicine!

Actions: The mucilage is responsible for violets demulcent (soothing to the mucus membranes and lining to the gastrointestinal tract) and emollient (soothing to the epidermis- skin) qualities.
Laxative, expectorant (loosens mucus in lungs and brings up unwanted phlegm), lymphatic, reduces cysts and is also said to be anti-cancerous.

Violet flowers can be infused in a oil (I like to use coconut) for 2-3 months and then used as a massage oil and breast rub. The flowers can also be made into a syrup to treat coughs and sore inflamed tonsils. Be sure to add them to salads as well, the little purple flowers taste very sweet and delicious!
The leaves are used to make infusions and tinctures, although water is a better solvant than alcohol to achieve full benefits of the mucilage.
Leaves can be made into a pie, tossed through a salad, added to pizzas and made into soup (although add something to balance, like root vegetables - so it is not too slimey! The slippery feel goes well with asian soups though!)

Other Autumn and Winter wild foods and medicines you can find include:

Stellaria media

Rumex crispus

Malva neglecta

Plantago lanceolata
Plantago major 
Crataegus monogyna Acrons
Quercus spp.
And here are some recipes from the day!

Elderberry and Rosehip Syrup 
3 parts elderberries
1 part rosehips
1/2 part ginger 
1/4 part cloves
3 parts sugar (or honey, but add most of this after boiling as it will affect honeys properties)
Mix all ingredients in a cooking pot and bring to a simmer. Reduce down to 2/3 of original size, making the substance more viscous. Strain (I used the strained material to make a raw cake! mmMmm!) and bottle. Keep in a cool dark place. Should keep for one year.
Take 1-2 tsp for colds, flu, fever and coughs.

Spiced Pumpkin Body Scrub
1 part pumpkin puree
3 parts raw sugar 
2 parts epsom salt 
1 part chai spices
1 part coconut oil
1 part olive oil

Mix together in a bowl and put in a jar. Smells so good you want to eat it!!

Fennel and Lemon Tincture
3 parts fennel seed heads
1 lemon peel
Enough vodka or gin to fill over herbs
Fill a jar with the herb and lemon peel, and add alcohol until it is completely covering the material. Leave for 2 months before straining into a bottle with a dripper. Take one dripper full a day to aid digestion.

Hope you enjoy the wonders of Autumn and Winter!
For more info on workshops please go to my website


  1. A great day Taj ... loved it all, thank you so much! Also a wonderful abundant supply of info here for follow up. You'll definitely be seeing me again and I'll also keep spreading the word ...


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