Tag Archives: Depression

Midsummer Schnapps

There is just enough time remaining to make a simple Midsummer Schnapps, to help celebrate the summer solstice on 21st June.  In Scandinavian countries, where the midnight sun arrives to delight at midsummer, Schnapps is a key ingredient of many celebrations. There are several recipes available for Midsummer Schnapps, here’s one which I like.  Ideally it is made a month or so before midsummer, allowing time for the properties of star anise and juniper berries to infuse into the vodka, but St John’s wort will infuse far quicker. Just a few days are required to get a reasonable colour, pleasant flavour and sunny properties from this herb, into the liquor.

St. John’s wort is renowned for helping people through periods of depression.  Capsules of the herb can have unpleasant side effects and may interact with some drugs so beware if you are taking any medication. The tincture (and the Schnapps is a weak tincture) is more likely to leave you feeling sunny and calm.  St John’s wort blooms on midsummer’s day, it is full of sunshine in so many respects, making it perfect for this drink.  I have not tried it but apparently the flower buds may be frozen for later use.  This recipe calls for buds which are fully developed but not yet opened, thus pick them before midsummer’s day.  The plant is full of a red oil, particularly at midsummer so use a good field guide to check you have the real thing and tear a petal to see if it “bleeds” red oil, showing it to be ripe for picking.

Recipe for Midsummer Schnapps

Pick St John’s wort flower buds before noon or before the sun becomes too hot, leave sepals on the plant or strip them from harvested flowers.  They do not add a good flavour to the schnapps.

Pick only black, fully ripened Juniper berries (or buy them dried and crush before use).  Blue and green Juniper berries do not taste pleasant. If necessary wash and carefully dry the flower buds and berries with paper towels before use.

Use wholes, fresh or dried star anise pods.

  1. Add about 3/4 cup of St John’s Wort flower buds, 45 – 55 Juniper berries and 10 Star anise pods to a clean glass jar with tighly fitting lid (preferably sterilised in dishwasher or low oven).
  2. Add enough unflavoured vodka (40% alcohol / 80 proof ) to cover the berries, pods and flowers.
  3. Secure the lid and leave in a room temperature, dark place for anywhere between 3 days and a month.  (As mentioned above, the St John’s wort will impart it’s properties in just a few days, the berries and pods require much longer but you should get a pleasant Schnapps after a few days).
  4. Shake the jar gently every few days.
  5. When you are ready, strain and filter your infusion into a clean (preferably sterile) glass bottle or jar with a tight-fitting lid.

So, get your flower garlands and schnapps ready and enjoy the summer solstice!

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare, NL:Venkel)

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a Mediterranean hardy perennial herb which is easy to grow, particularly in relatively dry soil. It has been used since ancient times, being found amongst the burial effects of Pharaohs and being highly prized by ancient Romans.  Anglo Saxons revered it as one of the nine sacred herbs and believed it could ward off evil. The Ayurvedic health system sees Fennel as being perfectly balanced in terms of pitta, vata and kapha doshas. There are many different varieties and in many countries such as Greece it grows wild as a very successful “weed”.  Fennel makes a very unusual pot plant, if you have the vertical space. It can quickly grow up to 1.5m high with delicate feathery leaves, a bulbous base and large umbeliferous flower heads.  All parts of this herb are aromatic, tasting of anise, and can be very useful.  The “seeds” are actually fruit.  Fennel is often useful during breastfeeding but shouldn’t be used in quantity during pregnancy.

Uses of Fennel

  • Obesity – Pliny, herbalist of ancient Rome was very enthusiastic about Fennel’s ability to ease hunger during times of fasting and encouraged his contemporaries to eat Fennel and to drink Fennel tea in order to cure obesity.  Apparently chewing Fennel seeds to help weight loss is quite popular in modern day Greece.
  • Breast health – Fennel can help to increase milk production in nursing mothers and to soothe painful pre-menstrual breasts, due to its diuretic properties.
  • Menopausal symptoms – a useful tea for fluid retention and anxiety.  It has been found to have an oestrogen effect. If taken in excess it can cause the return of periods.
  • Digestion – Fennel may help when digestive problems are caused by anxiety or some form of tension. It helps relax the system, to gently release trapped gas and to make rich foods easier to digest. Colicy babies are often given a little cooled fennel tea to help with trapped gas, or the mother can pass on it’s helpful properties via her milk.  Infants should only be given a couple of teaspoons of cooled tea.
  • Cough – Inhalation of honey cured Fennel smoke may help to cure persistent coughs.  Crushed Fennel seeds can be gently heated on a hot plate or charcoal incense brickette, the fumes can help to loosen the chest and lungs.  It is quite easy to crush them with a pestle and mortar.  Alternatively a herbal smoking mix, containing honey cured Sage and Fennel can be burned to release the healing vapours of Fennel.  More details to follow.
  • Eyes – Some people find that fennel lotion, made from cool water as described below, makes is effective remedy for sore, tired eyes. It may be used to saturate cotton pads to use as a compress or as eye drops or an eye wash.  If you try this ensure that the tea is extremely fresh and contains no bits which could irritate the eye.  Drinking fennel tea is also thought to strengthen eyesight.
  • Breath freshener – Chewing fennel seeds, particularly after a rich meal, is a useful way to aid digestion.
  • Joint pain –  Massage with Fennel infused oil often helps to ease the pains of arthritis and rheumatism.
  • Anxiety or mild depression – Massage with Fennel infused oil or gently inhaling the smoke of burning crushed fennel seeds can lift the spirits and relax tension.

Fennel tea
This can be prepared using either chopped dry or fresh leaves or crushed seeds. Use 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of crushed seeds per cup of boiling water.  Crushing the seeds makes a much more potent tea. This can be done with a pestle and mortar, a manual coffee grinder or by gently bashing the seeds with something such as a rolling pin.  Allow to infuse for 15 minutes. If using leaves, infuse 2 – 3 teaspoons in a teapot of boiling water for 5 minutes.

Eye lotion
Boil a cup of water and allow to cool before infusing half a teaspoon of crushed seeds for one hour.  Strain carefully.  Can be used in an eye bath, as drops or to soak cotton pads.

Honey Cured Herbal Smoke Mix
Mix 1 tsp honey with 4 tsp water and add gradually to a 15g dried copped sage and 2 tsp of powdered fennel seeds.  Rub the liquid into the herbs until they are all slightly damp.  Lay out in a shallow dish and leave for a few days, turning occasionally, until the water has mostly evaporated and the herbs feel dry enough to burn.  Store the mix in an airtight container.

Melissa officinalis (Lemon balm, NL:Citroenmelisse)

I love the uplifting citrus scent of fresh Lemon Balm (Melissa). In the spring and summer it smells and tastes magical; I eat leaves straight from the plant whilst gardening on the roof, add them to salads and ice cubes and frequently drink it as a tea. Lemon balm tastes great alone or in combination with other herbs, particularly mints. In the autumn and winter I use it dried, it smells good but quite different and has several really useful applications. I made a lip balm containing Melissa this weekend, to help fight off cold sores. I find it works a treat and thought it was time to share a few of this herb’s properties and uses.

The Latin name Melissa means honeybee and this herb is very attractive to bees. It has been planted near beehives since the time of ancient Greece as it encourages bees to return home.  The herb is a member of the mint family and has long been associated with love, friendship, health, healing, success and good cheer. It was the main ingredient in Carmelite water and has a reputation for relieving symptoms of mild depression.

Lemon Balm grows very well in almost any soil, does well in pots and can be divided to make extra plants throughout spring, summer and early autumn.  It is a hardy herbaceous perennial, a pretty variagated variety is available and it makes a great urban herb.

Melissa can be used to:

  • Cool. It can induce a mild perspiration so is sometimes useful taken as a tea when feverish with colds or flu.  In hot weather its cooling properties are also welcomed.
  • Scent. The fresh lemon odour makes Melissa valuable dried in potpourri, as a breath freshener and when the leaves are bruised it can really lift spirits.
  • Flavour. The lemony fresh leaves can be chopped into salads, ice cubes, mayonnaise, white sauces, sauerkraut, custards, jellies, fruit drinks and wine cups.
    Lemon balm can also be used to create wonderfully aromatic vinegars, alone or in combination with herbs such as Tarragon.  They can be used in delicious salad dressings, marinades and sauces.
  • Relieve cold sores.  Some commercial cold sore preparations contain lemon balm but it is easy and cheap to make your own balm.  Recent scientific research has also found that preparations containing Melissa can reduce recurrence of cold sores and can shorten the duration of attacks.
  • Calm and soothe. Lemon balm may be helpful to those suffering from grief, mild depression, anxiety, tension and sleeplessness. It can help digestive problems caused by these issues and many find it works as a relaxing tonic.  Recent scientific research has also found it to be useful in managing agitation in Alzheimer’s patients.
  • Relieve headaches. A tasty remedy for simple tension headaches it to soak a handful of freshly picked leaves in a glass of wine for an hour, or drink a tea made from the dried leaves.
  • Relieve chronic bronchial catarrh. Lemon balm tea can help to ease symptoms.

How to make Cold Sore fighting lip balm

  • Follow my instructions about How To Make Salves, Ointments and Lip Balms using a 50:50 mix of Calendula and Melissa heat infused oils.
  • Warm very gently as you dissolve the grated beeswax, I stir with a clean finger to check that the temperature remains really low.
  • Ensure you test the consistency and adjust it accordingly, with more wax or more oil, before pouring into small pots.  Lip balm for cold sores shouldn’t be too firm as application may be painful.
  • When I use a pot of balm to treat a cold sore, I tend to throw away any remainder when the sore is healed. This reduces the risk of using contaminated balm once the skin is healed.