Spahgnum Moss as a Healing Dressing

During the hell of trench warfare modern field dressings gave way to the rediscovery of a resource used for at least 800 years.

Shortages of cotton first led to the German Army using sphagnum moss, a variety of bog moss, to stem bleeding in wounds. British doctors soon discovered the dressings on captured prisoners of war and put them to use.

So what made this moss so effective as a treatment for terrible injuries; and how can it be of use today in an emergency?

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Shagnum moss grows in acidic wet places. As such it has a great ability to soak up water. It does this by being made up of a network of tubes that fill with the water. If dried out, either by air drying or in an emergency having the water squeezed out by hand, those tubes will be ready to absorb liquids, including blood.

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The fine lattice of leaves also provides a scaffold for blood to clot and stem bleeding.

Finally, the slightly acidic nature of sphagnum gives it a mildly antiseptic quality, helping it to prevent infection.

There are many species of this moss and its well worth learning how to recognise them and recognise the habitats where they grow. You will be following in the footsteps of generations of our ancestors.

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Nature’s Aspirin

Willow is well-known as the natural ancestor of aspirin. In fact this is wrong; pharmaceutical aspirin is actually descended from Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria)

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This willow has been pollarded. A traditional way of harvesting regular crops of withys, timber and bark from the tree dating back to prehistoric times.

Willow can still lay claim to the title of Nature’s aspirin. Salicylic acid, an important product of digesting aspirin, occurs in willow bark and can be extracted by making a willow bark tea.

It is attributed with properties as a painkiller, a treatment for acne and for thinning the blood to prevent heart attacks and strokes.

To investigate willow tea and it’s preparation I harvested some willow from a damp area of woodland. This is the favoured home of Goat Willow or sallow (Salix caprea) which is quick-growing and easy to find.

 

I only needed to cut a single stem. Willows strike root when pushed into damp ground so I planted my off-cuts back in the thicket. It was good to know I was not only harvesting from nature but also giving it something back.

To make the tea it stripped a short length of stem, about three years old and chopped the strips of bark into small pieces.

 

Once in the pot I kept myself busy turning my remaining willow stalks into tent pegs for future use.

I boiled the bark for about twenty minutes.

Once boiled the bark clippings sank making it easy to pour my Willow Tea into a mug.

Willow Tea, looking rather like dirty water in the mug, the remaing bark chippings in the pan and three tent pegs I whittled from the spare wood.

…and the result?

It doesn’t look the most appetising drink but the flavor was subtle and tasted surprisingly like spruce needles. In fact I can honestly say, Willow Tea tastes of Christmas trees.

As for its medicinal properties, I didn’t have a headache and I have no way to tell. It was however, a fantastic way to connect with the past by making this simplest of age-old potions.

The legal bit: Please speak to your doctor before treating maladies with medicinal plants. Be certain of your identification of anything you forage before you use it and take advice from experienced foragers and herbal practitioners.

Never pick rare plants or from a protected site. Only forage plants that are abundant in an area and then in quantities that will not affect their population.

This blog is written for entertainment and inspiration ; it is not intended as an authoritative, exhaustive or detailed guide to plants or their uses.

 

If you are interested in this subject I advise further research using reputable books and websites

Medicine in the Verge

What healing properties do the plants on your doorstep hold?

I took an evening stroll down a pleasant but unremarkable country lane this evening. As every spring, the wild flowers are racing to compete for the sun’s light and to complete their annual cycle before winter.

I’ve learned the names of many of these plants and I’ve learned how they grow. What I wondered, is what healing properties they may have. The different chemicals in plants have been used for millennia as medicines. Maybe our modern medicines are more refined but many effective drugs are extracted from plants or synthesised to replicate the molecules found in them.

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is coming to the end of its season but still green and although its scent has now faded somewhat can be found in hedges and verges.

In the past it has been used as an antiseptic and a treatment for asthma. It can be used as a poultice for ulcers and cuts.

Dandelion (Taraxum officinale) is one of the few wildflowers almost everyone recognises. As well as having the property of restoring childhood memories of blowing its seeds from the “Dandelion Clock” its sap has been used for treating corns, verrucas and warts.

White Dead Nettle (Lamium album) has been used to make a tea for treating excessive periods and haemorrhoids.

It can be told apart from Stinging Nettles by its bold white flowers that whorl in clusters around the stem.

Ribwort Plantain (Plantago lanceolata) grows amongst the grass in many places. As well as containing Vitamin-C it has been used as a tea for chesty coughs and colds.

The Stinging Nettle (Urticaria dioica) is as useful as it is unpopular with anyone who has encountered its stings.

It’s medicinal uses include lowering blood pressure and its iron rich properties have led to it being used to treat anaemia.

All these potentially useful plants within half a mile of my home.

The legal bit: Please speak to your doctor before treating maladies with medicinal plants. Be certain of your identification of anything you forage before you use it and take advice from experienced foragers and herbal practitioners.

Never pick race plants or from a protected site. Only forage plants that are abundant in an area and then in quantities that will not affect their population.

This blog is written for entertainment and inspiration ; it is not intended as an authoritative, exhaustive or detailed guide to plants or their uses. If you are interested in this subject I advise further research using reputable books and websites.

Spring With Energy

Winter was almost like the olden days of fable. In other words, we had snow; quite a bit of it. More than that, it was long. 

Spring has arrived and life that was dormant appears impatient to catch up. This shouldn’t be a surprise. Evolution has adapted species to deal with a variety of conditions;the fact that wildflowers are now racing to complete their annual cycle is  evidence of that.

 

For us this means a wonderful wild flower display. I’ve been out and about today. Everywhere I looked, wildflowers are Blooming.

Here are some I saw, all within a mile of each other:

IMG_4898[1]Field forget me not (Myosotis arvensis)

 

IMG_4915[1]English primrose (Primula vulgaris)

 

IMG_4904[1]Dog violet (Viola riviana)

 

IMG_4908[1]Marsh marigold (Caltha palustris)

 

IMG_4903[1]Lesser celandine (Ficara verna)

 

IMG_4916[1]Oppsosite leaved golden saxifrage (Chrysoplenium oppositfolium)

 

IMG_4906[1]Wood sorrel (Oxalis griffithii)

IMG_4900[1]Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

 

IMG_4899[1]Bluebell (Hyacynthoides non-scripta)

 

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Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus)

Thanks for reading and I hope you get out into nature to enjoy this spring’s marvellous display.

 

 

 

Something different… Alpacas

Today I’m visiting the National Alpaca Show.

This Peruvian relative of camels is surprisingly popular, its coat making a fine lanolin-free wool, much softer than sheep wool and is in demand from the fashion industry.

“Cosy by Luciano” and Catherine Price exhibiting their wares.

The show has much in common with other agricultural shows but the range of trade stands reflects that this is an industry dominated by smallholder businesses.

Judging of competitions for the best animals and fleeces ensure that new generations of alpacas will continue to produce a high quality product.

However, my youngest informs me that the most important thing about alpacas is that they are adorable.

After a long dormant time

I haven’t blogged for ages but maybe the return of energy to nature is having a knock-on effect upon me.

Today I decided to travel paths near home that I haven’t walked for at least a couple of years, some many more. I was rewarded by encountering some remarkable trees.

This oak has suffered over the years but is clearly a good home to many bugs and grubs. In turn they provide food for birds such as woodpecker, nuthatches and treecreepers.

This ash recently fell but its surviving stump tell the story of a long life, probably pollarded to provide timber at a nearby small holding.

This amazing birch was probably part of a hedge. It might have been layed as part of that hedge but it appears the other trees in the hedge died a long time ago.

There are lots of good side effects to this long winter. Today one has been that the lengthening days gave me time to explore and the slow spring meant I could see the shape of these trees, un -obscured by spring growth.

Happy wanderings.

Ivy or Not Ivy

Ivy (Hedera helix,) an evergreen climbing plant, is a common sight in woods and on trees across Britain
It’s an important plant for wildlife, providing shelter, berries and nectar at times of the year when these are scarce. 


The first growth phase, as ivy climbs from ground level, into the tree


The second phase of ivy growth, with an oval shaped leaf

The plant spreads across the ground until it finds a tree to climb, then using micro-rootlets to grip the trunk, climbs the trees. The ivy changes its leaf shape once it has climbed the tree, from a palmate (pointed, star-shaped) leaf to an elliptical shape. Only after this will it flower and have berries. 

Ivy has been unpopular amongst foresters for many generations, their view being test iT world stamp and kill trees. In fact ivy would rarely swamp a healthy tree. 
In the modern age it has been suggested that mild winters have made ivy more vigorous. Ivy also poses a threat to trees by acting as a wind-catcher during winter storms, increasing the likelihood of the trees being blown over. 


It looks like ivy will be controversial for years to come. 

Garlic Mustard 

Right now there’s still time to take advantage of one of the easiest wild foods to use. 

Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is abundant on verges, path edges and in the foot of hedgerows. As it’s name suggests, it’s related to mustard but the leaves taste deliciously of garlic. 


It can be added to salads or used as an ingredient in hot dishes; and is a great way to show off your foraging skills to those who don’t think they would enjoy wild leaves. It can also liven up a meal if you’re already out camping this spring. 

Is it worth ploughing every inch ?

This afternoon I took a walk on the paths around my village. One of the most popular paths follows a field edge where winter wheat was sown last autumn. 

The corner nearest the gate is a waste of space for the farmer. So much of the corner is bare ground, the corn having not survived the muddiness and trampling of feet over winter. Along the edge of the field three paths have formed through the young crop.

Was it worth cultivating this corner and spending money on seed that will never grow?Was there any point in ploughing right to the edge of the field and not sparing the path, leaving walkers to beat it hard with the action of their winter boots ?(and not all taking the same line )

The crop looks very sad along this field edge and I think the farmer could have saved himself some money and given a little more room for wildlife if he hadn’t decided to plough every available inch.