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

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.

 

 

 

Red Campion, Pink Star of the Woods and Hedges

As spring progresses, many wildflowers are overtaken by vigorous plants such as nettle, bramble and grasses. 


Where the soil is rich more colourful wild flowers may be fewer now but a few stars shine out against the verdant background. 


AS a boy, after learning the names of bluebell, daisy and dandelion, the next wildflower I came to know was Red Campion (Silene dioca)


Growing up to three feet tall it can keep up with all but the most vigorous competitors in the race for sunlight that plants engage in. It’s a common and welcome sight in hedges and woods. 

Look closely and there are two types of flower. Male with twisted yellow anthers and female, with delicate, greener stamen.

        

Hogweed (and cow parsley)

Hogweed is taking over the verges and woodland edges. 


The good news is, there’s nothing wrong. At around the same time Cow Parsley goes to seed and its delicate white flowers fade, it is succeeded by its cousin, hogweed. 


Both are members of the carrot and parsley family; and by far their most common members in the British countryside. 


I was at the Bushcraft Show this weekend and found the two growing together in a hedgerow. The Cow Parsley is at the end of its flowering period, the Hogweed at the start. 

The easiest way to tell the difference between the two is that Cow Parsley has more delicate, feather-like leaves, Hogweed’s are more robust, thicker and larger. 

There are nearly forty members of the carrot family growing wild in Britain. Thirty of them look very similar. Some have irritants in their sap and some are poisonous; some are delicious wild food. This makes them a very useful group to know; but to know well. 

I’ll be adding posts about the different members of this family as I encounter them over summer. 

The Many-Named Wild Arum

Wild Arum (Arum maculatum) is known by many names.

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“Cuckoo Pint,” “Lords and Ladies,” “Friars Cowl,” Wake Robin;” and “Jack-in-the-Pulpit,” are but a few of the traditional English names for the species.

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Many of the names refer to the distinctive shape of the plant, with its phallus-like “spadex” at the centre. This organ is the flower of the plant and as well as becoming the fruiting body later in the year, growing a distinctive column of red berries, attracts insects with it’s odour, which smells of faeces.

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It’s not a flower to put in the living room.

The plant and its berries are also poisonous. A dramatic feature to look out for on a spring walk in the woods.

 

The Annual Attack of the Sycamore Seedlings

Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatynus) is a member of the Maple family of trees. 

  • Sycamore leaves and catkins in spring 

Although not a native to Britain it is a common species, naturalized in our woodlands. 


Every autumn, it produces thousands of seeds which fall to the ground on “helicopter” sails that catch the breeze and transport them away from the parent tree. 

Come spring, anywhere near a stand of sycamores, hundreds and hundreds of seedlings shoot from the ground on the woodland floor, in gardens, hedges and fallow land. 

  • The first leaves of a sycamore seedling

  • As seedlings grow, new leaves take the shape of the adult tree leaves

  • It is common for hundreds or thousands of seedlings to sprout in spring

It’s no wonder this tree has been so successful at colonising much of Britain. 

The Spanish Invasion 

Have you been to a bluebell wood recently?
The stunning sight of the floor of a greenwood, turned blue is a wonder enjoyed by many. 


However, all may not be as tranquil as it looks in the forest.  The native bluebell in Britain (Hyacynthoids non-scripta) is giving ground to its larger cousin, the Spanish Bluebell (Hyacythoids hispanica)


Spanish bluebells are larger and lighter coloured than the native bluebell. The two species cross-breed, threatening to change the shape and colour of bluebells across the country. 

(Both native and Spanish species can have occasional white flowers but only the Spanish bluebell can have pink flowers. )

It’s Cow Parsley time of year

One of my favourite wild flowers is beginning its annual display.

Cow parsley turns road verges, field margins and path edges into gardens. This is one of the first of the umbellifer flowers (the plants with umbrella-shaped flower-heads) to emerge and as well as providing a beautiful, lace-like cluster of flowers, is an early nectar source for bees, butterflies and other insects.

It can be eaten when young but beware of confusing it with other similar looking flowers. It has a passing resemblance to deadly hemlock (the poison used to kill Socrates in Ancient Greece) as well as Fools Parsley (which is smaller.) Both these and other poisonous lookalikes flower later in the year.