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Posts from the ‘Recipe Book’ Category


Twelve Thoughtful Gifts for Christmas

These gifts are good to give any time – they are our absolute favourites – they might just appeal. We make no apology for the gardening flavour … we dedicated gardeners just have to pass on details of products that work for us.

Plant theatre

Plant theatre

Plant Theatre  The Dobies catalogue is full of goodies for the gardener, and we really like the Plant Theatre they sell. We have put our new collection of streptocarpus cuttings in our Plant Theatre, although  traditionally used to show off auriculas.

Our plant theatre is on the floor of the conservatory at the moment but  will be erected on the wall as soon as possible to keep the plants away from draughts. Essentially woodland plants streptocarpus don’t like a lot of direct sunlight preferring to be kept lightly moist, bordering on dry. If you are interested have a look on the internet, there is a vast choice. You can buy cuttings on eBay as well. Some are absolutely beautiful and unusual.

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 16.51.53Hi Lo 

If you know someone with hanging baskets who gets weary with lifting heavy watering cans, getting water up their arms,  puddles of water on the ground, our feeling is they would welcome a HiLo device. It allows you to lower the basket to a workable level for pruning, deadheading and watering. Then pulled up – carefully – to the height you want it. An essential item for any dedicated hanging basket fan. At the moment Dobies have a 3 for the price of 2 offer you might like to take up.

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 18.18.17Know someone who is a keen ‘Grow your Own’ gardener? The Allotment Almanac provides a month by month entry to remind you, and look forward to, what could be done in your vegetable plot, big or small. A fascinating and infomative read written by Terry Walton,  gardening guru of BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine Show. A pleasant read and good guide for both experienced and novice gardeners alike.

G&P 2014 coverKnow someone who is intrigued by the effect of the moon on plants and their development? Gardening and Planting by the Moon 2014: Higher Yields in Vegetables and Flowers is out now and a fascinating read written by Nick Kollerstrom. Here we learn  the rhythms of the moon affect both crops and livestock. The gardeners at RHS Wisley have proved the benefits of the lunar effect under controlled research conditions. Increased yields of 20% – 30% are routinely touted. You won’t have to get up in the middle of the night to sow your carrots! Country folk know that planning their work in harmony with the rhythms of the moon produces better crops. It’s that easy. They get higher yields and better flavour in vegetables. Flowers produce stronger displays and heightened colour. This guide computes everything you need to know about the daily influence of the moon and the planets in the garden. With its full 15-month daily calendar, it creates an essential timetable for the year ahMead and a fine means of self-discipline for keen gardeners. More information on

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 15.22.53We absolutely love the aromas from AromaWorks. Can’t say enough good things about them, from the candles to  reed diffusers,  body oil to bath oil,  room mists and essential oils.

We find it difficult to say which is our favourite but must note the mix of May Change and Sandalwood of the Nurture Room Mist is fabulous, and the aroma mix of Serenity is out of this world. The scent lasts for ages, it is highly concentrated, 100% pure but not overpowering. Even when we put have them away for a week or so we can still detect a feint scent for days.

These scents are well worth the money and the only room scent products we give as gifts, they are that good. See more details on AromaWorks.

Know a fan of Tolkein books? Then a series of epic stories that inspired Tolkein to write the Lord of the Rings has been published by Penguin.

Screen Shot 2013-12-05 at 12.03.53

The five titles of the Legends from The Ancient North are:

  • Beowulf
  • The Elder Eddo
  • The Saga of the Volsungs
  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
  • The Wanderer: Elegies, Epics, Riddles

Each title is priced at £6.99. eBooks are £4.

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 16.46.22A pair of secateurs is very useful when pottering around the garden . However  we have found a very useful pair of multi purpose scissors designed by Fiskars with so many features that makes it an essential item to carry around as well with you as well,  indoors and out. They are brightly coloured so less chance of losing them. I always tie a long red ribbon on secateurs which works for me.

Here’s a list of what the Cuts+More it is designed to cope with:

  • High-quality blades for trimming, pruning, opening packages
  • Power notch to cut light rope
  • Wire cutter for cutting light wire without damaging the blades
  • Twine cutter to cut twine cleanly and quickly
  • Pointed awl tip for piercing small holes in cardboard, plastic, matting
  • Titanium-coated, take-apart knife for cutting sheets of polythene, cardboard and sheeting
  • Cover includes an integrated ceramic sharpener and tape cutter
  • Bottle opener for a well-earned drink in the shed at the end of the day!

We love ours! Why not treat yourself and/or give a pair to a dedicated garden potterer?  Available from B&Q and independent home and garden stores.

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 18.27.23Apple peeler/corer/slicer – its appearance does give the impression it is an instrument of torture! In fact it makes a job that can turn into torture into a breeze. And the results are so worthwhile and easy to produce I’m surprised it has taken us so long to find it!

When I lived in France Apple Flan was a regular and delicious treat. However that was in the days when we all had time to sit round a table to peel, core and slice apple ready for the tart to go in the oven and didn’t mind having brown stained fingers.

With this apple peeler everything is done in a trice.

Here are my Eleven Easy steps:

  • Wash cooking apples – it’s amazing how much dirt is removed in this one step.
  • Wipe dry, roughly.
  • Push onto the prongs
  • Turn handle
  • Watch the peel just fall down – straight into the compost bin!
  • Remove the peeled and cored apple
  • Cut in half
  • Lay straight onto pre-cooked pastry in the flan dish (some people put in a non stick cake tin liner to make sure the baking beans are all removed.
  • At this point some people put a layer of apple puree before adding the apple slices – this makes it all rather gorgeous!
  • Brush the apple slices with lemon juice – you could put them under the gril to brown them a little before brushing on a thin apricot jam syrup
  • Serve with beaten Light Philadelphia, or 0% fat greek yogurt. Yum!

Phew! That’s so easy! And quick! And looks so impressive!

Widely available on the web, where we bought ours.

We found several recipes on one website that you could adapt to suit.

One aspect of a kitchen sink is the space the draining board takes up, permanently, and the fact is we find it is not an easy space to use for anything else.

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 18.08.21When we had a kitchen installed recently we asked for just a sink bowl and bought a Joseph Joseph flip side draining board – available in grey or white. This can be put away once finished with, leaving a clean, flat surface to use for other work which looks so much nicer. Ideal for two, but not very practical for a family.

Know someone who is worried about draughts and high energy costs? This is just one item we have found that really made a difference to the temperature in our hallway. It’s the EcoFlap. Fitted on the inside of the letter box it stops the draughts getting to your radiator thermostat.

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 18.45.26We’ve just moved house and our new letterbox did leak air, seeped rain, rattled, snapped, and crumpled our mail! We quickly installed another Ecoflap – inexpensive, easy to install and effective. Can’t praise this enough!

Know someone who always has cold feet? We have tried three different products. The Carnation Silversocks made with pure silver fibre are said to relieve the pain of diabetes, chilblains, epidermolysis bullosa and circulation disorders, we like the idea of the anti bacteria element. They were rather too tight round the ankles for us, however would be fine for those with thinner legs.

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 18.56.47Workforce socks fit the bill for when we are in and out of the cold, it doesn’t matter whether we are using boots or shoes in cold weather, they are comfortable and warm with a really comfy sole – a hit with husband!

Screen Shot 2013-12-05 at 16.52.32Then we came across goats’ woollen socks – they are wonderful! By far the most popular in our house. The socks come in long, medium and short. Plus topless, ideal for anyone who doesn’t like a mark on their leg or who might have circulation problems. Available from Wiggly Wigglers whose reviews are excellent, so it’s not just us who love ’em! Here is one: “These socks are quite simply the warmest socks that I have ever worn. They wash and dry well, and do not shrink. They also make great bedsocks!!! The weather outside is doing its worst (this is eastern Scotland after all!)  but my feet are warm and toasty!” Grown by Goats … for Toasty Toes … See more reviews and full details here.

5091David Austin roses  Whoever you give a rose to will be reminded of you for years to come. We love David Austin roses and have given so many as gifts over the years and never fail to find an excuse to give another! Our favourites are the ramblers and this year we have planted Creme de la Creme, a beautifully scented climber on the pergola. We have planted a white wisteria to complement it and between these two plants we are anticipating pleasant rests in the sun.

Compiled by Val Reynolds, Christopher Johns, Liz Lovell, Rose Monro

We’ll write something about the most successful presents we have given and received this Christmas. You might like to contribute!


A Wonderfully Warming Soup – Pumpkin and Parmigiano Reggiano

Parmigiano Reggiano And Pumpkin Soup

Pumpkin Soup JPEGIt’s Pumpkin time! We love that wonderful orange flesh in pies, cakes and soups. We found this Parmigiano Reggiano and pumpkin soup recipe – always a great winter warmer and a great starter for a Halloween celebration.

It’s really easy to make – just combine fried onion, pumpkin, vegetable stock and Parmigiano Reggiano rind and cook until tender. Add grated Parmigiano Reggiano to the vegetables, remove the rind and blend the mixture until smooth.

To serve, sprinkle the soup with fresh parsley, top with French bread with melted Parmigiano Reggiano and season.

Full recipe is included below.

Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, known as ‘Parmesan’, is one of the world’s oldest and richest cheeses, still produced today as it was nine centuries ago.  Totally natural, it’s the only cheese with a minimum maturation time of 12 months, although its best at 24 months. Did you know it takes 16 litres of milk to produce one kilogram of cheese!  It’s easy to digest and is high in calcium.

Parmigiano Reggiano is a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) product. PDOs are defined and protected by European Union law in order to defend the reputation of regional foods. This mark ensures that Parmigiano Reggiano can only be produced in designated areas of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna to the west of the Reno River and Mantua to the east of the Po River.

For more information on Parmigiano Reggiano at

Parmigiano Reggiano and Pumpkin Soup

Serves 4-6

150g (6oz) Parmigiano Reggiano, with rind

25g (1oz) butter

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 medium pumpkin (or butternut squash), peeled, deseeded and chopped into chunks

900ml (1½ pt) hot vegetable stock

150ml (¼ pt) milk

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to season

4-6 slices French bread
Fresh parsley or thyme, chopped to garnish

Reserve the rind from the Parmigiano Reggiano and cut it into chunks, then finely grate

Melt the butter in a large saucepan, and gently fry the onion until softened
Add the pumpkin, vegetable stock and Parmigiano Reggiano rind and cook gently for 20 minutes, until the vegetables are tender

Remove the rind from the saucepan, transferring the soup to a blender and add the grated cheese, reserving 25g (1oz) for garnishing. Blend the soup, until smooth. Return it to the saucepan and add the milk. Stir thoroughly and reheat until piping hot

Toast the slices of French bread, sprinkle the remaining Parmigiano Reggiano on top and grill until melted. Ladle the soup into bowls and top each portion with one piece of French toast

To serve, sprinkle with fresh parsley or thyme and season with black pepper

Penny, our resident cook, says: You could try other cheese of course, low fat cheddar is excellent. We make this soup for six and then freeze a couple of portions ready to reheat. It makes a really comforting snack on a very cold day. We wouldn’t go on a long, bracing walk without a flask of this soup. A welcome, wonderful warmer. Can’t say enough about it!

Information provided by The Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano Reggiano   Photography: Steve Lee  Recipe and Food Styling: Sue Ashworth

Val Reynolds, Editor


Guidance on Providing Gluten Free food for Christmas Parties

Gluten free buffets can be difficult if one is unprepared 

Here are some guidelines written by Sallie Darnell, professional cook

  1. When invited to a party make clear your dietary requirements.  Often a phone call to your chosen venue can save an embarrassing experience.
  2. If you are in doubt about any food do not eat it
  3. Another good suggestion is to eat prior to going out so if there turns out to be nothing suitable for you won’t be too hungry
  4. Restaurants these days are quite happy to give you a list of ingredients used in their kitchens.  From this you should be able to ascertain which ingredients are not suitable for you ie hidden starches in sauces or soups, wheat in soy sauce etc

When entertaining yourself life can be a little easier as you have more control over the food.  Here are some ideas for quick nibbles: both home-made and commercially prepared

Plain nuts, olives, a bowl of large prawns , sushi

Dips – ready made humus, salsa, tahini – but check labels served with crudities (carrots, celery, cucumber, cauliflower)  crisps or tortillas

Home-made: Tzaziki – yoghurt with mint and cucumber and garlic

Smoked mackerel dip – made by blending together 100g smoked mackerel, 150g thick yoghurt, 2 tabsp lemon juice, 1tsp lemon rind, salt and pepper

Sliced polenta topped with stilton cheese and sliced cherry tomatoes – flashed under the grill just before serving

Chicken fillets tossed in rice flour, then beaten egg, coated in dry polenta and deep fried.  Serve with a lemon and caper flavoured yoghurt

Smoked salmon wrapped round mini sweet corn

Mini wheatfree pancakes/blinis with various toppings eg smoked salmon and dill sauce,  beetroot and horseradish sauce (check label)

Celery stuffed with tartex pate or smoked mackerel pate

Courgettes stuffed with ratatouille or chilli

Mini potato rosti with lemon and chive cream

Croutes of gluten free bread fried and topped with rare roast beef and gluten free pesto, quails egg, halloumi and apple, feta cheese and black olives

Sadly Sally is no longer with us, but her recipes live on. Thanks Sally, we love your delicious meals.


Seduced by Reduced! Making a Bargain into a Real Treat

Supermarket limes

Supermarket limes

How often have you been seduced by the REDUCED label in a supermarket – say ten or more onions, or like today, twenty limes – in your supermarket and find it irresistible and confidently expecting to make something of it? But it gets put to one side, gradually to the back of the fridge, forgotten and then discarded, optimism lost in the chasm of inertia! Well it has happened to me of course. The good news is that it happens less often now. Why? I can explore the web for ideas of what can be done with whatever I have bought.

Today I have twenty limes – these are going to be either made into lime curd (my mouth is watering at the prospect!) which takes very little time, or lime chutney – here’s a Google page with lots of recipe sites to choose from.

I collect jars to re-use and buy new tops from Lakeland. Jam and curd take time but very rewarding and make good standby gifts for many occasions.

A recent cookery course I attended included truffles – three different flavours, one including lime zest* which gives me the excuse to make some. They are so luscious I’m not sure they will get to their intended recipients … we just love ‘em! We rolled the truffles in a mix of plain and toasted coconut.

Lime truffles

Lime truffles

Here’s a recipe I found on the web which is similar to the one I used on the course.

Celeriac, not as often used by home cooks here as they do say in France, is frequently reduced in my local supermarket and it gives me the opportunity to produce Salmon with mustard coating, potato, pea and celeriac mash found on the BBC Good Food website. Again a recipe that works very well.

It’s this time of year when I look out for peaches and nectarines  getting lower and lower in price and especially in the Reduced section. Then I usually reach for Elizabeth David’s cook book – At Elizabeth David’s Table – for her easy recipe Peaches in Wine. She tells us the best peaches for this dish are the yellow-fleshed variety. Dip the fruit in boiling water so the skins can be easily peeled off. Slice them straight into big wine glasses, sprinkle with sugar and pour a tablespoon or two of white wine into each glass. Preparing them too far ahead will make the fruit go mushy.  If you would like to give the glasses an attractive look, before you start working on the fruit, put a little water in a saucer, put sugar in another saucer, holding the glass upside down gently dip the glass in the water, shake it to remove any excess water, dip the glass in the saucer of sugar, shake off any excess. Voila! You can now add the fruit and wine, carefully! This works with lots of different fruits and you could experiment with flavoured liqueurs – Cointreau and oranges, raspberries and pear vodka! Pears and raspberry liqueur, the list could go on … and on. Just experiment, great fun.

By the way, my favourite prune sweet is to use prunes soaked in white wine – could be red – for at least 3 months. I use screwtop jars, covered with cling film and the cap screwed on lightly, no need to tighten hard. This is so easy to do and makes a wonderful treat with custard! or cream or even better fromage frais, unsweetened. I keep them in a cupboard out of sight otherwise they are just too easy to dip into and devour the lot!

* For any recipe using lime zest be sure to remove the wax generally added to citrus fruit, unless marked as unwaxed. The easiest way to do this is to dunk the fruit in boiling water for 5 minutes, twice if needs be.

Katie Simpson  Guest writer, Caterer for the Choosey


It’s marmalade making time!

Seville oranges

Seville oranges

Seville oranges you can use to make marmalade at home are in the shops now.

If you love marmalade, there is absolutely nothing like making your own. You can make it as sweet or as sharp, as thin or as thick as you desire. In the past I have used prepared tinned seville oranges which was good, but making it from scratch is a job that rewards you every time.

Equipment needed:

  • A preserving pan is ideal but not essential, a large saucepan that will take at least one and a half kilos of fruit and three kilos of sugar will do.
  • A long wooden spoon, essential to avoid hot spits of marmalade when coming up to a full rolling boil.

    Marmalade simmering

    Marmalade simmering

  • A sharp knife. This year I used one of my very sharp Novelli knives which did the job but after a while the handle slipped as my hands became wetter and wetter with juice. So I used my new Kitchen Devils Kitchen Scissors – see lefthand side of magnetic knife bar below. They did the job pretty well, the serrated blades really made quick work of slicing the peel, not quite as symmetrical as using a knife, but I didn’t develop aches nor sore fingers from the repetitive job. The handles have a soft touch grip, preventing slipping. The scissors are designed for both left and right handed users. They are dishwasher proof and guaranteed for 15 years.

    Magnetic knife bar

    Magnetic knife bar

  • A jam thermometer is useful but not essential but gives reassurance if you are worried about whether the marmalade is ready to pot. A temperature of 105C/220F is recommended in a recipe I found on the BBC website.

Shopping List:

  •  1.5 kg bag of Seville oranges from Sainsburys
  • Granulated sugar 
  • Lemons – only use unwaxed fruit
  • A small piece of muslin and some string

There are many recipes on the web, from Delia to James Martin to Nigel Slater which look reliable. I  use a recipe I’ve had for years and which is now done by eye I’m so familiar with it. I made three batches to provide us with enough marmalade to last about a year plus some small jars to giveaway. I added 1-2 tbspns of brown sugar to one batch to give it a tawny look and slightly different flavour. Don’t add any more than that, on one occasion when I added a generous amount to a batch of rhubarb jam it tasted like chutney!

Control Kitchen Knife in use

Control Kitchen Knife in use

The Kitchen Devils Kitchen Scissors are available online at Amazon and at Asda, Lakeland, Morrisons, The Range and independent cook stores nationwide.

Kate Campbell, A self taught cook who loves preserving fruit and vegetables 


Cooking with Chocolate – Gifts for any occasion

We love cooking with chocolate and here are just a few of our favourites to keep handy when friends drop by. Chocolate Truffles, Creamy Vanilla Fudge with Chocolate and Nuts, Chocolate and Cinnamon Swirl Meringues, the list goes on and on! So easy to make too! All in our absolutely favourite book: Gifts from the Kitchen, 100 irresistible homemade presents for every occasion by Annie Rigg, published by Kyle Cathie.

Here is one recipe we make once in a blue moon because it hardly ever is used for what it is intended for … spreading on toast, or as a layer in a sponge cake, or as a topping to cookies. It is so yum it generally gets eaten direct from the jar! Oh well, we have no resistance – do try it!

Chocolate and Hazel Spread  Read more »


Cooking with Chocolate – Sweet and Savoury

Home baking is having a revival and cooking with chocolate is always fun – the smell is enough to send everyone to the kitchen to see what’s up!

Using cooking chocolate is the way to go. We recently made some Cake Pops.

The pops themselves were made from crumbed sponge cake mixed with butter cream and then formed into balls.

The first coat was a pink candy melt. Then, as an experiment, a coating of Menier white chocolate. We were really impressed with this chocolate, it melted quickly, had a good dipping consistency, and the taste! Well … let’s say we won’t be using anything else in future!

Then on with a coat of dark chocolate, again it melted and dipped well, holding the final decoration perfectly.

We loved the creamy taste of both the milk and white chocolate, the dark chocolate was pleasantly rich.





Ever used chocolate in savoury dishes?

Here’s a recipe for Braised Venison with Autumn Roots and Chocolate Sauce


600g venison (diced leg/shoulder)
2 tbsp seasoned flour
6 tbsp olive oil
150g smoked bacon lardons
3 shallots, peeled and quartered
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
5 Chantenay carrots, quartered
3 medium turnips, peeled and roughly chopped
2 sticks celery, finely chopped
3 flat mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 heaped tbsp thyme
1 heaped tbsp rosemary, chopped
2 bay leaves
700ml red wine
300ml beef stock
30g Menier dark chocolate, finely chopped
40g butter
2 heaped tbsp redcurrant jelly
1 tsp salt and a large pinch of pepper
Serves 2 – 4
Pre-heat the oven to 160°C.

Pour half of the olive oil into a large ovenproof casserole dish and heat over a medium heat.  Add the lardons of bacon and cook for 4-5 minutes or until crisp and slightly browned, then remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Put the diced venison in to a bowl with the seasoned flour and toss well.  Ensure all of the meat is well coated and shake off the excess flour. Put the casserole dish back over a medium heat. Once hot (you may need to add a little more oil at this point), add the venison in batches and cook until the meat is browned on all sides. Remove from the casserole dish and set aside with the lardons of bacon.

Add the rest of the olive oil to the casserole dish and heat over a medium heat, then add the garlic, shallots and celery and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the carrots, turnip, mushrooms and herbs and cook for about 10 minutes on a low-medium heat or until the vegetables and shallots are slightly browned. Stir frequently.

Return the venison and bacon to the casserole dish and stir gently. Add the red wine and bring to the boil, then add the beef stock and season with the salt and pepper. Bring back to the boil, then cover with a tight fitting lid and transfer to the pre-heated oven. Cook for about 1½ – 1¾ hours, or until the meat is tender.

Once the meat is tender, remove from the oven and strain the meat and vegetables though a large sieve, retaining the liquid. Pour the liquid into a saucepan and bring back to the boil. Place the venison and the vegetables back into the casserole dish and cover to keep warm.

Once the liquid is boiling, whisk in the redcurrant jelly and re-heat gently. Lower the heat and whisk in the butter and the chocolate. Add small amounts gradually to ensure the chocolate does not split and go grainy. Taste and adjust the seasoning accordingly. Pour the sauce over the venison and vegetables and stir well.

Serve with creamed celeriac and steamed greens.

You may like to see another of our features:
Cooking with Chocolate – Gifts for all occasions
Chocolate Cake for Coeliacs

Menier Swiss premium cooking chocolate is available in major supermarkets nationwide with a RRP of £1.19.

Cake Pops created and photographed by Laura MacClelland 

Val Reynolds, Editor


Borage – Borago Officinalis – Amazing Versatility

Discover the amazing versatility of this popular herb



Glance at a borage plant and you’ll see a sturdy erect plant, covered with short, stiff, prickly, silver-white hairs that shine in the sun and large, oval, pointed, darkish-green leaves. But lift up a flower (they’re inclined to droop down) and reveal the beauty of the superbly formed, bright blue, star-shaped flowers of five petals with a central cone of deep purple-black anthers.

Native to regions of North Africa, the Middle East, the Mediterranean and Central Europe, and brought to Britain by the Romans, it’s also to be found in the temperate regions of North America.

The name borage could originate from the Celtic ‘barrach’, a man of courage. Certainly, Celtic warriors drank borage wine and used the plant dye to paint their bodies before running naked, into battle. Ancient recorders Dioscorides, Pliny and later the Elizabethan herbalist, John Gerard, all have mentioned the marvellous effects of the plant on mind and body, dispelling melancholy and inducing euphoria. In medieval times it was used as a tonic to lift the heart and spirit, promoting bravery on the jousting field. To quote an old saying, “Ego Borage gaudia semper ago,” I, Borage, bring always courage.

In the lands bordering the Mediterranean, its name is spelt with a double ‘r’, perhaps from the Italian ‘borra’ or French ‘bourra’, hair/wool, noticeably covering the plant.

Though an annual, it readily seeds itself, the four brownish-black nutlets opening to reveal black seeds. Seed sown in March and covered well with soil, germinate to maturity very quickly, usually in two months. Alternatively, the plants can be propagated by division of the rootstock in the spring, or by cuttings of the shoots pushed into sandy soil in a cold frame in the summer or autumn. The preferred soil seems to be moist, loose, stony, with some sand and chalk in it, in a sunny position. Yet borage is often found in heavier soils and partial shade and frequently on waste ground.

Borage flower, close up © Pintail Media

Borage flower, close up © Pintail Media

Within a garden, the 30-60cm (1-2ft) plants may be sited in the herb patch or as companion plants with strawberries. Bees love the sweet nectar in borage flowers, converting it to superb honey (hence its nickname ‘bee bread’), whilst also pollinating the strawberry flowers. And growing borage among tomato plants can improve the flavour of the tomatoes. Borage is also attractive in a window box or centrally in a hanging basket surrounded by shorter plants, so the beautiful drooping clusters of flowers will be visible from a lower angle; a central cane support may be needed. In mild, sheltered conditions, the plants may be in flower until November. Some plants produce white flowers, while others can start off pink and turn blue.

The leaves must be picked dry, when the sun has dried the dew and as the plant is coming into flower. Strip off each leaf singly, discarding any with marks on them. Some people find it necessary to wear gloves when handling borage as occasionally it can cause skin dermatitis. In the home, dried borage flowers can be added to potpourri.

Medicinally, borage can be utilised as a diuretic, demulcent and emollient. Its high saline mucilage content makes it a good diuretic, aiding the functioning of the kidneys. Its anti-inflammatory properties can help internally soothe bronchitis, catarrh, feverish colds, dry rasping coughs, pleurisy and rheumatism.

In France it is used to treat some pulmonary problems and fevers, increasing sweating and so removing toxins from the body via the skin and urinary system. Its high calcium and potassium salts can help reduce temperature when taken as a hot infusion. Use 30g (1oz) of fresh leaves (dried if fresh are not available), and infuse for five minutes in 600ml (1pt) of boiling water. Then strain it and drink three to four wineglassfuls a day, adding honey if preferred sweeter. Whilst treating a cold, Mességué recommends using borage in foot- and hand-baths.

The above infusion also can be of help as a gargle for sore throats and laryngitis, and as a mouthwash for stomatitis and bleeding gums.

A poultice can be made by placing crushed leaves and flowers between two plates over a pan of boiling water – the plates will get hot. This poultice can be bandaged lightly on inflamed or irritated skin, on sores and wounds and used for arthritis and gout, renewing it when cold, until some relief is felt. Or a lotion can be made from equal quantities of borage juice and water.

Borage flower, close up © Pintail Media Version 2

Borage flower, close up © Pintail Media Version 2

Borage tincture, 5ml (1tsp) taken three times a day, can act as a tonic for stress, and be used for countering the effects of steroids and after steroid therapy. This has been backed up by modern research confirming that borage stimulates the adrenal glands (the organs of courage), to secrete adrenalin.

Making a pulp of the fresh leaves and drinking 10ml (2tsp) of juice, three times a day, can help with problems of depression, grief or anxiety. Instead of Evening Primrose Oil, capsules of Borage Seed Oil can be taken daily for some cases of eczema, hay fever and rheumatoid arthritis. Research has indicated that massaging borage oil into the cold, bluish-white fingers caused by Raynaud’s disease may help alleviate the pain The oil may assist in cases of menstrual irregularity, irritable bowel syndrome and even as a first aid for hangovers. Remember though, what may benefit one, may not another and as a medication, it should not be used indefinitely but for short periods at a time.

As an external application for annoying spots, equal quantities of borage, dandelion and watercress juice can be mixed to form a lotion (freshly made each time), left on the spots until completely dry, and then washed off, repeating the process a few times. Borage also can be used as a facial steam for very dry, sensitive skin and there are commercial products on the market such as Starflower Body Lotion and Borage Seed Oil.

Leslie Kenton’s Healing Herbs Paperback edition published by Vermilion (Random House), London, 2002. ISBN 0-091-88428-4

The Herbal Health and Beauty Book by Hilary Boddie. Published by Optima (Little, Brown and Company (UK) Ltd, 1994 ISBN 0-356-21030-8 contains herbal remedies for health problems such as dizziness and laryngitis, as well as beauty treatments for the face, feet and hair.

New Herb Bible by Caroline Foley, Jill Nice and Marcus A.Webb. Published by David & Charles, Devon, 2002. ISBN 0 7153 1363 0

A Handful of Herbs by Barbara Segall, Louise Pickford & Rose Hammick. Published by Ryland Peters & Small, London, 2001. ISBN 1-84172-109-3 combines the notes of a horticulturalist and a food writer, illustrated with suitably refined photos;

Sìne Chesterman
Sìne’s interest in gardening and botany started at an early age with her own patch in her parents’ garden, and learning which plants were natural healers. Brought up with old and tested remedies, and gardening methods, now termed ‘organic’, she still practises natural ways of pest control.  


Rosemary A Herb for Health


Rosemary © Pintail Media

Will Shakespeare knew rosemary. The plant that is! In ‘Hamlet’, Ophelia states the long-held belief “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.”

It’s now known that antioxidants in rosemary help prevent aging in cells and aging is associated with memory loss. Pregnant women may be advised to avoid large doses as a medicine in case it induces abortion – but otherwise it’s a beautiful-smelling, super-tasting safe herb.

Respected as a holy, magical and healing plant, one legend maintains the original flowers of rosemary turned from white to blue when the Virgin Mary spread the Christ-Child’s linen, or her own cloak, to dry on a rosemary bush. (Actually the flowers vary in colour, blue, pink or white, depending on the species and variety). In some areas it’s said to bloom at midnight on Old Christmas Eve, 17th January, (though usually later on, in the spring).

Another gardening anecdote relates it growing well not only for the righteous but for a woman who rules her husband and household. To stop gossip, some husbands removed the root so the bush died! Greek scholars, sitting exams, wore garlands of rosemary, believing it helped mental concentration by improving blood flow to the brain. Since the thirteenth/fourteenth centuries, rosemary has been known worldwide as ‘Queen of Hungary’, after the Hungarian Queen was certain her paralysis (maybe gout or rheumatism) had been cured by ‘Hungary water’. This was probably produced by macerating rosemary flowers and flowering tips for a month in alcohol, then straining through fine muslin and taken medicinally in 1 tspn doses.

As a symbol of fidelity in love in Elizabethan times, flowering sprigs were woven into the bridal wreath; bridesmaids, groomsmen and wedding guests were given sprays of rosemary tipped with gold and tied with coloured ribbon, while at the wedding feast, sprigs of rosemary were dipped into the wine before the bridal pair had a drink, to ensure happiness and love. New Year guests were given rosemary plus an orange adorned with cloves. At funerals, to denote the deceased would not be forgotten quickly, rosemary was included in wreaths, and small sprays carried by the mourners, were strewn on the coffin as it was lowered into the ground. A sprig of rosemary fastened to a doorpost, was said to ward off witches and stop snakes entering, while rosemary attached to clothes, offered protection from evil spirits, witches, fairies, thunder, lightning, physical injury, assault, and the plague. Judges wore a sprig to defend themselves from being infected by those brought before them. As for incense, if unavailable, rosemary was burnt. There’s a recipe for rosemary incense in ‘Leslie Kenton’s Healing Herbs’ (see Notes below).

Rosemary originated in areas bordering the Mediterranean, appreciating the full sun and close proximity of the ocean; hence its name from the Latin, ros and marinus, dew of the sea. Popular in monastic gardens, it was brought over the Alps to northern Europe by the first Christian monks.

In Britain it should be treated as a half-hardy perennial, tolerating a poor but benefiting far more from a well-drained soil. Pinching out the tip of the main shoot will encourage side growth – it can grow up to 2 metres (6ft). Dwarf varieties grown in pots, have the advantage of being easy to transport indoors for the winter. Propagation is by seeds, cuttings or layering. Cuttings, best taken from a woody shoot in late summer, will need protection from frost and cold winds while young.

Fortunately rosemary can be harvested fresh all year round but if not possible, it can be dried. If flowering tips are to be dried or frozen, cut the sprigs when the flowers are open. To dry the leaves, pick the sprigs before flowering, and hang them in a warm (not above 40°C/104°F), airy place, away from direct sunlight. Don’t leave them hanging up for ages or they’ll become tasteless and gather dust. Better, use a flavour-sealing, quick dry method – spread them on a tray covered with muslin, place it in the warming drawer of a (used!) oven or an airing cupboard and leave for a few days until they are dry but still green. Then they can be stored whole, wrapped in paper, in a drawer or dry, dark larder or the woody stems discarded and the leaves placed in dark-glass bottles.

As said at the start, rosemary is a safe herb. Germany’s ‘Commission E’ (conductors of the first comprehensive study of herbal medicine) found that drinking rosemary leaf infusions helped problems with upset stomachs, indigestion and appetite loss, while the external use of infusions and oil could ease circulatory complaints and rheumatism. Rosemary essential oil has potent antioxidant, antiseptic and antimicrobial abilities.

Some old remedies may at first seem strange (such as to prevent giddiness by combing hair daily with a comb made of rosemary wood), but research is frequently confirming our ‘wise’ past knowledge of plants. Gerard in his ‘Herbal’ of 1636 recommends the distilled water of the flowers, drunk morning and evening, as a mouthwash/breath freshener, while nearly a hundred years later, boiling cider with a sprig of rosemary for 15 minutes and drinking it at bedtime, was remedied for increasing sweating to reduce a cold.

Nasal congestion can be eased with this homemade chest rub (though not if the skin is broken, sore or sensitive). Pour boiling water over a handful of rosemary flowers and leaves, leave for 25 minutes and then strain. Transfer the contents of a small jar of vaseline into a heatproof bowl placed in a saucepan of boiling water. When melted, add the rosemary infusion and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring well. Remove from the heat and when cool, stir in 8 drops of oil of rosemary, stirring again before applying to the chest. (Don’t store this in a fridge).

For those suffering from asthma, see if this infusion can help, taken each morning during a bad spell; a pinch each of rosemary, orange flower water and thyme in a cup of boiling water.

Could rosemary be of help in the treatment or delay of Alzheimer’s disease? Rosemary contains compounds that will retard the breakdown of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter (brain chemical) playing a key role in cognition and reasoning. As these compounds can be absorbed through the skin, regular use of a rosemary shampoo, either a commercial one or rosemary tincture added to a herbal shampoo could prove beneficial.

The pain of neuralgia may be eased with an infusion of combined rosemary leaves, lavender flowers and lime blossom, or the infusion used as a compress, placed warm on the affected area. Even a little sprig of rosemary placed inside the mouth may help.

For someone who has fainted, one or two drops of rosemary essential oil on a tissue or a handful of leaves crushed into a ball, held under the nostrils can help to revive, backed up with an infusion of 1 or 2 tsp of crushed leaves in a cup of boiling water.

An infusion of 2tspn of dried rosemary per cup of boiling water can bring relief from pain, including pre-menstrual symptoms, or place 56g (2ozs) of rosemary in a muslin/cloth bag and leave it in the water when running a bath. Likewise, rosemary added to a footbath is great for tired, swollen feet.

Rosemary oil can be purchased or made at home, to use eg for massaging onto painful joints and bruises. Pour a cupful of olive or almond oil over two handfuls of rosemary leaves in a jam jar, cover with a piece of muslin or cheesecloth secured with a rubber band and leave for 2 to 3 weeks on a sunny windowsill. Then strain it into small screw top jars and store it in the dark.

An ointment which may soothe eczema, skin irritations and rheumatism is easily made by melting in an enamel pan, 1tbsp rosemary oil with 4 tbsp white petroleum jelly. Stir it well and then put in small jars and cover when cold.

Aromatherapists use essential oil of rosemary in a massage during treatment for depression, whilst a morning drink of rosemary infusion can also be beneficial. However, if suffering from high blood pressure, rosemary must be avoided in aromatherapy treatment as it stimulates circulation.

Extracts of rosemary are often found in proprietary soaps, perfumes, toilet waters and hair preparations. As a hair treatment, since massaging the scalp stimulates the circulation, helps decrease dandruff and encourages hair growth, massaging using one part rosemary oil to two parts almond (or olive) oil, can promote healthy hair and even a better memory. And a rosemary infusion as a final rinse can benefit dark, dull or oily hair.

There’s a useful decoction recipe for puffy eyes in The Herbal Health and Beauty Book (see Notes below), while the New Herb Bible (see Notes) includes rosemary in recipes for an antiseptic mouthwash, a soothing bath oil, a skin cleanser, a scrub, a tonic and a soap. To refresh skin that is sensitive and dry, try applying twice weekly, a hot compress of rosemary and mauve flowers.

Within the home, small bags made from muslin or cheesecloth and filled with dried rosemary, can be placed in clothes drawers to help deter moths while providing a fragrant smell. Or make a little herb pillow containing rosemary, cloves and nutmeg. Rosemary was one of the herbs used in tussie-mussies (nosegays), needed in the Middle Ages to hide bad smells, but also believed to protect the holder from disease as well as being presented as declarations of love, (rosemary for remembrance). Fresh sprays of leaves and flowers in a vase, in a herb wreath or a pot-pourri can help cleanse the air and provide perfume, while burning rosemary sprigs outdoors can keep insects at bay. Rosemary essential oil can be added to furniture polish and to wax or oil when making candles.

Before fridges and freezers were invented, rosemary was placed with meat so to some extent its antimicrobial properties could help preserve the meat. The aromatic, pungent leaves are used, fresh or dried, with lamb, beef, chicken, pork and fish, while the flowers and chopped young leaves can be added to salads. Rosemary is contained in the Herbes de Provence seasoning blend. It adds flavour to grilled meat, barbeques, ratatouilles, sauces, etc; to mushrooms, soup, soft cheese; to biscuits and jam, as well as to fruit-cups and mulled wine. (It’s one of the herbs used in vermouth). Using fresh sprigs allows them to be removed easily before serving. Additionally, bees feeding on rosemary, produce excellent honey. For an easy-to-make rosemary, garlic and pepper oil, look in ’A Handful of Herbs’ (see Notes).

And how about trying my recipe for
ROSEMARY AND CHEDDAR SCONES (Makes 20-30 depending on the cutter size) 340g (12oz) self-raising flour
Salt and pepper
40g (1oz) butter or margarine
1 level 5ml tsp dried rosemary
100g (3oz) grated cheddar cheese
1 beaten egg
140ml (1pt) milk
Preheat the oven to 230°C (450°F, Gas Mark 8)
In a bowl, mix together the flour, salt and pepper, rub in the margarine and then add the rosemary and cheese, mixing well.
Stir in the beaten egg (reserving a little for brushing the tops), and then the milk.

Again mix well. Roll out on a floured board until 1cm thick. Cut into rounds, place on a greased baking sheet, brush the tops with the beaten egg and if you like, sprinkle extra grated cheese on top. Bake for 15-20 minutes.

Leslie Kenton’s Healing Herbs Paperback edition published by Vermilion (Random House), London, 2002. ISBN 0-091-88428-4

The Herbal Health and Beauty Book by Hilary Boddie. Published by Optima (Little, Brown and Company (UK) Ltd, 1994 ISBN 0-356-21030-8 contains herbal remedies for health problems such as dizziness and laryngitis, as well as beauty treatments for the face, feet and hair.

New Herb Bible by Caroline Foley, Jill Nice and Marcus A.Webb. Published by David & Charles, Devon, 2002. ISBN 0 7153 1363 0

A Handful of Herbs by Barbara Segall, Louise Pickford & Rose Hammick. Published by Ryland Peters & Small, London, 2001. ISBN 1-84172-109-3 combines the notes of a horticulturalist and a food writer, illustrated with suitably refined photos; includes ideas for scented candles, a wreath of herbs, a recipe for rosemary and garlic flavoured pizza/bread, the use of rosemary for finishing touches to a dining table, for adding perfume and decoration to a room, even for adding perfume to writing ink.

All the books are linked to the Amazon website for easy ordering.

Sìne Chesterman
Sìne’s interest in gardening and botany started at an early age with her own patch in her parents’ garden, and learning which plants were natural healers. Brought up with old and tested remedies, and gardening methods, now termed ‘organic’, she still practises natural ways of pest control.  


Grow Nasturtiums for Natural Health

Nasturtium © S Chesterman

Nasturtium © S Chesterman

Tropaeolum majus also known as Indian Cress 

Nasturtiums are bright – see Google page of pictures.  They range through yellow-orange to fiery red annuals. This is a plant for which the phrase ‘getting the most out of a plant’ really rings true. Growing nasturtiums is easy. All parts are edible – the flowers, leaves and seeds.

You can plant nasturtium seeds in a bed, border, to climb against a fence, or in containers and hanging baskets. Nasturtiums are easy to grow, in full sun or partial shade. They prefer moist, well-drained poor to ordinary garden soil; too rich a soil results in a profusion of lush green leaves but this is at the expense of flowers. The climbing, trailing and dwarf varieties readily self-seed or the seeds can be gathered and started in pots in the greenhouse.

Good introduction to natural history for children

They’re great for children to plant, not only as the largish seeds are easily held by small fingers but they are fairly quick to germinate and grow. And if you show children how to sow lettuce and radish seeds beside the nasturtiums, there’ll be benefits, both for the plants’ health and the children’s knowledge.

Buds, flowers, leaves and seeds are all edible and quick to pick, contain vitamin C and, belonging to the Cruciferae (mustard) family, also contain a type of mustard oil, benzyl isothiocyanate, with a peppery taste. This oil is not only very useful in salt and pepper-free diets, but possesses antifungal properties and impedes the growth of bacteria and viruses.

Nasturtiums © Pintail

Nasturtiums © Pintail

Originating in Bolivia and Columbia, seeds were brought to Europe from Peru by Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century and hence became considered a symbol of conquest and victory.

Nasturtiums are planted in the spring, once the danger of frost is over. They can be used not only for decoration in the flower garden but also amongst vegetables, as a companion plant for radishes, whilst their pungent smell can be utilised by careful siting, to repel or attract pests.

Use nasturtiums as a natural repellent

Woolly aphis can be repelled from apple trees by planting nasturtiums around the base of the tree, or by spraying affected branches with an infusion made from the whole plant, while a few nasturtiums near tomato plants and broccoli can deter whitefly. On the other hand, blackfly find the smell attractive, so adding a few nasturtiums near broad beans will help to lure them away to the nasturtiums, subsequently nipping off any attacked parts. When frosts appear, the stems can be chopped up and added to the compost heap.

In natural medicine, fresh leaves can be used for combating infections of the urinary tract and the respiratory system.

Using nasturtiums as a natural remedy

Juice from leaves (liquidised and strained) can be of benefit as a remedy for coughs and bronchitis, while liquidising and straining the fresh leaves and stems produces a liquid which will ease skin irritations and painful muscles, and act as an antiseptic for wounds.

Dried seeds can be powdered for use as a mild laxative; or crushed to a pulp, then sandwiched between two layers of muslin or cheesecloth, with a plate above and beneath and placed over a pan of boiling water to produce a hot poultice to bring spots and boils to a head.

The naturally occurring sulphur in the plant can be utilised to make a hair and anti-dandruff lotion. Place one large handful of leaves and a cup of vodka in a wide-necked screwtop jar, cover and keep in a warm place for two weeks, shaking the jar once a day. Then strain it repeatedly until a clear lotion is produced and apply it to the scalp with a cottonwool pad, once or twice a week, ensuring no lotion enters the eyes.

Recipes for nasturtiums 

In the kitchen, the flowers will look attractive while adding texture and flavour to food. Those flowers with a long spur at the base, have a drop of sweet nectar giving a sweet/sour flavour. When picking, if you find tiny, black, pollen beetles on the flowers, put the stems in water, cover the whole with a brown paper bag, place, preferably outside, in a dark spot (away from the wind), to allow the beetles to drop off and go elsewhere. Nasturtium petals can be added to omelettes and cream cheese for extra flavour, while petals or the whole flowers can be scattered over lettuce for salads. As an additional salad ingredient, wash some leaves, pile on top of one another, and then roll up, slice into strips and toss in a vinaigrette

Make the vinaigrette from

• 2 tablespoons oil
• 1 dessertspoon vinegar (half the normal quantity due to the strong flavour of the nasturtiums)
• salt and pepper, adding fresh seeds, whole, or crushed with a fork

To pickle the seeds for use as mock capers, pick the seeds on a dry day, wash and then soak them for 12 to 24 hours in a brine of 57g (2oz) salt to 570ml (1 pt) water. Drain and then put them in small jars, filling to 13mm (1/2 inch) of the top. Cover them with cold spiced vinegar in the proportions 570ml (1pt) vinegar, 6 peppercorns, 2 bay leaves and 2 teaspoons salt, or for a more spicy result, replace the bay leaves with a slice of horseradish root, 1 clove and 2 tarragon leaves. Seal the jars and try to keep them for 12 months before using.

For a salt and pepper-free diet, ripe nasturtium seeds can be ground and kept for use in tightly-stoppered bottles. This was done during World War II but for different reasons – pepper was very expensive and sometimes unobtainable. Adding a little salt will improve the flavour.

Among other recipes, the pickled seeds can be added to martinis; relish can be spread on the leaves, then rolled up and loosely tied with a long-stemmed flower – try a relish of cream cheese, chopped walnuts and raisins, or mix tuna, parsley and mayonnaise. Or for a different effect, large flowers can be stuffed with a teaspoon of the cheese or tuna relish.

Add up all these reasons and I think you’ll agree that nasturtiums are certainly well worth growing and utilising.

Sìne Chesterman’s interest in gardening and botany started at an early age with her own patch in her parents’ garden, and learning which plants were natural healers. Brought up with old and tested remedies, and gardening methods, now termed ‘organic’, she still practises natural ways of pest control.  

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