25 May 2015

Book Review: Home Herbal by Maureen Little

This book on using herbs for health, beauty, and domestic products, is a little treasure. Maureen writes in a way that makes every product and every herb inviting and accessible. Each page leaves you feeling an urgent desire to create a herb garden or to add ever more species of herbs to your current garden.

Chapter 1 deals with growing, harvesting, preserving and storing herbs. Sometimes in a question format, and other times as straightforward instructions on how to perform the desired task and get desired results.

Chapter 2 looks at different planting schemes for specific uses, for instance there's a planting plan for first-aid and another for cosmetics, etc.

Chapter 3 provides a C to T of body parts or ailments and the relevant recipes. Often there are two or three different recipes that you can try for problems such as bites and stings, hangovers, or toothache!

Chapters 4 and 5 look at using herbs for cosmetics and in the home, respectively.

Beyond this there is an excellent gazetteer of the herbs mentioned in the book. For me, this was the best bit of an excellent book. As well as a section on the vitals for the plant (height and spread, plant pat used, uses, etc), Maureen gives an interesting history of the plant and a description of what the plant looks like.

There are also appendices and a glossary at the end of the book.

So while this book, at 205 pages in small format, is brief and concise; it's filled with relevant information and facts in an enjoyably readable style. It's definitely worth a read as I can see it being a book readers will dip into each time they have need.

18 May 2015

Trunk of the Month: May 2015: Pinus sylvestris

It was Ray Mears, many years ago, that first piqued my interest in Pinus sylvestris, commonly known as scots pine. Using this beautiful tree for a wide array of tasks for his bushcraft, from pine needle tea, to using old dead pine for kindling due to the build up of resin.

This reddy-grey-brown bark is beautifully intricate with a layer of ridged scales. In between these scales are places for invertebrates and flora to live, such as moss, which (to my eye) creates a lovely tortoise shell effect.
Pinus is the largest genus of conifers, with over 100 species. The scots pine is the only conifer native to Britain that is grown commercially for timber. In the old days it was used for things like ships and waterwheels. The late seventeenth century saw the great forests of Scotland ransacked, first for charcoal for the iron foundaries in the lowlands, then for the Napoleonic Wars and the demand for timber. These days, the pines are managed much more successfully and on the increase. Scots pine is still used in many applications, from furniture to telegraph poles and from paper pulp to roof timbers.

Scots pine can grow to over 30 metres in height and over 1 metre diameter. Some of these trees can live to 300 years - although some are said to be 700 years in age. Pollen records have shown that pine was present, at least in southern England, 9000 years ago and reach Scotland around 8000 year ago (possibly over the land bridge that was Doggerland).

In you're ever on the look out for squirrels in a pine woodland, then it's helpful to look at the forest floor. If squirrels are present you will see chewed up pine cone with all the scales taken off - and clearly no further use in telling the weather!

Wandering through a natural (or naturally planted) pine woodland is a wonderful experience. However, due to the commercial nature of many pine woodlands, the tree are planted in rows and are all of similar ages. Places like Brownsea Island, a refuge of the red squirrels of England, have naturalistic planting and are keen to ensure a stock of trees at all life stages.