Friday, 24 July 2015

Spring lawn treats

(Originally published 11 May 2015 here )

If I were to go outside and walk on my lawn (once the rain stops, that is), I'd have to watch my step. For the last several days it's been covered in bees, big fuzzy Queen bumble bees. Most have yellow fuzz but if I look closely I can see slight variations in shade from sunlight to lemon to a deep gold. Some have bands of orange fuzz around their bellies, again with variations. All of them have their pollen pockets full to bursting.

They're after the tiny blooms of the ground ivy - creeping charlie in some books, ale hoof in others - which I'm happy to say we have so much of that the lawn is purple. Good old charlie provides their Majesties with food fit for Queens (and their new broods) even before the dandelions are up.

There are those who would rip up, poison or otherwise do their best to get rid of this lawn 'weed', but I'm a huge fan of the stuff. It feels so nice to walk on in bare feet. It chokes out grass - more charlie, less mowing. It stays green no matter what. And when it blooms and I sit down in the midst of it the contented purr of their Majesties all around me is one of the delights of my life on this planet.

Apparently, it's one useful plant for humans too. Although I don't tend to use it very much, I would if I was troubled by tinnitus, ringing in the ear. If memory serves, the old books say a tincture of the leaves and flowers is a sure fire cure - and not many things will help tinnitus. The name ale hoof is self explanatory, before the introduction of hops it was used in making beer, quite bitter beer I would imagine, as that's one bitter tasting plant. And yes, the leaves are somewhat hoof shaped. It's a member of the mint family and can be used in the same ways as its cousins; to ease gas pains, headaches, and frazzled nerves. Once in a while I like to nibble on a flower, but mostly I just like to sit in a patch of it and be with the bees.

Coming up fast are the dandelions, which we've spoken about so often I do believe I'll skip this time. I'd rather talk about the violets.

I've said this before and I will say it again. Those who consider violet a weed deserve to be the first ones with their backs against the wall when the revolution comes.

There's a spot in our back yard that takes a lot of abuse. It's where Paul chops firewood all winter. We often have a cord or more stacked there under a tarp for easy access to the house. That kills the grass but good, and so it's bare as a bone every spring. But right now there are little patches of green beginning to show - violets. How sweet is that of nature, to offer up edible healing delightful violets after such abuse of the ground? But that's how she is.

All violets are delicious and useful to humans. Lawn violets, garden violets, the shy wood violets and all their cousins, the pansies, too, especially the little wild johnny-jump-ups. Some relieve pain, some dissolve swellings and even tumours, some relieve coughs, all are cooling and "dissolving". This is a plant I'm not nearly qualified to tell you all about, its uses go back so far and are so varied. Once again I can only tell you what I know from experience; I harvest some leaves for winter and dry them to mix in my other infusions, but mostly I just graze on them all spring and summer. Fresh, the leaves have a gentle soothing mucilage to them that's dandy on a dusty throat and the flowers crunch delightfully. They're not real flowers by the way, they don't set seed. The true flowers are green and come much later in the year, hiding under the leaves - or so they tell me, I have yet to see one! Knowing that, it's fine to pick as many of the pretty ones as you can eat. The plants will make more. Press them between the pages of a favourite book of poetry to delight yourself years from now. Or, just as with rose petals, they can be dipped in beaten egg white then sprinkled with sugar. If you can hide them away they'll last for years.

There's something almost positively magical about eating a crystallized violet on a dark night in February.

You'll find more than these in an unsprayed lawn of course, but the plantains, the creeping jennies, the clovers and the other things I'm still learning about will be a while in coming yet, at least in my lawn. Do have a look in yours, see what you can discover. If you don't know what it is, you can always check out the sites of the weed killing companies, they often have good clear pictures! Once you've got the name, add the words "herbal uses" and google away.

Let me know what you find!

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