A trip around the herb garden – Bay



Spending as little as five minutes in nature every day exposes us to natural light and helps us slow down and get or daily rhythms in sync. I’m particularly fond of walking on the grass in bare feet. I’ve blogged about this before. January is perhaps a bit extreme to indulge this too much so a wander round in boots, clutching a hot drink and looking for signs of life is more my thing. The bulbs are poking through; the snowdrops are in bloom; weirdly there are still some rosebuds clinging on – pretty strong evidence of the way the seasons are crazily mixed up now; and many of my herbs are still looking good.

Herbs are the first plants I remember growing and picking as a small child. My granny had an old Belfast sink in the garden where she grew mint and a lavender hedge over which she used to spread her hankies to dry in the summer. It was herbs that I grew on the windowsill of my student digs and now they take up more than their share of space in the garden. This year I’ll try to feature one herb a month, tell you about its history and talk a little about how I use it. Queen of herbs Jekka McVicar was showing deep love for her bay tree (above) over Christmas and the bay I transplanted from the allotment into the front garden is looking mighty healthy so let’s start with that.

Bay has a long and noble history. The ancient Romans and Greeks used to make crowns out of true bay leaves (Laurus Nobilis) to crown great and accomplished people – kings, war heroes and Olympians. As a teacher I’m honour-bound to point out that the term ‘baccalaureate’ originates from this giving of bay leaf crowns to signify success, as does the term “poet laureate”.

One of the constituents of a traditional bouquet garni, used to flavour soups and stews bay leaves are in regular use in my kitchen. Dried bay leaves that are more than six months old are pretty pointless in my experience. Pick them fresh and keep them from anywhere from a week to a month for optimum use.

Or try this recipe suggestion I picked up from Borough Market when visiting the East End in-laws
Bay two ways: try bay leaves infused into the milk of a rice pudding along with a little cardamom, which highlights that menthol and eucalyptus quality further; alternatively tuck it in  among forced rhubarb. Its gentle scent will work its way into those pink batons as they release their juices and cool. It’s easy and comforting. Give it a go.

Barefoot gardening

Yes I’m back after the Summer hols and the inevitable mind-bogglingly expensive school shoe shopping  that defines the end of August. I own few pairs of shoes. To be honest I’d rather buy a book or a plant.  Most of my time at home  is spent barefoot. And whilst I wouldn’t dig the plot or lay a brick path without my trusty workboots I’m more than happy sowing and potting on in my bare feet.

I’ve heard my style of gardening – organic, permaculture, treading lightly – frequently referred to  as *barefoot gardening*. But recently, whilst researching an article about Nature Deficit Syndrome and the health benefits  of physical contact with the soil, I  came across several references to going barefoot in the garden literally. So if you’ve enjoyed a barefoot stroll along the beach recently, here’s why …….along with several good reasons to kick off your shoes outside on a more regular basis. Just watch out for the slugs!

  • walking barefoot increases your levels of feel-good endorphins and can lower feelings of anxiety and depression
  • ancient peoples believed barefoot walking in the grass cured insomnia. A barefoot stroll around the garden at bedtime should set you up nicely. Jetlag also seems to be eased by a barefoot stroll too. Try it.
  • going barefoot makes you aware of the world around you as you watch out for potential injuries. It helps you focus on the here and now and live in the moment – something many of us are not so good at.
  • It works certain less well-used muscles, strengthens your core and improves posture. It’s good for the knees and for the back.
  •  walking outdoors without shoes and socks stimulates those areas of your feet that need it most. A free refloxology session with none of the embarrassment of removing smelly socks in front of a therapist. What’s not to like?
  • Here’s the hippy bit! Barefoot walking keeps you grounded or connected to the earth’s negative ions especially if it’s in water.  You’ll feel calmer, more relaxed, in tune and downright brimming with health.

So there you have it.  Several reasons to avoid too many trips to the shoe shop. As for me I’m moving onto the next stage ……………a spot of barefoot firewalking, obviously.

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